Monday 14 May 2007

Ethics and Confidentiality

When is information considered “confidential”?
The basic consensus among professional codes of ethics is that any information shared during the course of professional services is considered to be “privileged” information. This means that only the “client” (the person asking for help/receiving services) can determine when and how this information can be shared by the helper/member care worker. There are a few important exceptions however (see below). Confidentiality is a core part of the helping relationship, and a foundation for trust and good practice. Here are two examples of confidentiality statements.

Example One
Member Care Associates
Confidentiality (from Service Agreement)
We want you to know that what you share with us is confidential. The only exception, in compliance with most laws (e.g., American and European), is when: a) you or someone’s life may be in danger (e.g., child/elder abuse, suicidal/homicidal threat, gravely disabled); or b) explicit written permission by you has been given to waive confidentiality. Other types of personal struggles can significantly interfere with one’s work role and/or credibility of one/s organization (e.g., abusive leadership, addictions, major depression, moral failure, serious marital conflict.) In such cases we usually encourage you to inform a leader whom you trust within your organization(s). We see such struggles as being larger than the helping relationship, and thus usually best handled with the involvement and support of others.

Note for group or debriefing services: The material shared by others during the group/debriefing sessions will be kept strictly confidential by the participants.

Example Two
American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists
Confidentiality (Code of Ethics July 2001)

Marriage and family counselors/therapists often work with more than one person in a family. It is important to guard each client’s confidence but it can be challenging at times. The AAMFT has developed six points relating to confidentiality. The main ideas in each point are listed below. Be sure to see the full code at the AAMFT site listed above.

1. Discuss the nature of confidentiality to clients and any others involved in the case

2. Do not disclose information without written authorization or when required by the law.

3. Confidentiality is protected when using examples for teaching, writing, research ,etc.

4. Clarity about how to safeguard and destroy records of clients

5. Clarity about how to deal with client records when closing a practice, moving, or dying

6. When/how to disclose information if one consults with colleagues about a case

Reflection and Discussion
In what ways are the above standards relevant to member care workers who provide more “informal” services, or those who do not have a “professional” certification, or for those who come from different countries?

  • How is confidentiality applicable if a colleague asks you for a referral or for some “friendly advice over a cup of coffee as friends”?
  • Confidentiality can sometimes lead to misunderstandings. For example confidentiality can be seen as being secretive and withholding important information from an organisation about its staff. How can this misunderstanding be minimised?
  • How do confidentiality standards apply to children in your work—i.e. when and how should parents be informed about their children who are receiving help?
  • In what ways do the specific standards from the AAMFT above apply to your member care work (e.g., written authorisations, keeping/safeguarding files, using client cases in writing/teaching)?

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