Page 1


Protecting Children's Images and Stories in Global Child Welfare


Table of Contents Part 1: What Is Confidentiality?.........................3 How does confidentiality relate to caring for children and families in adversity? Scope of this training module

Part 2: How can my program support confidentiality? ......................................................7 Where do we start? 1. Identify Points of Risk 2. Develop a Strategy 3. Create a Reporting Process 4. Educate and Implement 5. Review

Part 3: Conclusion................................................21 Please note: This Training Module includes many editable document templates to be downloaded and customized to best fit the needs of your organization and caseworkers as you serve vulnerable children and families. Each linked, downloadable document will look like this within the text. Click on each link and the associated editable form will download to your computer automatically in Word document format. Then, the form is yours to customize.





View this video to learn more about confidentiality

Every human being is made in the image of God, and is of inestimable value. Every individual has elements of himself that he is proud of or would be happy to share, and other characteristics or situations he wants to keep private. Very few of us want our areas for growth displayed for all the world to see.

Vulnerable children often experience an unusually high number of losses. They may lose their parents, their siblings, their culture, home, extended family, neighborhood, friendships, and more. Unfortunately, they often lose their confidentiality, as well. Well-meaning service providers may share their image and story on promotional materials or in front of large audiences these children will never meet. Unknowingly, and in a wellintentioned effort to advocate for needs and raise funds, organizations can strip the very children they care about of their dignity and voice. Thankfully, there are other ways to accomplish these tasks while still respecting a child’s right to privacy.


Especially in today’s world, privacy can be quickly lost. Sharing an image on social media means it is stored in the archives of the internet forever, even if it is deleted. Geotagging can unintentionally point browsers to a child's exact location. Sharing a story in an email newsletter means that everyone who reads it now shares a tiny piece of it, and it no longer belongs to the child or family at the center of the story. Sharing information can even quickly become dangerous. Imagine the following:

A missionary raises support, using Facebook. Of course, she shares where she will be and what she will be doing: living in [Name of city, Name of country] working at [Name of orphanage or children's home]

She raises support, moves, and begins ministry. In order to share stories of what she is doing with supporters, she posts occasional pictures of children in the home, some with her, some by themselves. She may or may not use names. She is a good person, and just wants to share the story of what God is doing to care for the vulnerable.

But now, we have a picture of a child, who lives in a certain children's home, in a certain city, in a certain country. And no matter how secure she thinks her account is, it is not- we live in an age when any page can be hacked at any time. Countless people could find access to this information. Without meaning to, she has placed this child at risk.

View this video to learn more about this, and other similar situations involving unintentional sharing of information.


How does confidentiality related to caring for children and families in adversity? As organizations committed to serving at-risk children and families, we want to be their biggest advocates and most ardent protectors during times of vulnerability. Unfortunately, if we are not cautious and wise, we can inadvertently become a source of exploitation and concern in the ways we share their information. Being strategic in how we approach and implement communication can ensure we prioritize people over opportunities.

Scope of this training module This training module is part of the Core Elements of Success in OVC Care program. It is aimed at supporting NGOs serving vulnerable children and families, but principles may apply more broadly. Ideally, it will be used in conjunction with the Core Elements Self-Assessment and other Core Elements training modules.




Identify Points of Risk

Develop a Strategy

Create a Reporting Process

Educate and Implement


Where Do We Start? 1. Identify Points of Risk Every program is distinct and will have different points of risk around confidentiality. Begin with an individual or handful of individuals identifying the points of risk. Although each organization’s process will be different, here are some things we can consider:

Consider how we are communicating with donors and key stakeholders. Are the images and stories we share based on need, or on conveying dignity and resilience?


Ask the children and families we serve- Has there ever been a time their information or story was shared that made them feel uncomfortable? Have we asked them to share their story with groups for the purpose of education or entertainment? Frequently, we underestimate the emotional toll of telling one’s story, and we should never urge children or families to do so.

How would I feel if our program were communicating in the same ways about my child? Would I be excited to read or hear the stories or see the images?

Would a child’s parents be proud of the way we are representing their child and family? Would they be ashamed?

How might stories, images, or information be shared in ways that are outside the program’s control? Are these a risk?

How might staff share images and stories? Especially if they are raising support or communicating with donors, do we know what they are putting in their newsletters? Do we have written guidelines?

What activities does our program do that might involve the sharing of stories, images, or information? How could those lead to risk in confidentiality?


Do we share anything on the internet or elsewhere that we would not want a child or parent seeing? If we are presenting to a group such as board members or staff from another organization, how would our presentation change if children and families we serve were in the audience?

What images, stories, or information would we not want a child trafficker or predator to see? We don't personally know every person who is on our newsletter or email list. Although we may have a picture of Alma (the elderly woman who has faithfully given $10/month to our program for years) in our minds, the same information may be accessible to those with ill intentions.

How do we ensure all records are kept locked and safe? How do we ensure only staff members who really need to have access, have access?

How do we protect the identities of the children and families we serve? Although we may be very proud of our program, it may be that not every child or family wants to be identified as being in need of our services, as there may be shame or stigma associated with receiving services.

How do short-term volunteers interact with individuals served by our program? How might they share images and stories? How might they misrepresent the individuals we serve? How might their efforts place children or families at risk?


Utilize the Points of Risk Chart to help you identify areas of concern and alternative solutions.

View video to learn how to use the Points of Risk Chart


2. Develop a Strategy As they say, failing to plan is planning to fail. Our next step in this journey is to create a plan. The clarity you gained in creating your Points of Risk Chart will help, so make sure you complete that step first. In deciding on your program’s strategy to ensure confidentiality, it is important to involve the right stakeholders in the process. Consider: Leadership Staff Children Families Board Members Volunteers Partners

You don’t want an overly large number of people involved, as that can make it very difficult to come to a consensus. However, the following process can be very effective: •

Identify 1-3 individuals who are especially interested in this topic, and ask them to draft an initial brief plan

Gather a group of 5-7 key stakeholders, representing different roles and perspectives, to review the plan and offer feedback

Make revisions

Take to organization board for ratification


The content of the plan might vary a bit from program to program, depending on the activities that comprise your services to children and families. Some programs include guidelines on confidentiality as part of their child protection policy and code of conduct (for more information on these, including examples, view our Child Protection Training Module). Many programs also find it helpful to create a one-page list of guidelines that can be shared broadly with all key stakeholders, from children and families to staff and volunteers.

Your plan should include: Guidelines on de-indentification

Examples of when pictures should and should not be taken, as well as approved devices to be used for taking photographs and where they are to be stored

Instructions about consent and release forms: Example 1 Ethical Storytelling

Legal Considerations

Example 2 Easy Release App

Example 3 CAFO

Ethical and integrity in sharing stories


An example of confidentiality guidelines can be found in Wise and Honoring Representations of Children in Media (CAFO). Also, click here for a printable reference guide developed by Open Arms International.

A simple way to ensure that every child, family and individual’s confidentiality is being protected, is to “pick one.” Share only a name, face, or story, not combining more than one of these elements. This is helpful even when promoting a sponsorship program. (Learn more about this in our resrouce, Healthy Guidelines for Child Sponsorship."

Utilize the Protecting Privacy Checklist before you post or share to help you ensure the privacy of all involved is being protected.


Other resources to help you think through your strategy are: Exploitation-Empathy Continuum (Philanthropy Without Borders)

Thinking Bigger (Ethical Storytelling)

Checklist: Empathy in Communications (Philanthropy Without Borders)

The Ethics of Nonprofit Storytelling (Tiny Spark Podcast)

For examples of how other organizations have implemented these strategies, see:

UNICEF’s Child Sponsorship page

Open Arms International’s Facebook page


2. Create a Reporting Process Part of our plan should outline a reporting process. This should include: What needs to be reported (i.e. sharing of photos or private information on personal social media account of staff member, confidential documents being taken home, etc.) Who is responsible for reporting (everyone!) To whom should we report concerns? A reporting form A strategy for the process of investigating reports

Vital to the reporting process is the identification of a Confidentiality Officer. This individual should be: A long-term member of the program team Very familiar with the confidentiality guidelines and policies of the program Trustworthy and thoughtful Not the program or site director (Curious why? Learn more here.) Of good reputation among program staff, beneficiaries, and other stakeholders Prompt and able to deal quickly and fairly with concerns


Just as every plan will be different, every reporting process may be slightly different. However, here is a template to get you started. Please feel free to edit it to make it into something that suits the needs of your program. Download Confidentiality Violation Reporting Form

Important: For ease and simplicity, we recommend that you include your confidentiality plan and reporting form as part of your child protection policy. Adding them as appendices can ensure they don’t get lost, and that they are reviewed regularly. If you do not have a child protection policy, view this training module for simple guidance on how to create one.


4. Educate and Implement Too often, we take the time to develop policies, but fail to implement them. The effect comes in the implementation. Taking the time to develop a brief plan for implementation is a valuable use of time and resources.

The plan can be very simple and should include:


Which groups of stakeholders need to know this information?


What materials or resources do we need to communicate this information? This could be an in-person meeting, brochures, video, infographic or other visual aids, or something else entirelybe creative!


When are we going to communicate this information? This should be as soon as possible.


How often will we communicate this information?



How will we communicate? This could be in person, through email, social media, or written material, etc.


How will we ensure our stakeholders understand WHY this is important, and HOW to participate in protecting the confidentiality of children and families? Sometimes we are quick to check our mental box and say we have done something, but in order to be effective, we need to make sure


When and how will we educate new stakeholders about this information? One easy way to accomplish this task is to make it part of your code of conduct, ensuring all new board members, staff and volunteers read and sign it. For new beneficiaries, it could be part of a welcome packet when they enter the program.


5. Review Policies and procedures can quickly become outdated if we do not review them regularly. Set a specific time each year to review your confidentiality plan and implementation with a small group of key stakeholders from your program. It’s important to dig a bit deeper into your data and pay attention to trends. If you see a drop in reports (or no reports at all), it may be a cause for celebration! could be a cause for concern. Is there anything that may be preventing children, families, or others from reporting their confidentiality concerns? The review process can be the perfect place to have those conversations. Completing a basic review form can create a brief record of the review process. This editable template may aid you in the process.




CONCLUSION Remember the missionary who uses Facebook to share updates and raise support? By using the principles outlined in this training module, she can more effectively protect the privacy of the children and families she serves. Rather than sharing photos, she can share stories - keeping in mind that she should change any identifying information that could potentially put a child or family at risk. When sharing photos, she can be careful to keep faces out of the frame. While it might take some extra thought and getting used to initially, she will likely find that her supporters respect her conscious effort to protect the dignity of the children they are serving and hopefully, they will join her in sharing the importance of doing so.

View this video to conclude this training module on Confidentiality.



© 2022 Christian Alliance for Orphans