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The Challenges of a New Ethical Space, Case Study Example

Pages: 9

Words: 2523

Case Study

Abstract

Social workers play a significant role in ensuring that the psychological needs of clients are met which improves the livelihood of the whole society in general. However, certain hindrances may affect the productivity of a social worker in providing care to the client. This paper aims to determine the issues that may undermine a social worker’s integrity while giving solutions to improving their professionalism. Reamer’s themes on boundary issues that may result from a social worker and client relationship have been discussed in conjunction with the NASW code of ethics, which guides social workers on conducts expected of them as a professional. It can be concluded that social workers ought to be prepared emotionally and psychologically before beginning counseling sessions to ensure that their feelings are not swayed into developing out-of-work relationships with the clients. Social workers that can clearly define their role as professionals in a client’s life would allow for healthy boundaries. This would avoid situations whereby the client and a social worker cannot be productive due to a founded friendship that does not relate to work.

Social Issues

Social workers are trained personnel that strive to elevate the living conditions of individuals who have experienced social deprivation. Since social workers improve the psychological state of a person, they are required to be ethically correct when dealing with clients since mental issues are a critical sector in human lives. Therefore, certain practices are encouraged to ensure that the social worker-client relationship is maintained at a desirable level. The purpose of this paper is to highlight activities by a social worker that may be considered undesirable and which could compromise the professional’s work dignity. Various actions may undermine a social worker’s effectiveness, including confidentiality maintained by social workers since clients have a right to privacy.  Social workers should not create personal relationships with their clients. Also, social workers ought to organize transfers and referrals to ensure clients’ treatment if one anticipates an interruption to her service. Lastly, social workers are expected to be honest. Thus, social workers should be professional and ensure that the judgments and practices under their control should be ethically upright.

Key point one: social workers should maintain confidentiality

Mandy discussed personal issues that concerned her client’s personal life to her co-workers, and surprisingly, one of them was a close friend to Juan’s family. Mandy’s actions were unethical since a client is a vulnerable group that requires attention from a professional and sometimes may be undergoing a critical event in their lives where they may feel the need to share information with a third party. As a professional, an individual should extensively understand that clients have a right to privacy. Sharing a client’s data to another group should be consent to by the client, including the close groups to the clients such as family members or a spouse.

The example from the case study illustrates Reamer’s theme of unanticipated circumstances (p.129). Here, Mandy had not anticipated that her colleague would be a close friend to her new friends, Juan and Jasmine. When Mandy starts her practice as a counselor, she had little initial control over whatever was to happen in the future since she was excited about the practice, which made her fail to deliver her services as expected. Through the close friendship Mandy developed with Jasmine, she believed that it was beneficial to the client and her productiveness since the client showed her signs of being connected. However, little did she know that revealing to her co-workers about Jasmine and Juan was not ethically right would compromise her credibility as a social worker. The theme reflecting on Mandy’s behavior could be considered as boundary-crossing since Mandy was not intentionally trying to harm her clients by sharing their information. Still, she thought that since they had become friends, it was acceptable for her to reveal specific details of her friends to her colleagues out of the excitement of them being her first clients since starting practice.

The issue relates to section 1.07 (i) of the NASW code of ethics, which states that social workers should not discuss confidential information in any setting unless privacy can be ensured. Social workers should not discuss personal information in public or semi-public areas such as hallways, waiting rooms, elevators, and restaurants. Mandy violated the said code of ethics by examining a client’s personal information in areas where security was not guaranteed and in a position where the professional context was undermined.

Discussing a client with co-workers is considered unethical since the clients’ rights should be regarded in any situation. Thus, for Mandy to give information without comprehending the repercussion it may cause, the client may be considered inconsiderate and unprofessional. Mandy could have maintained the professional relationship between her and the clients to avoid having extra information about the clients that would not benefit the two parties in any way. Also, Mandy could have acknowledged that her clients trusted her with their data; thus, she should have kept the information herself without sharing it with co-workers.

Key point two: social workers should not develop a personal relationship with clients

Mandy and Jasmine had a profound relationship that steadily grew over the few meetings that they had. Jasmine would engage Mandy in her issues, such as calling Mandy out of scheduled meetings to vent about her husband and family due to their temporary custody of the children, and Mandy, on the other hand, would also participate in the conversation. Even when Mandy’s clients invited her over for dinner, she willingly accepted since she had developed a close relationship with the said clients. The said actions by Mandy could be considered ethical since she was trying to create a bond with her clients in a quest to improve their livelihoods. Mandy’s intention to have such a close friendship was not ill, and it happened unknowingly, which can be argued to be human nature to create relationships with others.

This example can be related to Reamer’s theme of Altruistic gestures. Here, boundary issues occur through a social worker’s genuine efforts to help a client. As per the example above, Mandy becomes extraordinarily available for her client Jasmine and even engages with her through electronic devices outside the office’s standard-setting, which could be harmful since the client may be over dependent on Mandy (Boddy& Dominelli, 2017). The boundary between Mandy and her clients may be considered a boundary violation since the close relationship could cause harm to the clients. In this regard, Mandy decided to convince her clients that they were ready to custody their children due to the boundary issues they experienced, which were not correct since the clients could fail to take care of the children desirable. This type of boundary experienced by Mandy and her clients could be considered s boundary-crossing since, at first, Mandy was genuinely helping Jasmine and felt that her being available to her would ease her suffering and elevate the clients’ psychological needs.

In the NASW code of ethics section 1.06(c), social workers are encouraged to avoid having dual relationships between themselves and their clients to prevent conflict of interest. Mandy and Jasmine developed a social relationship that differs from the professional association, which may be unethical for Mandy since the client’s rights could be exploited. The section states that, in instances where dual relationships are unavoidable, social workers should take steps to protect clients who are responsible for setting clear, appropriate, and culturally sensitive boundaries. In Mandy’s case, she failed to create and hold boundaries between their relationships with her clients.

Mandy could have ensured that the relationship they had with Jasmine and Juan was strictly professional, and she could have stated the same to her clients. In her invitation to her client’s home, Mandy could have declined the offer and instead encourage the couple to visit her during their scheduled meeting, and no other communication and contact could happen between the two parties.

Key point three: social workers should ensure continuity of service to their clients when terminating the relationship

Mandy and her clients became close during their meetings which led to a friendship outside the professional context. Jasmine found a friend in Mandy, and she could engage in conversations that can be considered inappropriate for a social worker to have with clients. On the other hand, Mandy was also caught up in the relationship with her clients and thought it was ethically correct to keep the friendship without creating boundaries. However, when Mandy discovered that her colleague was one of the client’s close family, she felt guilty for disclosing personal information about Juan and Jasmine to other parties that are not connected to them. In turn, Mandy decided to cut off the friendship she had with her clients and decided that their sessions were over without connecting them to another social worker. Johns (2017) argues that informed consent to a client about a termination of their relationship with a social worker is essential and ethical since it would promote ethical principles such as autonomy and respect.

Reamer’s theme of emotional and dependency need could be affiliated with the given an example in that Mandy decided to address her emotional need without considering the fate of her clients. Here, when Mandy was emotionally affected by the fact that she had wronged her clients by discussing their issues in public, she forgets that her clients should be the center of attention rather than her needs. She then ended the counseling sessions with her clients and made them believe that they could have their children back, although it was not in the right way. Mandy’s behavior could be considered unethical in all means since, as a professional, an individual is expected to have inherent skills of problem-solving (Papouli, 2019). Still, Mandy made irrational decisions on terminating the relationship with her clients, which could have been harmful. An ethical, social worker acknowledges that the clients’ needs are more important in any situation, and Mandy failed to exhibit the idea that her client’s still needed her to complete the exercise, which could be termed boundary-crossing.

Mandy’s conduct explained above violated section 1.16 (e) of the NASW code of ethics, which states that social workers who anticipate the termination or interruption of services to clients should notify clients promptly and seek the transfer, referral, or continuation of services concerning the client’s needs and preferences. It is evident that Mandy short-changed her clients’ recovery process by failing to finish the session despite her misfortunes. The clients could still require more counseling sessions to enable them to recover fully and attend to their children the right way. Still, Mandy decided to end the sessions without referring them to another social worker to finish the sessions.

Since Mandy felt that her services to the couple had been rendered difficult to handle due to the conflict of interest between their work relationship and friendship, she could have maintained professionalism. In this regard, to be professional as expected of social workers, Mandy would ensure that her clients continue to receive services elsewhere rather than terminating their sessions hastily. Although the emotional needs of a social worker are needed for one to deliver effectively, it was unethical for Mandy to make ill-informed decisions for their clients.

Key point four: social workers should exhibit honesty and integrity

When Mandy was caught up in between work relationships and friendship between her clients, she decided to recruit her clients into lying that they had completed their sessions. Mandy lied to her supervisor that she had finished her regular practices on the couple, this undermines her integrity as a social worker (Garlington & Collins, 2020). The clients needed help from Mandy, and it would be suitable for Mandy to ensure that the clients get satisfied and are ready to handle their issues independently without using a social worker. Instead, Mandy decided to be dishonest in her practice and subjected her clients to harm in that if the clients were not psychologically well, it would affect their wellbeing and that of their children.  This could have rendered Mandy unethical by using fraudulent means to finish scheduled tasks while also compromising her responsibilities.

The give an example that relates to Reamer’s theme of emotional and dependency needs. Here, Mandy confuses personal and professional life by coercing her clients into lying to her supervisor without acknowledging that the clients are not supposed to cover up for his professionalism. Since Mandy is working under supervision to be a certified clinical nurse, she understands that her career could be compromised if the supervisor discovers her actions towards the clients. Therefore, she drags the couple into deceiving the supervisor to enable her to achieve her gains. The given conduct may be considered to have resulted in boundary violation since, according to Reamer, (122), when a social worker forms a relationship with clients that may be manipulative, coercive, or deceptive, it is considered a violation.  Mandy manipulated the clients into deceiving the supervisor, which relates to her unethical conduct of taking advantage of their newly founded relationship

In NASW code of ethics section 4.04, social workers should not participate or condone any activities that include dishonesty, fraud, and deception. Mandy violated the said code of ethics by undermining her integrity by deceiving her supervisor that her session with the clients was over. Also, Mandy’s actions of notifying her clients that they were psychologically stable to take custody of their children would be dishonest since the clients trusted her. The proper procedure could have been taken to avoid issues in the future.

For Mandy to be a competent social worker, she was expected to acknowledge that her relationship with the client had ruined the working relationship. Still, specific measures could be put in place to facilitate the ending of client sessions. Mandy could have indicated boundaries that would help the two parties to finish the course. If the said action could seem challenging, Mandy could have confronted her supervisor and explained the situation while being open-minded to possible solutions that could be developed.

Conclusion

From the discussion, it is eminent that social workers should maintain professionalism in the practices while avoiding issues that may undermine their practices. It is inherent for human beings to have attachments to people or things. Still, an individual should control their emotional feelings and affections when being a social worker. Mandy failed to maintain her relationship with her clients, which resulted in her compromised professional practice, and her clients were also affected by her actions. Therefore, social workers need to be psychologically and emotionally prepared to handle client’s situations empathetically without having different feelings to connect with them away from the work-client relationship context.

References

Boddy, J., & Dominelli, L. (2017). Social media and social work: The challenges of a new ethical space. Australian Social Work, 70(2), 172-184.

Garlington, S. B., & Collins, M. E. (2020). Addressing environmental justice: Virtue ethics, social work, and social welfare. International Journal of Social Welfare.

Johns .A. (2017).Termination of the social-worker client relationship. Newfoundland &Labrador Association of Social Workers.

National Association of Social Workers.(2021). Code of Ethics.

Papouli, E. (2019). Aristotle’s virtue ethics as a conceptual framework for the study and practice of social work in modern times. European Journal of Social Work, 22(6), 921-934.

Reamer, F. G. (2003). Boundary issues in social work: Managing dual relationships. Social work, 48(1), 121-133.

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