What Is Information Sharing?
This website is a resource to help schools and community agencies learn how to share information about young people involved in multiple systems.
When children and youth are working with professionals from systems such as mental health, law enforcement, juvenile justice, and child welfare, it becomes important for these professionals to communicate with each other. The information provided here is intended to help school and community professionals develop and implement information-sharing systems, policies, and procedures that comply with confidentiality and privacy laws and regulations.
Many children and youth face multiple challenges—including violence, poverty, mental health disorders, truancy, and unstable home lives. Unless information is shared, professionals working with a young person may only have a partial picture of what is going on for the youth and his or her family. They may only know what the young person or a family member has told them and may not have enough information to identify and treat the root causes of the problem. Schools and community agencies may then implement plans that would have been deemed inadvisable had the complete picture been available.
When providers are aware of each other’s efforts, they can act more effectively and efficiently—but 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 may a guidance counselor share with a student’s parents? Do the same rules apply to sharing mental health records or to 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?
This website will help you to become familiar with the federal confidentiality and privacy laws that govern information sharing, and to ensure that your policies and procedures are in compliance.
This website was developed by the National Center for Mental Health Promotion and Youth Violence Prevention at Education Development Center, Inc. From 2002 — 2013, with funding from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the National Center provided technical assistance to Safe Schools/Healthy Students (SS/HS) grantees. The grantees were local education agencies working in partnership with law enforcement, juvenile justice, and mental health agencies to create and implement initiatives that foster resilience, promote mental health, and prevent youth violence and mental and behavioral disorders.
For 11 years the National Center staff supported SS/HS grantees through the process of creating and refining strategies, policies, and tools related to sharing information about youth involved in multiple systems. The best of these strategies, policies, and tools are featured in this website—available to any school-community partnership working to reduce risk factors and enhance protective factors for children and youth.
The Models for Change Information Sharing Tool Kit identifies three distinct types of information sharing:
- Sharing information to enhance understanding of an individual child’s needs or circumstances in order to improve planning and decision-making
- Sharing aggregate data on case populations to develop and improve policies, practices, and programs and to coordinate responses among multiple agencies
- Sharing aggregate data for performance measurement and program evaluation
This website focuses on the first type, with a brief review of strategies related to the second type. For more information about the second and third types of information sharing, visit the Models for Change website.
Schools and community agencies often don’t share information about children and youth because they don’t fully understand what is permitted and prohibited by federal and state laws. In our experience working with schools and community agencies across the country, many do not share information because they have not engaged in a collaborative process to establish trust and to create the policies and protocols necessary to share information across systems. In developing the website, we also worked closely with experts in federal and state confidentiality and privacy laws.