Social Services Records
What kinds of information are contained in social services records?
Every kind of personal information imaginable. Social services records are the personal records maintained by government agencies that dispense cash or services to financially needy persons. Welfare is one form of such assistance. So are food stamps, Medicaid, housing subsidies, employment training, family planning services, drug or alcohol abuse treatment, day care, legal services, rehabilitative services for the handicapped, and dozens of other programs that administer publicly funded assistance and services free or at low cost to people who are in need.
Social services and welfare records contain all the personal information that is initially gathered to determine and verify a client's eligibility for benefits, descriptions of the services and benefits dispensed to the client, and the accumulation of data recording the course of the client's relationship with the agency. In addition to objective data, such records may contain the judgments and observations of agency personnel about a client's character or attitudes. Information about the client's family is frequently included, even though other family members are not receiving benefits. Certain types of records may contain highly sensitive information: the client's personal confidences to a counselor in a drug treatment program, for example, or confessions of criminal offenses to a legal services attorney.
Because publicly funded social services programs run the gamut of human experience and problems, so too do the records they generate.
Must welfare clients and other recipients of government assistance reveal all their personal records in order to establish eligibility for benefits?
Generally, yes. Clients are required not only to produce records in their own possession but also to waive the confidentiality of records held by third parties. Welfare and other