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Monday, December 01, 2008

Child protection in NSW hampered by BOTPA

Former Justice James Wood has also given the NSW Government a report in three volumes, concluding his inquiry into child protection services.There are lots of very serious issues here for urgent attention, including in Chapter 24 ( Volume 3 page 958), problems arising from our patchy and complex privacy laws which have created an environment that constrains sharing of information about children in need.

BOTPA- Because of the Privacy Act strikes again.

The Report suggests that some of these problems may be more imagined than real on close legal analysis, but perceptions colour everything, and the public servants and others involved are convinced they can't do what should be done.

Wood came across a Department of Community Services draft document developed this year as a guide to staff on privacy issues- at around 80 pages and counting, it was a work in progress that he suggests should stop.More detailed information might make things even worse.The Report recommends legislative change to ensure appropriate information sharing between government agencies, and between them and NGOs, that may be involved in the safety and well-being of young persons.

The big picture privacy issues, and hopefully how to simplify the law, are still under consideration by the NSW Law Reform Commission whose Consultation Paper in June also identified information- sharing barriers in the name of privacy protection as a problem in child protection.( Wood is also Chairman of the Commission)

Some of the references in Chapter 24 to "codes of practice" suggest confusion even among Wood and his team between a code of practice (which has legal status as an instrument approved by the Attorney General to permit departure from the current act by an agency in the public interest) and a code of practice so described which amounts to an agency approved guideline for staff which has no legal force.

The Executive Summary and Recommendations provides the essentials for those daunted by two three volume reports in the same week..

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