2017 Wisconsin Statutes & Annotations
Chapter 48. Children's code.
48.78 Confidentiality of records.

Universal Citation: WI Stat § 48.78 (2017)

48.78 Confidentiality of records.

(1)Definition. In this section, unless otherwise qualified, “agency" means the department, a county department, a licensed child welfare agency, or a licensed child care center.

(2)Confidentiality; exceptions.

(a) No agency may make available for inspection or disclose the contents of any record kept or information received about an individual who is or was in its care or legal custody, except as provided under sub. (2m) or s. 48.371, 48.38 (5) (b) or (d) or (5m) (d), 48.396 (3) (bm) or (c) 1r., 48.432, 48.433, 48.48 (17) (bm), 48.57 (2m), 48.93, 48.981 (7), 938.396 (2m) (c) 1r., 938.51, or 938.78 or by order of the court.

(ag) Paragraph (a) does not prohibit an agency from making available for inspection or disclosing the contents of a record, upon the request of the parent, guardian, or legal custodian of the child who is the subject of the record or upon the request of the child, if 14 years of age or over, to the parent, guardian, legal custodian, or child, unless the agency determines that inspection of the record by the child, parent, guardian, or legal custodian would result in imminent danger to anyone.

(aj) Paragraph (a) does not prohibit an agency from making available for inspection or disclosing the contents of a record, upon the request of a parent, guardian, or legal custodian of a child expectant mother of an unborn child who is the subject of the record, upon the request of an expectant mother of an unborn child who is the subject of the record, if 14 years of age or over, or upon the request of an unborn child's guardian ad litem, to the parent, guardian, legal custodian, expectant mother, or unborn child's guardian ad litem, unless the agency determines that inspection of the record by the parent, guardian, legal custodian, expectant mother, or unborn child's guardian ad litem would result in imminent danger to anyone.

(am) Paragraph (a) does not prohibit an agency from making available for inspection or disclosing the contents of a record, upon the written permission of the parent, guardian, or legal custodian of the child who is the subject of the record or upon the written permission of the child, if 14 years of age or over, to the person named in the permission if the parent, guardian, legal custodian, or child specifically identifies the record in the written permission, unless the agency determines that inspection of the record by the person named in the permission would result in imminent danger to anyone.

(ap) Paragraph (a) does not prohibit an agency from making available for inspection or disclosing the contents of a record, upon the written permission of the parent, guardian, or legal custodian of a child expectant mother of an unborn child who is the subject of the record, or of an expectant mother of an unborn child who is the subject of the record, if 14 years of age or over, and of the unborn child's guardian ad litem, to the person named in the permission if the parent, guardian, legal custodian, or expectant mother, and unborn child's guardian ad litem, specifically identify the record in the written permission, unless the agency determines that inspection of the record by the person named in the permission would result in imminent danger to anyone.

(b) Paragraph (a) does not apply to the confidential exchange of information between an agency and another social welfare agency, a law enforcement agency, a health care provider, as defined in s. 146.81 (1) (a) to (p), a public school, or a private school regarding an individual in the care or legal custody of the agency. A social welfare agency that obtains information under this paragraph shall keep the information confidential as required under this section and s. 938.78. A law enforcement agency that obtains information under this paragraph shall keep the information confidential as required under ss. 48.396 (1) and 938.396 (1) (a). A health care provider that obtains information under this paragraph shall keep the information confidential as provided under s. 146.82. A public school that obtains information under this paragraph shall keep the information confidential as required under s. 118.125, and a private school that obtains information under this paragraph shall keep the information confidential in the same manner as is required of a public school under s. 118.125. Paragraph (a) does not apply to the confidential exchange of information between an agency and officials of a tribal school regarding an individual in the care or legal custody of the agency if the agency determines that enforceable protections are provided by a tribal school policy or tribal law that requires tribal school officials to keep the information confidential in a manner at least as stringent as is required of a public school official under s. 118.125.

(c) Paragraph (a) does not prohibit the department or a county department from using in the media a picture or description of a child in the guardianship of the department or a county department for the purpose of finding adoptive parents for that child.

(d) Paragraph (a) does not prohibit the department of health services or a county department from disclosing information about an individual formerly in the legal custody or under the supervision of that department under s. 48.34 (4m), 1993 stats., or formerly under the supervision of that department or county department under s. 48.34 (4n), 1993 stats., to the department of corrections, if the individual is at the time of disclosure any of the following:

1. The subject of a presentence investigation under s. 972.15.

2. Under sentence to the Wisconsin state prisons under s. 973.15.

4. On probation to the department of corrections under s. 973.09.

5. On parole under s. 302.11 or ch. 304 or on extended supervision under s. 302.113 or 302.114.

(e) Notwithstanding par. (a), an agency shall, upon request, disclose information to authorized representatives of the department of corrections, the department of health services, the department of justice, or a district attorney for use in the prosecution of any proceeding or any evaluation conducted under ch. 980, if the information involves or relates to an individual who is the subject of the proceeding or evaluation. The court in which the proceeding under ch. 980 is pending may issue any protective orders that it determines are appropriate concerning information made available or disclosed under this paragraph. Any representative of the department of corrections, the department of health services, the department of justice, or a district attorney may disclose information obtained under this paragraph for any purpose consistent with any proceeding under ch. 980.

(g) Paragraph (a) does not prohibit an agency from disclosing information about an individual in its care or legal custody on the written request of the department of safety and professional services or of any interested examining board or affiliated credentialing board in that department for use in any investigation or proceeding relating to any alleged misconduct by any person who is credentialed or who is seeking credentialing under ch. 448, 455 or 457. Unless authorized by an order of the court, the department of safety and professional services and any examining board or affiliated credentialing board in that department shall keep confidential any information obtained under this paragraph and may not disclose the name of or any other identifying information about the individual who is the subject of the information disclosed, except to the extent that redisclosure of that information is necessary for the conduct of the investigation or proceeding for which that information was obtained.

(h) Paragraph (a) does not prohibit the department, a county department, or a licensed child welfare agency from entering the content of any record kept or information received by the department, county department, or licensed child welfare agency into the statewide automated child welfare information system established under s. 48.47 (7g) or the department from transferring any information maintained in that system to the court under s. 48.396 (3) (bm). If the department transfers that information to the court, the court and the director of state courts may allow access to that information as provided in s. 48.396 (3) (c) 2.

(i) Paragraph (a) does not prohibit an agency from disclosing information to a relative of a child placed outside of his or her home only to the extent necessary to facilitate the establishment of a relationship between the child and the relative or a placement of the child with the relative or from disclosing information under s. 48.21 (5) (e), 48.355 (2) (cm), or 48.357 (2v) (d). In this paragraph, “relative" includes a relative whose relationship is derived through a parent of the child whose parental rights are terminated.

(j) Paragraph (a) does not prohibit an agency from disclosing information to any public or private agency in this state or any other state that is investigating a person for purposes of licensing the person to operate a foster home or placing a child for adoption in the home of the person.

(k) Paragraph (a) does not prohibit the department of children and families from providing to the department of revenue, upon request, information concerning a recipient of payments under s. 48.57 (3m) or (3n) or aid under s. 48.645, including information contained in the electronic records of the department of children and families, solely for the purposes of administering state taxes, including verifying a claim for a state tax refund or a refundable state tax credit, and collecting debts owed to the department of revenue. Any information obtained by the department of revenue under this paragraph is subject to the confidentiality provisions specified in s. 71.78.

(L)

1. In this paragraph, “ qualified independent researcher" means a faculty member of a university who satisfies all of the following:

a. The faculty member has an approved protocol from an institutional review board for human subjects research to work with data containing personal information for the purposes of evaluating the program under s. 119.23.

b. The faculty member has received from the state and properly managed data containing personal information for the purposes of evaluating the program under s. 119.23 before July 14, 2015.

2. Notwithstanding par. (a), the department shall permit a qualified independent researcher to have access to any database maintained by the department for the purpose of cross-matching information contained in any such database with a database that both is in the possession of the qualified independent researcher and contains information regarding pupils participating in the program under s. 119.23. The department may charge a fee to the qualified independent researcher for the information that does not exceed the cost incurred by the department to provide the information.

(2m)Release of information when child is missing.

(a) If an agency that has responsibility for the placement, care, or supervision of a child, as determined by the department under par. (d), determines that the child is missing, the agency shall do all of the following:

1. Within 8 hours after making that determination, report that determination to a local law enforcement agency for entry of that information into the national crime information databases, as defined in 28 USC 534 (f) (3) (A).

2. Within 24 hours after making that determination, report that determination to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

3. Share information about a missing child reported under subds. 1. and 2. with law enforcement agencies, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and other agencies that are involved in efforts to locate the missing child.

(b) An agency that has responsibility for the placement, care, or supervision of a child may photograph the child and maintain the photograph in the statewide automated child welfare information system. A report under par. (a) 1. or 2. shall be accompanied by a recent photograph of the missing child, if available.

(c) If permitted under s. 48.47 (7g), an agency may use the statewide automated child welfare information system to provide electronic information to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children under par. (a) 2. or 3.

(d) The department shall provide guidance to agencies as to the scope of the children to whom this subsection applies. Notwithstanding s. 227.10 (1), that guidance need not be promulgated as rules.

(e) The department of children and families and the department of health services may promulgate rules to implement this subsection.

History: 1979 c. 34; 1981 c. 359; 1983 a. 471 s. 7; 1985 a. 29 s. 3202 (23); 1985 a. 176, 292, 332; 1987 a. 332; 1989 a. 31, 107, 336; 1991 a. 17, 39; 1993 a. 16, 92, 95, 218, 227, 377, 385, 395, 479, 491; 1995 a. 27 ss. 2610 to 2614p, 9126 (19); 1995 a. 77, 230, 352; 1997 a. 205, 207, 283, 292; 2001 a. 38, 69, 104, 109; 2005 a. 25, 293, 344, 406, 434; 2007 a. 20 ss. 1364, 9121 (6) (a); 2009 a. 79, 185, 302, 338; 2011 a. 32, 260, 270; 2013 a. 20, 170, 334; 2015 a. 55, 368.

The juvenile court must make a threshold relevancy determination by an in camera review when confronted with: 1) a discovery request under s. 48.293 (2); 2) an inspection request of juvenile records under ss. 48.396 (2) and 938.396 (2); or 3) an inspection request of agency records under ss. 48.78 (2) (a) and 938.78 (2) (a). The test for permissible discovery is whether the information sought appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. Courtney F. v. Ramiro M.C. 2004 WI App 36, 269 Wis. 2d 709, 676 N.W.2d 545, 03-3018.

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