2006 Jordan Institute
11, No. 4
Schools, Child Welfare Agencies, and Confidentiality
Confidentiality and information sharing are common points of friction between child welfare agencies and schools. Often the problem is a lack of understanding. Some educators feel caseworkers withhold vital information. Some caseworkers feel schools expect them to disclose confidential, nonessential information (Altshuler, 2003). In both cases, frustration results.
North Carolina’s confidentiality laws (NCGS § 7B-302, 7B-2901, and 108A-80) do limit what DSS agencies can share with others about the children and families they serve. In general, these laws are a good thing because they give people the confidence to share sensitive, personal information with child welfare staff. This helps us protect children.
However, confidentiality laws do not prohibit child welfare agencies from telling teachers and other school personnel certain things—for example, that a child has entered foster care. By providing teachers with pertinent details, child welfare workers can help them understand and respond appropriately to a child’s behavioral and academic difficulties.
The solution to the confidentiality “problem” is to face it head on. Child welfare workers and agencies should talk regularly with school personnel about the type of information DSS can share, when DSS can share that information, and any restrictions (e.g., students and teachers who do not have responsibility for teaching the child do not need to know he or she is in foster care). For clarity and consistency, it can be helpful to put this information down in writing.
Mutual understanding about confidentiality helps pave the way for the trusting, collaborative relationships that caseworkers and educators need if they are to work together to help children involved with child welfare.