If you’re working with young people, you have ethical responsibilities and legal obligations. These include a duty of care, protecting a young person’s privacy and confidentiality, and reporting abuse (if you belong to a profession that’s required by law to do this).
This article will help you better understand some ethical and legal issues when working with young people. But remember, we’re not lawyers, so what you read below is not legal advice and shouldn’t be taken as such. If you do need legal advice, please get in touch with Youthlaw or ask a lawyer.
Good work with young people is ethical work. YACVic's Code of Ethical Practice – A First Step for the Victorian Youth Sector is an agreed framework and set of values for what constitutes safe, professional and ethical youth work. The Code is based upon human rights and the following principles of youth work:
In addition, youth work practice responsibilities describe key elements of what
youth workers do when guided by the youth work principles:
For more information about ethical practice, download a copy of the Code or feel free to contact YACVic.
A duty of care is a legal requirement to take reasonable care to protect another person from a foreseeable risk of injury. If you are involving young people in a project, program, event or activity, you owe them a duty of care.
For more information about duty of care, and to better understand how your obligations work in practice, watch Youthlaw’s video:
There are several laws that control how businesses, government funded or community sector organisations can collect, use and keep personal and health information.
These laws will help you to respect young people’s privacy and plan how you’re going to collect and store information. And if you’re a government-funded service, be aware that breaching the Information Privacy Principles (IPPs) could result in a complaint being made against you followed by an investigation by the Victorian Privacy Commissioner or Health Services Commissioner.
Personal information is classed as information or opinions about a person whose identity can be seen or reasonably assumedbased on the information – e.g. a person’s name, address and date of birth.
Health information is information about the physical or mental health of a person, or information about a person’s disability. It includes information about a person’s access to health services, the type of services and any opinions about matters relating to a person’s health.
Sensitive information is a form of personal information that includes information about a person’s racial or ethnic origin, political views, religious beliefs, sexual preference, group membership or criminal record. Sensitive information must only be collected (with the individual’s consent) if the information is required for the purpose of providing government-funded welfare or educational services, or for research of these services.
If you’re consulting with young people, you should consider the following questions:
If you’re collecting information that identifies someone, you need to tell them:
This information is called a privacy statement. Privacy statements are usually given to the person before or at the time of the consultation - e.g. displayed at the start of an online survey, read out at the start of a forum.
The privacy laws highlight the importance of storing personal information securely. Some measures to consider are:
If you are unsure how long you should retain personal information, contact Public Record Office Victoria for advice.
If you are going to contract out a consultation to someone else, you’ll need to be mindful that you still have obligations under the Information Privacy Act 2000 and Health Records Act 2001. You can include a clause in your contracts or service agreements that your contracted agency must agree to abide by the Privacy Principles. You should also make sure that all information collected on behalf of your organisation is returned to you.
Legal capacity to consent is not age-dependent. People have the legal capacity to consent if they have the mental ability and maturity to understand the nature and effect of what they are consenting to. Age is a relevant factor in assessing this, but not decisive unless the person is very young. It is fair to assume that a young person has the capacity to consent to being involved in the consultation unless there is evidence or reason to believe otherwise. For example, if you know a young person has a learning difficulty, you will have to make a judgement about whether it’s likely to significantly impair their capacity to understand relevant issues.
If you make the judgement that a young person does not have the capacity to give consent, it may be possible to have a parent or guardian consent on their behalf. In this case, it is good practice to gain the parent or guardian’s consent in addition to the young person’s consent. This way the young person has support but is still actively involved in the decision about whether or not to take part.
To be valid, consent needs to be informed, freely given, specific and current. If the information is sensitive or health information, signed consent needs to be given.
For answers to some frequently asked questions about privacy, confidentiality and young people’s consent, we recommend you watch Youthlaw’s handy video:
Victorian law requires certain professionals to report child abuse in certain circumstances. For more information, watch Youthlaw’s video below:
Download Youthlaw’s great publication ‘What do I do when? A practical guide to the law for people who work with young people’.
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