Focus Area 7: At-Risk Behaviors
4. Reporting and Referring

When you have concerns or doubts about a youth’s well-being, talk to your supervisor. Seeking their advice and guidance will help you develop your skills faster and working together will relieve the stress of the situation.

Asking for guidance from someone more experienced than yourself in a given situation is always a best practice strategy. It becomes all the more important if there is any potential for harm to a youth, or any legal requirements for proper protection.

It is not an indication of weakness. It’s just not possible for you, as an individual youth worker, to know and do everything on your own. Asking for help, guidance, advice, input, and ideas is a sign of strength. It shows that you not only know your limits but that you respect those boundaries.

Usually, problems will arise for you when you have not been clear and upfront with the youth you work with about their expectations of confidentiality.

So, to avoid getting into a bind, let youth know upfront that you will always strive to maintain confidentiality with what they entrust to you, but that there are certain situations where that is not possible. Be clear that you will let them know if the situation demands that you report or refer.

In seeking counsel from your supervisor or another colleague, if you’re feeling a little uneasy about confidentiality, one way to start the conversation is by initially describing a “hypothetical” young person. This avoids naming names. You can start off by saying, “The other day I was concerned about a young person, so I talked with them about it. They said…….”

After hearing the details, your supervisor can decide whether they need to know the name of the youth in order to know how to proceed. Your supervisor can be a good resource in planning how to address any potential situation of concern about risky youth behavior whether it is in general or for a specific youth.

If you’d like to refresh your memory on what you learned about confidentiality and mandatory reporting earlier, revisit Focus Area 4: Ethics.

Keep these key points in mind:

  • We strive to honor the confidentiality of what youth tell us, but sometimes the safety of the youth or others must take priority over confidentiality.
  • Reporting requirements when someone is an imminent threat to themselves or others vary by state. You need to find out from your supervisor:
    • whether you are a mandatory reporter in the state or jurisdiction where you are practicing or employed
    • your program’s or agency’s policies and procedures
    • any state-specific requirements

If you are a mandatory reporter, it is vital that you are clear with youth upfront about the limits of confidentiality. Even if you are not a mandatory reporter, it is good professional practice to always let youth know your limits of confidentiality.

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