Scottish Child Law Centre Confidentiality and Child Protection Policy
One of the purposes of the Scottish Child Law Centre is the provision of advice and information to children and young people, families and carers, and professionals about the legal rights of children and young people and how the law affects them. The Centre provides confidential advice and information. That advice and information may be by telephone, email, text, or in written form.
1. Confidentiality Policy
The information given to the Centre by callers is regarded as being information given in confidence and therefore, subject to sections 3 and 4 below, shall not be divulged to any person, organisation or agency outwith the Scottish Child Law Centre without the express permission of the person or agency who provided that information.
2. Limits on confidentiality
The Scottish Child Law Centre is not a statutory agency and its staff and those carrying out tasks on its behalf are under no legal obligations to report criminal conduct, any suspected child abuse or neglect, or other matter of concern to authorities, whether the Centre is working together with other agencies, or alone, unless the Centre and that agency have entered into a separate agreement relating to that piece of work. Staff Members who hold a current Practicing Certificate from the Law Society of Scotland are, when giving advice, under the duties applicable to a Solicitor. For the avoidance of doubt, staff and volunteers have a duty, in common with the general population, to report to the police information relating to terrorist offences and some road traffic accidents. Staff and volunteers may also be required to disclose information given in confidence if cited as a witness in court, or obliged to give a precognition under oath.
Apart from these legal requirements, confidentiality should be breached only when a child or young person is perceived to be in a dangerous or life threatening situation, or is likely to a serious danger to others. A Child is a person under the age of 16, and a young person is a person over 16 and under 18.
For the avoidance of doubt should similar concerns arise concerning an adult caller staff and volunteers should follow the same policy and procedure as for children and young people.
3 Dangerous/ Life Threatening Situations
The examples given in this paragraph are illustrative only and are without prejudice to any other similar situation that may arise.
A situation is deemed to be dangerous or life threatening if:
a. There is reasonable belief that the child or young person is NOW physically so damaged that immediate medical attention is required.
b. There is reasonable belief that there is a real danger of severe physical damage or death if a child or young person returns to an abusive situation.
c. There is evidence that a telephone call has been interrupted by an adult or other individual who appears to intend to kill or severely harm the caller;
d. The child or young person is threatening suicide or appears to have already attempted suicide; (ALL suicide threats must be taken seriously);
e. The child or young person is threatening to kill or severely harm another individual.
f. If a member of staff or a volunteer reasonably believes that the child or young person is in serious danger, but there is inadequate information on which to make an adequate assessment of risk.
4. Procedures for breach of Confidentiality and Child Protection
If a member of staff or a volunteer considers that circumstances exist which indicate a need for a child or young person’s, or other caller’s confidentiality to breached, the following steps should be taken:
The child or young person or caller’s permission to pass on the confidential information to an appropriate agency should be sought.
Irrespective of whether that permission is forthcoming, the Centre’s Director should be consulted immediately and asked to take a decision as to whether that confidentiality should be breached. In the event that the Director is not available, a member of the Board of Trustees should be consulted immediately and asked to make a final decision; if no member of the Board is immediately available, and a staff member reasonably considers that the matter is one of urgency, that staff member is empowered to take the necessary action. Where a final decision is taken to breach confidentiality the following steps should be taken:
The Director should be immediately advised of the situation so that he or she may support the staff member or volunteer in dealing with the situation and is available to take a decision concerning the need for breaching confidentiality.
If the situation is one where there is evidence of serious and immediate danger to a child or another person, and there is information as to the whereabouts of that child or person the appropriate emergency services should be notified.
Judgement must be used as to whether telling the caller may intensify the danger. If it is considered that telling the caller will not intensify the risk, the caller shall be told of the steps to be taken, and their permission sought. In the event that the permission is refused, that refusal shall not affect the decision to contact the emergency services.
If the situation is one where the risk is serious but not immediate the staff member or volunteer taking the call should explain their concerns to the caller and try to obtain information as to the location of the caller and their permission to breach their confidentiality. The Director should be consulted immediately. The Centre will respect the decision of the caller unless there is a change in the information available to the staff member or volunteer, or a change in the circumstances so that the staff member or volunteer reasonably considers that the risk has become immediate.
All information leading to a decision to breach confidentiality, and the decision itself, must be recorded at the time the decision is made, or as soon as practical thereafter and certainly during the same working day in which the decision was made. If neither the Director nor a Board Member could be consulted they must be notified of the action as soon as possible.
In the event that a decision is made in a situation of serious but not immediate risk that confidentiality is not going to be breached, that decision must be recorded as in paragraph 3 (e) above.
5. Communication with Children and Young People
Any preferences expressed by a child or young person about modes of communication should be respected. A child or young person, or family member or other caller may contact the Centre, without considering the possibility that a return communication may lead to discovery of the enquiry. Thus any message left with another person, answering machine or service or mobile phone should not contain information that would reveal that the Centre staff had left the message or the substance of the call. For the avoidance of doubt it is better that no message be left unless the staff member feels that is essential that he or she do so. This does not apply to professional callers such as social workers, teachers or health professionals.
All communications with children and young people must be age appropriate.
Children and young people must only be written to if it is the preference of the child or young person. The child or young person should be asked to consider the risk of the communication being read by another person. When writing to children and young people, letters should be sent in hand written envelopes that do not bear the Centre’s logo or other identifying information. Children and young people should be asked whether they wish letters to be sent to an address other than their home address.
6. Communication of policy to staff and volunteers
All staff and volunteers shall be provided with a copy of Confidentiality Policy and Child Protection Policy within their first week of employment or voluntary work. It is of the essence of their employment or voluntary work that they read and follow the policy and they shall be asked to sign confirmation that the policies have been read and accepted. Unauthorised breaches of the Centre’s Confidentiality Policy shall be regarded as gross misconduct and shall lead to disciplinary action. Should the breach be of a serious nature it may lead to immediate dismissal. Failure to follow the Child Protection Policy and Procedure shall be regarded as gross misconduct and shall lead to disciplinary action.
7. Communication of policy to children and young people
If a caller asks about the Centre’s Confidentiality Policy details must be provided. In the event that a caller appears to be about to disclose something which may be significant or trigger child protection procedures staff or volunteers must advise the caller of the policy and how disclosures must be dealt with. The information must be provided sensitively and in an age appropriate manner.
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