When you go to the welfare office to get help, Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) workers ask you a lot of questions, including some very personal ones. This resource is about the pros and cons of telling personal things about the violence or abuse you may be experiencing in your home and what happens to the information you decide to share.
Why does DSHS ask me about abuse and family violence?
DSHS understands that people who have had violence or abuse in their homes might need extra help. They ask everyone who applies for services the same questions. They do this so everybody knows that they can ask for help.
Do I have to tell DSHS about abuse or violence in my life?
No. You can tell DSHS as much or as little as you want about what is going on for you. You can tell or not tell when you are first asks, or you can tell later. It’s your life and you are in charge of who knows personal things about you.
Why talk to DSHS about family abuse or violence?
DSHS can include things in your Individual Responsibility Plan that fit your needs. Say you need to find safe housing, take care of legal problems, or talk to a victim advocate. These are just a few examples of the activities DSHS would let you do before or while you start to look for work. If you talk to your worker, they can let you know about other programs in your area that might help.
What happens to the family violence information if I decide to tell?
Notes about what you say are supposed to be entered into a special section of the DSHS system where limited people can see it. All information in the DSHS system about clients is confidential under the law, but many workers may be able to see the information your workers write down – even in this private system.
Workers are only supposed to view personal information when they need it to do their jobs. However, the DSHS computer system is not able to track who actually looks at your records, so there are no guarantees that your private information will stay private. This is especially relevant to people that are being stalked, have fled a violent relationship, or if you are being abused by someone who works for DSHS.
Talk to an advocate or someone you trust for help deciding what information you want to keep private in order to stay safe.
Will I always know when workers are sharing my private information with someone else?
DSHS staff can talk about your family violence history with someone from another agency who is working with you in order to help you. DSHS staff sometimes ask you if it is okay to talk to someone else and have you sign a consent form before they do. However, they aren’t required to do so.
Who else can help me if I can’t decide what to do?
Some DSHS offices have victim advocates working there who may be able to help you decide what to do. If there isn’t an advocate there, you can contact your local domestic violence program, or the National Domestic Violence hotline at 1-800-799-7233.
How does sharing my experience of abuse affect what happens to my kids? Will DSHS tell Child Protective Services?
All DSHS workers are “mandatory reporters” of child abuse and neglect like doctors and teachers. This means that they are required by law to report what they hear about child abuse and neglect to Child Protective Services (CPS). Children witnessing or being in a home where a parent is being abused is typically not a reason for a mandatory reporter to call CPS. However, it is up to the staff to decide if what you are telling them should be reported.
If you are concerned about this, you can discuss this with an advocate. Your safety and the safety of your children is important. You deserve respect and to get what you need to stay safe.
Confidentiality at DSHS WorkFirst
- DSHS WorkFirst has laws and policies about what they can do with the personal information you share. While all client information is “confidential,” this is different from the “confidentiality” you would have with a doctor, lawyer, or clergy member.
- In general, DSHS WorkFirst must get your written permission to talk about you or share your information with others. However, they can share information with other programs and agencies without your permission if it is “necessary to coordinate services.” This means that if you are getting help from other programs for things like housing, childcare, or healthcare, DSHS WorkFirst could share your information.
- Anyone can ask DSHS if you are currently receiving welfare benefits. DSHS must give a yes or no answer, but cannot say anything else without your permission.
- Usually, only the workers assigned to your care look at your client file, but there are many DSHS employees who may be able to see your file.
- DSHS can only share your information to the police if you sign a consent form allowing it, or if there is a court order signed by a judge.