Implementing the Information Sharing Guidelines was simple – but with unexpected implications – according to Robyn Sutherland, Group Manager, Youth Services at UnitingCare Wesley Adelaide.
‘When my colleague Chris Talbot and I first got the ok to introduce the ISG we really thought that it would be a few days work. Once we got started we realised that the implications of the ISG reached into so many areas, privacy, file management, supervision and even case management.
‘Some aspects were easy. The values and practice at UnitingCare Wesley Adelaide are already in line with the principles of the ISG. When we work with clients we always take account of their life circumstances and personal networks. We take care to find out what other services are assisting them already and to ask permission to talk to and share information with those services. And we already had some policies and procedures for managing those processes.
‘We started out by forming an implementation working group but it turned out to be more practical and consistent for me to write or edit each policy or procedure. Then we took it back to the working group for the relevant managers to add their suggestions and changes.
‘A great benefit of the ISG, though, was that it gave us the opportunity to look at all of those policies and procedures all together at one time. They were overdue for a bit of a tidy up.
‘Although UnitingCare Wesley Adelaide is quite large and we have common policies covering different sites, we realised that our services were so diverse they would need their own procedures.
‘The case studies we collected for our appendix were very useful to help understand the reasons for the ISG and to work thorough some of the issues. In some cases, how managers and supervisors responded to the situations in the case studies changed completely after we had completed our ISG training.
‘Our supervisors and staff generally understand and accept the changes created by the ISG. Most clients are happy to give permission for us to share information appropriately but for the difficult and complex matters involving sharing without consent, clients and staff now have a very clear process to guide and protect them.
‘We were delayed in finalising the rollout by inconsistencies that turned up in federal and state privacy rules. In the end we felt it was so important to do this work that, with the OK from the Board, we went ahead anyway and set up different processes for our commonwealth and state funded clients.‘
What are Robyn’s top tips for agencies starting out with the ISG?
- ‘Implementing the ISG may be more work than it looks so, when you start out concentrate your attention on the most directly affected policies and procedures and you can progress quite quickly.
- ‘Plan to take someone off-line to lead the project if it is at all possible. I did it alongside my other work and the process took longer and was less efficient than it needed to be.
- ‘Training is key. We used a train-the-trainer model; training was mandatory for all our senior staff and supervisors. I trained them and passed on a training package which they, over time, presented to their own staff. We have also built the ISG into our induction training and our annual training calendar.
- ‘Use your colleagues from other agencies as a resource. The small group of people from the pilot agencies were great for sharing resources and we learned a lot from each other’s experiences. For example, our training package was based on one that was first developed in DECS.
- ‘If you’re like the rest of us and revisiting your policies and procedures gets lost in the day to day work of service delivery, the ISG is a great opportunity to do that in a systematic way. Not only will you be compliant but there will a major benefit for clients and staff.’
The ISG are overarching principles and practice which bring together all relevant government agencies and non-government organisations in the interests of early intervention, better coordination of services, and consistent information sharing.
Read more about the ISG at www.ombudsman.sa.gov.au/isg/.
For the latest about the ISG, follow us on Twitter.