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.