Confidentiality, sensitive information and media use

Confidentiality and expectations around sensitive information

Foster carers will receive confidential written and verbal information about children, young people, their parents, and families. This will normally be from social workers but may also be from others, eg doctors or teachers. Children, young people and their families should be given a clear explanation by their FBC social worker of what sort of information has been shared and why. Foster carers should know in what circumstances they can share information, for example, with a child or young person’s school.

Confidentiality must also be respected within carer support groups, training or when meeting informally with other foster carers. Specific issues can be discussed regarding a child or young person, so that experiences of how situations have been supported can be shared. The confidentiality for the child, young person and their family must always be respected. Foster carers sharing information must be done so on a need-to-know basis only, and with a confidence that individuals do not discuss the information outside of the group. 

Some information may have to be shared with your close family or babysitters who have regular contact with the child or young person in any caring capacity.  This would only be on a need-to-know basis. This will ensure their safety and the safety of the child or young person being cared for. The specific purpose of sharing such information should be communicated to the FBC social worker. Where other people without a need to know ask inappropriate questions, a polite and firm refusal to discuss the matter is usually sufficient. 

Information which you receive from a child or young person or others, about actual or potential harm to them or another person must be shared with the relevant social worker as soon as possible. There may be times when this needs done immediately.  On these occasions, foster carers may need to contact Emergency Social Work Services out of hours service to relay the information and enable them to decide when or how to act. There can be no agreement between a carer and a child or young person to keep such information secret. 

Confidentiality and the media, including social media

Under no circumstances should a foster carer give information or have a discussion with the press or any media organisation about a child or young person they care, or have cared for.  This could only be done in exceptional circumstances and where they have prior agreement from family-based care. Any enquiries from the media must be referred immediately to a FBC social worker or their team leader.   

Children and young people who are looked after by the local authority cannot be photographed or featured in the media unless their parents, or our organisation, who hold full or shares parental rights, have given permission. This means that without specific agreement, children or young people cannot be photographed at school.  It means that children or young people cannot appear on a foster carers Facebook, Instagram or any other media storage, whether this is ‘public’ or restricted to only the foster carers own immediate family or friends. 

Social media, whether this is Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, WhatsApp or TikTok has for many, become part of our lives. The way we use or communicate on social media should represent the high standards which we demonstrate in our personal and professional lives. The Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC) provides helpful guidance into the use of social media. It offers examples of good practice and when this has fallen short.  It provides us with questions we need to ask ourselves before we share anything online or electronically. Foster carers looking after a child or young person should not share details, or photos, or video clips of that child or young person, or their family on any social media or electronic device. Only when explicit agreement has been given can this be done in some circumstances. 

Storage of confidential information

Foster carers are advised to keep all reports and papers relating to individual children or young people, as well as their care of any child or young people, or information shared with them by our organisation, or our partner agencies, in a lockable filing box or cabinet. These are provided by family based care. Any data held on a computer should only be kept for as long as necessary and subsequently destroyed securely thereafter. Information that identifies a child, young person or family should not be sent by e-mail. When a placement ends, all paperwork relating to the child, young person or placement should be returned to their social worker or a FBC social worker and that stored electronically such as photographs or emails should either be placed on a USB stick and returned or deleted.  This ensures your responsibilities within GDRP procedures.  

Access to Foster Carer Files

The Looked After Children (Scotland) Regulations 2009 require the local authority to retain confidential files for all approved foster carers. This file holds details of their approval, amendments to approval and termination of approval. It also contains a record of each placement with the foster carer. Records for approved foster carers must be retained for at least 25 years from the date on which the approval was terminated or until the carer’s death, if earlier. The local authority must ensure that the information contained is treated as confidential and can be accessed only by court order or as provided for under legislation.  

Under data protection law foster carers have a right to request copies of any information which the Council may hold about them. Such a request is commonly known as a subject access request. The Data Protection Act (1995) and Access to Medical Reports Act (1988) regulate access to files kept by local authorities. Third party information cannot be shared without the consent of the provider of that information, e.g. a personal reference.  

Recording and Report Writing

Keeping a record of the daily care of a child or young person and the family is important. Foster carers are provided with record sheets, and these should be used for keeping detailed records, and kept in the locked box supplied by FBC. Foster carers are expected to attend decision making forums such as Children’s Hearings or Looked After Reviews. A Looked After Review Report is available for a foster carer to complete.

If a foster carer chooses to use a diary for foster caring purposes, this should be used solely for this purpose and to record appointments, dates etc, and should not contain details of any children, young people, or their family. The FBC social worker can offer guidance on recording practice and training is provided. Records must be kept for the following reasons

  • to record significant events in a child or young persons’ life and therefore contribute to their life history
  • to show patterns of behaviour over time, recording progress or regression, eg sleeping, eating, enuresis
  • to assess the child or young persons’ needs, contributing to future planning
  • to record family time between the child, young person or their birth family and any reaction to this 
  • to provide reports or important information to decision making forums
  • as a safeguard for foster carers in the face of complaints or allegations

Children and young people’s parents have a right to access information written about them. You should take account of this when recording and writing reports. The records foster carers keep remain the property of our organisation. It is important to remember when keeping records to

  • keep records short and up to date – take time each day so that events are fresh in your mind and as accurate as possible 
  • be clear whether you are giving an opinion or reporting facts 
  • sign and date your entries 
  • explain to the child or young people, if old enough, that you are keeping the record and the reasons for it  

Examples of important information which should always be detailed is

  • details of behaviour, including what happened before and after,
  • significant developmental progress,
  • important events or changes in circumstances, 
  • details of occasions when the child has gone missing and where they were found, 
  • police involvement,
  • Information from school, including attainments and achievements,
  • visits, meetings and arrangements with social workers, including hearings and reviews.

Children and young people who are looked after and have had a succession of moves during their childhood, often struggle to make sense of their identity as they have little information about their past. It is helpful if foster carers keep a memory box for each child who they care for.

Memory boxes can be a considerable and important part of a child or young person’s stay with a foster carer.  It is something that can be a lifelong part of a care experienced persons’ life. It can contain

  • mementoes such as baby clothes, a child’s comforter or blanket or teddy which gave the child a sense of security when young. Even when the child has outgrown these items, they should be kept as they are useful in times of stress and as a tangible reminder of childhood
  • special books, particularly if a present from a parent or relative 
  • other belongings or mementoes that help to give the child a sense of self or recall childhood experiences. 
  • Any certificates or objects which have a meaning to the child or young person and ones which have written reminders or photographs attached which give them greater significance and meaning when revisiting this period in a persons’ life.

A memory box or photograph album should not be mistaken for Lifestory work, although can add great depth to this in the future, having objects and photos which are relatable and significant to look back on.