It can often be hard for parents* with a child or young person under the age of 16 in therapy to try and navigate the best way to support them. A child or young person’s confidentiality is something that we speak about a lot with parents and carers within the Get help with counselling concerns service.
Therapists owe a duty of care, as well as confidentiality, under data protection law. Children and young people have the right to know under what circumstances confidentiality may not be respected.
Parents and carers may wish to know more about the problems their child or young person face and may ask for a general discussion with the therapist about how their therapy is progressing. They may even ask what is being discussed or request a copy of their child’s therapy records. Children have the same legal and ethical right to confidentiality as adults over their personal data, both in law and as part of the therapist’s duty of care to the client, subject to certain legal limitations. Please refer to the relevant ICO guidance for more details in relation to data protection.
The right to ask for confidentiality will depend on the mental capacity of the child. However, a child who is deemed (Gillick**) competent can consent to their own counselling. If a client isn’t deemed competent, the parent may need to consent before a young person can receive counselling. It may only be necessary for one person with parental responsibility to provide consent and it’s not always necessary for the parent to know the content of the counselling sessions without the child’s consent.
Even if their child wasn’t considered competent at the time of therapy, the parent still doesn’t have an automatic right of access to the content of sessions or to records. The therapist may still owe a duty of confidentiality to the child not to disclose without the child’s consent.
As well as this, if the child or young person isn’t deemed competent to be able to consent to counselling and refuses to allow the therapist to approach the parent for consent, in situations where this doesn’t allow for the therapy to proceed, they still owe the child a duty of confidentiality. Parents shouldn’t be informed that the child or young person has sought counselling without their consent. In situations where this doesn’t allow for the therapy to proceed, they still owe the child a duty of confidentiality. Parents shouldn’t be informed that the child or young person has sought counselling without their consent.
We also speak with parents who have contacted their child’s therapist, about concerns they have, or they may feel it would be helpful to provide the therapist with additional background information. Parents need to bear in mind that the therapist can share the contents of any communications from them with their child, thereby being open and transparent with their client. In some situations, therapists may decide not to read the communication, preferring to work solely with what their client has brought into therapy. This can sometimes be challenging for parents to understand, and it is good to establish boundaries before the therapy begins.
Practitioners working in organisational settings will have to abide by the policies of that organisation. Whether they are working within an organisation, or as an individual practitioner, practitioners will need to think carefully about confidentiality. A child or young person is entitled to confidentiality unless there are issues of significant harm to the young client or others, or other statutory requirements. Sharing information with their parents, carers or teachers should be with the full agreement of the young client.
If a parent has arranged therapy, ideally a therapist would have explained all this beforehand, so a parent is aware of the therapist’s duty of care to their client.
* Where ‘parent’ is stated, this refers to anyone with parental responsibility.
** For additional general guidance, as well as information about Scottish law in relation to competence, you can contact the following organisations:
The confidential Get help with counselling concerns service is available Monday to Thursday, 9.30am to 4pm, by phone or email. Due to the number of enquiries, we receive, we do try to limit the calls to a maximum of 30 minutes, where possible.
Please note on the 2nd 3rd 9th and 10th November due to staff availability we won't be able to respond on those days.
Call us on 01455 883300 option 2, 07811 762114, 07811 762256 or email us at email@example.com.
Please be aware that we store your name if provided, and brief details of your enquiry to support you effectively and to protect BACP against any potential legal claims. Your data will only be provided to a third party if there is a legal basis to do so. This information is retained for three years. Please note that you have restricted rights with regard to this data; for full details please refer to our privacy notice: https://www.bacp.co.uk/privacy-notice/.
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BACP's Get help with counselling concerns service (formerly Ask Kathleen) provides confidential telephone and email guidance on what to do if you have any concerns about your therapy or your therapist
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