Monday, April 02, 2007

Confidentiality

On Wednesday, I attended a day long training in confidentiality, a thing that people who work in social service settings need to do annually in Alaska. And it reminded me of some of the things that happened when I was working as a parenting coach. Over half of my clients were referred by Office of Children's Services (OCS )-- sometimes to help the parents develop the skills to get their children out of foster care and sometimes to prevent the child from going.

It was important to lay out the confidentiality policy the first time I met with a client, because she had to know what information she could trust me with. I'm a mandated reporter, which means that I have to report child or elder abuse, and although OCS and I both tried to keep me out of the courtroom, since my work was harder if my clients had to be afraid that I could be called on to testify against them, sometimes I was subpoenaed and then I had to testify.

Often, because I was a mandated reporter, clients would tell me things that they wanted OCS to know about and also wanted to be able to say, "No, I didn't report you!" Things like, "you know my cousin does child care? Well, the man who just moved in with her is a registered sex offender." I could report this as a "I've got a tell-for-me situation here" and it would be listened to.

The most difficult situation was one where I had provided supervision for visits between a father and his four year old son for over a year -- he had been given one hour a month visitation, and then I could not go out of sight and hearing. He was not allowed to see his daughter at all, not even allowed to know if she were still in the state. He had sexually assaulted her, and then when he was having a supervised visit at the OCS offices, he had fondled her when the case worker had responded to someone else's emergency. In the course of the 18 or so times I saw this man, he always came at least 15 minutes early and then would spend that time telling me why he had found it necessary to do what he did to that little girl. I recorded 37 times he had told me this. Of course, I was called on to testify against him; so I was in the courtroom when the judge stated that criminal charges should be filed. And yet, they weren't. Which meant, he was not on the predator registry.

One day I was coming out of an apartment, where I had been working with a client who had three daughters, one just the age of the child this man had abused. And who was coming out of the apartment directly across the hall? You guessed it. And from the banter between him and the little girls, it was obvious to me that he was courting these children. I got to the nearest phone and immediately called OCS, telling them what had happened and that the mother had to be told. Yes, they agreed, she did and her case worker would go that very day and talk to her.

The next week when I got there the mother told me about the strange visit she had with the OCS worker not long after I left the week before. Obviously, the case worker had tried to tell this woman without telling this woman. The poor mother thought she was being accused of being negligent of the girls' safety without any clue about her neighbor.

Remember -- this man had not been accused of a crime. He was not on the register. To reveal what he had done could result in being sued for slander. I could understand the case worker's hesitation to come right out, but we are talking about the safety of children here. So, I threw my future into the mother's hands and told her, letting her know that if he found out I had said anything he could sue me and my agency.

That was Friday. On Sunday that little family moved. If she could have found an apartment on Saturday, they would have moved then. She also told a few neighboring mothers that she was moving because of "the man in 27D was getting too friendly with my five year old and it felt really creepy" without any further information. Lots of people moved.

Sadly, without his being charged, there is no way to keep this man away from children completely, but there are now a number of women in this community who keep their eyes on him. I've called and reported to OCS on a number of occasions when I've seen him hanging around a child care center, and they have faxed a copy of his picture to the center and called with a warning.

It's not an ideal answer. It's the best we could do. So far, I haven't been sued.

6 comments:

Joared said...

Confidentiality is important in so many areas of life, but protecting our children is vital.

That's a really difficult situation in which to be and I certainly sympathize. I had an occasion of reporting abuse without actual physical contact occurring to a young adult by a health care worker who simply thought she was being cute and funny.

J at www.jellyjules.com said...

I'm so glad that you took that chance...it was a big one to take, but clearly, the right choice.

kenju said...

I would never hesitate to tell on anyone who was displaying behavior of that kind toward children. I got on the predator registry site last year and found out that there was a man on our street who was on it. He was the son-in-law of one of our residents, and she had let him move in "for a while", because he told her he had a fight with her daughter. She had no idea that he had been exposing himself to children at a local riding stable, where his wife worked. As soon as she found out about it (through someone in the neighborhood), she told him to leave. We were very glad to have him gone. I worry that the place he moved to will not know about him. It is so scary to think what can happen.

Ginnie said...

You are a very gutsy woman and I commend you for it. I wonder if this type of thing has been going on forever and we just didn't know to bring it to the fore...or if it has escalated. Do you know?

Dee said...

While confidentiality is important, children are more important and I applaud you for what you did. I was a foster mom and I know what those kids go thru when a father abuses them in that manner. Some never get over it. I am glad he never got the chance to get to that five year old though.

Maya's Granny said...

Ginnie,
Because this sort of thing has been so under reported in the past, there is no way to know if it has increased or only our awareness of it has increased.
I hope it is awareness.