Ethics confidentiality for minors 13-18.

EC60: Ethics Committee Minute
By Pamela Ridgeway, Ph.D. 
WSPA Ethics Committee

The WSPA Ethics Committee is frequently asked about confidentiality issues related to minors between 13-18 years of age. For example, if you are treating a 14-year-old client, do the client’s parents have the right to obtain your records without the client’s consent?  Who holds the privilege in such cases?

To answer this question, we refer to two of our state laws.

RCW 71.34.530 – Age of consent—Outpatient treatment of minors.

Any minor thirteen years or older may request and receive outpatient treatment without the consent of the minor’s parent. Parental authorization, or authorization from a person who may consent on behalf of the minor pursuant to RCW 7.70.065, is required for outpatient treatment of a minor under the age of thirteen.

WAC 246-924-363 – Protecting confidentiality of clients.

(4) … For clients between the age of thirteen and eighteen, the psychologist shall clarify any limits to confidentiality between the minor and legal guardians at the outset of services. The psychologist will act in the minor’s best interests in deciding whether to disclose confidential information to the legal guardians without the minor’s consent.

This means that while Washington state law allows minors 13-18 years of age to request and receive treatment without parental consent, it does not grant them complete confidentiality. Furthermore, when it comes to determining the limits of confidentiality with this age group, the responsibility to determine what is “in the minor’s best interests” lies with the psychologist.  Of course, a thorough disclosure regarding limits of confidentiality at the outset of treatment is standard practice, and when working with teenaged clients it is especially important to clarify your policy about how much and what types of information will be shared with legal guardians.

The Ethics Committee is a consultation resource to members of the Washington State Psychological Association on specific questions of ethics and to plan and implement educational opportunities on ethics for members of the organization. The committee helps members think through ethical issues and is a resource for thoughtful decision making.

To ask the Ethics Committee to comment on an issue you may have, please login to your account at this link.