Is it really about lack of information, Anne?

Dear Anne,Wouldn't you love to wave a magic wand over every parent in the land, instantly making them love and nurture their children?

If only it were that easy.

As one of the plethora of documents you released last week said, New Zealand's vulnerable children are living in environments with high levels of need and deprivation, often experiencing the combined impacts of long-term unemployment, low income, unaddressed physical and mental health needs, parental alcohol and drug addiction, family violence and crime.

On top of that, there are those children who may have complex needs including physical, learning, intellectual and mental health disabilities.

Will the raft of proposed reforms to child care and protection ensure all vulnerable children (and apparently you reckon there could be as many as 230,000 of them) are in healthy homes where their families' incomes are adequate?

There is much detail to be revealed about the new operating model, but so far I cannot see any guarantees about either of those basic aspects of family life.

Now you have discovered services need to be child-centred and you want children to have more say, I hope there will be special effort to seek family input into any proposed changes to information sharing.

Your Ministry hasn't had a good track record of specifically consulting families, particularly on the 2015 Approved Information Sharing Agreement for Improving Public Services for Vulnerable Children and on predictive risk modelling (PRM, the system that would assess your children's abuse risk).

You stopped the ethically questionable large-scale experiment on PRM, but use of this dubious ‘‘tool'' in some form has not been abandoned.

Cabinet has invited you to report back by June 30 on possible legislation change for creating a ‘‘bespoke information-sharing framework'' under the Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Act.

Suggested changes could place an expectation on those with functions/responsibilities under the Act to exchange information necessary to promote the child's safety and wellbeing without their consent, if it is considered the benefits outweigh the negative impacts.

This seems much more far-reaching than sharing information where risk of serious harm is concerned.

How will GPs feel about that?

In the lead-up to this, will we endure more scaremongering about supposed deficiencies in information sharing and the damage it does, possibly to lull us into accepting more intrusive information gathering?

Is poor care for at-risk children actually less about lack of information sharing and more about not being able to put relevant and sufficient high-quality services in place?

Is it too early to be considering legislation on information sharing?

The Vulnerable Kids Information System (ViKi), which would be subsumed into a new whizz-bang data management and analysis IT system, is still very much a fledgling, ‘‘going live'' only last November.

So far, it seems ViKi is only being used for children's teams in Hamilton, Christchurch and Counties Manukau, catering for about 4000 children. (Is it a good omen that a search for ViKi on the Children's Action Plan website comes up with a heading saying ‘‘Vulnerable Kids Informatiom System (ViKi)''? When I looked, there was no accompanying information to go with that poorly spelled headline. Information sharing gone mad!)

Wouldn't it be prudent to wait until ViKi has been introduced nationwide and has been running long enough to allow a full evaluation of it, including any problems with privacy or information security?

In the meantime, what about funding a comprehensive campaign to educate people, including all government ministers, on the reality of the existing situation if you have concerns about the safety of a child?

Here's part of a recent blog on the Privacy Commissioner's website: ‘‘There are two legal protections for those who are concerned about a child's wellbeing or safety and want to disclose this to someone else.

‘‘If you have concerns about the wellbeing of a child, section 15 of the Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Act 1989 states that ‘Any person who believes that any child or young person has been, or is likely to be, harmed (whether physically, emotionally, or sexually), ill-treated, abused, neglected, or deprived may report the matter to a social worker or a constable'.

‘‘In addition, the Privacy Act's information privacy principle 11(f) allows anyone to disclose personal information to prevent or lessen a serious threat to any person or to the public. A threat is serious based on its imminence, likelihood and severity - so a modest risk that's about to happen might count as serious, as might a more severe risk that is some distance in the future. The test is what a reasonable person in your position would think.''

And if you are not sure?

Phone the Privacy Commissioner's 0800 number.

Oh, for a magic wand.

●Elspeth McLean is a Dunedin writer.

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