The Social Networker

Confidentiality for Unlicensed Social Workers?

by Social Work prn of Philadelphia on April 23, 2017 · 0 comments

Confidentiality for Unlicensed Social Workers?

Confidentiality and transparency are often seen as opposites. On the one hand, there is the need to protect the identities of those who work with the public in potentially controversial capacities. Social workers definitely fall into this category, as the amount of power they have to affect the lives of their clients is sometimes misinterpreted as “breaking up families” and “taking away children.” There are thousands of hard-working social workers in the field who give of themselves tirelessly to help their clients, but the rare bad apple only strengthens the misconceptions held by some members of the public.

When a social worker makes a mistake or, worse, abuses his or her power, this creates resentment. And even a social worker who does nothing wrong can incur the resentment of clients or family members of clients… leading to high-profile acts of violence against those in the social work field. Then, too, a social worker might be asked to disclose the details of the work he or she is doing with his or her clients, which could potentially expose the private business of those clients (which in turn creates even more problems for both the social worker and those that social worker serves). It is to prevent scenarios like this that confidentiality rules and laws have been instituted… but should those protections extend to unlicensed social workers?

Olivia Covington, reporting in The Indiana Lawyer, explains that Indiana’s Supreme Court recently tackled the issue  of “whether communications with an unlicensed social worker are considered privileged and confidential. …The issue stems from the deposition testimony of Amy Wallace, an unlicensed social worker who provided social services at Shepherd Community Center in Indianapolis to B.L., an alleged victim of molestation by her uncle, James Rogers. During deposition, Wallace refused to answer four questions from Rogers’ counsel, citing to I.C. 25-23.6-6-1 as a legal basis for why she could not answer. Rogers sought to compel the testimony, but the trial court denied the motion. The Marion Superior Court agreed with Wallace, but the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed and held that the ‘counselor’ privilege under state code applied only to social workers.”

The crux of the issue is succinctly defined by Covington: “If only licensed social workers are protected under the statute, then people seeking full confidentiality will have to pay more to work with someone who has the appropriate licensure… That system would create two classes of people… one class wealthy enough to pay for confidentiality, and one class subject to the possible disclosure of their personal struggles.”

It’s obvious there are no easy answers to a problem like this, but we lean in favor of extending those protections for the same reasons. Confidentiality should not be something one class of person can pay for and another cannot afford. If confidentiality is warranted, it should be warranted regardless of economic station and opportunity. What do you think? Please comment here.

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Ethics, Propriety, and Social Work

by Social Work prn of Philadelphia on April 20, 2017 · 0 comments

Could failure to complete necessary paperwork land you in legal trouble? What about violating one of the most significant of rules where the social worker/client relationship is concerned? Well, there are no easy answers, but failure to abide by proper ethics — while maintaining a sense of propriety — certainly could result in serious legal issues. Much depends the nature and severity of the failure. CBC News reports that a social worker in Canada has been suspended for five years, and told to pay a penalty of up to $29,000, after a tribunal found the man guilty of professional misconduct.

“[Social worker] Morley Rice was found guilty of engaging in a personal relationship with a client, the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Social Workers said in their decision dated Dec. 5 [2016]. Rice was found to have also disclosed confidential information, and failed to complete and document client assessments. A tribunal for the social workers association decided Rice will not be able to reapply for five years, and he must follow a number of conditions when or if he does reapply.”

Meanwhile, Luke Stevenson, reporting for Community Care, explains that a social worker who felt “inadequate” has been sanctioned by the Health and Care Professions Council in the UK for failure to maintain proper records in cases involving children.

“The HCPC found the social worker did not record in a timely manner updates about visits, meetings or assessments in relation to 16 different service users. His performance was of concern to the council for four years before he was dismissed in 2014, the HCPC panel heard, and he received regular support and supervision throughout this period… The social worker admitted to the failings, and submitted a reflective statement to the panel accepting the need for social workers to maintain accurate records… [The social worker] told the panel that delays in some of his cases of three to six months were unacceptable and cited ‘the high workload that he was under’. He also said he felt inadequate and that there was “an impact on his health’.”

Both of these cases have in common the fact that the social workers involved knew they were doing something wrong. They knew they weren’t adhering to the code of ethics and conduct that governs social workers. As a body of professionals we have considerable power, which makes it all the more important that we hold ourselves to a high standard — regardless of the often demanding, stressful, and even punishing nature of the work that we do. Whenever a social worker gives in to that pressure and does what he or she knows to be wrong, the whole profession suffers a black eye that the public rarely lets us forget.

What ethical or workload struggles do you grapple with in the profession… and how have you overcome them? Please comment and share your thoughts.

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Was this Social Worker Fired for Asking Questions?

by Social Work prn of Philadelphia on April 17, 2017 · 0 comments

Was a 45-year-old social worker at Erlanger Health System in Tennessee fired because she questioned a hospital’s response to the suicide of a patient? Zack Peterson reports in the Times Free Press that Veronica Lackey is suing Erlanger for half a million dollars. She says she lacked sufficient training to raise the alarm to the patient’s condition. As a result of the patient’s suicide, Lackey was placed on internal probation and transferred as punishment. She claims she was made a scapegoat in the incident and was fired when she tried to file an internal complaint.

“According to the lawsuit, Lackey was walking down a patient floor with a medical student on July 26 ]pf last year] when two people rushed out of a room and said they needed help: A male patient had hanged himself in the bathroom. Inside the room, Lackey and the medical student found a nurse trying to give the man CPR. The nurse asked the duo to give a ‘code’ for a medical emergency. But no one at Erlanger had ever trained her to give a code, so Lackey ran to a nearby nurses’ station, the suit says. …The [nurses] also did not call for a code, the lawsuit says. This time, Lackey ran to a break room on the floor and found five nurses. When she told them what was going on, they all left the break room, the suit says. The patient died soon after.”

Lackey was subsequently disciplined for not calling a code. She was accused by Erlanger of “spreading rumors” that nurses were unavailable, improperly documenting the suicide, and missing a meeting on the incident. Lackey denies these accusations, saying she didn’t receive proper notice of the meeting. She was given more work to do, she contends, and placed on a two-year probationary period — a punitive action for her alleged failure, she contends. When she complained that she never received proper training for the action that got her disciplined, she was fired, despite a clean record of disciplinary problems prior to the incident. She also alleges racial discrimination.

There is no way to know the truth of the Erlanger incident until all the evidence is heard. Lackey may well have been scapegoated for the death of a patient. She might also have been negligent and her lawsuit might be an attempt to profit from a situation of her own making. There’s simply no way to tell at this point. However, the whole affair does highlight the importance of proper training. Whether for medical professionals, social workers, social workers in medical settings, or any related scenarios, ongoing training and education is important. This is one reason organizations like ours make ongoing training available to social workers — to prevent the types of problems that a deficit of training and education causes. The stakes are not always life and death, to be sure, but they are frequently serious. It is better to be over-educated than under-educated, and better to keep your skills and training updated than to let them lie fallow.

In what ongoing training do you engage? Feel free to share your thoughts with us here.

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Preempting Workplace Violence

by Social Work prn of Philadelphia on April 13, 2017 · 0 comments

Nobody likes to think about workplace violence, but it happens. There have been several high-profile acts of violence committed against social workers. There have also been multiple workplace shootings. The high-profile attack in San Bernardino, California, began at a workplace gathering. There are countless other examples. Nobody likes to think workplace violence, ranging from a single employee striking another to “active shooter” nightmare scenarios, can happen… but they do. Thankfully, they are rare, but the fact is that all of us must be on our guard to prevent and preempt workplace violence.

Kathleen M. Bonczyk, writing in Property Casualty 360, paints a perhaps naive picture while making this point. “Once upon a time, employees who were dissatisfied with how management treated them might respond by organizing, filing a grievance or suing,” she writes. “If they were really frustrated, they might refuse to sign the warning notice or performance appraisal form that was presented to them in protest. Nowadays it is not uncommon for disgruntled employees to push the boundaries of behavior much further, even to the point of killing supervisors or managers.”

This attitude is a bit wrong-headed. Workplace shootings, despite the attention paid to them in our media, are uncommon. They do happen, however (and they are not new to the American workplace). What has changed is our awareness of the problem. Toward the end of preempting these incidents of violence, there are strategies we can employ. These include, according to Bonczyk, making employees feel empowered, and giving them a voice they feel is being listened to.

“Employees who kill tend to do so because they feel powerless and need to redistribute the balance of power,” Bonczyk writes, “In accordance with governing federal law, employees are entitled to safe working conditions under Section 5 of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act (the OSH Act”) of 1970. OSHA is charged with various responsibilities including administering and enforcing the OSH Act and engaging in educational activities intended to promote employee health and safety goals.”

In other words, employers and their employees must work together to prevent workplace violence because it is the employer’s responsibility to make the workplace safe. Bonczyk goes on to explain that minimizing the risk of workplace violence starts at the beginning of the working relationship. Behavioral-based interview questions help identify those employees best suited to your workplace while weeding out those who are unsuitable. “This method,” she explains, “is based on the concept that the way an applicant behaved under similar circumstances in the past is a good indicator as to how he or she will behave in future.”

On an ongoing basis, both management and employees can help preempt workplace violence by remaining aware of odd behavior on the part of their coworkers. Odd behavior, complaints, warning signs of violence, nervous or erratic behavior… all of it should be reported, and dealt with in a caring, compassionate, and proactive manner by human resources. Working together, everyone in the workplace can improve conditions therein… while reducing the chances of a violent incident at work. This is a laudable goal and one that we should all keep in mind.

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Perception and “Prejudice” in Social Work

by Social Work prn of Philadelphia on April 11, 2017 · 0 comments

Can families receiving social work intervention rely on the impartiality of the service providers?  According to the Press Association, as reported in the Daily Mail, not everyone thinks so. In the UK, a Muslim father asserts that social workers are biased against him, and that this, not abuse, is why his nine children have been taken into public care.

“Mr. Justice Baker has concluded two boys had been hit, punched and kicked by their father — and said beatings had been ‘plainly abusive,’ reads the account. “The judge also decided a girl had been sexually abused by two of her brothers — and said the children’s parents should have taken steps to prevent what had happened. He concluded that the couple had used ‘physical abuse’ in a bid to discipline their large family and has ruled that all nine should live away from home.”

The father has complained to the press that he is the victim of racism and that there is a “conspiracy” against his family. Per the account, the father has advanced a “complex conspiracy theory” to explain allegations made by his children, claiming that systemic racism in the UK is at the heart of his issues with social services.

What appears clear in the case is that the parents used physical discipline, to a level generally believed abusive, in controlling their family. While cultures very in their acceptance of this level of physical discipline, there is a line crossed when children are repeatedly physically abused or even tortured. While cultural differences can explain some issues that might arise — what is acceptable in, say, Saudi Arabia most certainly would not be considered acceptable in Western nations — there remains the requirement for basic decency and self-control when dealing with children.

This is one of the key issues with which social services must contend, and one reason such services were founded (although it is merely one among many). Watching how this case unfolds should prove very interesting as a case study for dealing with these types of cultural conflicts in the future. Especially given the recent influx of migrants from different cultures to nations throughout the West, this is an issue that could conceivably arise again. As always, avoiding any appearance of impropriety, while maintaining objective standards and firmly enforcing social services guidelines and regulations, is crucial. By doing things “by the book” and adhering to high standards, these challenges, too, may be overcome.

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What comes to your mind when you think of social work? Do you think of dedicated personnel helping families in need? Do you think of the many ways the social work profession has advanced society over the years? Do you think of the many vital social services that social work provides? Or do you think of paperwork, bureaucracy, and frustration? Sadly, too many social workers have become bogged down in politicking and paperwork… and they’re looking for a better way to approach the field.

The Guardian reports that social workers “should push aside paperwork and political agendas [to] reclaim their role as counselors.” The report explains that counseling skills can, should, and do play a significant role in social work practice. “Counseling and social work are often thought of as synonymous, perhaps due to the many overlapping roles in social work – advocate, assessor, agent of control, adviser, mentor,” the article explains. “Many social workers enter the profession believing it more aligned with counseling than perhaps it is… Taking the time and space to retrain in counseling has led me to reflect on how counseling skills are used in social work, and question whether we are using them at all in the current climate.”

The piece points out that emphasizing counseling over politics and paperwork makes the social worker more person-centered. “As a counselor in training,” the author writes, “I listen, reflect and paraphrase, helping the client to make their own decisions. As a social worker I questioned, extracted information and analyzed, to inform a decision about how this information affects someone’s life – with the addition of an ever-pervasive safeguarding mindset which, at best, baffles my counseling colleagues.”

This is an encouraging approach. As the article expounds, both social work and counseling “are founded on a combination of values, ethics and boundaries. We must recognize a person’s self-worth and capacity for change, and help them to achieve this with dignity and respect. So amid the political agendas, organizational constraints and assessment deadlines, counseling skills are significant in social work practice. They help us with self-awareness, enable us to look after ourselves and remind us to value the reason we became a social worker in the first place…”

That reason, of course, is to help people, and in this regard the Guardian piece could not be more correct. Social workers perform one function above all else, and that is making better the lives of people in need. We must keep in this in mind as we go about our work. It’s easy to lose sight of that goal, and it’s well worth the time and effort required to remind ourselves of it.

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Appearance of Impropriety: Social Worker Nabbed for Scam Hurts All in the Field

by Social Work prn of Philadelphia on March 23, 2017 · 1 comment

Over and over again, we have stressed the importance of avoiding the appearance of impropriety. Social workers wield tremendous power over the lives of the citizens they serve. To do their jobs effectively, social workers must have the trust and confidence of their clients. If they even appear to abuse their power, this trust erodes quickly, sometimes instantaneously. And those few truly bad apples in the profession can destroy the public’s faith in social workers simply by being upheld, however incorrectly or inaccurately, as representative of the profession. Such is the case of Jennifer O’Driscoll, an Irish social worker whose case has made international headlines.

Reporting for Irish Times, Barry Roche says that O’Driscoll, 46, was sentenced to three years in jail (two years suspended) after pleading guilty to a whopping 38 counts of theft and 42 counts of “deception” while working for the North Lee Social Work Department, Blackpool, Cork between 2008 and 2013.

“Det Sgt Clodagh O’Sullivan had previously told Cork Circuit Criminal Court how the HSE social worker used to her detailed knowledge of the payment system for foster families to make… false claims,” Roche writes, “[which] amounted to €96,962 over a near five year period. The fraud involved O’Driscoll making out payments to foster families for fake foster placements for real children. When the money was paid to the families, she would then call to them and explain that a mistake had been made by a new person in the unit and that they had been overpaid. O’Driscoll would then recoup the overpaid money, explaining that other foster families were awaiting payments. None of the foster families suspected anything was amiss other than an administrative error as O’Driscoll was a social worker and they trusted her.”

The preceding paragraph speaks volumes about O’Driscoll’s fraud and the power a social worker holds in these situations. Nine families and 23 children, total, were involved in O’Driscoll’s scam, none of whom had any reason to suspect something was amiss. Three children were placed on a risk assessment list even though they weren’t actually in foster care. O’Driscoll didn’t just misuse her position to enrich herself; she did so in a manner that potentially endangered those for whom she was responsible. This is not just the appearance (and the reality) of impropriety. It is not by any means a victimless crime. It is nothing short of a total abnegation of O’Driscoll’s responsibilities as a social worker.

The fact that the system worked, O’Driscoll’s fraud was detected, and she was appropriately punished goes a long way towards rectifying the situation. The fact remains, though, that social workers like O’Driscoll hurt everyone they work with by diminishing the public’s perception of the dedicated personnel working in the field. We must remain constantly vigilant for abuses like these in order to preempt them when possible and root them out when necessary. Only if the public is confident that we can and will do this will they be willing to see social workers like O’Driscoll as the exceptions that prove the rule.

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Social Workers and Debt Forgiveness

by Social Work prn of Philadelphia on March 22, 2017 · 0 comments

How much do you owe in student loans? Are you still paying off a massive bill? And if you did leave school educated but deeply in debt, have you pinned your hopes on eventual debt forgiveness? It’s a hot topic among young people and their older peers alike, as the country’s student loan debts is massive. All told, student debt in the US amounts to $1.2 trillion, behind only mortgages. Some 40 million Americans owe on student loans. Two thirds of those who graduate with bachelor’s degrees do so by going into debt.

Jillian Berman, in MarketWatch, explains that the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program was signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2007. It was, according to Berman, was intended to protect Americans from having to choose between a sound financial future and a career in public service by forgiving the loans of borrowers who’ve dedicated at least 10 years to public service in fields ranging from medicine to social work.

“As many as 4 million borrowers qualify for the program, according to a 2015 Government Accountability Office report,” writes Berman. “The first cohort of borrowers is eligible for forgiveness next year, but many are unsure if they’ll be able to collect. Only a fraction of those who might be eligible even know about the program, advocates say, and many who do are confused by its requirements. Some say they’ve first been told they’re eligible — and then that they’re not — without clear explanation. Others report difficulty getting an explanation or appealing their cases. The government, meanwhile, is still refining the process for actually clearing the debts.”

Again according to Berman, it’s not clear where the program might go from here. There are already lawmakers saying it needs to be rewritten. Others criticize it as nothing but a cash-grab. The Obama administration recommended capping it the last time it sent a budget to Congress. At the same time, forgiveness advocates want to see the program expanded. The result is that nobody knows if it’s going to help people or not, or how many people that might add up to be.

The uncertainty of a program like this underscores a very important lesson when it comes to getting an education prior to embarking on a career in social work: Sound financial planning, and prudent choices where incurring student loan debt is concerned, have never been more critical. Planning early for these eventualities could make the difference between a secure financial future and a lifetime trapped in a vicious cycle of debt… with little hope for rescue from a government that is, on this topic, confused at best.

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Preempting Workplace Violence

by Social Work prn of Philadelphia on March 8, 2017 · 0 comments

Nobody likes to think about workplace violence, but it happens. There have been several high-profile acts of violence committed against social workers. There have also been multiple workplace shootings. The high-profile attack in San Bernardino, California, began at a workplace gathering. There are countless other examples. Nobody likes to think workplace violence, ranging from a single employee striking another to “active shooter” nightmare scenarios, can happen… but they do. Thankfully, they are rare, but the fact is that all of us must be on our guard to prevent and preempt workplace violence.

Kathleen M. Bonczyk, writing in Property Casualty 360, paints a perhaps naive picture while making this point. “Once upon a time, employees who were dissatisfied with how management treated them might respond by organizing, filing a grievance or suing,” she writes. “If they were really frustrated, they might refuse to sign the warning notice or performance appraisal form that was presented to them in protest. Nowadays it is not uncommon for disgruntled employees to push the boundaries of behavior much further, even to the point of killing supervisors or managers.”

This attitude is a bit wrong-headed. Workplace shootings, despite the attention paid to them in our media, are uncommon. They do happen, however (and they are not new to the American workplace). What has changed is our awareness of the problem. Toward the end of preempting these incidents of violence, there are strategies we can employ. These include, according to Bonczyk, making employees feel empowered, and giving them a voice they feel is being listened to.

“Employees who kill tend to do so because they feel powerless and need to redistribute the balance of power,” Bonczyk writes, “In accordance with governing federal law, employees are entitled to safe working conditions under Section 5 of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act (the OSH Act”) of 1970. OSHA is charged with various responsibilities including administering and enforcing the OSH Act and engaging in educational activities intended to promote employee health and safety goals.”

In other words, employers and their employees must work together to prevent workplace violence because it is the employer’s responsibility to make the workplace safe. Bonczyk goes on to explain that minimizing the risk of workplace violence starts at the beginning of the working relationship. Behavioral-based interview questions help identify those employees best suited to your workplace while weeding out those who are unsuitable. “This method,” she explains, “is based on the concept that the way an applicant behaved under similar circumstances in the past is a good indicator as to how he or she will behave in future.”

On an ongoing basis, both management and employees can help preempt workplace violence by remaining aware of odd behavior on the part of their coworkers. Odd behavior, complaints, warning signs of violence, nervous or erratic behavior… all of it should be reported, and dealt with in a caring, compassionate, and proactive manner by human resources. Working together, everyone in the workplace can improve conditions therein… while reducing the chances of a violent incident at work. This is a laudable goal and one that we should all keep in mind.

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A Homeless Social Worker?

by Social Work prn of Philadelphia on March 7, 2017 · 0 comments

It’s almost an unthinkable concept: A working social worker, doing her best to serve her clients, who is herself homeless and in need of the very services for which she helps others to apply. Yet that’s exactly what happened to UK social worker Theresa Yemisi Williams. Kashmira Gander, reporting in The Independent, says that just a few thousand pounds of debt left Williams sleeping in her car while dealing with the mental breakdown of her own daughter.

“As social support worker Theresa Yemisi Williams served the most vulnerable people in her community, she was keeping what she felt was a shameful secret,” writes Gander. “In the day, the 54-year-old worked to help the homeless. Unbeknownst to her colleagues and those she was helping, Williams also had nowhere to go. Every night after work she would retire to her car… Having lost her three bedroom home in Tilbury, Essex in 2011, due to just £5,000 of debt, Williams would use the shower and bathroom intended for those in sheltered housing, and would covertly eat breakfast, lunch and dinner at the facility in Ilford, east London.”

Gander explains that nobody Williams worked with was aware of her plight. Her job was good and she was good at it, so she was determined to hang on to it. Late last year, Williams organized a conference at the University of East London dedicated to combatting homelessness through new housing models. Her message was and is that anyone, no matter who they are, could end up without a home.

Williams, a Nigerian immigrant to the UK and a mother to three teenaged children, lost her home after failing to pay her mortgage. She joined the estimated 250,000 homeless people in England when that happened. Reading between the lines of Gander’s article, it seems likely Williams bought her home during the worldwide housing boom, then found herself unable to make the payments when she switched to part-time employment while getting her nursing degree.

Tellingly, the stress of her financial situation and her family issues soon got to her. She stopped bothering to open letters, so she ignored notices about delinquent rent payments. Finally, she was evicted. Then her daughter attempted suicide. She slept in her car for a total of two months before she and her children started renting a home in Basildon, east of London. Today, she works not only to raise awareness to the concept that truly anyone can become homeless, while continuing to improve her own situation and care for her children.

Ms. Williams’ tale is not just a cautionary one. It’s evidence of just how dedicated the world’s social workers truly are. Here was a woman who herself was suffering from the very problems she worked to ameliorate in others… yet she kept doing her job through it all, helping others as she sought to get help for herself and her family. Hers is an inspiring story, and should prove sobering to all of us as we consider just how much dedication the social work field demands.

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