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The importance of information sharing in improving safeguarding

Source: PSE Oct/Nov 16

Emma Hart, engagement manager at the Centre of Excellence for Information Sharing, explains why there is a pressing need to ensure information sharing is seen as an integral part of professional practice to improve safeguarding.

The Centre of Excellence for Information Sharing (the centre) has been supporting the Department for Education (DfE) to look at how information sharing can be used more effectively to protect vulnerable children and families. 

In the June/July edition of PSE, the centre wrote an article focusing on the research element of this work, made up of in-depth analysis of 25 serious case reviews and facilitating five regional roadshows to talk with professionals about information sharing barriers in multi-agency partnerships. In this follow-up article we discuss the findings of the research, the recommendations made to central government and the next steps for this work. 

The findings 

The findings identified that there are three overarching factors crucial to the successful sharing of information by early help and safeguarding partnerships: understanding vulnerability and risk; providing strategic leadership and communication; and developing professional capability.

Understanding vulnerability and risk 

Throughout the work, ‘not knowing the bigger picture about vulnerable children and families’ was cited as a reason that information was not shared. Professionals often struggle to understand the purpose for sharing crucial pieces of information that may help protect children and families without the full context of a family’s history. Without this holistic view, the most appropriate early help and safeguarding interventions may not take place. 

Alongside a greater understanding of the vulnerabilities of children and families, professionals spoke of the need to be able to make better decisions about risk. Risk to vulnerable children is managed most effectively when information is shared proactively, enabling agencies to join up and intervene earlier. One solution is the ‘Child Protection – Information Sharing’ project, which facilitates the exchange of key child protection information and episodes of unscheduled NHS care, so that local authorities are alerted when a child in their care presents for unscheduled treatment.

Providing strategic leadership and communication 

Systems leaders cause routine information sharing to happen through a clear and consistent vision for the partnership, cutting across traditional organisational boundaries, and supporting middle managers to drive change in early help and safeguarding practice. Through adopting better ways of collaborating to discuss and exchange information about children and families, and stronger governance arrangements to scrutinise decisions to share information, partner agencies will develop more trusting inter- and intra-agency relationships, in order to share information earlier. 

Professionals should also use collaborative working approaches to agree and communicate common thresholds for early intervention and develop a shared language for information sharing, especially when sharing information about families who move between different authorities (be these council, police or health). These approaches should be supported at a national level by simplified and co-ordinated messages about best information sharing practice. 

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Developing professional capability 

Professionals highlighted that workforce development could be improved to include better multi-agency induction and bespoke training on information sharing. There was a call for ongoing opportunities for professional development and reflection in order to be able to share information confidently and challenge poor practice. Through collaborative approaches to partnership learning, and stronger links with their community, professionals can drive service transformation by understanding what information sharing practice works best in early help and safeguarding partnerships.


The direct engagement with professionals highlighted the information sharing issues which exist as barriers to better safeguarding, resulting in five recommendations being made to the DfE: 

  • Central government departments to work together with other ‘nationally based’ agencies and voluntary and community sector organisations to develop a consistent cross-government strategy that supports a greater understanding of the context of information which could be shared about vulnerable children and families
  • Local early help and safeguarding partnerships to develop a strong and coherent approach to making decisions about the balance of risk when sharing information about vulnerable children and families
  • Central government departments and local leaders to work in partnership to support systems leadership approaches that create the conditions for successful information sharing
  • Central government departments and local leaders to recognise the importance of communication and coherent messages in focusing effort on how information sharing supports earlier intervention
  • Central government departments to support local early help and safeguarding partnerships to develop their partners’ information sharing capability 


 The findings indicate that poor information sharing cannot be diagnosed and treated as a distinct problem that lies outside of professional practice – in fact, information sharing is part of practice. 

To support partnerships to promote and deliver earlier intervention, there is a pressing need to ensure that information sharing is seen as an integral part of professional practice. Genuine commitment is required from multi-agency partnerships, with the support of national safeguarding bodies, to learn lessons from past failures to share information.



Tell us what you think – have your say below or email [email protected]


Peter   14/11/2016 at 14:37

Until the underlying issue of NHS information sharing being "Ultra-Vires" is tackled by a change in the underlying basis of the organisation, all the legal gateways, Caldicott reviews and best practice guidance will be fraught with uncertainty and doubt.

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