Concerns about confidentiality and reporting requirements can be barriers to discussing sensitive topics (e.g., sexual and reproductive health, intimate partner violence, child abuse/neglect).6,7,8 While confidentiality and reporting requirements are complex and vary across professions, settings, states, and other circumstances, youth-supporting professionals should be familiar with their legal obligations and clearly discuss them with youth.
Youth-supporting professionals may be hesitant to initiate conversations about sensitive topics because they are unsure about their legal obligations and legal protections for youth. Meanwhile, youth may be hesitant to disclose information because they don’t know if that information will be reported.5 Research shows that youth who said they talked about confidentiality with a youth-supporting professional were more likely to discuss sensitive topics than youth who did not talk about confidentiality with a youth-supporting professional.9 When discussing confidentiality and reporting with youth:
- Be specific about the limits to confidentiality, reporting requirements, and what happens after a report is made. Talk to youth about what does and does not have to be reported, who it needs to be reported to, who might have access to it, and how it will be protected. Explain the reporting process and the procedures for responding to a report, so youth know what to expect if a report is made.10
- Talk to youth about confidentiality early and often, so youth feel comfortable discussing sensitive topics. Have a conversation about confidentiality first before any other conversation occurs. During sensitive discussions, remind youth of confidentiality limits before or when they are disclosing potentially reportable information. Talking to youth about confidentiality may make them more likely to discuss sensitive topics in the future.9
- Have a clear understanding of organizational mandates and state laws and reporting requirements that govern your professional work and clearly explain them to youth. Become familiar with reporting procedures and what happens after a report is made (e.g., What happens after making a report of child abuse/neglect, rape, or intimate partner violence?). Youth-supporting professionals should review profession-specific codes of ethics, requirements based on practice setting (e.g., health care, juvenile justice facility, residential child welfare facility), and state-specific regulations.