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Ethics – Confidentiality putting girls at risk

June 2018

Sexual health clinics’ privacy policies may be obstacles to protecting girls from sexual exploitation, a hard-hitting report has found.

As reported in the Family Education Trust’s (FET) April bulletin, the Newcastle Safeguarding Children Board’s latest report has revealed confidentiality policies could even be helping the perpetrators carry out abuse without risk of pregnancy or disease.

According David Spicer, the report’s author, research into sexual health services in Newcastle found that 85 per cent of victims of sexual exploitation had accessed sexual health services. There were many instances of abused girls using the clinics to obtain contraception, but despite providing their name, age and frequency of their sexual activity, the clinics either did not pick up on the signals or act on them.

FET’s bulletin cites one case where a school nurse handed contraceptive advice to a 13-year-old girl and referred her to the sexual health services without informing her parents. At the age of 15, again, she had an abortion without the knowledge of her parents, GP or school.

The bulletin comments: ‘It emerges it is standard practice for information to be freely shared between school nurses and sexual health services, while parents are kept in the dark, and under-age sexual activity does not trigger any concerns’.

The report, Joint serious case review concerning sexual exploitation of children and adults with needs for care and support in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, was carried out after a police-led, multi-agency investigation into sexual exploitation in 2014.

In addition, the report recommends the government should ‘urgently arrange for the principles applied to confidentiality and safeguarding in sexual health settings to be reviewed, having regard to the body of knowledge about sexual exploitation’.

This article is edited from April 2018’s Family Education Bulletin, with permission.