Subpoenas & Release of Information Requests

General Guidelines:

  1. Social workers who receive a request for confidential client information and a written consent from the client to release the information are in a good position to facilitate the request, but need to communicate clearly with the client and/or the requester to clarify any uncertainties.
  2. In any situation where a client’s record is to be released, it is the social worker’s obligation to ensure that the client’s consent is fully informed.  In order to accomplish this, the client needs to be fully aware of the content of the record that is to be disclosed. 
  3. Situations where client contact is not possible, where multiple clients (or former clients) may be involved, or other concerns are present may require consultation with legal counsel, respected peers and/or ethics professionals. 
  4. If a client objects to a subpoena, a social worker may need additional assistance such as consultation with an attorney in order to file a motion to quash (or block) the subpoena.  A subpoena is a special type of request for client information, usually issued by an attorney representing a party in a legal matter.
  5. Social workers who receive a request for records from an attorney or law firm may also find it necessary to seek more information before responding, including:
      • What is the type of legal action involved and who are the parties?  Is the client suing or being sued?  Is the client a criminal defendant?  Is the client applying for public benefits?
      • Does the social worker have any concerns about the details of the client’s information that are contained in the records?  Is the information contained in the record likely to portray the client in a negative light or negatively affect the outcome of their legal case?

How Much Information to Disclose?

  1. Release confidential client information only with a written release signed by the client or their authorized representative (such as the parent of a minor, guardian, etc.). 
  2. The release form describes the scope of the information requested, which may vary considerably.  Requests may include: treatment summary, invoices, questions about the client’s mental health and/or history, complete copy of the entire client file, the complete clinical file, financial records.

NASWCO Practice Standards Committee:

NASW Resources

The national office offers legal consultation and ethical consultations. More info here.

NASW Assurance Services Tips for Social Workers

NASW Press' Social Workers and Subpoenas, 52 pages, $20.69 for members

Related Colorado Statutes 

Article 65 – Care & Treatment of Persons with Mental Illness; Behavioral Health, Mental Health

C.R.S. 27-65-117 (2014) - Rights of persons receiving evaluation, care, or treatment

C.R.S. 27-65-121 – Records 

C.R.S. 27-65-122 (2014) - Request for release of information - procedures - review of a decision concerning release of information