Professional Standards and Social Work

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When a social worker betrays the public trust, the entire field of social work suffers. Already, a false media image of social work is propagated in popular culture. That false image paints social workers as heartless or even lazy government bureaucrats who show up and steal children. Little about the realities of social work, or the great benefits social workers have helped create through history, is known by the public at large. As a result, every time a social worker chooses to break the law, it hurts everyone involved in social work.

Tim Prudente, in the Baltimore Sun, reports that state prosecutors are investing Baltimore Social Services chief Molly McGrath Tierney. Auditors are questioning the propriety of nearly two million dollars that she directed to a contractor and a local non-profit. “Sources with knowledge of the investigation say prosecutors are also reviewing whether Tierney followed proper procedures in placing two foster babies with the CEO of the nonprofit in 2016,” Prudente adds, in what would seem to be the more significant issue compared to budget numbers.

“Tierney built a national reputation as a passionate advocate for disadvantaged children during her nine years directing the Baltimore Department of Social Services,” Prudente goes on to explain. “She resigned in August 2017, without public explanation. This summer, state auditors published a report questioning some of the $7 million in public funds she awarded to the nonprofit Family League of Baltimore during her final three years on the job.”

While the financial audit doesn’t bring up the placement of the foster babies, but Prudente reports that prosecutors are looking into that, too. It’s a particularly sensitive issue, again given the unfair public image of social work as callous bureaucrats deciding who gets to keep their children. The children in question were placed with one Jonathon Rondeau (former CEO of the Family League) and his husband, Matthew Rondeau, before one child was adopted by another couple. Rondeau resigned from the Family League one month prior to Tierney’s abrupt resignation. In other words, it doesn’t look good, either from the standpoint of public perception or with regard to the timing if impropriety was indeed involved.

The takeaway here is that even those with the best reputations for social work can be guilty of misdeeds. As social workers we must insist on better from management, from coworkers, and from ourselves. We are all representatives of the social work field and we must strive to set a good example (and a high bar). Tierney’s disgrace potentially delivers a black eye to social work… yet she does not represent the overwhelming majority of dedicated social work professionals who conduct themselves to that high standard.

Have you witnessed potential improprieties on the job? How do you hold yourself to high standards of professional conduct? And do you feel the actions of high-profile social work professionals like Molly McGrath Tierney affect the field as a whole, if at all? Please share your thoughts and experiences with us here.

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