Is Protection of Interest of Neglected Children More Important Than the Privilege of Confidentiality ?
In Matter of Doe Children (93 Misc 2d 479 [Fam Ct, Queens County 1978]), the court found that the public interest in protecting children from abuse or neglect in a proceeding under article 10 of the Family Court Act is sufficient to override the privilege of confidentiality of drug treatment records.
The court held that these records may be disclosed, and that the patient's counselor may be required to give testimony.
The court, in assessing the public interest involved, noted the legislative mandate in section 1011 of the Family Court Act to "help protect children from injury or mistreatment and to help safeguard their physical, mental, and emotional well-being."
In weighing the competing interests at stake the court found that:
"The purpose of the child protective proceeding is 'to help protect children from injury or mistreatment and to help safeguard their physical, mental, and emotional well-being.' ...
This court is of the opinion that the interest of these young children in living in secure surroundings outweighs any possible injury to the patient, or to the physician-patient relationship.
The private nature of a Family Court proceeding, and the fact that '[t]he records of any proceeding in the family court shall not be open to indiscriminate public inspection' (Family Ct Act, 166) minimizes the likelihood of the respondent's status becoming a matter of public record.
Thus, this court finds that there is good cause for disclosure of the requested records, as required by [21 USC 1175]." (93 Misc 2d, at 481.)
The court further found support for this waiver of confidentiality in section 1046 of the Family Court Act, which abolishes the physician-patient privilege in child protective proceedings. (Matter of Doe Children, 93 Misc 2d, supra, at 481.)
The court interpreted this exception to the standard evidentiary privilege as a legislative determination to "give greater protection to the interests of allegedly neglected children than to the interest of the patient in confidentiality." (Supra, at 481.)