As a social worker if you had to choose between a child's right to confidentiality and the parents' right to know things that affect the child, how would you go about making this decision?  What...

As a social worker if you had to choose between a child's right to confidentiality and the parents' right to know things that affect the child, how would you go about making this decision?  What factors would influence your decision?

Asked on by mariam15

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In this particular issue, the construction of hypothetical situations obscures the daily reality that social workers must face in terms of confidentiality.  I think that this becomes one of the toughest challenges within social work.  It is so difficult because the social worker is pitted against incommensurate notions of the good.  However, I think that the domain of social work is one where the practitioner must have a good feel for the limitations of confidentiality and be able to communicate this at all times.

In the situation between a child's right to confidentiality and the parents' right to know "things about the child," one consideration is safety and harm.  When a child is in danger, confidentiality becomes an element which can be waived. The National Association for Social Worker's code of ethics reaffirms this idea:

“The general expectation that social workers will keep information confidential does not apply when disclosure is necessary to prevent serious, foreseeable, and imminent harm to a client or other identifiable person (standard 1.07[c])."

For many social workers "the compelling reason" to bypass confidentiality would be direct harm to the child.  Confidentiality is not a shield by which the social worker can escape the need to inform authorities.  This would mean that a parent's right to know if their child is in imminent danger can justify the waiving of confidentiality.  I think this becomes the standard that can be used for the social worker's relationship to confidentiality and waiving it in the child's interest.  

If the parent wishes to know about the content of meetings and discussions that are not directly related to the wellbeing and safety of a child, I think that confidentiality can be protected.  For example, if a child confesses that they "like" one parent over another and a parent seeks to obtain this information for leverage, social workers' use of confidentiality is essential. Confidentiality ensures that communication is open and helpful paths can be developed.  However, the factor of child harm and child safety can play a significant role in a social worker violating confidentiality.  This is something that social workers, especially in the school setting, have to divulge to children to ensure that everyone is communicating in the most open and healthy way possible.

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