Publication of identifying details - advice

This advice provides additional information regarding publication of identifying details of a child subject to a protection order or Children’s Court proceedings.

Introduction

Refer to the procedure Publication of identifying details for actions that must be taken.

To ‘publish’ in this context includes any action which has the result of putting information into the public domain whether this be via the media of radio, television, newspaper, pamphlets, social media (Facebook, You Tube, Twitter) or any other communication vehicle.

In addition to media enquiries, practitioners, supervisors and managers need to proactively manage any situation concerning a child subject to intervention which may lead to media interest and coverage.

Media Unit contact details on-call number: 9096 7710 email: media@dhhs.vic.gov.au

Publications that need the President’s consent

Section 534 of the CYFA provides protection for children who are subject to Children’s Court proceedings or Children’s Court orders from being publicly identified. It does this by making the publication of certain information an offence unless the President of the Children’s Court, or in limited circumstances the Secretary of the department, gives permission for the information to be published.

These provisions do not place a blanket prohibition on the name or picture of a child, party to a proceeding or witness in a proceeding being published. They only operate to prohibit this information from being published where the person and their connection with Children’s Court proceedings would be likely to be identified. The publication of a picture of a child in a newspaper or school newsletter without reference to Children’s Court proceedings or orders may not of itself be a breach of section 534.

Application to court for permission to publish

Permission of the President of the Children's Court is required for the publication of information that would otherwise constitute an offence against section 534; child protection practitioners may make a formal application to the Children’s Court to seek the President’s permission.

The decision to bring an application is the delegated responsibility of the divisional Director Child Protection and should only be made after consultation with Legal Services Branch. The divisional Deputy Secretary and the Statutory and Forensic Services Branch must be consulted.

The child's parents must be informed.

The division will brief the Office of the Minister, the Office of Professional Practice, the Assistant Director Child Protection, Children and Families Policy and the Media Liaison Unit.

Publications that can be made with the Secretary’s consent

The Secretary may only grant permission for the publishing of identifying information about the child if the child is on a family reunification order, care by Secretary order or long-term care order. The Secretary has no power to grant permission for the publication of matters set out in s.534(1) including identifying information about any other party or witness in Children’s Court proceedings.

Section 534 will not be breached if the published information identifies the child and that they are subject to a Children’s Court order.

Responding to potential breaches of s. 534

Publications by media organisations

From time to time child protection may consider that a media publication, such as a newspaper article, radio broadcast or television program, identifies a child, a party or a witness to proceedings in the Children’s Court and may be in breach of section 534.

Child protection should manage these issues on a case by case basis. In most cases it is appropriate to take an educative approach and write to the media outlet alerting them to the potential breach of the CYFA. If a media outlet continues to publish information it is open to child protection to refer the matter to the police for investigation.

The decision to contact a media outlet regarding a potential breach of s. 534 or to refer such a matter to the police is the delegated responsibility of the divisional child protection operations manager and may only be made after consultation with Legal Services and the department's Media Unit.

Publications by individuals

Child protection may become aware of a publication by an individual that child protection considers identifies a child, a party or a witness to proceedings in the Children’s Court and may be in breach of section 534. For example a parent or carer may post on a blog or Facebook information that identifies a child by name or picture and talks about child protection involvement with the child or the child’s involvement in Children’s Court proceedings.

Child protection should manage these issues on a case by case basis. In most cases child protection should provide the individual with information about section 534, recommend they seek independent legal advice and give the individual an opportunity to immediately remove the material from the internet or other public view. If an individual refuses to remove the information or continues to publish new information it is open to child protection to refer the matter to the police for investigation.

The decision to alert an individual to a potential breach of section 534 or to refer such a matter to the police is the delegated responsibility of divisional child protection operations manager and may only be made after consultation with Legal Services.

Releasing information to the media on missing children

See procedure Missing persons report for tasks that must be undertaken.

Where a missing child is subject to child protection involvement, Children's Court proceedings or a family reunification order, care by Secretary order or long-term care order child protection may be involved in releasing information to the media for the purposes of locating the child. Where a parent has parental responsibility they should be consulted prior to any information being released to the media.

Consideration should be given to section 534 prior to releasing any information to the media in these circumstances. Certain information about a child, such as name, age and photographs, can be released to the media and published without being in breach of section 534 if the information does not identify the child as being subject of proceedings in the Children's Court or subject to a Children’s Court order.

If it is considered necessary to release information to the media that may identify a child as subject to Children’s Court proceedings or a Children’s Court order, the appropriate permission must be obtained from the President of the Children’s Court or, if applicable, the Secretary, prior to the information being released.

The decision to seek permission to release information to the media regarding missing children is the delegated responsibility of the divisional Director Child Protection, following consultation with the Office of Professional Practice, the Assistant Director Child Protection, Children and Families Policy Branch and Legal Services.

Any subsequent broadcast regarding a missing person is managed by Victoria Police in consultation with the department's Media Unit which approves the content of the media release.

Release of information to the media in general, including for the purposes of attracting foster carers or to highlight community events

If it is a case where there has been a child protection investigation and a decision has been made not to issue a protection application, consideration must be given to s. 205 and s. 206 of the CYFA prior to any information being disclosed. Under these sections child protection must not disclose the record of an investigation to anyone or any class of person who is not provided for in these sections.

In all cases, whether or not there have been Children’s Court proceedings or Children’s Court orders, care must be taken when releasing any information not to breach the requirements of the Privacy and Data Protection Act 2014.

Permission to release information to the media regarding children who have had involvement in child protection is the delegated responsibility of the divisional Director Child Protection, following consultation with the Office of Professional Practice, the Assistant Director Child Protection, Children and Families Policy Branch and Legal Services.

Criminal prosecutions of breaches of section 534 of the CYFA

Victoria Police has sole responsibility for investigating whether a criminal offence has been committed and making the decision to prosecute. Child protection practitioners may be called as witnesses in any criminal proceedings and may in some circumstances refer the matter to the police. The responsibility for referring potential breaches of s. 534 to the police is the delegated responsibility of the divisional child protection operations manager after consultation with Legal Services.

Considerations for good practice

Children identified as subject to child protection involvement may be harmed through:

  • intrusion into the personal affairs of the child and their family
  • labelling and different treatment in the school or community
  • anxiety or stress
  • destabilisation and compromised security within their care placement.

Use of media publicity to locate a missing child is a matter for police, in consultation with the department and subject to prescribed procedures.

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