Media Release by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Sharing custody information to help protect children

Information about custody arrangements can now be shared with state and child protection agencies to help protect and support children at risk of abuse or neglect.

The move to include the Child Support Agency follows the successful inclusion of Centrelink and Medicare.

The information sharing protocol formalises the process for passing on client details to child protection agencies, where a child is at serious risk of harm or in the interests of their health or welfare.

With the inclusion of the Child Support Agency, information about the custody arrangements for a child, addresses, and information about other children in a person’s care can now be shared.

This information could assist state child protection agencies to locate a family, assist in their investigations of abuse and neglect, or help them arrange suitable care for a child who has been removed from a parent.

Since the information sharing protocol was introduced, child protection agencies have requested the following information from Centrelink and Medicare:

  • From 1 January 2009 to 30 June 2010, Centrelink received 4795 requests for protected information, most seeking addresses to locate a family.
  • From 1 November 2009 to 30 June 2010, Medicare Australia received 243 requests for Medicare card numbers, 799 requests for Medicare and PBS claims information and requests for immunisation history statements for 3245 children.

The Queensland Department of Communities is leading the way, with more than 4,000 requests to Centrelink and 737 requests to Medicare Australia since the protocol was introduced.

Sharing information across jurisdictions can help child protection agencies remain in contact with vulnerable children if families change addresses or move to another state or territory.

It can also help investigate serious abuse or medical neglect cases, by allowing child protection authorities to access a child’s history of doctor visits. Or if a child is placed into the care of a child protection agency their medical and immunisation history and Medicare number can be accessed quickly and efficiently.

The protocol clearly establishes what information can be requested, and under what circumstances it can be provided.

Every child has the right to a safe, healthy and happy childhood. Improved information sharing between government agencies is an important tool in child protection.

Improved information sharing is a key action under the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children 2009-2020, which was endorsed by the Council of Australian Governments in April 2009.

The protocol is being considered for use with other Commonwealth agencies.