for Protecting the Privacy of Children and Families
When determining eligibility for certain services and providing needed
and appropriate resources, human service agencies and education institutions
often require that children and families share very private information
about themselves. Laws and statutes are in place to protect the privacy
of these individuals and to ensure that this information is released only
when necessary. Soler and Peters (1993) outline several reasons for protecting
the privacy of children and families:
- "Confidentiality restrictions protect embarrassing personal
information from disclosure. This information may include histories
of emotional instability, marital conflicts, medical problems, physical
or sexual abuse, alcoholism, drug use, limited education, or erratic employment.
- Confidentiality provisions also prevent the improper dissemination
of information about children and families that might increase the likelihood
of discrimination against them. Such information--about HIV status,
mental health history, use of illegal drugs, or charges of child abuse--can
be harmful if released. Harm can occur even if records show that the information
is unproven or inaccurate.
- Protecting confidential information can be necessary to protect
personal security. For example, in a domestic violence situation, an
abused woman who leaves home may be in great danger if law enforcement
personnel disclose her new location.
- Confidentiality provisions also protect family security. Many
immigrant families, for example, shy away from using public health clinics
or other social services for fear that the Immigration and Naturalization
Service (INS) will take action against them.
- Restricting the information that human service agencies receive may
also protect job security. Some information--such as a history of
mental health treatment--may have no connection with a person's actual
job performance but could jeopardize the individual's position, likelihood
of promotion, or ability to find new positions.
- Children and families also want to avoid prejudice or differential
treatment by people such as teachers, school administrators, and service
providers. Teachers may lower their expectations for the children they
know are eligible for food stamps or free school lunches. This may set
in motion a self-fulfilling prophecy in which lowered expectations lead
to lowered performance.
- Confidentiality provisions also may be necessary to encourage individuals
to make use of services designed to help them. Adolescents may avoid
seeking mental health services at a school-based clinic, for example, if
they believe that information will get back to their teachers, parents,
or peers. The same holds for birth control or HIV-related medical consultations."
McWhinney, Haskins-Herkenham, and Hare (1992) note that confidentiality
provisions actually promote the participation of families in seeking and
"Assurance of confidentiality is important because it enables people
to seek help without fear of such results as stigma, retaliation, disapproval,
or damage to other relationships. Confidentiality encourages both full
disclosure, which is essential for effective treatment, and the maintenance
of trust, the means by which treatment is effected." (p. 1).
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