What is Confidentiality?
Confidentiality means keeping private or secret what someone tells you. Clients need to feel sure that what they say to a worker/volunteer stays confidential. This includes keeping any written records safe and not telling their family members about them.
Any worker who has any private information must learn to keep this confidential. That means they have to make sure they don’t let anyone else find out that information. This is especially important for any workers/volunteer who have a counselling role or work face-to-face with clients where they might find out some of their private information.
The obvious exception to this is if the client gives permission to tell someone else so you should always ask their permission before discussing conversations or information with anyone else.
The main exceptions to this are:
- If the client is a child and is being abused or is at risk of abuse – legally, just about anyone who works with people under the age of 16 is a mandatory reporter – someone who is legally required to tell the Department of Community Services (DoCS) if they reasonably believe a child’s welfare, safety or well-being is at risk from factors such as abuse, neglect or domestic violence. See the Child Protection section for more details on what to do when this happens.
- If a client threatens to hurt themselves or to suicide – you can breach their confidentiality to stop this from happening. We all have a duty to make sure others are safe and this duty is stronger if we are responsible for their care at the time.
- If the client tells you they have committed a really serious crime – you may also need to report this to the police. For minor crimes you are protected from reporting but your clients might not know this unless you tell them.
HINT : It is always a good idea to tell clients at the beginning of your contact with them that whatever they tell you is confidential except in the circumstances mentioned above. This way, if you do have to notify DoCS or the police, it is not a shock to your clients.
The times when people in agencies often break confidentiality (but shouldn’t) include when:
- Staff talk about clients in public places or where they can be overheard.
- Files are kept on desks or filing cabinets are left unlocked.
- Communication books are kept in full view of people coming into an office.
For full details of the laws around privacy and confidentiality, read the Shopfront Youth Legal service’s ‘Privacy and Confidentiality for Youthworkers’ information sheet – www.theshopfront.org/24.html