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"I Can't Promise Not to Tell"
"I Can't Promise Not to Tell"
Youth workers have ethical and legal duties they must fulfill.

Most teens struggling with a problem aren't going to set up a formal counseling appointment. Instead, they might drop hints during a group discussion or approach you quietly after youth group. Some might share what's troubling them only if you promise you won't tell their parents or anyone else.

That's a dangerous—if not impossible—promise to keep.

Most states have laws requiring certain professionals, such as doctors, teachers, and police, to alert authorities if they suspect that a child is being abused physically, sexually, or emotionally. In many states, these laws extend to pastors, childcare providers, and youth workers. "If you're a mandated reporter and fail to comply, you place yourself, your ministry, and its leadership in jeopardy," authors Rich Van Pelt and Jim Hancock write in The Youth Worker's Guide to Helping Teenagers in Crisis.

Just think of the consequences if a youth worker learned that a young woman was being molested by a relative, and he didn't report it as required by law. The young woman (and possibly other victims) could suffer years of continued abuse. In addition, if authorities learn that a church worker had knowledge of the crime and could have reported it years earlier, they could charge the youth worker with failing to report a crime and hold him partly responsible for the emotional and physical injuries the woman suffered at the abuser's hands.

It's important to know the laws in your state. Youth workers are expected to follow them, so a ministry would be wise to provide training regarding confidentiality, abuse disclosure, counseling licensure, and other issues that can arise during crisis intervention. Ignorance of the law is no defense.

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