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Ethics and Confidentiality

Legal Authorities

Professional Responsibilities

Every employee in Child Support Services (CSS) is responsible for safeguarding information and protecting the confidentiality and privacy of individuals involved in OCSS cases. These individuals include applicants for services, custodial persons (CPs), non‐custodial persons (NCPs), the children for whom support is owed, and the State of Oklahoma. The statutes and regulations governing release of information can be reviewed to determine who is authorized to receive information, the authorized purposes, procedures for release, and sanctions for unauthorized release.

Only general information such as Child Support policy may be released to the public but not information about a specific case. When asked about facts of a specific case, be certain the person is authorized to receive a response. An inquiry may come from CPs, NCPs, children, relatives, spouses, legislators, employees of other state and federal agencies, employers, attorneys, the media, and others. Before answering, ask yourself, “Is this person authorized to receive this information and is the release of information for an authorized purpose?” The rules discussed in this article apply to all persons working in the child support program.

Confidentiality of information available to child support personnel is so important that numerous federal regulations, state statutes, Oklahoma Department of Human Services (OKDHS) and OCSS policies, professional rules for attorneys, and cases address the topic.

Importance of Maintaining Confidentiality

First, consider the extremely personal nature of information we obtain – social security numbers, dates of birth, dates of marriage and divorce, how much money people make, where they bank and how much is in a financial account, information submitted to and received from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Statutorily, much of this information is private and confidential. Secondly, and even more urgent in some situations, safeguarding this information is frequently necessary for the safety and well‐being of an individual.

Unauthorized Disclosure Penalties

An unauthorized disclosure of information can lead to civil and criminal penalties against the person disclosing. Improper disclosure can also lead to termination of employment. All OCSS employees have signed a statement indicating information they receive will remain confidential and computer access will be limited to authorized purposes relating only to carrying out employment duties. (See Employee and Non-Employee Acknowledgment of Confidentiality-05AD133E.) Furthermore, under the Oklahoma Rules of Professional Conduct, Rule 1.6, an attorney must not reveal information relating to the representation of a client without the client’s consent.

Information Subject to Disclosure

Disclosure of information is addressed by state and federal legislation, regulation, and policy. The Federal Privacy Act at 5 U.S.C. §552a(b) prohibits disclosure of any record which is contained in a system of records unless disclosure is pursuant to written request or with prior written consent of the individual about whom a record pertains. Title IV‐D of the Social Security Act provides in 42 U.S.C. §§652‐653, e.g., that information in the Federal Parent Locate Service (FPLS) will be disclosed only to authorized persons for authorized purposes; that the National Directory of New Hire (NDNH) information is confidential with administrative penalties for unauthorized access to, disclosure of or use of information; and that information comparisons shall not be used or disclosed except as expressly allowed by statute and pursuant to the Internal Revenue Code. Also refer to 42 U.S.C. §663 regarding disclosing information in connection with parental kidnapping and AT‐03‐06.

General Guidelines for Confidentiality

  1. If you have any questions or doubts, do not release any information.
  2. Ask two questions:
  3. Potential exceptions that may allow release:
    • A law provides for release.
    • The person who is the subject of the information consents.
    • The request is from an authorized person for an authorized reason.
    • A party to the case requests permissible information about his/her case. (See OAC 340:25‐5‐67 Information Disclosure.)
    • A court order directs OCSS to release.
  4. Protect your work area and develop your work habits:
    • Do not use information for personal reasons (this includes looking up information for family, friends, and yourself).
    • Guard your computer screen from a customer’s or non‐IV‐D worker’s view.
    • Do not leave files on your desk for extended periods of time.
    • Share information with co‐workers only when they need to know the information to do their job.
    • When at hearings, secure case sensitive information inside file folders.
    • Dispose of your purged case files appropriately. (See CSQuest article Case File Destruction Process)
    • Discard case specific papers appropriately. (Pack and prepare for secured destruction taking into consideration any litigation holds that may have been directed.)
    • Monitor your copying from case files.