Confidentiality: a Core Value
Children and teens experience power disparity as they navigate a world created by adults, and this socialization is compounded in the powerlessness caused by sexual violence. As advocates practice confidentiality with child and teen survivors of sexual violence, we challenge the inherent power adults have over children and youth. Advocates can constantly check personal bias about children and teens, and avoid assumptions that we know what is best for them. This is particularly crucial when we address confidentiality with children and teens: we want them to feel empowered to decide how their information is shared whenever possible. Confidentiality has always been about self-determination and safety for survivors of any age. Let's look at how advocacy can help rebuild and reinforce safety and autonomy.
Confidentiality: an Advocacy Practice
What will you say to a minor when informing them about their client rights, about confidentiality, and mandatory reporting? What do you do when you know you will need to make the report?
Regardless of age or disclosure, all clients should be informed of the possibility of mandated reporting prior to receiving services. You can lead your advocacy / client relationship with this information, and weave confidentiality into conversations beyond your initial meeting. That way, if confidentiality exceptions come up, there will be no surprises. The youth will also know what information they would need to give you in order to make a report, and thereby make informed decisions about what they choose to share.
Do you know the exceptions to confidentiality? (Like the back of your hand, I'm sure of it!) Exceptions to confidentiality may occur in cases of where:
- An advocate suspects child or vulnerable adult abuse.
- A client is an imminent threat to oneself or another person.
- Court order signed by a judge (A court order is different than a subpoena. All court orders and subpoenas should go directly to the executive director. Do not immediately release information simply because you received a court order or subpoena. Your agency should talk to an attorney about this).
- At the request of a survivor through a VAWA compliant release of information.
Pause before making a report. You do not and should not have to do this alone. You may be dealing with a degree of vicarious trauma and bias in this case. That is normal and even expected. It harms you when you try to push through each case as though you were not impacted by vicarious trauma, and it harms the teen or child when you cannot be in tune with your bias. Get another pair of advocate eyes on this case to assist in making a mandated report. Create a practice or structure in your agency, so that it is very clear who you talk to when you suspect you will need to make a report. In some agencies, this might mean discussing with the executive director or other supervisor. Know your agency policies and procedures around confidentiality and mandated reporting.