When a client enters our shelter, s/he completes an emergency contact sheet. If s/he does not return after curfew, we contact the emergency contact to find out if s/he is okay or in danger. Is this okay?
Is it explained to each person when filling out the emergency contact sheet that not returning by curfew is considered an emergency and the contact person will be contacted at that point, therefore informing them that s/he is or was in your shelter? What the emergency contact form is used for and what defines an emergency should be clear, as it may change the person listed on the form.
A best practice would be to have an informed, written, reasonably time-limited “Emergency Contact Release” that is the same as a release of information. The form should be along these lines: “In the event that I do not return by curfew, I will call the program. In certain circumstances, the program is allowed to contact the following person/s. This emergency contact will be valid for the next ___ days. The circumstances are….” The advocate should have a conversation with the survivor about the risks and benefits of signing the release, its time limits, and how the advocate would know whether the survivor has purposely left shelter and is ok so that the advocate does not assume an emergency when there is no emergency. In addition, the advocate and survivor should discuss what the program should do if the victim’s identified emergency contact does not know where the victim is and what actions the program will take.