During the current COVID-19 pandemic, public health officials recommend “social distancing” to slow the spread of this virus. Technology such as remote access to files, instant messaging, and video calls may be used to maintain domestic violence program operations while allowing staff to work remotely.
There is no federal or New Jersey state law that prohibits the use of remote advocacy for DV advocates, or the use of telehealth and telemedicine platforms for licensed practitioners. Please note, however, that non-licensed counseling interns and grad students may not provide remote counseling.
In considering new technology, survivors must be at the center of our decision-making.
Two key factors to consider in selecting remote tools:
1) encryption options which prohibit the tech company from being able to access the content of the files; and
2) user access options that allow you (the program) to control access to the content.
While we do not endorse any particular tool listed below, they are well-suited to protect survivor privacy:
- ResourceConnect – instant messaging
- Gruveo – video calls for survivors
- Cyph – video calls, messaging, virtual support groups
Please refrain from using platforms like FaceTime, Google Hangouts, and Skype to work with clients, as they are not HIPAA or VAWA compliant.
The Encrypted version of Zoom is HIPAA compliant, but is not VAWA compliant, since Zoom collects and stores information that may be personally identifying, and which the company has access to. In addition, while it is technically possible to use zoom without downloading the app, in practice it is a challenge. Zoom is not the best option for communicating with survivors, but is fine for internal office communications, and coordinating with community and state/national partners.
Tips for Providing Legal, Ethical, and Confidential Teletherapy:
Before utilizing remote tools with a survivor, advocates/counselors should:
- Discuss the technology with the survivor, and how the systems operate.
- Share any potential safety and confidentiality risks. Though the platform is encrypted, there is no guarantee that the survivor’s information will be completely protected.
- Have a contingency plan if your connection is dropped. If you are conducting the session via phone, who is calling whom back? It is safe to call the survivor back? If an internet connection is lost, develop a plan to resume the session.
- Remember that if the survivor indicates being out of state, LAC/LSW/LPC/LCSW New Jersey licenses are state specific and prohibit out of state practice.
- Always double check that the survivor is in a confidential location.
- Remind survivors that recording is not acceptable (unless you have agreed that they may do so).
- If a child or someone else interrupts, let the survivor know that you will be silent until the other person leaves.
Also, consider using chat to connect with survivors, if the survivor and/or advocate have any challenges with consistent and strong internet bandwidth. This more silent method of communication may feel safer or more private for a survivor who is more isolated at home with other people during this time. Cyph and ResourceConnect are two options for web chat to consider.
Tips for Receiving Written Consent to Share Information:
If you have to share personally identifying information about a survivor, written consent is still required by both VAWA and FVPSA. We know this may be challenging while providing remote services. To attain informed, time-limited release of information while providing remote services, the survivor can text or email what information they want you to share, when, and with whom. Be sure to make a record that you had a conversation (usually via phone) which covered the required elements to achieve informed consent.