What Are The Risks Of Not Sharing Data For Safeguarding Children?

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Authors:  

Dr Filippo Marchetti
- Senior Researcher & Data Protection Services Manager
Stephen Anning
- Product Manager

Date: 3 November 2022

Child exploitation is too often hidden in plain sight which makes it hard to detect and tackle. In response, Trilateral Research has co-designed the CESIUM Application with Lincolnshire Police to identify children who are vulnerable to exploitation. CESIUM promotes intelligence collaboration for safeguarding children by using our ethical artificial intelligence (Ethical AI) to gain new insight. Intelligence collaboration relies upon data sharing, so what are risks of not sharing data.

In a recent validation exercise, CESIUM’s Ethical AI identified 16 vulnerable children many months before their referral through established channels.

Trilateral Research (2022) CESIUM shines a light on the hidden exploitation of children

Responsible and constructive data sharing further increases CESIUM’s game-changing potential for protecting vulnerable children. 

Many policy reports, strategy documents, and serious case reviews promote data sharing to improve safeguarding arrangements. Nevertheless, many safeguarding reports cite a lack of data sharing as one of the serious impediments to the better protection of vulnerable children. There appears to be resistance to data sharing, despite the enabling features of legislation in the context of safeguarding vulnerable individuals. So, while the safeguarding community recognises the need to promote data sharing, what are the risks of not sharing data? 

What is a Safeguarding Partnership? 

Safeguarding partnerships are the focal point for sharing data. The Children and Social Work Act 2017 established the requirements for safeguarding partnerships by reforming the delivery of multi-agency services for child safeguarding. This legislation abolished Local Safeguarding Children Boards and gave responsibilities to a “safeguarding partner”, which concerning a local authority area in England, means2

  1. The local authority, generally the children’s services; 
  2. A clinical commissioning group lead; 
  3. The Chief Constable of the regional Police Force. 

The 2018 “Working Together to Safeguard Children: strategy”3 sets out the statutory obligations for safeguarding partners to deliver appropriate arrangements through safeguarding partnerships. Various non-statutory partners, such as charities and NGOs, augment the statutory obligations. As of 2022, there are 134 partnerships in the United Kingdom, and as observed in one report:

poor information exchange is not just a problem between partners, but also between local authorities when children move between areas”. 

MacAllister (2022) The independent review of children’s social care, p80 

Why is there Resistance to Data Sharing? 

The UK General Data Protection Regulation and the Data Protection Act 2018 recognise many legitimate concerns with protecting a child’s privacy. Safeguarding partnerships also comprise clinical commissioning groups, which places additional medical-in-confidence considerations onto data-sharing arrangements. As government guidance for data sharing in safeguarding states, “the [UK] GDPR and Data Protection Act 2018 place greater significance on organisations being transparent and accountable in relation to their use of data […] but do not prevent, or limit, the sharing of information for the purposes of keeping children and young people safe”.5 Indeed, Schedule 8 of the Data Protection Act 2018 has a series of conditions for enabling sensitive processing that includes safeguarding children and individuals at risk.6 

Despite the enabling legislation for data sharing, serious case reviews have highlighted that missed opportunities to record, understand the significance of and share information in a timely manner can have severe consequences for the safety and welfare of children”.7

Indeed, CESIUM directly responds to a challenge laid out in 2021 review of the UK’s safeguarding arrangements by Sir Alan Wood. He comments,

how can we help hard pressed, stressed professionals to feel empowered to ask for and share information and to inculcate an attitude of sharing and openness in those who control the data and information?”.

 UK Gov (2018) Wood Report Sector expert review of new multi-agency safeguarding arrangements, p52 

While there are no recorded serious case reviews arising from inter-agency sharing, many safeguarding failures occur from not sharing data. As such, a 2020 Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel report recognises how

resistance to data sharing is a “perennial theme of many historical inquiries about children who have died9.

The Child Safegaurding Practive Review Panel (2020) Annual Report

Indeed, poor critical information exchange was present in 40% of the serious incident notifications in 2018/19 and has featured in high profile inquiries, including the inquiries into the deaths of Victoria Climbié and Peter Connelly.10

From individual case reviews, improvements to data sharing in one case could have “enabled the allocated Social Worker to have a single point of contact within the Police who they could have updated as the circumstances surrounding Joshua’s case developed”.11 Another review explains how agencies acting in information stovepipes failed to “join the dots” such that “despite the warning signs and several alerts […] no single agency identified the full risk posed by the parents of Sarah to her and her sister12.  

How can we address resistance to data sharing? 

The possibility of failure from sharing data is relatively low, but the likelihood of failure from not sharing data is certainly high.

While recognising a legitimate concern to protect a child’s privacy, over-protecting their privacy through resistance to data sharing may paradoxically increase their exposure to harm.

Nonetheless, as a reward for improved data sharing, CESIUM’s Ethical AI offers new insights into the challenges of safeguarding children from exploitation.  

Trilateral Research’s long-standing expertise in data governance means we are well-placed to address data-sharing concerns.

The company was founded in 2004 to conduct applied research on the interplay of human rights, data protection, and emerging technologies.13 Our outputs have since contributed to shaping the data-protection landscape in the UK and the EU. 18 years later, we’re now a company of 120+ people, with 80% holding a postgraduate qualification.

Since 2015, our Data Protection and Cyber-Risk service operationally applies our data-protection research to our clients’ operations in the UK, IE, continental Europe and the United States. Our high-profile clients include more than 30 organisations, including, but not limited to, the University of Cambridge, UNHCR, European Medicines Agency, European Banking Authority, Cardiff Council, and others.  

To leverage the advantages of improved data sharing, we have developed innovative methodologies to conduct Data Protection Impact Assessments in conjunction to our Ethical Impact Assessment. Public authorities also employ us to facilitate the communication of delicate data-sharing operations. Moreover, we also offer bespoke services and training as required. Please get in touch if you want to know more about improving data sharing in your safeguarding arrangements. 

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