By Christine Blaber
Many struggling children among us face a range of challenges—from mental health disorders to poverty, violence, and unstable home lives.
One familiar (and frustrating) barrier to providing the help and support these children need is the uncertainty around whether and how to legally share information between child-serving agencies, including schools, mental health services, law enforcement, child welfare agencies, and the juvenile justice system.
Toward that end, we’ve created a new Information Sharing website—a one-stop shop for strategies to overcome this challenge so that children get the services they need, when they need them.
Professionals working with children involved in two or more systems often have a very incomplete picture of what’s actually going on for individual children and their families, typically knowing only what the young person or a family member has told them. Without more information, professionals often can’t accurately identify and treat the root causes of the problem or ensure that children are getting the services and supports to meet the range of their needs.
“Sharing information provides a more seamless experience for families and helps us serve children cost-effectively. We don’t waste time gathering information that other agencies already have.” — Dr. Joseph Christy, former director of the Washington County (Oregon) Juvenile Department
When all the providers who work with a particular child are aware of one another’s efforts, they can act more effectively and efficiently. However, such cooperation is often hindered by confusion about the laws protecting the confidentiality of information related to children and youth.
Professionals may wonder:
- What information can a guidance counselor share with a student’s parents?
- Do the same rules apply to all types of information-sharing (e.g., sharing mental health records vs. disclosing a young person’s involvement with the juvenile justice system)?
- What type of consent is required for a school to share student records with a foster parent?
Our new Information Sharing website can answer these questions and more. Based on our work with hundreds of communities, this site will help educators and other professionals who work with children understand the laws that govern information sharing and develop policies and procedures that comply with the laws. Best of all, our e-learning activities make learning this information fun—and these activities are available to anyone who wants to use them!
The benefits to sharing information in compliance with federal and state laws are myriad.
Sharing information provides professionals with a more complete understanding of the issues a child is dealing with and improves their ability to provide appropriate services and supports.
Information sharing also reduces duplication of services and enables professionals to coordinate their services to achieve the maximum impact. These efficiencies can result in significant cost savings for organizations, which can free up resources to serve more children and families.
As Dr. Joseph Christy, former director of the Washington County (Oregon) Juvenile Department, summarizes, “Sharing information provides a more seamless experience for families and helps us serve children cost-effectively. We don’t waste time gathering information that other agencies already have.”
The New Website
Our Information Sharing website includes a concise overview of relevant confidentiality laws (FERPA, HIPAA, federal drug and alcohol confidentiality laws, IDEIA, PPRA, etc.) so you can learn how to share information lawfully, benefiting both at-risk kids and your community as a whole.
One especially exciting aspect of the website is the seven scenario-based e-learning activities that let you practice being in the driver’s seat, playing the role of professionals who need to make decisions about whether to share—or request—information about youth involved in multiple systems.
In addition, you can go through 20 real-life case examples that present challenging situations in which information about a child or group of children is being sought. In the case example analyses, we clarify for you what information can legally be shared in the situation and what the professionals involved might do next.
The website also describes how to use the 3 Bold Steps of Partner-Plan-Act to create an information-sharing system that works for everyone involved. More specifically, the site explains how to collaborate with others to share information, create interagency agreements supporting information sharing, develop uniform consent forms, train staff and use technology to share information, develop and refine policies and protocols, communicate to shareholders, and allocate time and funding for information sharing.
What are the greatest information-sharing challenges you face in your school and community? We’d love to hear what you think about our new Information Sharing website. Please add your thoughts and comments below.*
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