Young people are entitled to confidential services when seeking
advice about sex, relationships and sexual health. However, how
professionals should maintain confidentiality for young people
needs further clarification. The government has placed increasing
importance on information sharing but this has been done without
exploring the balance between this and young people’s right to
Where young people have access to sexual health services, it is
crucial that professionals do not confuse child protection issues
with the normal sexual development of young people. Health
professionals should advise and provide services to young people in
accordance with the Fraser Guidelines, which highlight young
people’s right to confidentiality. Other professionals should also
follow these guidelines.
As a principle, professionals should not share information on young
people’s contact with sexual health services or where young people
are known to be having sexual relationships. Information sharing
should take place only when there are serious child protection
issues or when the young person’s consent has been sought.
However, where a professional believes a young person is being
abused or exploited, it is preferable for them to work with the
young person with a view to them agreeing to seek help rather than
breach their confidence. Disclosure should not be made without
discussing it with the young person.
Research suggests that young people will not seek advice or
disclose personal problems to any professional unless they are
reassured about the confidentiality of the discussion.
The government is to launch a campaign advising young people of
their right to confidentiality when seeking advice on sex and
contraception from a health or social care professional. It is also
good news that existing Teenage Pregnancy Unit guidance is to be
The need for guidance is particularly urgent given that the Sexual
Offences Act 2003 is due to come into force in May. This
legislation sends out confusing messages that could lead to young
people being even more worried about accessing services in
confidence than they already are, and to professionals being
unclear as to what advice and services they can offer young
Confidentiality is a complex issue that needs to finely balance
child protection with children’s rights.
Anne Weyman is chief executive of the Family Planning