SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
This chapter provides the context for all procedures.
It contains the overall policy and strategy for the provision of services to children and families. It also sets out underlying values and principles for confidentiality.
1. Vision and Policy
Our vision is for Oxfordshire to be a place where every child and young person receives the support they need to:
- Enjoy good physical and mental health;
- Be protected from harm and neglect and grow up able to look after themselves;
- Achieve educational success and enjoyment, have good opportunities for play and leisure and develop self-confidence and life skills for a creative and positive adulthood;
- Make a positive contribution to the community and society;
- Live free from poverty, achieve their potential and make the most of their lives.
We believe that:
- Every child and young person has the right to be brought up in their own family;
- Every child and young person has the right to receive full-time, high quality education appropriate to their needs;
- Every child and young person has the right to be supported in a healthy lifestyle, and to health care that is accessible and appropriate to their need.
These values inform:
- How we communicate so our customers know about and access services;
- How they are treated with respect and courtesy at all times;
- How we work with them in real partnership;
- How we treat their personal information;
- How we enable them to support each other.
We will achieve this by:
- Listening to, hearing, respecting and responding to children, young people and families' views;
- Working with children, young people and families as equal partners, for example, involving children and families in the development of services, involving children and families in decisions and meetings that are about them, fitting services around children, young people and families rather than expecting them to fit in with us;
- Respecting the ability of families to make good and appropriate decisions for their children and strengthening support for them to meet their children's needs, for example asking families for their solutions, and enabling them to find them; and providing practical help to meet families' needs;
- Identifying and solving problems early on: - from an early age and/or when problems are first noticed;
- Strengthening support for schools and settings so that they can provide full-time, high quality education and learning for all their children and young people, for example, all agencies working together to help schools and settings meet their children's needs, ensuring that schools and settings fulfil their responsibilities through appropriate use of their resources, and advocating on behalf of children and young people when they don't;
- Enabling children and young people to access a range of positive activities and opportunities - especially those who are vulnerable or who have particular needs;
- All of us working with children and families taking individual, as well as collective, responsibility to find solutions, for example not just referring on to others to solve problems, carrying on being involved for as long as needed; and providing the right support at the right time for the right length of time;
- Working together with others, through increased trust and confidence, to own and solve problems jointly, for example, working as part of the team around the child and family, taking the role of Lead Professional when appropriate, valuing other professionals and not criticising or blaming them, using common language and common assessment arrangements;
- Working together to meet the needs of the whole child and family - not just focussing on one problem in isolation, thinking about all the children in the family, and thinking about the needs of the parents and the wider family;
- Learning about “what works” and doing more of it;
- Giving children and young people better information about the support that is available - involving children, young people and families in how we improve our information and making sure that information covers the full range of needs;
- Addressing inequalities and valuing diversity - targeting our resources and services to those in greatest need and meeting all of the need of all our children and young people.
This Policy sets out the framework within which Children in Need and their families receive services from Oxfordshire County Council. The Policy is consistent with the legislation and associated regulations and government guidance. The major legislation is listed below:
- United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child;
- Children Act 1989;
- Human Rights Act 1998;
- Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000;
- Care Standards Act 2000;
- Adoption and Children Act 2002;
- Children Act 2004.
Additional legislation will also be relevant, for example legislation relating to disability and discrimination.
Work with Oxfordshire's children, young people and their families is carried out in partnership with all sectors of Oxfordshire County Council and with other statutory and voluntary agencies.
Oxfordshire County Council is committed to the delivery of cost effective services in order to maximise resources for children and families.
As part of this, the County Council has a commitment to develop services around children that maximise their achievement and minimise risk, and aim to fulfil the 5 outcomes for children initially set out in Every Child Matters and now incorporated in the Children Act 2004:
All Oxfordshire children have a right to be healthy. Services are targeted to reduce health inequalities and to ensure that children have access to good quality health services. Oxfordshire is committed to the promotion of healthy lifestyles and of programmes to facilitate this.
All Oxfordshire children have a right to be safe from harm and neglect. Where children become Looked After, it is our policy to promote their well-being robustly and to facilitate, wherever possible, their return to their family of origin. Where this cannot be achieved for reasons of safety, children are placed wherever possible with permanent substitute families.
See also the Permanence Planning Guidance.
Enjoying and Achieving
All Oxfordshire children should be provided with good quality education that is able to meet their needs. Where a child is disabled, education, wherever possible, will be delivered in local schools. Oxfordshire children will be provided with a range of leisure and sports activities as well as extensive programmes to develop their general cultural and leisure pursuits.
Making a Positive Contribution
In Oxfordshire, children and young people, including those that are vulnerable, are well supported in making a positive contribution. The inclusion agenda ensures continuing commitment to innovative practice and challenging the status quo.
The County Council is committed to intensive provision to deflect children from crime and anti-social behaviour.
Oxfordshire County Council is committed to improving the economic wellbeing of children. The County Council's wider policies in relation to regeneration and planning are geared to promote the well-being of the locality and residents including children and young people.
Oxfordshire's Children, Education and Families Directorate, when working with individual children and their families, will seek to ensure the above outcomes by maintaining children within their own families, wherever possible.
All children accessing services in Oxfordshire will be treated with respect and afforded privacy in relation to confidential issues surrounding their lives.
Oxfordshire County Council and its employees will not discriminate against or disadvantage any child or family on the grounds of race, ethnicity, religion, language, disability, gender or sexuality. All policies, procedures and practice will reflect this intention.
It is our policy to consult with children, their parents and any other significant adults about the plans for their future. The plans will be subject to regular reviews which will be held within relevant statutory timescales.
Where it is not consistent with a child's safety and well-being to live at home with his or her immediate family, strenuous efforts will be made firstly to identify carers from within the wider kinship network of the child. If this is not possible, we shall identify suitable permanent alternative carers that reflect the child's ethnicity, religious, cultural and linguistic background wherever possible and appropriate. We will always seek to place children in or near Oxfordshire in order to maximise the potential for access to health and mental health services and to ensure that the child has contact with his or her own family as well as educational and social continuity.
We will promote meaningful contact between Looked After children and their families and community of origin unless particular circumstances indicate that such contact would not be in their best interests.
See also the Permanence Planning Guidance.
When children who are Looked After leave care, they will be supported and assisted until they are 21 or 24 if they are in full-time education. The level of financial support to these young people will be reviewed annually. Young people will be provided with clear information about the services to which they are entitled and in particular, the level of financial support they can be expected to receive and in what circumstances this will be provided.
We will promote an open-door culture for all children, parents and carers who access our services, which will encourage them to express their views, wishes and feelings. We will then do all we can to ensure that these views are taken into account when decisions are made about the child. If their wishes cannot be pursued because it is not in the child's best interests, they will be provided with clear and adequate explanations as to why their wishes cannot be acceded to.
Services that are provided to children, young people and their families will be provided by skilled staff, committed to meeting children's needs. Oxfordshire is committed to providing good quality training and support to staff in order that they can deliver high quality services.
Where children or others acting on their behalf are dissatisfied with services, we shall take steps to resolve the dissatisfaction. Children will also be given information about the County Council's Complaints and Representations Procedure, which is based on the principle of resolution and not conflict, and given the opportunity to make formal a complaint if they wish.
2. Confidentiality Values and Principles
- Legal duty of confidence
- Disclosure of confidential information is permitted in exceptional circumstances
- Situations where disclosure is permitted should be shared with children involved
- Disclosures and sharing information with colleagues and agencies
- Freedom of Information Act 2000
1. Legal duty of confidence
Personal information held about children is subject to a legal duty of confidence and should not normally be disclosed without the consent of the subject.
The legal framework for confidentiality is contained in the common law duty of confidence, the Children Act 1989, the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Data Protection Act 1998.
The law requires that data must be:
- Fairly and lawfully processed.
'Processing' includes obtaining, recording, changing, using and disposing. Personal data cannot be processed unless the conditions of the Act are met, usually by obtaining the person's consent to the processing. The exceptions to this are set out in Section 3.2.
- Processed for limited purposes;
- We must be open about how information is to be used and not use it for any other purpose;
- Processed in line with the rights of the individual.
We must inform them that processing is taking place, allow them to inspect any personal data we hold about them and correct or erase information that we are told is wrong.
2. Disclosure of confidential information is permitted in exceptional circumstances
Whilst the general principle is that information obtained about children must be shared with them and not with others, there are exceptions. The public interest in child protection overrides the public interest in maintaining confidentiality and the law permits the disclosure of confidential information necessary to safeguard a child or children.
Disclosure should be justifiable in each case, for example to provide information to professionals from other agencies working with the child, and where possible and appropriate, the agreement of the person concerned should be obtained.
Those working with children must make it clear that confidentiality may not be maintained if the disclosure of information is necessary in the interests of the child. Even in these circumstances, disclosure will be appropriate only to the extent necessary to achieve that purpose.
There may also be situations where third parties have a statutory right of access to the information or where a Court Order requires that access be given.
The circumstances in which information held in records on children and families can and should be disclosed and shared with others with or without consent are set out in the following sections.
In all other cases, where third parties such as advocates, solicitors or external researchers request access to information, this should only be given if written consent is given by the person concerned.
3. Situations where disclosure is permitted should be shared with children involved
Children should be informed of the circumstances in which information about them will be shared with others. It should be made clear that in each case the information passed on will only be what is relevant and on a 'need to know' basis.
See also in relation to the disclosure of confidential information given by a child in relation to his or her sexual health or sexual relationships, Working with Sexually Active Young People under the age of 18 including those at Risk of Sexual Exploitation in Oxfordshire Procedure.
4. Disclosures and sharing information with colleagues and agencies
Sharing information promptly with others working with the same child is invariably the key to safeguarding the child's interests and promoting his or her welfare.
Therefore, relevant information about children must be shared with colleagues, other professionals or agencies that may have a role to play in their care.
However, the general principle is that information may only be shared on a 'need to know' basis.
- Where professionals are undertaking a Child Protection Assessment in relation to a child;
- Where the Police are investigating a criminal offence or require information to help them find an absent, missing or absconded children - see Oxfordshire Safeguarding Children Board Procedures Manual, Children Missing From Home Procedure;
- Where information is requested in the furtherance of an inquiry or tribunal, or for the purposes of a Serious Case Review.
In such circumstances the person to whom the information relates should be informed that records have been requested unless to do so would prejudice the purpose of the request.
Any objections they have should be considered before responding to the person making the request.
Where information or records are passed to others it should be noted and confirmed in writing.
Information may also be disclosed to persons who have a statutory right of access to the information, for example:
- Where the Court directs that records be produced or a Children's Guardian is appointed;
- Where information is requested by Inspectors of OFSTED (who have specific statutory powers that permit access to records).
Where information is requested by telephone or electronically, great care must be taken to ensure that the recipient is entitled to receive the information requested. Where there is any doubt the information may not be provided without the approval of a Team Manager.
In any event, information should not be handed over to anyone unless members of staff are satisfied that:
- The person/agency has a bona fide entitlement to that information;
- The identity of the person/agency can be established without any doubt;
- The person/agency will maintain an appropriate ethical approach to the confidentiality of the information provided.
5. Freedom of Information Act 2000
The Freedom of Information Act 2000 came into force on 1 January 2005.
Under the Act anybody may request information from a public authority (which includes all local authorities). The Act confers two statutory rights on applicants:
- To be informed in writing whether or not the public authority holds the information requested; and if so
- To have that information communicated to him/her.
The Act applies to all information whether recent or old.
The Act sets out 23 exemptions from rights of access to information. If the information is exempt, there is no right of access under the Act.
One exemption relates to personal information. This means that an application for personal information under the Act is exempt and will not therefore be dealt with under the Act. A person's right of access to such information must still be dealt with in accordance with the Data Protection Act 1998. The procedure is set out in the Access to Records Procedure.
Another category relates to information provided in confidence where disclosure would involve an actionable breach of confidence. This would include information provided by a member of the public about a child protection issue where the provider has provided the information on the basis that anonymity will be maintained.
The Act therefore does not change the legal position into the principles of confidentiality set out in this section.