Victorian Schools Now Part of Victoria’s Information Sharing Schemes

Published
01 April 2021

Victoria has two legislative schemes which permit, or in some cases require, certain organisations – called Information Sharing Entities (ISEs) – to share confidential information with each other and with particular individuals. They are the Child Information Sharing Scheme (CIS Scheme) and the Family Violence Information Sharing Scheme (FVIS Scheme). Both Schemes have been in operation since 2018.

Although these Schemes did not initially apply to non-government schools, it was always intended that non-government schools would be brought into these Schemes at a later date, initially intended to be September 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic delayed that process.

Non-government schools will now become ISEs for both the CIS Scheme and the FVIS Scheme from 19 April 2021. From that date, they will be able to share confidential information with, and receive confidential information from, other ISEs under both Schemes.

Both Schemes enable organisations to share information to respond to the range of needs and risks facing children and families. Both Schemes prioritise the sharing of information to promote a child’s safety over the privacy of any person.

Neither Scheme affects certain other information sharing obligations, such as making mandatory or voluntary reports to the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing (Child Protection), reporting sexual offences against children to the Police, or notifying the Commission for Children and Young People (CCYP) about reportable conduct.

 

The CIS Scheme

The CIS Scheme is set up by Part 6A of the Child Wellbeing and Safety Act 2005 (Vic) (CWS Act) and the Child Wellbeing and Safety (Information Sharing) Regulations 2018 (Vic) (Child Information Sharing Regulations). It is the result of numerous independent reviews and inquiries in Victoria and Australia more generally. The CIS Scheme also complements the Reportable Conduct Scheme and the Victorian Child Safe Standards.

The CIS Scheme enables the sharing of confidential information, where it is relevant to the safety and wellbeing of children, between certain organisations and people to promote the wellbeing or safety of a child, or of a group of children. It is intended to facilitate all of the services that may be involved with a child, or a group of children, to work together to identify needs and risks, promote early intervention and integrated service provision, and improve outcomes for children and their families.

The CIS Scheme prioritises the sharing of information to ensure the protection and wellbeing of children over the protection of an individual’s privacy.

Sharing Information with ISEs

As well as non-government schools, ISEs include organisations that provide services to children or their families (such as health, housing and disability services) and government and regulatory bodies (such as Child Protection, Victoria Police, the CCYP and the Victorian Institute of Teaching).

There is an online ISE database that ISEs can access to identify other ISEs.

Under the CIS Scheme, ISEs must share confidential information about the safety, welfare and wellbeing of children (other than information that is excluded under the CWS Act) with another ISE that requests it. ISEs can also share that information with other ISEs voluntarily, without a request.

Requests can only be made to and/or information can only be shared by an ISE under the CIS Scheme:

  • for the purpose of promoting the wellbeing or safety of a child or a group of children; and
  • to assist the receiving ISE to carry out decisions, assessments, plans or an investigation or to provide a service or manage risks to a child or group of children.

Sharing Information with Other People

The CIS Scheme enables ISEs to share confidential information with a child, or a parent or carer of the child, for the purpose of managing a risk to the child’s safety.

It also alters privacy law in certain situations. In general, privacy law requires an organisation to give a person access to their own information that is held by the organisation. However, the CIS Scheme permits an ISE to refuse to disclose that information to any person (such as a staff member, volunteer, contractor, student or parents/carers) if it believes that giving the person access to their information would increase a risk to the safety of a child or a group of children.

 

The FVIS Scheme

The FVIS Scheme is set up under Part 5A of the Family Violence Protection Act 2008 (Vic) (FVP Act) and the Family Violence Protection (Information Sharing and Risk Management) Regulations 2018 (Vic) (FV Information Sharing Regulations).

The FVIS Scheme enables the sharing of confidential information, where it is relevant to assessing or managing family violence risks, between certain organisations and people to ensure the safety and protection of those experiencing family violence and to hold perpetrators to account. It was recommendation 5 of Victoria’s Royal Commission into Family Violence.

The FVIS Scheme prioritises the sharing of information to keep perpetrators of family violence in view and to promote the safety of victim survivors of family violence over the confidentiality and privacy of a perpetrator/alleged perpetrator. It also prioritises the safety of child victim survivors over the privacy and confidentiality of any adult.

Sharing Information with ISEs

ISEs under the FVIS Scheme are similar to those under the CIS Scheme, and the same online database can be used to identify them.

Some ISEs are prescribed as Risk Assessment Entities (RAEs) for the purposes of the FVIS Scheme. These include state-funded family violence services and state-funded sexual assault services, Child Protection, Victoria Police and the Victims Support Agency.

Under the FVIS Scheme, an ISE must share confidential information about perpetrators, alleged perpetrators, victim survivors and other relevant people (such as former partners, neighbours, co-workers, friends etc) with an RAE that has requested the information for the purpose of establishing and assessing a risk of family violence, if:

  • the information is not excluded under the FVP Act; and
  • relevant consents have been given by a victim survivor or other relevant person.

ISEs must also share confidential information about perpetrators, victim survivors, and other relevant people with an ISE that has requested the information for the purpose of managing a risk of family violence, if:

  • the sharing ISE reasonably believes that disclosure of the requested information is necessary for a family violence protection purpose;
  • the information is not excluded under the FVP Act; and
  • relevant consents have been given by a victim survivor or other relevant person

The FVIS Scheme also permits an ISE to share that information with an RAE or other ISEs voluntarily, without a request, for the purpose of assisting that RAE/ISE to assess and/or manage a risk of family violence.

Sharing Information with Other People

Similar to the CIS Scheme, the FVIS Scheme enables an ISE to share a perpetrator’s confidential information with a victim survivor (or the parent of a child victim survivor), for the purpose of managing a risk to the victim survivor’s safety from family violence.

The FVIS Scheme also alters privacy law in a similar way to the CIS Scheme. It permits an ISE to refuse to disclose information to any person (such as a staff member, volunteer, contractor, student or parents/carers) if it believes that giving the person access to their information would increase a risk to a victim survivor’s safety from family violence.

Consent Requirements

Unlike the CIS Scheme, which does not require the consent of any person for their information to be shared, relevant consent requirements must be met for information to be shared under the FVIS Scheme.

The consent of a victim survivor or other relevant person is usually required to share their information under the FVIS Scheme. However, there are some exceptions to this requirement. Their consent is not required if:

  • the information is relevant to assessing or managing a risk of a child victim survivor being subjected to family violence; or
  • the ISE reasonably believes that sharing the information is necessary to lessen or prevent a serious risk to an individual’s life, health, safety or welfare.

The consent of the perpetrator/alleged perpetrator is never required to share their information under the FVIS Scheme.

 

Interaction of the CIS Scheme and the FVIS Scheme

The CIS Scheme and the FVIS Scheme are designed to complement each other.

When a child is affected by family violence, there will be substantial overlap between the FVIS Scheme and the CIS Scheme, particularly for non-government schools.

Overlap between information sharing under these Schemes is particularly likely when:

  • a student is a child (aged under 18) and is the victim of family violence (including by being exposed to family violence between other family members)
  • a student is a child (aged under 18) and is believed or suspected to be a perpetrator of family violence, whether against a family member or against a person (including another student) with whom they are or were in an intimate personal relationship.

In these cases, it may be that a school will be sharing information with some ISEs under the CIS Scheme and with different ISEs under the FVIS Scheme, or it could be that the school will be sharing different information with a single ISE under each Scheme.

 

How to Prepare for Inclusion in the CIS Scheme and FVIS Scheme

As a result of their coming inclusion in the CIS Scheme and the FVIS Scheme, non-government schools need to be aware of their obligations in relation to both Schemes, including in particular:

  • the need to determine whether an organisation (that is seeking information from the school, to which information may be disclosed by the school or from which the school may want to seek Information) is an ISE
  • the thresholds for requesting or disclosing information
  • restrictions on sharing information; and
  • record keeping obligations.

To help schools get ready for both the CIS and FVIS Schemes, the Department of Health and Human Services (now called the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing) has developed an Information Sharing Toolkit specifically for schools, which has a checklist about what needs to be done to prepare for inclusion in the Schemes. The Department of Education and Training is also providing briefing webinars for school leaders, practical online workshops for school staff who will be responsible for sharing information, and eLearning courses which can be accessed here.

CompliSpace has also prepared a briefing paper about this which can be found here.

Deborah De Fina

Deborah recently completed five years working with the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse where she assisted the Royal Commission to establish the Private Session process and subsequently managed its legal aspects. Prior to working with the Royal Commission, Deborah had her own successful consulting practice where she specialised in the statutory child protection system, legal issues facing children and vulnerable people, and legal aid. She also spent more than nine years at Legal Aid NSW, as a child protection solicitor, Senior Solicitor and then Solicitor in Charge, Child Protection. Deborah holds a Juris Doctorate from the Columbia University School of Law, a Master of International Affairs from the Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs and a Diploma in Law from Sydney University.