Legal jurisdictions typically have special laws governing minors, and it is important that counselors be familiar with state laws. For example, confidentiality with minor clients may depend on age, and some parents may have rights to their child's records. Similarly, some states require parents or guardians to consent to their child receiving counseling. Guardianship and right to consent can become even more complex if parents are divorced and sharing custody.
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Legal & Ethical Considerations
School counselors face complex legal and ethical issues associated with working with minors. While clinical counselors may not work in schools, it is likely that they will eventually work with minor clients. Thus, it is important for all counselors to understand legal and ethical issues that arise when counseling minors.
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All US states legally require licensed counselors to report suspected child abuse to appropriate authorities, typically the Department of Health and Human Services and/or the police. Mandated reporting may initially seem daunting, however, it is an important measure that keeps children safe. Depending on state laws, counselors face substantial consequences for failing to report suspected child abuse. Beginning counselors sometimes fear that mandated reporting will damage their relationship with the client(s). While this may be true some of the time, in our experience, it is possible for counselors to preserve relationships while still engaging in mandated reporting. Clarity about counselors' legal requirements to report child abuse and neglect starting during informed consent provides a foundation so that clients are not surprised if a mandated reporting situation arises.
Clear documentation is always important, however, it is particularly so when reporting child abuse and neglect. Always note when and to whom the report was made, as well as the details of the report. Retain copies of any written reports.
The following video defines child abuse and neglect and provides an overview of mandated reporting based on Michigan law. Each state is different, and counselors should always be familiar with their state laws, however, the concepts in this video likely apply to many states.
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