Glasgow East Women’s Aid (GEWA) is committed to practices which ensure confidentiality in respect of information given by and relating to our client group, i.e. women and children who have experienced domestic abuse. This information will be held in confidence. It is recognised however, that there may be special circumstances in which we will be required to give information to third parties and these are detailed below under exceptional circumstances. This policy statement aims to set out specifics of those circumstances and detail the practice to be followed by staff.
All records will be stored in lockable filing cabinet on the premises. Key holders to the filing cabinets will be restricted to permanent paid employees only. Any staff requiring access should gain permission from a key holder.
Parents/carers have the right to know what information is recorded about them or their children/young people and to ensure its accuracy. There may be situations however, in which information is held with restricted access to safeguard the child/ young person’s or a third party’s confidentiality
Parents/carers may access sight of their child/young person’s records once discussion and permission has been gained from the child/young person and on submission of a written request to GEWA.
The Care Inspectorate may access any records held by GEWA. They are bound to uphold their own confidentiality policy.
Unless there are exceptional circumstances (see below) no information about an individual will be passed to any third party or agency without the permission of the individual concerned. Whenever possible, when the information is given the person to whom it relates will be present when it is given. When this is not possible the person will be informed of the substance and nature of the shared information at the earliest opportunity.
Unless there are exceptional circumstances, no information will be requested from third parties by GEWA without the prior permission of the person concerned, or their parents/carers.
We recognise that women and children are abused in situations where the mother is subjected to male abuse. GEWA shares the mothers’ concerns about the adverse effects of this domestic abuse on children, but consider that the best long term interest of the child is virtually always best served by the child remaining with the mother, regardless of whether the mother is returning to the abusive man or not. We regard women leaving abusive men as a process, not an event.
GEWA employees and unpaid workers will only breach confidentiality if they consider a child is, or children are at risk. Wherever possible, and if appropriate, women will be advised before any action is taken.
When it is known or suspected that a child is being abused or is at risk of abuse, the Child Protection Policy and Procedures will be implemented immediately. The Child Protection Policy will supersede the Confidentiality Policy.
When it is considered that a woman or child is in a dangerous or life threatening situation, or when their behaviour is considered a serious danger to themselves or others, refuge or other workers will be called out. Further action to involve other agencies, will be dependent, particularly in refuge, on the considered judgement of the workers which will allow for flexibility in the case of the immediate situation whether to contact medical services and/or the police and/or the emergency contact person.
Examples of dangerous or life threatening situation might include:
- Someone in need of immediate medical attention.
- Information that a person overdosed.
Other circumstances where GEWA employees and unpaid workers may be required to disclose information given in confidence are as follows:
- In the event of the Police or Sheriff Officers requesting the information and backing up that request with the necessary legal documentation.
- Cited as a witness in court.
- Obliged to give precognition under oath.
- A woman staying in refuge is being cited as a witness in court.
- Attending a Children’s Panel hearing.
- Attending a case conference.
- There are Child Protection concerns in accordance with the Child Protection Policy and Procedures
- Failure to share information puts a third party at risk
- Failure to share information puts a women and/or her child(ren)/young person at risk
Refusal to comply with the above exceptions would/might leave the individual employee or unpaid worker open to legal action.
GEWA employees and unpaid workers are not legally required to pass on information to the police who are looking for a missing person but may do so with the woman’s permission.
When a woman is being referred to another Women’s Aid group, Women’s Aid workers may be required to pass information to that group. The woman will be informed what information is being given to the other Women’s Aid group, and may speak to them herself, after referral.
Confidentially lies with GEWA as a whole and not the individual worker. This means that information can be given to any or all GEWA employees paid and unpaid as outlined in this policy.
GEWA keeps different written records and statistics. These are available to all Collective members and to the individual woman concerned, who has the right to request changes or erasure via the Complaints Policy. Some are written at the time of talking to a woman, some are written later. The purpose of these records is to be helpful to women who wish to have recorded when and why they have contacted Women’s Aid and for statistical purposes. They will be made available to external bodies only with the written permission of the woman concerned, or with a court order.
For women staying in refuge, these records will include an emergency contact number if e.g. the woman is taken ill and children require caring for. Women’s Aid does not give information about women to other agencies unless with that woman’s permission, even if she was referred by another agency, unless special circumstances apply. Women’s Aid does not return phone calls or e-mails unless specifically instructed by the woman that it is safe to do so now. All Women’s Aid phone numbers are ‘barred’ i.e. last number 1471 redial would not identify Women’s Aid.
Confidentiality is a basic tenet in all Women’s Aid work. No individual is expected to share intimate details about her personal life unless she feels confident that they will not only be kept from her partner, other relatives and friends, and other agencies, but also will not be the subject of gossip within the group.
In a Women’s Aid group complete confidentiality between a worker and a woman seeking help is not possible. Some records will be kept and the group members will be informed of particular difficulties. It is often the case that another worker sees a woman on subsequent occasions. On occasion, two workers may even be involved in the same session. The worker should always explain to the woman what will be recorded, what information will be disclosed to others and the reasons why this must be done. The worker must establish this at the onset and get her permission. If something e.g. ongoing abuse of a child, is disclosed that the worker feels she should act upon, (for example, in accordance with the Child Protection Policy and Procedures) then she should try to get the woman to act with her, failing that, to tell her, in advance wherever possible, what she intends to do. All Collective members will be provided with a copy of the Confidentiality Policy, which they should retain for reference. Service users will be provided with a copy of the Confidentiality Policy on request. The contents of the policy should be discussed with women using the service on initial contact, and given a copy on request.
Breach of confidentiality
If a GEWA employee or unpaid worker receives information which may indicate a need to breach confidentiality, she should:
- Consult with at least one other worker, in an emergency.
- Consult at a quorate workers meeting if not an emergency.
If it is decided to break confidentiality, the woman should be told of this and, preferably, this should be confirmed in writing.
Unauthorised Breaches of Confidentiality
Unauthorised breaches of confidentiality may be regarded as grounds for complaint or disciplinary action, including gross misconduct and may lead to dismissal.
If anyone using the Women’s Aid service considers that their confidentiality has been breached they may, make a complaint in accordance with the Complaints Procedure which is available in both the office and the refuge.
Definition of breach of confidentiality
A breach of confidentiality is where a GEWA worker, paid or unpaid gives information or provides access to information about women, children and young people, or other worker(s), to someone outside the organisation, without the permission of the person(s) involved, which is not covered under the exceptions clause.
Use of information for training, research and publicity
In general, permission must be sought for using material relating to individuals for training, publicity or research purposes, unless she has already given this previously e.g. by agreeing to publication in an Annual Report. Care should be taken to avoid using details that could identify the person(s).
Workers, paid or unpaid, who are employed by GEWA are also entitled to confidentiality. Information about a worker should not be given to anyone outside of the organisation. Workers should be constantly aware of their responsibilities to each other to ensure they do not breach confidentiality. Workers must act respectfully and appropriately at all times.
Procedures to maintain confidentiality
Information shared within the staff team is limited to that which:
- Is necessary to ensure the safety of women, children and young people
- Ensures all policies within the organisation, in particular the Child Protection and Health & Safety Policies are adhered to
- Is relevant to the ability of workers to carry out their duties and to ensure their health and well being.
When working in the office premises, workers should talk to women, children and young people in one of the rooms allocated, with the door closed. This rule should also apply to refuge, although practically this might not be possible if children are present.
There may be times when a worker needs to discuss a particular woman or child, or needs information from another worker. It is vital that the worker receives the support or information she needs, but still adheres to the confidentiality of the woman or child involved in accordance with the terms of this policy.
When on GEWA premises, all information about women, children and young people should only be discussed in the office. Unless attendance is relevant and necessary, any non-GEWA workers in the office should be asked to leave the room during a crisis call and other confidential information should not be discussed.
Any external enquires about whether a woman is with us, by telephone or in the office, should not lead to information being given out. Workers should neither confirm nor deny a women’s presence in refuge. Workers may want to take a message, allowing them time to consult with a colleague or colleagues. GEWA workers may need to contact other agencies, e.g. Housing, to get or provide information necessary to women, children and young people involved. Agencies e.g. housing, may return a call with regards to women, children and young people that a GEWA worker has enquired about; in this case, only relevant information may be discussed.
When completing diary or daybook entries use only the women’s initials.
All necessary or personal documents containing full names and information should be kept in a locked filing system. Documents no longer required should be shredded and disposed of.
All documents/disks containing confidential GEWA information should be kept in a secure place, away from areas accessible by non-GEWA workers. Documents no longer required should be shredded and disposed of. Keys and alarm codes should only be made available to GEWA workers.
Home telephone numbers of GEWA workers should never be given out.
Refuge telephone number or address should never be given out, unless an address is needed for work to be carried out. In that case a worker must be present in refuge at the time of the work being under taken.
Procedures for requested disclosure of personal information
A woman may request to see or alter any information GEWA has on record about her. Women using the services of GEWA will be informed of the Confidentiality Policy on their initial visit, and given a copy on request. Women will therefore be aware of their right to access any personal information GEWA has recorded. If any request is made, verbal or written, the following procedures should be adhered to:
The worker receiving the request must note it on an enquiry slip and place in the relevant section within the locked filing cabinet until the next Workers meeting, where the worker should bring it to the attention of her colleagues. The women’s support worker will collate any personal information and arrange a mutually agreed time for the woman to come into GEWA office premises to look at the information, with the worker present. The information must not be removed from GEWA premises. Information that the woman feels is inaccurate or irrelevant should be noted as an addition to the original document. All documents should be kept together to ensure there is a fair representation of contested views. The original documents should remain unchanged. If the woman wishes a copy of the information, this information will be photocopied, with the original documents remaining in GEWA premises. Both signatures the worker and the woman’s will be noted.
Request for information from a third party
Information will only be given to a third party with the written permission of the woman concerned or by court order. The worker receiving the request will bring requests for personal information to the attention of her colleagues at the next meeting. Details will be noted in the minutes and the women’s support worker will collate the information. The woman should be contacted to allow her to read the information and inform the support worker of any inaccurate or irrelevant information. If there are any such alterations these should be noted as an addition to the original. This information will be photocopied, with the original documents remaining in GEWA premises. It will then be sent recorded delivery or delivered personally by the worker involved to the relevant person.
This policy will be made available as and when required.