Children’s Commissioner
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Creating a child safeguarding system which shares data to protect and empower children and young people

Over the last few months, my office has been working hard on developing new ways to improve data sharing in child safeguarding systems. Following a cross-government workshop in May, which we previously reported on, the team has undertaken an intense round of one-to-one interviews with senior stakeholders and begun detailing recommendations for improvements.  

Following the initial workshop, which over 100 practitioners fed into, my office met experts from the Cabinet Office’s Central Digital & Data Office, National Police Chiefs Council, the National Data Guardian, and from NHS England. These detailed sessions were useful in helping to build a consensus around the need for change, and for clearly articulating my key message that poor data sharing should not be hindering safeguarding interventions. 

My office will publish the final report in the Autumn, but I want today to share a preview of findings.  

  • Consent is still considered by too many practitioners to be the most effective basis for data sharing, despite other legal duties providing a stronger basis for sharing information. As one practitioner who attended the workshop said: ‘I think we need to just move away from this idea of consent. It’s not not [sic] very helpful’. 
  • We underappreciate how resource intensive data sharing is. Many practitioners expressed a keen interest in being able to develop technological solutions which would link data from multiple safeguarding partners, and which could both more easily allow practitioners to record concerns or engagement with a child or family. However, many are constrained by resources and the need to prioritise urgent safeguarding issues. 
  • Pulling together data from multiple agencies is particularly complex and time-consuming. The view of practitioners was that reaching consensus on data sharing agreements, data governance structures, and privacy notices was labour intensive and, in some instances, took years. 
  • Across different safeguarding partners within one locality there are often different culture appetites to risk, and appreciation of what safeguarding means. We heard that, despite attempts to make data sharing the ‘default’ for practitioners, many were still apprehensive about sharing information for fear of oversharing details and being prosecuted or fined, or due to a lack of motivation to do so from senior leaders. 

My team has also been talking to families about data sharing as part of the Family Review, and we now have a wealth of data and insights from across the country which captures how data is handled, shared, and the concerns which exists across citizens and experts. 

Once the report has been shared with colleagues and professionals, we will formally publish its recommendations. The data sharing workshop was held in partnership with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), who has committed to producing a resource to support data sharing in child safeguarding settings. This cross-agency collaboration is something I welcome, and as I said in my opening remarks to the data sharing workshop, I expect all government departments to drive up standards, as we all have a responsibility to deliver good data sharing for child safeguarding purposes. 

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