Safety: Confidentiality

Contributed by: Phil Trotter

Confidentiality is an important issue in youth work. Used well, it can strengthen the relationship and deepen trust between youth leader and young person. The general rule is that what is shared privately, remains between you and the young person. However there may be circumstances when, for safety reasons, a third party may need to become involved.

Confidentiality is impacted by both the Privacy Act (which guards people’s privacy) and the Vulnerable Children Act (which now requires compulsory reporting of suspected or alleged abuse.) Anything written down must be stored securely (ie a locked file) with the full knowledge and permission of the person concerned, who has rights to access it and change it at any time.

Never promise a young person absolute confidentiality. You need to keep the following limits to confidentiality in play – either by explaining them fully or by letting young people know that limits exist in cases where safety may be compromised.

If you become aware of a situation where the young person is causing harm to themselves or others, or being harmed by another person, you have a duty of care and a legal obligation to seek further help. That may be from a parent/guardian, church leader, Police, Child Youth and Family, or another third party agreed upon by the young person involved.

When seeking help, the following steps should be taken:

  • Firstly, encourage the young person to seek help themselves.
  • If they are hesitant, offer to accompany them.
  • If necessary, ask their permission for you to seek help on their behalf.
  • If they disagree, inform them that you are nonetheless obliged to seek help, both legally and because you genuinely want the best for them.
  • Do not seek help without their knowledge, even if they object.

At all times, reassure them of your willingness to support them and to work with them for the best outcome for them.

Note: it is not considered a breach of confidentiality to share some information with your supervisor – as long as you can retain anonymity for the young person and the focus is completely on you and your response to the situation.