Working with Children and Teenagers Policy

I, Karen Batty, offer counselling services to children and teenagers, giving them time and space to talk in confidence about thoughts, feelings and any difficulties they may be having, with the following aims:

  • To develop their emotional health and wellbeing.
  • To help them overcome barriers to learning and achieve their full potential.
  • To increase their resilience so they are better able to manage personal difficulties.
  • To develop their self-esteem and self-confidence.

In order to offer these services I have compiled the following children and teenagers policy explaining how I comply with the associated legislation and guidance.

Legislation and Guidance 

This policy complies with key legislation and guidance, which includes the following:

  • The Children Act (1989; 2004)
  • Data Protection Act (2018) Including GDPR
  • United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989)
  • Gillick Competence/Fraser Guidelines (1985)
  • Working Together to Safeguard Children (July 2018)
  • BACP Ethical Framework for Good Practice in Counselling & Psychotherapy (2018)

Definition of a child, young person

The Children’s Act 1989 defines a child—or a minor—as a person under the age of 18 (1989:s.105). It is the common practice in counselling to distinguish between children and young people: referring to those aged between 6-11 years as children, and those between 11-18 years as young people.  It is also important in counselling to consider the developmental stage of a child or young person when applying the law. 

Voluntary Participation and Consent 

It is a basic principle that receiving counselling is a voluntary activity and, in most circumstances, the client has sought out a counsellor.  This is not always the case with children and young people.  Counsellors working with children and young people often have clients referred to them, sometimes to resolve troublesome behaviour, but more often because an adult has recognised that a child or teenager is distressed and needs help.  Usually the adult referring the child or teenager is doing so out of a commitment to help and wants to act constructively.  However, this can pose a number of challenges for the counsellor. Some of these challenges are as follows:

  • It challenges the child or teenagers ability to exercise choice about whether to participate in counselling. Consequently, the child or teenager may not want help or even see themselves as having a problem which needs help. 
  • It reduces the likelihood of successful intervention. Counselling seeks to encourage and support a person’s wish to change their situation.  Counselling is rarely beneficial if a child or young person refuses help, is not motivated for change, or has a dislike of the process.
  • There may be adult expectations about the outcome of counselling that may differ from the child or teenager. Expectations about changes in behaviour can be particularly problematic. It is the client that gives the counselling direction. Any attempt by the counsellor to impose the agenda is against the voluntary nature of counselling and indicates a lack of respect for the child or teenagers autonomy.

To ensure that counselling works with the needs of the child or young person I require involved adults to understand and respect the rights and importance of their voluntary participation.  Confirming the young person’s wishes to enter into counselling by obtaining their informed consent is important.  As well as giving a child or young person the opportunity to decide if I am someone they are comfortable talking with, the main purpose of my initial counselling session is to establish their informed consent.

Consent 

The capacity of children and young people to give informed consent to counselling, often referred to as their Gillick Competency (see Appendix 1), must be carefully assessed prior to them entering into a confidential counselling relationship.  I make a decision about whether a child or young person is able to give informed consent to counselling by answering the following questions:

  • Can they understand the questions being asked of them?
  • Do they have a reasonable understanding of what information might be shared?
  • Do they understand the reasons for sharing information?
  • Do they understand the implications of sharing information, or not sharing it?
  • Do they understand the courses of action open to them?
  • Can they think carefully about the advantages or disadvantages of the situation?
  • Can they express a clear personal view? 

Privacy and Confidentiality 

Confidentiality is essential to counselling for the following reasons:

  •  To enable the client to develop a trusting relationship with the counsellor.
  • To allow the client to be open and share feelings without fear of blame or reprisal.
  • To allow the client to speak freely about issues concerning them.
  • To encourage them to come forward for counselling.
  • To satisfy a client’s right to privacy under Article 8 of the Human Rights Act 1998.

Mutual trust, goodwill and respect between counsellor and involved adults helps ensure that confidentiality is maintained and I will not pass on any details of sessions without the child’s consent.  I will encourage a young person to discuss their counselling with involved adults—for example, their parents—where it is helpful and appropriate to do so.  Of course, a child or young person is free to talk to about their counselling sessions, but I encourage those involved to be sensitive to a child or young person’s wishes when seeking to discuss their counselling. 

Limitations to confidentiality

Whilst a central tenet of counselling, the principle of confidentiality must be overridden if I have child protection or safeguarding concerns, or as a result of a court order; for example, if a client threatens suicide or serious self-harm (see Appendix 2), or admits to an offence where my withholding information could be considered aiding and abetting a crime, such as a young person admitting to dealing drugs in school or placing another person at the risk of significant harm.  At the outset of working with a child or young person I make it clear to them and that I may need to breach confidentiality.  

Appendix 1

Assessing competence to consent by children and young people—Gillick Competency

Under the Gillick Competency Principle, children and young people aged 16 and under have the right to access confidential counselling without parental knowledge or consent, provided they are of sufficient intelligence to understand what is being proposed and the potential consequences.  As a rule, most secondary pupils are deemed intelligent enough to understand the counselling process, but there are occasionally those who are not.

The following guidance is based on the Fraser Guidelines and adapted for application to counselling.

Factors to considerChecklist for questions 
Immediate issues 
Child’s age:How old is the child or young person?
Gillick test:Does the child or young person understand the counselling?
 Are they refusing to allow their parents to be involved?
 Do their best interests require that the counselling be given without parental consent?
Short-term issues 
Nature of contact: Is the contact with the counsellor controlled entirely by the child or young person?
Support systems:What support does the child or young person have access to alongside or in the place of counselling or therapy, should contact be broken or withdrawn?
Nature of immediate issue or problem:What is the degree of risk, if any, posed by the child to him or herself or to others (e.g. drugs, abuse, suicide, arson?) Is the risk significant, immediate or longer term?
Child protection responsibilities:Is the counsellor required by their conditions of employment, or agency policy, to report all suspected child abuse to social services?
Longer-term issues:  
Stage of cognitive and emotional development:Does the child or young person understand the nature of the issue or problem? Their own needs and the needs of others? The risks and benefits of counselling or therapy? Does the child or young person have a sense of their own identity? A sense of time, past, present and future?
 Source: Jenkins, 1997: 216-7 (abbreviated version)

Appendix 2

Significant harm The Children Act 1989 defines harm as ill-treatment or impairment of health and development. Ill-treatment includes sexual abuse and forms of ill-treatment which are not physical, including emotional abuse. Physical abuse itself is not explicitly included, but this is taken as read. Health includes both physical and mental health, and ‘development’ includes physical, intellectual, emotional, social and behavioural development.  To assess whether health or development are being significantly impaired the Act requires us to compare the health or development of the child in question ‘with that which could reasonably be expected of a similar child’.  The definition of harm also includes ‘impairment suffered from seeing or hearing the ill-treatment of another’