On Reporting and Confidentiality
“You shouldn’t go down to the main office any time soon, Ms. Childs”
“Because there’s a mom down there who says she wants to kick your head in”
Erika Childs Charles remembered during a discussion with the Espere team about the importance - and dangers - of reporting abuse. At the time, Erika was a teacher in a school in Nevada. She reported suspected child abuse, as was her duty, and received threats because of it.
“People are smart,” Erika reflected, “Even if confidentiality is completely honored, parents know who works with their kids. They knew my car. They knew my house.”
We all naturally back away from these kinds of risks. In the field of mental health, confidentiality and reporting are essential to the trust we build with our clients. In fact, we talk about it at the beginning of every counseling session. “What you say during our session is confidential. What you say in here, stays in here. But there are times when we have to break confidentiality. If you tell us that you will hurt yourself, or hurt someone else, or (especially for children) if someone is hurting you. Then we will find and talk to people who can help keep you and others safe.”
Anywhere in the world, reporting can mean risking our personal safety. One team member reflected about reporting, “If someone thinks that I have reported on them, and they lose their job, go to jail, or are otherwise punished, I could be in real danger. I could be hurt. My life could be in danger.” Another person reflected, “If you ask someone to tell on a colleague, you ask them to take their lives in their hands.”
The dangers of being suspected for reporting abuse are as real in Haiti as they are in Nevada, USA. But so is the imperative need to report abuse. “If a person, if a child, is being hurt, we must report that.” Erika affirmed, “We must stand up for people who can’t advocate for themselves. The risks involved with that are part of counseling work. If you can’t support the risks, you can’t be a mental health counselor.”
Some may say, 'It's important to protect children, but I have to think of my own safety.' One of the challenges we face at Espere is trying to find the best balance of taking care of our team members and taking care of those we serve. We do everything we can to protect our team and to make sure confidentiality procedures are clear to everyone, and closely followed. However, at the end of the day, we make the choice to protect those who cannot protect themselves.
Oh, and what happened with that angry mom, back in Nevada? “I took it as a sign that I needed to build more of a relationship with her.” Erika remembers. “We’re friends now. She calls me her sister!”
We regularly reflect on confidentiality and reporting, especially when a new team member joins Espere, or when we start a new project. When we reaffirmed our commitment at a recent team meeting, one team member added, “When you are doing the right thing, there will always be someone who wants to stop you. When you are trying to make a positive change, someone will try to tear you down. Don’t let that stop you. Use it as encouragement that you are doing something important. You are making an important change.”
Today, all of us at Espere are doing this work because we believe in the positive difference we are making. None of our staff are salaried by Espere. If you would like to support our team’s work, you can donate by clicking the button at the top or bottom of the screen. All donations go to keeping our doors open, and serving as many people as we can.