Victims/survivors of domestic abuse - multi-agency risk assessment and interventions: report
A report relating to the development of Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conferences (Maracs) covering views, themes and recommendations identified at a series of stakeholder deep dive sessions in 2021.
6. Information Sharing
25. Attendees were asked to consider:
- If adequate local data sharing arrangements are in place;
- The challenges, issues and impact of current arrangements;
- Areas of good practice to learn from;
- The support needed nationally and locally to support good practice; and
- If national standards/guidance would be beneficial and if so, what this would look like.
26. Key messages from the deep dive included:
- There is a degree of uncertainty among professionals over data sharing in general and over what information should be considered a 'grey area', in particular what is 'wellbeing' and what is 'safeguarding'. Clearer protocols or data sharing agreements could help clarify these areas and bolster practitioner confidence.
- Experience of data sharing between partners was inconsistent across Scotland, with variations in process and protocol.
- More consistent practice could be fostered through learning from how other public protection systems share information, as well as through peer support and the introduction of a National Guidance/Practitioners Handbook covering information-sharing.
Key Discussion Points
27. When asked to consider current data sharing arrangements and the challenges, issues and impact associated with these, attendees noted:
- Inconsistencies between partnerships regarding information sharing processes with partnerships taking different decisions in terms of what data will and won't be sharing at meetings and how;
- Some areas have formalised data sharing protocols that are highlighted at the beginning of each session; however, in general, more clarity around what is and isn't appropriate to discuss in meetings would be helpful to avoid chairs having to make decisions on the spot;
- There is a nervousness and uncertainty around data sharing in general. This can push people to either under-share, or over-share important information.
- Processes should ensure that key pieces of information make their way to people who can use it, acting on it to provide safety for the victims/survivors. Marac representatives in particular should have a strong understanding of what information is vital to share and with whom;
- Capacity of co-ordinators can be a barrier as they have a huge amount of work and responsibility to work through in each meeting. Increased support and resources would help to address this. It might be helpful to look into the role of Marac Co-ordinators across Scotland in more detail as there are wide disparities in terms of responsibility and expectations around the role.
- There are patterns in terms of what information is considered a 'grey area' where decisions to share are complex or difficult to reach. In particular, what is 'wellbeing' and what is 'safeguarding.' Scenarios with high risk perpetrators and victims/survivors with strong safety plans can also create a tension when it comes to information sharing.
- It would be helpful to have processes in place that reflect victims/survivors' needs and provide clear information to victims/survivors in terms of what information is shared at meetings and why –it is important for victims/survivors to feel safe to engage with services and this would help with managing expectations and ensuring adequate transparency such that victims/survivors understand the process and feel included, rather than it being 'done to' them.
28. When asked about examples of good practice and the support needed nationally and locally to enable this, including the benefit of national standards and guidance in this area, attendees reflected:
- In relation to Maracs, areas generally only share full minutes from meetings with all partners where absolutely necessary but in most cases, only the actions from the meeting are shared to minimise the amount of sensitive data being shared.
- There are benefits in stakeholders asking themselves what data it is essential to share, rather than just sharing data because they historically always have.
- Maracs across the country are in different stages of their development and need different levels of support in relation to data protection and information sharing protocols – process maturity varies hugely across the country.
- It would be helpful to improve culture to enable professionals to develop their confidence around information-sharing. This could include the establishment of a peer support network, or establishing local Marac 'leads' or 'champions' that people could turn to if they have questions.
- A National Guidance/Practitioners Handbook could be useful. It could contain examples of typical 'grey area' scenarios in which the decision whether to share is challenging or complex, as well as frameworks to help people understand whether the information they hold should or shouldn't be shared. This could be supported by training to ensure the handbook is used and useful, and that the basics are understood by practitioners in a consistent way nationally.
- The effectiveness of information-sharing protocols can be enhanced if they provide for information-sharing outwith Marac meetings when immediate action is required; and if they are accompanied by training as well as efforts to build trust between partners.
- Learning from how other public protection arrangements share information might be useful to help develop participants' confidence over information sharing.
- There should be more recognition nationally about Marac and the purpose of information sharing in the Marac process, highlighting the aims and obligations of Marac and why we share information in this context.
- The fact that Marac is not on a statutory footing can create a barrier as there are major differences in how Maracs across Scotland operate. Information sharing agreements and protocols differ in terms of who chairs, attends, coordinates etc. This creates issues for local multi-agency practice and meeting data protection legislation, gaps etc. A national approach and statutory footing might ensure consistency. However, this should account for local flexibility so statutory bodies can interpret and adapt to local needs and priorities.
- Any national guidance in this area should be principles focussed and allow for local areas to adapt data sharing agreements to their specific contexts.
Themes for Further Discussion
29. The following themes emerged from the deep dive session as key issues and possible actions to be explored. They will be considered as part of the Advisory Group's development of recommendations and an action/implementation plan:
i. How might clarity and support around information sharing be improved?
This could be pursued through:
- Setting up a peer support network, for local Marac 'leads' or 'champions', that people could turn to if they have questions; and considering how to learn from and disseminate good practice from existing networks;
- Development of clear guidelines for what is appropriate information sharing - supplemented by practical training and case studies and best practice examples;
- Development of a national guidance/practitioners handbook, accompanied by training, on information sharing in line with the Information Commissioner's guidelines and principles, and with relevant consultation with professional bodies. This could be part of SG/ COSLA/ PHS Marac guidance (see National Guidance and Statutory Footing section) and contain examples of typical 'grey area' scenarios where deciding whether to share is complex or challenging, as well as frameworks to help people understand whether the information they hold should or shouldn't be shared;
- Multi-agency Violence Against Women Partnerships (VAWPs) guiding information sharing and awareness of Marac at a local strategic level;
- Ensuring consistent, clear responsibilities regarding information sharing for Marac co-ordinators across Scotland.
ii. What might we learn from other areas, for example MAPPA, that have in place formalised agreements and protocols?
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