Ethics and Confidentiality
Children, youth, and families involved with the child welfare system have a right to the privacy of their records and personal information, except under certain circumstances. Developing and coordinating a system of policies and practices that guides information sharing among the agencies that serve families is an important part of providing sound and ethical services. The following resources address the ethical issues that surround the confidentiality of personal information, including State and local examples.
Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)
Provides information on regulations and standards, compliance and enforcement, and educational materials addressing this Federal law that protects the privacy of patient health information.
Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)
U.S. Department of Education
Presents regulations from this Federal law that protects the privacy of students' education records. Schools must have written consent to release information, except to some parties under certain conditions. Also see policy guidance.
Confidentiality and Privacy Protections
Council on Accreditation
In Client Rights
Outlines agency standards addressing the use of informed written consent as well as circumstances and procedures for the release of confidential information.
Confidentiality in Public Child Welfare: Frequently Asked Questions (PDF - 174 KB)
National Association of Public Child Welfare Administrators (2008)
Answers questions about confidentiality requirements of CAPTA, titles IV-B and IV-E of the Social Security Act, HIPAA, FERPA, and drug and alcohol programs.
The Confidentiality Series
Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, Vermont Department for Children and Families, & Vermont Center for Crime Victim Services (2004)
Includes four publications in this series from Vermont's Partnership Between Domestic Violence Programs and Child Protective Services. They address information sharing, child/youth confidentiality, multidisciplinary teams, and guidelines for collaboration.
Domestic Violence Programs and Children's Records: Issues of Confidentiality and Release (PDF - 68 KB)
Murphy & Yauch (2009)
Discusses the importance of keeping children's records confidential in domestic violence programs and how to initiate internal policy changes.
Guidelines for Juvenile Information Sharing (PDF - 409 KB)
Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (2006)
Suggests a course of action for key agency and organization stakeholders involved in juvenile information sharing, addressing issues such as information protection and security, transparency and public communications, and training and continuous quality improvement.
HIPAA—Exceptions Providing Law Enforcement Officials and Social Service Providers Access to Protected Health Information
APRI Update, 16(4), 2003
Outlines the exceptions law enforcement officials and social service agencies can use when requesting health information protected by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
HIPAA Privacy Rule: Disclosures for Emergency Preparedness—A Decision Tool
Office for Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2006)
Helps program managers understand health information privacy rules and make decisions about information sharing during emergencies.
Mythbusting: Breaking Down Confidentiality and Decision-Making Barriers to Meet the Education Needs of Children in Foster Care (PDF - 2110 KB)
Explains laws affecting confidentiality of education records and suggests strategies to overcome confidentiality and decision-making hurdles when addressing the needs of children in foster care.
Policy Statement: Child Abuse, Confidentiality, and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act
Committee on Child Abuse and Neglect, American Academy of Pediatrics
Pediatrics, 125(1), 2010
Provides an overview of HIPAA regulations as they apply to a pediatrician in releasing or reviewing patient health information when the patient is a child who is a suspected victim of abuse or neglect. (PDF - 233 KB)
Sharing Confidential Information (PDF - 3510 KB)
National Center on Substance Abuse and Child Welfare (2007)
In Screening and Assessment for Family Engagement, Retention and Recovery (SAFERR)
Suggests uniform policies to enable child welfare, alcohol and drug, and court workers to share information required to monitor families' progress. Includes recommended components of a parent consent form for facilitating cross-system communication.
State and local examples
Confidentiality in Child Welfare: Training Materials
Portland State University Child Welfare Partnership (2006)
Covers some of the laws and policies around confidentiality and child welfare, including common problems concerning the release of records involving the juvenile court discovery process, HIPAA, psychological evaluations, and substance abuse treatment records.
Guide to Confidentiality Laws Applicable to CHIPS Proceedings (PDF - 494 KB)
Wisconsin Children's Court Improvement Program (2006)
Provides professionals involved in Children in Need of Protection and Services (CHIPS) cases with information on Federal and Wisconsin laws that govern the use and disclosure of medical, mental health, education, law enforcement, court, juvenile justice, social services, and other confidential information.
Minor Consent, Confidentiality, and Child Abuse Reporting
National Center for Youth Law
Presents explanations of laws in several States about access to medical information, liability for revealing confidential information, child abuse reporting requirements, and more.