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The American Counseling Association Denounces Immigrant Youths’ Breach of Confidentiality

Feb 18, 2020

(ALEXANDRIA, VA) – The following is ACA’s statement on recent reports of immigrant youth’s breach of confidentiality (esta declaración también está disponible en línea en Español/this statement also is available online in Spanish):

The American Counseling Association (ACA) is denouncing the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement’s sharing of mental health professional’s notes from immigrant youths’ counseling sessions. As the world’s largest association exclusively representing professional counselors in various practice settings, ACA considers ORR’s “formal Memorandum of Agreement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to share details about children in its care” to be an abhorrent violation of the confidential nature of counseling when working with minors.

“Confidentiality is the cornerstone of the counseling profession,” said ACA President Heather Trepal. “We stand in solidarity with our 53,000 plus members—and with all other mental health professionals—and demand that government agencies respect the sanctity of the established confidentiality upon which our core professional standards are built.”

ACA contributed to the recent Washington Post report which detailed how therapy notes from an immigrant youths’ sessions are being used against them—and strongly expressed the importance of the expectation of trust between a client and a counselor.

“While these stories are a sobering reminder of the legal issues surrounding the immigrant community, it also serves as a call to counselors and other mental health professionals to be aware of policies that govern their individual work settings so they can better understand how it may impact client confidentiality,” said Trepal.

In the immediate future, ACA looks forward to working with other mental health organizations—and especially the government—regarding instituting policies that consider how to best protect the confidentiality of notes taken by mental health professionals in government settings. 

For information on guidance for counselors working with unaccompanied minors, click here.

(This statement has been updated to include a joint letter to Congress ACA signed along with 40 other national organizations.)

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