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La Leche League International
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Sylvia Mitchell
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 30, No. 4, July-August 1994, p. 57.

We give and receive personal information daily, often without much thought about confidentiality. When I excitedly blurted to a friend many years ago that I was pregnant, she sensed that this could be shared with others. It was wonderful to receive congratulatory smiles and acknowledgments from those who heard the news. However, when a neighbor in desperate need of a listening ear described her marital problems, common sense told me that this information should not be shared, even though confidentiality was never mentioned. Sometimes the choice isn't as clear.

When Leaders help mothers by phone or in person they should keep personal information confidential. This doesn't mean they cannot seek help from others in the organization. It does mean they are entrusted with information that should be kept private and used only in ways that will benefit the mothers they are helping.

Mothers come to La Leche League for breastfeeding information just as they might approach their doctors. They expect and deserve the same professional courtesy of confidentiality.

How does a Leader Applicant learn about confidentiality? The topic isn't in the index of THE LEADER'S HANDBOOK; it's not listed in the "Leader's Checklist for Working with Applicants" on page 196. But every Applicant can benefit from in-depth discussion of this topic.

When a Leader shares her telephone helping experiences with an Applicant, she should use made-up names. At the same time the Leader shares information about how LLL helps mothers, she models confidentiality when she begins with "A mother, let's call her Sally, asked me about...."

Applicants need to know that Leaders accurately record information in a Leader's Log or on a Medical Question Form. Rather than share a completed log page or form the Leader can show her a blank one. She can then fill out a sample or ask the Applicant to do so as they role-play a telephone helping call.

A Leader could invite an Applicant to her home to share additional examples if she were scheduled for specific telephone days. It would not be appropriate for the Applicant to listen on an extension phone, but she could hear the Leader use acceptance and encouragement when talking with mothers. The Applicant would see how often calls come in and how they are fitted into the day as family needs are met. What to ask mothers as information is gathered and the follow-up done by the Leader can all be discussed. The Applicant can see how to organize a telephone helping station and what supplies are used.

Applicants benefit by learning how Leaders consult with other Leaders or Professional Liaison Leaders when they need additional information or ideas. For example, a Leader might ask for help from Leaders and Applicants attending a Chapter Meeting. She would carefully select relevant information to describe the helping situation.

Sometimes a Leader is asked about an aspect of breastfeeding that she has not experienced, such as nursing through a pregnancy or tandem nursing. She might gather suggestions from mothers at an Evaluation Meeting. When a Leader presents a mother's situation she is careful not to use the mother's name or any information that might identify her (ages, names of children) but includes information that is needed to describe the problem (age of baby, nursing frequency). Everyone is reassured that Leaders keep helping calls confidential. Mothers will feel confident recommending others to LLL.

The District Advisor's response to the Monthly Meeting Report may contain information of a sensitive nature. But most of the DA's reply is of interest to Leader Applicants and Group workers. A Leader could read aloud portions, omitting the confidential information.

Leaders help Leader Applicants learn about confidentiality through discussion and example. Pencil in confidentiality on page 196 of THE LEADER'S HANDBOOK or on the checklist you are using with your Applicant to be sure it is included in your discussions.

This article originally appeared in Canada's Leader Letter, "Canadian Collage," May 1993.

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