When “Social Worker” Appears in Horrible Headlines

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It is a sad fact of the social work profession that social workers must always be aware of the public eye. Given the power that an individual social worker has — power that is used for the benefit of the public — the scrutiny is understandable. Nevertheless, it is not easy bearing up under the constant baleful eye of the public, the members of which are often uninformed on the social work profession and the issues social workers face. So it is that when a social worker makes the headlines for misbehavior, the entire profession suffers a black eye.

Lynda Cohen in Breaking AC reports that a Linwood social worker has been accused of paying to have a man permanently disfigured. “A clinical social worker from Somers Point is accused of trying to pay for the assault of a Massachusetts man,” she writes. “Diane Sylvia, who provides mental health counseling in Linwood, thought she was talking to a hitman when she asked that the unnamed target not be killed but instead permanently disfigured, according to the complaint signed by FBI Special Agent Dan Garrabrant.”

Sylvia was not talking to a hit man at all, but to an undercover FBI agent. The 58-year-old social worker was going to use a home equity loan to finance the assault. She apparently felt the man represented a threat to her job — specifically, that he might report her to the licensing board. She told the undercover agent as much.

Even more fascinating is how Sylvia was caught. Evidently a former member of organized crime, who was seeing Lynda for therapy, turned her in. When she became aware of his former connections, she asked him to help her find a hit man. The patient contacted the FBI and put Sylvia in touch with the undercover operative.

“On her Psychology Today profile,” writes Cohen, “Sylvia says she helps people cope with everyday stress and most mental health conditions. ‘Creating safe, supportive relationships is often the key to health… By strengthening our sense of self, we can restore functioning and create a life of positive satisfaction.’

If convicted, Sylvia faces up to five years in federal prison. More importantly, though, the connections to her profession as a social worker have been splashed all over the headlines.  By so betraying her calling, Sylvia has sullied the profession of social work and made other social workers’ jobs more difficult. However fleeting that black mark might be, it is one we must always strive to prevent. To do that, we must always maintain the highest standards of professionalism and ethical conduct.

Have you ever seen something on the job that gave you pause? Have you worried about the implications for your employment? And have you experienced something that made it more difficult for you to conduct yourself professionally? Please share your thoughts and experiences with us here.

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