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.

Basic Release Template

Is the release template available in other languages?

The model release form is available in English and Spanish.  Please email tcip[at]nnedv.org to receive a copy if you do not have one.  If your organization translates the form into other languages, we would love to receive a copy so that we can share it with other organizations.

When can information be shared outside our agency without a release?

The only time that personally identifying information can be shared by your agency without a release from the survivor is if you are compelled by state law or a court order to provide certain information.  Mandatory reporting is a common example of a state law that would be an exemption.  It is important to note that in most states, a subpoena is not a court order and thus is often not an exemption to the confidentiality obligations.

What is best practice: having a separate release for each agency the survivor’s information is being released to or having several agencies listed on one form?

Best practice is to have a separate form for each agency that the survivor’s information is being released to. This helps ensure that the survivor is fully informed, both of who is receiving her/his information and of the particular consequences associated with that agency getting the information. If you consistently work with a few particular agencies, individual forms could be developed that lists each agency (e.g., one for Section 8 housing, one for the prosecutor, one for the food bank). The benefits and consequences of the release can then be identified on the form for each agency, in addition to being discussed with the survivor before s/he signs the release.

Why should we specify the form of communication that a release will take?

Discussing with survivors what form of communication will be used when sharing the information in the release ensures that survivors are fully informed of the various confidentiality risks associated with different types of communication. For example, there may be a greater confidentiality risk if documents are faxed to another agency than if, for example, a phone call is made to that agency. Or, since email is not a secure form of communication, the survivor may be concerned about email.  Survivors should be made aware of risks associated with different communication methods and allowed to choose which are used.

Without specifying what form of communication is being used, you may not be giving the survivor the information s/he needs to provide true informed consent.

What if I only see a client in person once a month but do phone counseling on a regular basis? Some of the survivors we work with are from a rural area and it can be difficult to get a release signed every time we need one. In those cases, is it appropriate for the release to be for longer than a few days?

VAWA states that releases have to be “reasonably time-limited,” and that means under the circumstances for individual cases and situations. It may be that a 30-day release could be reasonable and appropriate in a situation like this, especially since you have regular phone contact with the survivor.

In addition, it is always good practice to ensure that you regularly check in with survivors to determine whether their circumstances have changed and remind them that they have the right to withdraw that release at any point. This is to ensure that the informed consent is based on up-to-date information.

What is a proper length of time for a release to be valid?

VAWA requires releases to be “reasonably time-limited.”  Whether a time limit is reasonable should be determined by the purpose of the release and the circumstances of the survivor’s situation.  The length of time that a release is effective for should be the minimum length of time necessary under the circumstances, and should be tied to the service the survivor is requesting.  It should be as short as necessary to meet the client’s purpose (for example, a release could be for a few minutes, or a few hours, or a few days).  This helps to ensure that services are guided by the survivor and take into account situations that may change radically from day to day.

In general, there is no reason a waiver should ever be more than 15 days or 30 days at the outside since the release can be reaffirmed and extended if the survivor confirms that the release is still valid and authorizes a new expiration date.

Is it necessary to have an expiration date on the release of information?

Yes. VAWA requires a release to be time-limited and this is best practice. The release can be reaffirmed and extended if the survivor confirms that it is still valid and authorizes a new expiration date.

Is it necessary to complete a new release any time a different person needs to be contacted at one agency or anytime a new piece of information needs to be exchanged?

Yes. This is what we recommend as best practice and it is consistent with the requirements of VAWA. If the person or agency to whom the information is being released or the specific information to be shared was not included in the original release of information form that the survivor signed, a new release of information form is needed. While we understand that this could add some additional steps for advocates, these steps are designed to protect clients’ personal information.

In addition, advocates can only share the specific information noted in the release form and cannot share information the survivor later reveals to the advocate.

The model release seems to be very precise, lending to a very limited scope of information that could be shared. Is this necessary?

Yes. The release is what we recommend as best practice and is consistent with the requirements of VAWA. It helps to ensure that there is informed consent and that the client knows what pieces of information are being released and to whom. It is important for survivors to have control of what specific information they would like shared, so the more specific the release, the better.

Do we have permission to alter the form (e.g., increase the font size) for those who may have difficulty seeing the information?

Yes, the form can be altered to increase accessibility. Please do not make any adaptations that change the intent of the form.

When is a release required under VAWA 2005?

If you are a non-profit agency that is receiving VAWA funds, you need a written, time-limited, and informed release of information from a survivor to share any personally identifying information about that survivor with anyone outside of your agency. This includes even confirming that a particular person is receiving or has received services.