Getting it right for every child (GIRFEC) Practice Development Panel: final report
Final report from the GIRFEC Practice Development Panel, including recommendations on information sharing in support of the named person and child’s plan aspects.
Below is a summary of key findings from each discussion theme explored in the Panel’s engagement events and from written submissions.
Theme 1: Do you have any comments or views on the Panel’s emerging thinking?
- The Panel’s emerging thinking was set out in the Chair’s letter to the Deputy First Minister, papers to support engagement and communicated at engagement meetings. The Panel’s key objective was to produce an authoritative draft Code of Practice for information sharing that could be applied at all times when considering sharing information by and with the Named Person service and in relation to Child’s Plans. This draft Code must comprehensively present the legal framework in a way that is accessible to families and practitioners and workable in everyday practice. The critical emerging view of the Panel is that it was unlikely to be possible to create a Code that met all of these criteria. Stakeholders questioned and tested the rationale behind the emerging views with all accepting that the Panel had thoroughly examined ways to achieve the goal but ultimately it had not been possible for it to deliver this.
- A number of those engaged with said that they had held the view for some time that it would be too complicated for a mandatory Code to present the clear legal framework in a jargon free way that practitioners could follow.
- It was acknowledged that the Code is necessary to support addressing the Supreme Court’s concerns related to Parts 4 and 5 through the Information Sharing Bill. However, it was suggested that as practitioners become more familiar with applying the new data protection regime within the wider framework supporting information sharing that a detailed statutory Code that must be followed may well be unnecessary and unhelpful when applying the GIRFEC approach within a policy context. It was proposed by some that a requirement to adhere to a complex Code may well be a disincentive to consideration of information sharing and, as the Panel suggests, clear guidance would be more appropriate and that this should be targeted and shaped to the context that practitioners and families are within.
- Some questions were raised about whether Parts 4 and 5 would be repealed
Theme 2: What do you/your organisation consider is needed to better support the consideration and sharing of information in relation to Named Persons, Child’s Plans and the wider GIRFEC approach?
- In each event there was a request for clear and coherent guidance for practitioners on information sharing in relation to wellbeing needs, concerns and risks.
- More specific requests included requests for guidance in relation to information sharing where:
- there was a concern in relation to neglect
- the impact on the wellbeing of the child was from an adults behaviour condition or circumstance
- the sharing was between statutory services and third sector
- Some stakeholders asked for a tiered and/ or a targeted approach to the guidance on information sharing; technical guidance for information governance leads; more accessible guidance for managers; and tailored and accessible guidance and learning materials for frontline practitioners.
- There should be information for parents not only to help them understand information sharing but also to inform them and make accessible to them the guidance practitioners and services are relying on for their direction.
- Of those who expressed a view on using legislation to support information sharing the view was that if it was not possible to provide a workable statutory Code that could be applied and was workable in all circumstances then we needed to move on from pursuing a legislative solution and focus on guidance to increase confidence and consistency in practice.
- Guidance should help practitioners to understand better how to work with families through consensual agreement; where they actively engage with services and only the necessary information is shared for them to get the services they wish. Families should be empowered and where possible decision making should be person led as well as person centred.
- Recognising that it may be necessary to share information without the knowledge of and/ or agreement of the individual to whom it relates, this is actually very uncommon for most practitioners in every day practice. The vast majority of practice that necessitates information sharing is done with the knowledge and agreement of those to whom it relates. When considering whether someone is freely agreeing/ consenting to information being shared to enable access to a service we need to consider the value of “meaningful conversations”.
- The guidance should promote relationship based practice and encourage courageous and open conversations with families.
- Guidance for practitioners should include case studies and examples – including specific scenarios that help them understand when information can/ should be shared without an individual’s knowledge and/ or agreement and when it cannot.
- Guidance for practitioners should emphasise that sharing information about families should be undertaken in a way that respects their rights and that particular consideration should be given to any vulnerabilities that may result in or intensify any power imbalance. Only necessary, relevant and proportionate information should be shared. Guidance should have a focus on what can be shared rather that what shouldn’t be shared. We need to listen to young people and make them feel empowered.
- It was suggested that to achieve support and utilisation of the guidance, professional and regulatory organisations should be involved in its development and it should be aligned to existing professional standards and guidance where possible. These organisations should be asked to provide clear support for this guidance at launch and ongoing use by promoting it through professional guidance and continuing professional development opportunities.
- Practitioners need to be aware of how any power imbalance may affect an individual’s decision to engage with a service and their agreement to share the associated necessary information. They must be confident in applying fair processing principles and in explaining to children, young people and parents their rights in a way that gives them true choice while not creating unnecessary anxiety/ suspicion in relation to why they are doing this.
Theme 3: Do you have any views on how to improve children, young people and parents understanding of information sharing?
- Stakeholders suggested that a public awareness campaign in relation to data processing and information sharing with a specific strand relating to information sharing associated with the wellbeing of children and young people would be helpful. It was commented that scope of what may affect the wellbeing of children is wide and can relate to an equally wide range of individuals within and outwith families.
- Stakeholders often emphasised that the challenges in enhancing the public’s understanding of information sharing was far wider than that in relation to just the Named Person and Child’s Plan and services for children and families.
- There was a general consensus that there is a place for material for families that is accessible and user-friendly, however it was often suggested that the best way to improve understanding is for practitioners to talk this through with children, young people and parents within the context of the task/activity to which information-sharing is applied.
- Children, young people and parents should be made aware of their rights and how these can be exercised in a way that gives them true choice. This should be done through a mixture of approaches that will embed rights related to information sharing and data processing more widely. It is timely to do this as GDPR and the media have raised awareness of data processing where the individuals are being given more explicit choice about whether to opt in and out of data bases, advertising and given choices as to their preferences in relation to what happens to their online data.
Theme 4: Do you have any views on the Bill or development of a statutory Code of Practice?
- Stakeholders who expressed a view stated that a statutory Code of Practice which is fit for purpose appears to be unlikely to be achievable and if this is so then they did not feel it would be helpful to continue to pursue a further legislative/ statutory route for information sharing in relation to wellbeing information, Named Persons and Child’s Plan if it would protract uncertainty for practitioners. They understood the implications for the Bill and hence the potential knock on that the statutory basis for the Named Person service and Child’s Plan would be in question. The priority from stakeholders was clarity as soon as possible for both information sharing and wider GIRFEC policy.
- Stakeholders frequently emphasised that there is a need to build confidence in the value of promoting necessary and proportionate information sharing to support and improve children’s wellbeing. This would mean recovering from current fears and some defensive practice.
- A statutory Code may also be open to more and ongoing legal challenge which will further prohibit practitioners from being confident and competent as regards information sharing.
Theme 5: Do you wish to provide any comment on the legislation, updating of the policy and what guidance or materials would support service providers, operational managers and practitioners in delivering the GIRFEC approach?
- Refreshed GIRFEC policy and practice guidance, including guidance on how information sharing should be managed, would be welcomed by services/agencies. Reference should be made to the importance of ethical and defensible recording as central to anyone’s practice, not only in relation to information sharing but wider in relation to what information is held and processed. A strong emphasis should be put on transparency with families. This would reduce the risk of challenge while also providing the documented justification for sharing information and recording of how this was carried out fairly.
- It was often stated that there is a need to build confidence not only in practitioners to share information but also in the public’s confidence that doing so will benefit the family. Families should feel confident to proactively share information to seek out and secure help. Equally they should feel confident and empowered to decline services they feel are unnecessary.
- Scenario based training would be welcomed by practitioners in order to explain the person centred contextual aspects of decision making in relation to what information is necessary to share with whom and for what purpose.
- Policy and guidance should help ensure that people who need services are at the centre, that people understand their rights and choices, that practitioners support people to freely engage with services giving them choice where that is possible and promoting person led information sharing.
- Some stakeholders highlighted the importance of shared single agency and interagency chronologies while also highlighting the lack of consistency in practice in relation to how and when chronologies are created, who contributes and who they are shared with.
- Many stakeholders said that to re-establish confidence in information sharing and advance multi-disciplinary working there is a need for an extensive learning and development programme that should bring together local services and agencies including the third sector to develop common norms.
- Some questions were raised about the timescale for the delivery of refreshed practice guidance
Theme 6: Do you wish to provide any other comments on Information Sharing in the context of the GIRFEC approach?
- Some stakeholders suggested that delivering GIRFEC and the associated information sharing must become just “part of the day job” and equally well understood and supported by the public.
- Some stakeholders voiced particular concerns about their experience of a lack of coherence and coordination relating to the provision of services for children and young people who are transitioning from children’s services to adult care arrangements.
- A number of stakeholders raised concerns that if there was no legislation in relation to Child’s Plans then the variation in practice would continue and may even diverse further.
- Stakeholders from the education sector said that there was a greater understanding of what impacts on the wellbeing of children and how this affects attainment and longer term outcomes. There was a general willingness and often enthusiasm from Guidance Teachers to assist in addressing wellbeing needs but they need time to do this and more accessible and responsive help from other services that can help.
- Some stakeholders from the education sector said that Guidance Teachers not only required additional guidance, training and resources but also required additional capacity to support information sharing and delivering the GIRFEC approach. Some suggested that being a Guidance Teacher should be a dedicated role and that the responsibility of the role should be recognised.
- A few stakeholders questioned the continued use of the term Named Person as there had been so much confusion about it. Some others were concerned about the scope of the functions of a Named Person and/ or the powers of a Named Person Service provider.
- Some stakeholders highlighted a lack of confidence from organisational leadership and a risk adverse default position in relation to information sharing that left practitioners exposed and reduced confidence in sharing between different services and organisations, particularly with the third sector.
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