Frequently Asked Questions

This section provides an overview on questions that commonly come up concerning confidentiality releases, U.S. Federal Laws on confidentiality, record retention and deletion, mandatory reporting, the use of surveillance cameras, answering subpoenas and much more. For ease, this section is set up in an easy-to-read question and answer format.

Age, Consent, & Guardian Questions

If the victim has a cognitive disability and the caregiver is not appropriate to sign the release due to either being the abuser or having obvious bias to the abuser, who can authorize a release?

The most important thing is to figure out if the person even needs someone else to sign the release of information on his or her behalf, or if they can sign it themselves. Regardless of disability, the only time a guardian is allowed to sign a release for specific information is if the person with a disability has been legally adjudicated as unable to sign legal documents and the guardian has been court appointed.

The best practice is to ensure involvement of the survivor in all aspects, ensure that they are fully informed, and obtain proof of court-appointed guardianship. A person with a disability may have a caregiver and still be able to give consent themselves if there has not been a guardian appointed by the court. If the person has been found by a court to need a legal guardian and the guardian is a threat, then a new guardian needs to be appointed. ** Remember, the release is not to provide services, but to share the survivor’s information with other agencies in the community.**

If the signatures need to be of the non-abusive parent or guardian, how does one determine the non-abusive parent or guardian?

If you are working with a minor or a person who has a disability, ask all the questions you would normally to identify who the abusive person is. Typically programs have a policy or practice to determine the abusive party. This usually begins with asking the survivor to identify the abuser. It’s always important to be careful in this assessment, to follow your agencies policies, and to use your professional training and best judgment.

If you are providing services for a child, at what age does the child need to sign a release of information?

VAWA requires that the unemancipated minor and the non-abusive parent sign the release of information. VAWA does not specify an age with children, although if they are not physically able to sign, they should be informed in an age-appropriate way a that the parent/guardian is signing papers that allow you to talk to others in the community. If the child is unable to sign the form, in place of the child’s signature, the advocate should note that the age of the child, the fact that the release was explained to the child, and the date.

As stated in the previous answer, it is important to recognize that if you are already able to provide services to a minor without the consent of the parent or guardian, then the minor may be able to sign a release. Both the minor and parent or guardian would sign when services can only be provided with the parent or guardian’s consent, or if both the minor and the parent or guardian are receiving services.

What about unemancipated teenagers without a parent or guardian? Is there a certain age where a young adult no longer needs a parent or guardian’s signature on a release?

“Emancipation” is determined by state law, and teens can be “emancipated” for different purposes (e.g., a 14 year old may be able to consent to receive health care services but not to marry). There is no language in VAWA that identifies a specific age where a parent or guardian’s consent is no longer needed. If your state allows programs to provide services to a teenager without a parent or guardian’s consent, then the teenager may be allowed to sign her or his own release without a parent or guardian’s approval. If you are unsure of your state law, contact your state coalition. Remember that the release of information is not to provide services but to share the survivor’s information with other agencies when necessary.

If parents have shared custody of a minor child, do both the non-abusive and abusive parent need to sign a release?

No. Only the non-abusive parent must sign the release. Remember: a release is only necessary when the survivor wants to allow the release of specific information, and cannot be a condition of services.

Does VAWA prohibit an abusive parent (abusive to child and/or other parent) from signing a release for an unemancipated child’s records?

Yes. Section 3 of VAWA 2005 states that “consent for release may not be given by the abuser of the minor, person with a disability, or the abuser of the other parent of the minor.”