Confidentiality, Privacy & Safeguarding: 

I  just wanted to mention a few key points about confidentiality, privacy and most importantly safeguarding. As a school you should have your own policy regarding what you can and can’t keep private and confidential – it should be part of your safeguarding policy – and before you dive in to delivering fantastically positive RSE – it is worth reviewing that policy and linking it to your new RSE programme.

The fact is if you are delivering sessions about consent, relationship abuse, families and CSE – there is a chance that you may get a disclosure during your session, from a pupil about themselves or about another pupil… it may just be gossip and hearsay – but you need to know where to draw the line between what you can and can’t keep private and where you have a duty of care to pass on information.

This will differ from school to school as it does from agency to agency – so this is a conversation you need to have with senior management to be honest – however, below i will set out a few key points to consider and policy guidelines that apply to young people.

The Fraser Guidelines: 

Despite the fact the legal age of consent is 16 – young people below the age of consent still have the right to confidential advice and treatment when it comes to their sexual health. So for example there is nothing to stop a young person visiting their doctor, or a sexual health service to access contraception, STI screenings or even to have an abortion without their parent’s knowledge or consent.

It doesn’t matter how uncomfortable this fact makes you – it is their right. And in fact the rules exist to help safeguard young people. In this country we do have honour killings, and some young people do fact the treat of violence or being disowned if their families were made aware of the situations.

Yes – it may well be illegal for anyone under 16 to have sex, however, if we turned away a young person who had built up the courage to walk in to a sexual health service and ask for condoms in order to take responsibility for their own and their partner’s sexual health – what good are we doing?  They will, more than likely simply have sex without protection –  If anything we should pat them on the back and say well done. To be honest, this is what we want – we want young people who can step up and take responsibility for themselves and make their own informed choices.

However, there are certain rules in place in order for a young person under 16 to access sexual health services…  they have to be deemed to be Fraser competent.

In the mid 80s there was a famous court ruling by a judge called Lord Fraser and this is where the guidelines come from. Basically, what happened was that a mother called Mrs. Victoria Gillick, took her local health authority to court in 1985. She was upset when she found out her daughter had been put on the contraceptive pill by her doctor without her knowledge.

As a mother she felt it was her right to know what her child was up to and if she was using contraception. She tried and failed to claim that the doctor and the health authority had acted inappropriately, as her daughter was under 16 at the time.

Fortunately, the House of Lords’ ruled against Mrs. Gillick, as they thought it was in the best interest for young people to be able to seek confidential advice and treatment, rather than having sex without using precautions, As a result Lord Fraser set out the following criteria for giving contraceptive advice for young people, these are commonly known as the Fraser Guidelines:

• the young person can understand the health professional’s advice;

• the health professional cannot persuade the young person to inform his or her parent;

• the young person is very likely to begin or continue having intercourse with or without contraceptive treatment;

• unless he or she receives contraceptive advice or treatment, the young person’s physical or mental health or both are likely to suffer;

• the young person’s best interests require the health professional to give contraceptive advice, treatment or both without parental consent.

Simply put these guidelines means a young person can access confidential sexual health advice and treatment without the need for their parents consent or knowledge.

As professionals the only time we should break a young person’s confidence is if you believe they are at risk of harm themselves or at risk of harming someone else. But it is good practice to tell a young person if you feel you need to break their confidence.

However, most services have a cut-off point at 13yrs old –  A young person under the age of 13 that is known to be engaged in sex is an automatic safeguarding flag.

This is one of the reasons I always reiterate confidentiality as one of my ground rules at the start of every session. I explain with examples what i can and can’t keep private – to find out more about the importance of ground rules click here.

To be clear a few important points that on their own are not a safeguarding concern:

  • a young person carrying condoms
  • a young person who is known to be on contraception
  • a young person who comes out as gay, lesbian or bisexual
  • a young person who comes out as transgender, or gender queer

All of these I have known been referred as safeguarding concerns…!

As a school you will have your own parameters when it comes to the information that you are expected to refer. Indeed, although I have my own policy, when I work in schools I am bound by the schools own safeguarding procedure – as should be any guest that comes in to talk in your school. It is good practice to make the safe guarding policy apparent to any guest speakers upon their arrival…

A word of warning – obviously young people will not talk to you openly if they know they will get in trouble if they disclose the fact they have had a drink or sex underage.. they simply won’t talk. Equally if staff break confidentiality and ‘dobb them in’ as they would see it without any explanation – it will feel like you have gone behind their back and they nor their friends will trust you again.

As a school you need to balance the benefits of creating as space where young people can talk openly and honestly, with your responsibility to report anything the schools policy doesn’t agree with. This doesn’t need to be as complicated as it may seem – it often comes down to common sense. Is there a real risk of actual harm… or is it normal teenage behaviour? Which will keep that child safer – having an opportunity to support them, question their attitudes and challenge their and their peer’s behaviour or do you need to report them?

There is no greyer area when it comes to this issue than the topic of sexting and sharing images. The police have recently issued advice and guidelines for schools to help them in this area. The document can be found in our policy/documents library here… 

Again, questions like this should be set out in your schools policy documents – that is what they are for. I would strongly recommend that you sit down and review your schools safeguarding and RSE policies. We have a sample template for updating your RSE policy, bringing it in line with this programme.

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