Snippet from one of Connect over Coffee and Chat sessions when the question of confidentiality was raised pertaining to coaching youngsters
which was answered by our COO, David Monro-Jones, who expands on his answer in more detail below:
In our recent Connect Over Coffee events we have had some excellent questions and brainstorming activities. In one of the recent ones a question was asked relating to coaching children under the age of 18 and the requirements regarding confidentiality. Due to the complex nature of this question (which must not be treated lightly) and the discussion we had, it was deemed appropriate to create a blog with some additional information for those coaches and mentors who either work or are interested in working with children under the age of 18.
There are three main elements to consider.
- The IAPC&M Code of Professional Conduct
- Within the school environment
- Outside of the school environment – independent practise
Before we delve deeper into the three elements, it is worth clarifying what we mean by confidentiality. In general terms the client expects what they discuss to be between you and the client. There are of course certain situations in which confidentiality can, and in some cases legally must, be disclosed. The following is an extract from a coaching agreement which explains confidentiality:
This coaching relationship, as well as all information (documented or verbal) that the Client shares with the Coach as part of this relationship, is bound to confidentiality by the IAPC&M Code of Professional Conduct but is not considered a legally confidential relationship (like in Medicine or Law). The Coach agrees not to disclose any information pertaining to the Client without the Client’s written consent. The Coach will not disclose the Client’s name as a reference without the Client’s consent. Confidential information does not include information that: (a) was in the Coach’s possession prior to its being furnished by the Client; (b) is generally known to the public or in the Client’s industry; (c) is obtained by the Coach from a third party, without breach of any obligation to the Client; (d) is independently developed by the Coach without use of or reference to the Client’s confidential information; or (e) that the Coach is required by law to disclose; (f) is disclosed to the Coach and as a result of such disclosure the Coach reasonably believes there to be an imminent or likely risk of danger or harm to the Client or others; and (g) involves illegal activity. The Client also acknowledges his or her continuing obligation to raise any confidentiality questions or concerns with the Coach in a timely manner.
In addition to the above there may be times when a court of law requests disclosure of information. This then ties confidentiality to data protection; information collection and sharing. All accredited coaches and mentors are therefore advised to ensure they have data protection policies and procedures.
- The IAPC&M Code of Professional Conduct
Within section five (Practise safely within the scope of practice) of our Code of Professional Conduct, we clearly state that ‘a provider must adhere to other ethical and legal frameworks within the scope of their practise i.e. child protection legislation, safeguarding of vulnerable adults, veil of privilege etc.’ What this means in practise is that every accredited coach and mentor has a duty of care and personal responsibility to ensure that they are aware of and adhere to any legislation and best practise associated with the client group which they work with.
- Within the school environment
When we talk about the school environment, we also mean any form of work that you undertake whereby you are covered either as an employee or contractor. In these instances, your roles and responsibilities are potentially more straight forward. You will always follow the outlined policies and procedures required by the school or the organisation for which you are either employed or contracted by.
All schools are likely to have a safeguarding policy and, in some cases, a safeguarding department. There will also be a key person to raise any issues with. It is your responsibility to familiarise yourself with these policies and procedures to ensure you know what to do, what to say, and who to escalate anything to. If you have any doubts whatsoever about the policies, procedures, or your responsibilities, ensure you raise this with your line manager or the appropriate person within the organisation.
- Outside of the school environment – independent practice
If you are an independent coach or mentor providing services to children or young people under the age of 18, there are certain guidelines that you must consider. The main (umbrella) consideration is safeguarding, and it is strongly advised that you undertake safeguarding training before you begin to work with clients.
Although you may not be covered by organisational policies and procedures, it is your responsibility to follow your own policies and procedures that maintain safeguarding in an ethical, moral, and legal framework. It is therefore essential that any contracting you undertake includes explicit information regarding confidentiality. It is also essential that the wording and language used in any form of contract or agreement is written so the client can understand what this means irrespective of their age.
Another aspect of information sharing at the outset of any agreement is that information is open, honest, and transparent. This is to ensure that the client is fully aware of what is and what is not to be treat as confidential. The importance of covering this at the contracting stage cannot be stressed enough. It is essential to gain agreement around the boundaries of confidentiality before engaging with the client.
When it comes to confidentiality there is a need to consider the moral, ethical, and legal issues previously presented. Accredited coaches and mentors or encouraged to seek further guidance and best practise from some of the organisations who specialise in the protection of children.
Consulting the experts
There are several organisations within the UK who specialise in the protection of children. These include the NSPCC, Childline, Coram and Lawstuff to name but a few. What follows are some key points from a selection of these organisations.
When thinking about confidentiality in relation to child protection concerns, it is important to ensure that any information shared with relevant authorities about a child is done so in a confidential, systematic, and respectful manner. This would include considering:
- When information should be shared?
- When and how to get consent?
- What information needs to be shared?
- Who to share information with?
The NSPCC Learning webpages recognising and responding to abuse provide guidance on how to respond if children or young people speak out about abuse. This includes information and advice on disclosure, information sharing, seeking consent to share information, and reporting concerns. This states that if a child is suffering or at risk of suffering significant harm, you can share information with appropriate agencies or professionals without the child’s or their parent’s consent.
These pages also provide information and advice on mandatory reporting and whistle blowing. We provide information on legislation and guidance wherever you might be in the United Kingdom, although this may vary depending on which home nation you are in. The references and resources section has links to more detailed guidance such as information sharing advice from the Department of Education, codes of practice and further reading.
A link to the issue of confidentiality in sport is included in the references – CPSU
Childline’s Confidentiality Promise states that ‘keeping what you say confidential is really important to us, and we’ll only think about telling other people if we have to. If we think we might need to tell someone, we’ll try to talk to you about it first’.
We would only need to say or do something if:
- You ask us to
- We believe your life or someone else’s life is in danger
- You’re being hurt by someone in a position of trust who is able to hurt other children like a teacher, religious leader, sports coach, police officer or doctor
- You tell us that you’re seriously hurting another person
- You tell us about another child who is being hurt and is not able to tell someone or understand what is happening to them
- We are told we must by law, for example for a court case
The BACP publish several free guides that may be useful for coaches and mentors to read. These include:
- Safeguarding children and young people within the counselling professions in England and Wales
- Managing confidentiality within the counselling professions
Working with children and young people under the age of 18 is clearly is specialist area and all coaches and mentors are advised to ensure they know the correct policies, procedures, and best practises to follow. It is also strongly advised that anyone who works with children or young people under the age of 18 receives safeguarding training.
Adelle McCormack, Head of Professional Standards commented during the discussion that it is complex with children and with respect of what is said to parents this is about what is agreed at the start. Confidentiality can exist between coach and client in the same way as adults but the parameters of this would need to be discussed with the parents and child at the outset. It may vary from client to client based on the reason for the coaching, so I think it needs to be judged dependent on the circumstances. Also considering who has engaged the coach i.e. if it is the school then maybe aligning to school policy on this would be helpful. If it is the parents, then I would discuss with the parents about what/if they want to know anything and benefits/risks of that. Some parents will want to protect the space whereas others will want to know everything. It is important that the child understands what may/may not be shared. A child may want them to know everything and some may want parents to know nothing.
The golden rule is simple, if in doubt seek professional guidance.
References and resources
- https://www.bacp.co.uk/ (search for articles)
- https://www.bacp.co.uk/bacp-divisions/bacp-cypf/ (children, young people and families)
- http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2004/31/contents (Children’s Act 2004)
- https://www.ihasco.co.uk/blog/entry/2508/what-is-the-childrens-act-2004 (Example online training for the Children’s Act)