Duty to Warn: When Does it Apply to Informing Parents about Teen Pregnancy?

This is the second blog post regarding the school counselor and teen pregnancy.  This post discusses the legal ramifications about informing parents of a teen's pregnancy.

As school counselors, we often walk a precarious path when it comes to disclosing confidential information about our students.  This road has many twists and turns that we must navigate including knowledge about state laws, federal laws, district policies, school policies, and our own ethical codes.  According to the ASCA, the ethical code guides school counselors to keep students' disclosures confidential while respecting the rights of parents and guardians at the same time.  Moyer and Sullivan (2008) state that school counselors often have a dilemma or "fundamental conflict" to maintain a balance between the ethical rights of students with the legal rights of parents.  Now that we know that a manual on disclosures does not exist,  when should a counselor disclose information about a student to parents/guardians?  School counselors should disclose when there is a "clear and imminent danger." ASCA states that school counselors should keep student information confidential unless the disclosure is to prevent a clear or imminent danger to the student, danger to others, or it is a legal requirement. Because the ASCA ethical code does not provide a directory of school counselor scenarios that we must report, it is up to the school counselor to decide when to divulge information.  However, Moyer and Sullivan provide some suggestions to school counselors on how to deal ethical dilemmas.
So now that we know there is little to no guidance on when to divulge confidential information, what actions should we take when a student tells a school counselor that she is pregnant?

When to report...that is the question.
According to social worker, Sandra Kopels, therapists have the duty to report situations that pose a physical or imminent danger to the student or others. This responsibility is known as a duty to warn
and can be taken out of context when sharing that a teen is pregnant. Kopels believes sharing that information under "duty to warn" would apply if a student pregnancy symptoms are causing the student adverse medical effects. However, Kopels believes that "just because a student happens to be a minor who attends school in a particular district and then becomes pregnant doesn’t establish a duty for the school to notify the parents of her pregnancy."

If you are not sure if you should report, there are some helpful tips you can follow:

What are the laws of your state?
Again, if you are not sure about if the age difference could constitute statutory rape, see the statutory rape laws for your state.

Tips for Helping Students Inform Parents of their Pregnancy

Looking for resources on how a teen can tell her parents she is pregnant.  Here are some resources that may be helpful to give to your students.

 Video #1

I found this video from a student perspective.  This video was created by a 15 year old girl who gives teens tips for telling their parents about their pregnancy.  The video shows moments of maturity and immaturity (for instance, she picks up a piece of chocolate and eats it mid sentence, she rambles at times, and she tells viewers to "be good for a month before you tell your parents"), but she speaks from her own experience as a teen which I think it may be helpful. 

 Video #2

This video is a comical approach on how a teen can tell her parents she is pregnant.  I like it because it gives a summary of the steps on how to discuss a teen's pregnancy with her parents.  Sometimes humor can help ease the tension in a emotional situation.  What I like is its simplicity and I can fill in the gaps.  Again, please use at your own discretion.


Other Helpful Resources 

Here are a few other resources you can use if you are not sure what to do...

How to Tell Your Parents You Are Pregnant

District Policy and Student Pregnancy

Legal and Ethical Issues for School Counselors