PACFA submission to Government Inquiry – 1800 RESPECT Service

PACFA has made a submission to the Inquiry into the Delivery of National Outcome 4 of the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and Their Children. Download the PACFA Submission.

The Inquiry is aimed at ensuring services meet the needs of women and their children who are experiencing violence, insofar as Outcome 4 is given effect by the 1800 RESPECT Domestic and Sexual Violence National Counselling Service. For information on the Inquiry, view the Terms of Reference.

In its submission, PACFA highlights concerns that the procurement arrangements used for contracting service providers to deliver the 1800 RESPECT Domestic and Sexual Violence National Counselling Service impose inappropriate requirements around collecting and sharing records of client counselling sessions which breach PACFA’s Code of Ethics and go against accepted good practice standards regarding the confidentiality of client records.

PACFA’s submission focuses on the confidentiality requirements in the PACFA Code of Ethics and in the PACFA Guidelines on Client Records. Of utmost importance is the need to ensure that women seeking counselling for domestic and sexual violence have confidence that counselling is completely confidential, otherwise they may not seek help. Confidentiality must also be respected, and unauthorised disclosure of sensitive information prevented, to ensure the safety of women and children who are escaping violence.

PACFA makes the following recommendations to ensure that the 1800 RESPECT Service respects client confidentiality:

1. Prioritise clients’ welfare:

  • Ensure the 1800 RESPECT Service remains a completely confidential service that, above all, meets the needs of clients.
  • Do not have mandatory requirements in service contracts for the 1800 Respect Service to record counselling sessions. This poses a barrier to clients who wish to access the services.
  • Ensure that service providers and the practitioners they employ are not prevented under the service contract for the 1800 Respect Service from respecting the confidentiality of their clients in accordance with their Code of Ethics and other professional guidelines

2. Ensure service contracts to provide the 1800 RESPECT Service respect the confidentiality of past, present and future clients. In particular, ensure service contracts:

  • Do not impose mandatory requirements to record confidential counselling sessions.
  • Do not require sub-contracted agencies to hand over past client records as they do not have client consent to do so

3. Ensure legal rights to challenge the subpoena of client records, and rights under Sexual Assault Counselling Privilege legislation, are respected:

  • Ensure practitioners and the agencies that employ them have the right to challenge a subpoena where there are overriding concerns for the safety of the client or her children.
  • Ensure that client records remain under the control of the practitioners that create them and the agencies that employ them, and that they are not controlled by main contractors. This is the only way to ensure the records remain confidential and that any subpoena can be challenged if required in the interest of client safety.