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Yet, when working with clients, social workers must maintain clear boundaries to assure professional integrity and responsibility. On any given social work credentialing board Web site, one will see frequent cases in which there have been complaints filed against social workers resulting in imposed fines, penalties, licensure sanction, suspension, or revocation.


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In some instances, workers have been imprisoned for misconduct for violation of confidentiality, falsification in record-keeping, malfeasance, and so forth. However, this article will explore the issue of client relationships and ethical boundaries for those working in social work, with a particular focus for those in child welfare.

Yet, in retrospect, Reamer suggested that boundary violations and boundary crossings have to be examined in the context of the behavioral effects the behavior has caused for either the social worker or client. He posited a typology of five central themes in which boundary issues may arise: In addition, the clinical issues of managing dual relationships and management of transference and countertransference are factors that cannot be ignored in this discussion. Workers in child welfare are often found in dual client relationships.

Inside our respective roles and responsibilities, to move a client forward, we must engage a client in the process of change. This is an integral part of the client engagement strategy, which must be established in the early phase of the relationship. Unfortunately, many professionals in our field have difficulties in the area of client rapport building. Throughout our profession, thousands of men and women work with vulnerable families and children. Many of our clients have been subjected to abuse, neglect, or other forms of violence or maltreatment.

Some report stories of abandonment, domestic violence, emotional abuse, or other wrenching experiences. Some even report having difficulty with intimacy as a result of their reported pain. Subsequently, instead of helping, the social worker may start the path of hurting the client while disclosing or sharing his or her own personal experiences. In child welfare, immediate supervisors must play a vital role in modeling, coaching, and engaging in frequent discussions with workers on topical issues of client engagement, rapport-building, and assurance of proper boundaries in the worker and client relationship.

Social work schools, child welfare training, and other continuing education programs also have a responsibility in providing education and information on the management of client relationships and examination of ongoing ethical issues.

Boundaries

In some instances, it may be a labor relations matter, or a training or coaching issue between the worker and supervisor. Why might a caseworker risk contamination of the client engagement process or actual working relationship? There is no definitive or even easy answer. From others, it may be suggested there are always persons in any given profession who will violate the code of conduct rules and standards, despite any degree of training, supervision, or administrative oversight.

As social workers, we have a responsibility to examine the issues of client relationships and ethical boundaries. This conversation merits discussion among our peers and other related professionals. In the age of increased litigation and constituent complaints, it is not a topic to be ignored. The personal and corporate costs and liabilities associated with claims of unethical behaviors have long lasting impact to those in the profession and for those who are served.

Fortunately, ethics training for social workers must be taken in accordance with state licensure standards. This provides an opportunity to be mindful of our ethical obligations and boundaries in serving others throughout the field. Non-licensed employees are not exempt from the risk of assumed liabilities in child welfare or other social work settings. Both public and private organizations generally have ascribed core principles, ethical procedures, and guidance with regard to policy safeguards that govern the scope of responsibilities of employees in providing client services.

Social workers should not do this on dates. The values of social work are ingrained into my very existence and I refuse to let its principles guide my romantic life.

Social workers given guidance on inappropriate relationships with clients

In social work we must always be cautious of dual relationships. We cannot provide care or emotional support to clients in multiple settings or roles. As daters, we must exercise this same caution towards dual romantic relationships. We cannot provide our dates or our partners with the same emotional support that we provide our clients.

Case study

There will always be dates with their own baggage regardless of your job as a SW. So much truth in this post! I think your social work background is a huge asset in assessing character and behavior — use it to your advantage! If one believes that our patients grow mature and sometimes surpass us in knowledge, wisdom, and power, then it is a significant difference. Of course, of all the dual or sequential relationships that are potentially possible with patients and former patients, when the issue of sex comes up, most all therapists of all disciplines react forcefully.

Having sex with a current patient or even a recently discharged patient is not only unethical—it is illegal. It is truly a betrayal of the trust the patient places in us.

'Til Death Do Us Part: Does a Client Ever Stop Being a Client?

However, over time as in years , can that change in some very special circumstances to allow exceptions to the rule? If a therapist and former patient meet some 10 or 15 years after the last therapeutic session and develop a personal relationship, get married, and have children, can we say that an ethical violation or a crime has been committed? In most all states, laws prohibiting sex with clients are limited to current or recent clients. Washington State is one exception. However, assuming the former client does not file any complaint, how enforceable would such laws be?

For example, what if the former therapist and patient got married, were in a committed relationship, and had children? Would or should an ethics committee have the authority to interfere with a marriage or union among consenting adults? What about our belief in the right to free association?

What is the rationale for the prohibition against sex with patients? Many believe it is the power differential. Behnke points out that many relationships have significant power differentials, including partnerships and marriages, and that we often do in fact put our own interests above those of clients when we charge fees, for example.

So, neither a power differential nor putting our own needs first is in and of itself unethical. Rather, Behnke says, it is because we have a fiduciary relationship that is compromised and creates additional risks that are not a necessary part of the therapeutic relationship, making psychotherapy impossible. But fiduciary relationships are not static and change with time and circumstances.

Some would argue it is based on psychodynamic theory, and perhaps those who practice psychoanalytically have a higher standard. But interestingly, there is nothing in psychodynamic theory or psychoanalysis that would state such. This would include taking patients on vacation and conducting analysis in hotel room beds. We tend to forget that that was a different time with different standards. Therefore, perhaps, our reactions could possibly be a way of denying and reacting against the behaviors of a previous era we find frankly embarrassing and indefensible.

Another possibility is that, whereas all of us require structure of some kind, some of us need more structure and clear inflexible rules more than others. Some fear that if they bend the rules just a little, they may go down a slippery slope and cross all reasonable bounds. To therapists who believe they are just one rigid rule away from harming their patients, I say maintain all the rules you need. However, not everyone requires such inflexibility.

Client Relationships and Ethical Boundaries for Social Workers in Child Welfare - www.perfectpostage.com

Attempting to impose such rigidity on everyone is not good practice. It is not good for our clients or the field. If we hold that belief to be literally true, then it would not apply only to sex. We are responsible to protect our clients from harm to self and others. But if we make no distinction between current and long past, can we in this litigious society be sued for the actions of a long past client?

Our clients grow mature and often leave us behind.


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