Confidentiality, Self- Determination & Informed Consent

1.1.1. At the earliest appropriate opportunity in their relationship, and throughout the relationship as required, Social Workers shall discuss with clients the nature of confidentiality and limitations of clients’ rights to confidentiality, and shall review with clients when disclosure of confidential information may be legally or ethically required.1

1.1.2. Recognizing the cultural diversity that exists in Nova Scotian communities, Social Workers shall consult with clients about how they wish confidentiality to apply within their community.

1.1.3. Social Workers providing service to multiple clients such as couples, families, groups and communities shall notify the participants of the likelihood that aspects of their private lives may be revealed in the course of their work together, and therefore require a commitment from each member to respect the confidential nature of the communication between and among members of the client group.

1.1.4. Social Workers shall inform participants in family, couples, or group counselling that confidentiality cannot be guaranteed. 2

1.1.5. When Social Workers provide services to children, they shall outline for the child and the child’s parents/guardian, as appropriate, their practices with respect to the confidentiality of working with children as may be determined by policy and legislation. 3

1.1.6. Social Workers shall avoid unnecessary conversations regarding clients and shall not discuss confidential information in any public location.

1.1.7. Social Workers shall take reasonable precautions to ensure and maintain the confidentiality of information transmitted to other parties through the use of computers, electronic mail, facsimile machines, telephone answering machines and other electronic technology.

1.1.8. Social Workers shall not disclose identifying information when discussing clients for the purposes of teaching, public education or research, except with the informed consent of the client.

1.1.9. Social Workers shall respect client confidentiality in discussions within the workplace, with external consultants or with community service providers in times of crisis. 4

1.1.10. Social Workers who work as a supervisor, manager or administrator shall work to establish policies and practices that protect the confidentiality of client information. 5

1.1.11. Social Workers shall protect the confidentiality of deceased clients consistent with the preceding responsibilities.

1.1.12. Social Workers shall address breaches of confidentiality, should they occur, with due regard to the values and principles of the social work Code of Ethics, the standards of their employer and relevant regulatory requirements.

1.1.13. Social Workers shall disclose pertinent information acquired from a client to the person at risk, if feasible, or a police officer or other appropriate authorities. (See footnotes 1, 3 and 5)

1.1.14. Social Workers shall release confidential information as part of a discipline hearing of a Social Worker as directed by the tribunal or disciplinary body.

1.1.15. When disclosure is required by order of a court, Social Workers shall not divulge more information than is required and shall, when possible, notify the client of this requirement.

1.2.1. Social Workers shall respect the self-determination and autonomy of clients, actively encouraging them to make informed decisions on their own behalf to the extent possible and given the situation.

1.2.2. Social Workers shall be aware of a client’s capacity to give informed consent as early in the relationship as possible.

1.2.3. At the earliest opportunity, Social Workers, using their professional judgment shall discuss with clients their rights and responsibilities and provide them with honest and accurate information regarding the nature of the service being offered. This could include the following information:

  • The required registration of Social Workers under the Social Workers Act
  • Upon request, be given a copy of the Code of Ethics and the Standards of Practice.
  • Information about the cost of professional services before receiving them.
  • Freedom from discrimination while receiving services.
  • The recording of information and who will have access to that information.
  • The purpose, nature, extent and known implications of the options open to them.
  • The right of the client to obtain a second opinion, to refuse or to cease service subject to the limitations that may apply when working with involuntary clients. (See Section 1.4 of this document)
  • The client’s right to view their personal and professional records and to seek avenues of complaint as provided by law and policy.
  • The limitations to professional confidentiality. (See Section 1.1 of this document)
  • A Social Worker receiving supervision shall inform the client that the Social Worker may be reviewing the client’s case with the Social Worker’s supervisor or consultant. Upon request, the Social Worker shall provide the name of the supervisor and the supervisor’s contact information.

1.2.4. Social Workers shall provide services to clients only with valid informed consent or when required to by legislation or court order (See Section 2.3 and Section 2.4 of this document).

1.2.5. Social Workers shall obtain clients’ informed consent before audiotaping or videotaping clients or permitting observation of services to clients by a third party.

1.2.6. When information is required from other sources, a Social Worker shall make a reasonable effort to explain this to the client, decide with the client what other sources are to be used and seek agreement and written consent for obtaining the needed information.

1.2.7. When information is required by law, a Social Worker shall help the client understand potential consequences, if any, of refusing to provide the required information.

  1. This applies in all circumstances of disclosure, except when, in the professional judgment of the Social Worker, sharing this information with the client may bring about, or exacerbate, serious harm to individuals or the public.
  2. This should be declared prior to the first session with a child. (See Section 1.2.2. of this document). For the purposes of these standards, a child of tender years would usually be determined to be a child under the age of seven years, subject to a determination by a Social Worker considering the child’s social, physical, intellectual, emotional or psychological development.
  3. Social Workers may wish to reserve the right to disclose to parent/guardian some information provided by a young child when such disclosure is in the best interest of the child.
  4. If the agency practices and policies involve routine consultations with a supervisor or professional team, Social Workers shall make clients aware of these practices as a limitation to confidentiality.
  5. Social Workers may disclose confidential information to other persons in the workplace who, by virtue of their responsibilities have an identified need to know as determined by the Social Worker.