Coordinated Responses
Our Partners
Related Tools

Develop confidential and safe information sharing systems

Last edited: March 07, 2019

This content is available in

Options
Options

A key function of an information sharing system in a coordinated response is to allow for sharing of and recording information about individual cases and the relevant responses from the various individuals and agencies to which the information is referred.  This may occur through the course of the legal process, or take place between health and support services, or a combination of several different agencies/organisations. 

It may be necessary to ensure that all parties to a coordinated response have legal and individual permission to share the information they are privy to when serving a victim/survivor of violence.  Many countries have confidentiality laws prohibiting the sharing of police reports or certain identifying information of a victim of violence.  Depending on the legal prohibitions in a given municipality or country, legislative amendments may be  needed to establish exceptions to the confidential nature of police reports to allow discussion during a coordinated response team meeting of the open investigation.   For more information on legislative process, see the Legislative Module.

Shared systems should encourage the collection of consistent and comprehensive data that will provide as comprehensive a picture as possible of each case to any practitioner who becomes involved and may contribute to decision-making about what action is needed.  Information sharing can improve the response to individual cases and also enables monitoring of whether policies and protocols are being followed and whether intervention objectives are being met.  Monitoring helps to ensure accountability in the overall response.  A shared data system can also help to improve inter-agency function and coordination by highlighting problems that can then be addressed collectively. 

One of the key features of the Duluth model is the Domestic Abuse Intervention Program (DAIP), an independent organisation, which acted as a hub for case tracking and information sharing.  DAIP’s success in tracking and disseminating relevant information led to information sharing being considered a key part of a coordinated response.

There are many challenges to implementing a shared information system, and it remains one of the most difficult and contested aspects of coordinated responses.  For one, there are fundamental privacy and consent issues for women victims/survivors of violence, especially when their personal details are required to be included in a shared system.  Before any information sharing system is established, data protection and confidentiality issues must be fully explored. 

Agencies should be aware that sharing information may place women and children at further risk even where the intention is to increase safety.  For instance, women from isolated rural communities might be placed at risk of further violence if it becomes known that they have reported violence to an agency. Women may be reluctant to share information if they fear punitive responses, such as being identified as having insecure immigration status, or being afraid their children will be taken from them. Mandatory reporting of violence against women by professionals to authorities is not recommended in most cases, but where policies or legislation require this (for example, where there are indications of a risk of death, serious harm, child abuse/neglect or commission of a serious crime), women may be additionally wary of disclosing their experiences if they know it must be shared with other agencies. 

Regard for women’s safety, confidentiality and autonomy, together with awareness that victims/survivors often offer information to them based on the understanding that it is confidential, heightens some women’s NGOs’ concerns about sharing information with other agencies and contributing to joint databases.  Where this is the case, further work to build trust in the coordination network and partner agencies is needed before this aspect of a coordinated response can be implemented.

In order to address these fundamental concerns, coordinated responses should:

  • Designate a single independent agency to collect and collate the data;
  • Develop protocols, templates and agreements on information sharing that address the different approaches to confidentiality that each agency may have;
  • Develop strict protocols about whether and how the information will be shared among partner agencies;
  • Provide victims/survivors with a clear explanation of which information will be shared, with whom, under what circumstances and for what purpose;
  • Develop protocols for seeking informed consent from victims/survivors on the use of data, without placing pressure on them about this should they be reluctant; and
  • Provide credible assurances to victims/survivors that their private data will be protected from electronic or human security breaches, by establishing a secure, controlled-access database.

To ensure that information-sharing systems are effective and secure, there are important intermediate steps that can be taken, and these should be considered the minimum elements of information sharing for all coordinated responses:

  • Ensure data collection and entry is properly resourced in each contributing agency to ensure high levels of completion of the shared system;
  • In resource-poor contexts, where complex electronic systems are unaffordable, contact details and case data should be recorded separately and should be cross-referenced with a unique numeric identifier;
  • Secure agreement between all partner agencies on the anonymised data they should all collect, collate and share – e.g. number of identified cases, victim/survivor and perpetrator profiles, actions taken, referrals, case outcomes and other information relevant to specific contexts;
  • Share anonymised aggregate agency-based data regularly within the coordinated response – every 3 or 6 months – as a means of assessing the effectiveness of individual agency responses and the overall coordinated response;
  • Conduct yearly assessments to identify and address information gaps; =
  • Draw up a protocol outlining whether, when and who can make the information shared more public and how this should be done, including compliance with local data protection legislation; and
  • In the interests of transparency and accountability, commit to making some of the information gathered public.  This should be limited to aggregate, depersonalised data that does not enable identification of any individual and should not include any personal or sensitive data.

 

Confidentiality and information sharing

To ensure the safety and confidentiality of victims/survivors, the following areas must be considered when developing information sharing systems and protocols:

  • At all times respect the confidentiality of the victim/survivor families; 
  • Share only necessary and relevant information (not all details), only if requested and agreed by the victim/survivor, with only those actors involved in providing assistance;
  • Information about violence against women incidents and victims/survivors, if it includes the individual’s name, address, contact numbers or other identifying information, should never be shared;
  • Information concerning the victim/survivor should only be shared with third parties after seeking and obtaining explicit consent in writing from the victim/survivor (or their parents, in the case of children);
  • All written information must be maintained in secure, locked files;
  • If any reports or statistics are to be made public, all potentially identifying information should be removed and only aggregate numbers and data made public; and
  • In meetings, there may be times when a specific violence against women case is mentioned.  Ensure that no identifying information is revealed, disguising details as needed to protect the confidentiality of the victim-survivor. 

Adapted from Vann, B. (2004) Training Manual Facilitator’s Guide: Interagency and Multisectoral Prevention and Response to Gender-based Violence in Populations Affected by Armed Conflict, Washington DC: RHRC Consortium, available in English.

 

 

Case study: Albania

In Albania, building on the piloting of municipal Councils against Domestic Violence (CaDVs) as part of developing coordinated community responses to domestic violence, the Network Against Gender-Based Violence and Trafficking designed and piloted an information sharing system.  This consisted of a database to track the response to identified and reported cases of domestic violence.  The database records specific data for every registered case, as well as data from the range of institutions involved.  Its functions include:

  • Acting as a shared documentation system for all responding agencies;
  • Producing statistical evidence about patterns and trends in reporting and case profiles;
  • Providing evidence about the functioning of the CaDVs and inter-sectoral referral system; and
  • Helping to identify gaps, areas where improvement is needed and promising practices.

The design phase involved drafting a data collection instrument: a questionnaire to be completed by responding agencies and entered on to the database.  Several consultation phases followed with members of the Network, national and international experts, lawyers specialising in domestic violence cases and members of CaDVs and Technical Working Groups (TWGs) in all five municipalities.  Once comments and suggestions were incorporated, an electronic database was designed using  Access software.  The database contains three main sections: case details (victim/survivor, perpetrator, family composition and case history details); case management (details of contact and referral by all agencies involved); and data reporting (templates for data analysis and reporting).  Each case is automatically assigned a unique reference code to ensure confidentiality can be preserved in all database outputs.  The full list of database/questionnaire variables is available in the Annex of the project report (Kocaqi, 2010).

A two-day training on the data system was held with representatives from the five municipalities.  The nine-month pilot led to inputting of 204 cases across all pilot areas.  The aim is now for the system to become a standard instrument endorsed by the authorities for use in all municipalities.

Lessons learned
  • Formalisation of the system through Memoranda of Understanding as well as establishment of relevant structures, such as CaDVs or TWGs, is necessary to achieve effectiveness and continuity.
  • Control by a lead institution and the appointment of a Coordinator is indispensable.
  • A shared data system helps to improve inter-agency working, but is also useful in highlighting problems, which can then be addressed.
  • Although the focus of this project was the local level, cooperation and involvement at a central level, especially by a lead Ministry, is very important in order to ensure support for replication of the model across the country.

Source: Kocaqi, M. (2010) Report on Establishment and Effectiveness of Functioning of the Cross-Sectoral Referral System of Domestic Violence Cases at The Local Level, In framework of the project: “Making it Real: Implementing the Law against Domestic Violence in Albania”, Tirana: “Refleksione” Association, available in English.

More information

Stop Dhunës website, Refleksione website.

 

Tools and resources

Data Security Checklist to Increase Victim Safety (National Network to End Domestic Violence, 2008).  The checklist highlights steps that local domestic violence and rape crisis programmes and other community service providers can take to promote victim/survivor safety and data security. It includes concepts to consider: before undertaking data collection; when designing a data system; and during ongoing data system maintenance, audits and trainings. Available in English.

The Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) Toolkit offers advice on setting up an inter-agency information sharing process. Available in English.

Multi-Agency Domestic Violence Information Sharing Protocol Guidance (Greater London Domestic Violence Project, 2007).  This guidance is designed to inform professionals working in multi-agency partnerships and assist in developing information-sharing protocols for the sharing of personal information in domestic violence cases.  Available in English.

Safety and Justice: Sharing Personal Information in the Context of Domestic Violence – An Overview (Douglas, N., Lilley, S.J., Kooper, L. and Diamond, A., 2004), Development and Practice Report 30, London: Home Office.  This short report provides guidance about key aspects of information sharing for agencies and practitioners responding to intimate partner violence, including: definitions of personal and sensitive information; when and how to obtain consent from victims/survivors; key elements of an information sharing protocol; and a suggested process for drawing up a protocol with partner agencies.  Although framed within the provisions of law in England and Wales, the guidance can be used as a baseline and adapted to other contexts.  Available in English.

Confidentiality & Information Sharing Systems for Domestic Violence Advocates Working with Child Protection and Juvenile Court Systems (Davies, J., undated), San Francisco: Family Violence Prevention Fund.  Although particularly focused on information sharing with child protection and juvenile court systems in the context of intimate partner violence, this guide contains considerations and approaches that are applicable to cases of violence against women in multiple sectors.  It includes a discussion of legal and advocacy approaches to information sharing and a framework for developing effective information sharing policy and practice.  Available in English.

Advocacy Challenges in a CCR:  Protecting Confidentiality While Promoting a Coordinated Response (Tibbets Murphy, S., 2011), Minneapolis: Battered Women’s Justice Project. This paper discusses challenges and offers guidance on confidentiality and information sharing for domestic violence advocates.  Available in English.