This essay will discuss the legal and ethical concerns when working with children and young people. Confidentiality and safety issues will be discussed with relevant consideration as to how these issues may be addressed when forming a relationship with a child and their parents or caregivers. The influences of power, gender, ethnicity and cultural differences when counselling children and young people will be mentioned, with relevant aspects of key human development theories outlined. There are many things to consider when building a therapeutic relationship with a child or young person and potential challenges will be analysed and discussed. Finally, there are many skills needed to effectively communicate children and young people, and these will be explored with examples provided.
In defining the criteria for a child or young person, New Zealand law states that anyone under the age of eighteen years may be considered so, unless they have sought legal independence at age sixteen. (Ludbrook, 2012, p297). The Gillick decision in 1985 set out precedents that a child or young person may consent to counselling, regardless of their age, providing that they “understand what is involved in the counselling process and [have] the intellectual and emotional maturity to weigh up the advantages and risks.” (Ludbrook, 2012, p304). The New Zealand Association of Counsellors (NZAC) code of ethics section 5.5d states that “Counsellors should respect the rights of children: to receive age appropriate information and to give consent on their own behalf, commensurate with their capacity to do so.” It is important that the counsellor explain to the child the purposes of the counselling and where possible speak to the child alone, unless the child requests that a parent or caregiver be present. Ludbrook (2012) highlights that a child or young person has the same legal rights to confidentiality as an adult client, meaning that anything discussed during a counselling session cannot be discussed with a third party, including the child’s parents/caregivers, without the consent of the child/young person, provided that they are ‘Gillick’, meaning that they understand what confidentiality is, or at least what the term ‘secret’ entails. A breach in confidentiality can only be made if the counsellor believes that a client under the age of seventeen is at risk or in need of care and protection. This coincides with section 6.2c of the NZAC code of ethics, which states that confidentiality can be breached if “there is serious danger in the immediate or foreseeable future to the client or others”. Ludbrook highlights that whilst there is no mandatory requirement to inform Child, Youth and Family (CYF) when a child or young person is in harm or danger, sections 15 and 16 of the Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Act 1989 protects the counsellor from any legal liability. (Ludbrook, 2012, p 306). In forming a relationship with a child, Axline highlights that there are eight principles that a counsellor or therapist should follow. Firstly, forming a friendly, warm relationship with the child, including good rapport should be established as soon as possible, whereby the counsellor is able to accept the child exactly as s/he is. The counsellor should convey a feeling of permissiveness, whereby the child then feels free to express whatever feelings he/she may have. The counsellor must be able to recognise the feelings expressed by the child, and then reflect these back to her/him so that s/he may gain insight into her/his behaviour. The counsellor must maintain deep levels of respect in regards to the child’s ability to solve her/his own problems if given a chance to do so, with choices about change being that of the child. The counsellor allows the child to lead any conversation or actions, whereby they will follow rather than instigate and at the child’s own pace, respecting that it is a gradual process. Finally, the counsellor only...
References: Axline, V. (1964). Dibs in search of self. New York: Ballantine books/Randomhouse
Axline, V. (1964). The eight basic principles. In M. Howarth (ed.) Child psychotherapy:
practice and theory. New York: Basic Books ltd.
Children, Young Persons, and their Families Act, No. 24. (1989). Retrieved from
Ludbrook, R. (2012). Counselling and the law. (2nd ed.). Wellington: Dunmore Publishing
New Zealand Association of Counsellors. (2002). Code of Ethics.
Oaklander, V. (2007). Windows to our children. Maine, United States: The Gestalt Journal
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