A recent decision sanctioning a social worker for a comment on Facebook by the Health Care Professionals Council (HCPC), a United Kingdom regulatory body, sparked an international social work debate on the use of social media in the workplace. Since the decision, I have engaged in multiple conversations via social media with social workers around the globe on this very topic, and I will admit that I have often found myself in the minority arguing against the HCPC’s decision.
Despite the social worker’s comment failing to meet the test for breach of confidentiality, the majority of social workers favoring the HCPC’s decision believe that any comments related to work or a case posted on social media is grounds for termination or discipline even in the absence of identifiers.
The social worker was not disciplined for Breach of Confidentiality, but it was found that her Facebook post “could lead to a Breach of Confidentiality” despite not giving any personal information or descriptors about the client.
I am concerned the HCPC decision will set a dangerous precedent by expanding the scope of breaching confidentiality. The term “could lead to a Breach of Confidentiality” is so broad it could open up liability for social workers outside of the internet sphere.
From the HCPC’s press release on the social worker’s disciplinary action, we actually learn more about the client than we learned from the social worker’s actual comment. The HCPC press release states, “Mrs A, the mother of the children in the case, made a complaint after she searched for the social worker on Google and found the posts, which she said she was “disgusted” by.”, which tells us the complaint was a married woman and parent of the children. Now, these identifier within itself “could lead to a breach of confidentiality”.
The social worker’s comments only described that she was working on a “domestic violence case among other things”. The client assumed the social worker was referring to her case because it was domestic violence case on the same day as the social workers check-in on Facebook. I don’t know about you, but I’ve had three to five cases go to court on the same day and all of them had a domestic violence element. In the absence of identifiers and a decision from HCPC, the client had no evidence to prove the social worker’s comment was about her case. Sanctions and disciplinary actions in your employment should be based on evidence and not assumptions.
In retrospect, I do believe the social worker’s comments were ill-advised, but it’s not for the reasons you may think. I am definitely against and don’t recommend anyone to commingle your professional life with your personal Facebook account no matter your profession. As matter of fact, some of the comments I see from social workers on Facebook make me afraid for the client’s they are serving. I do and must believe that social workers have the ability to separate their personal beliefs from practice, but you may not be able to “unring that bell” with clients or potential clients after review of your online persona.
The British Association of Social Workers (BASW) have provided me with one of the best social media policy guidelines to help social workers be aware of the pitfalls when using social media personally as well as using social media to obtain information on clients. However, I have yet to see any real solutions that equally address social workers safety with client centered policies. Also, it’s important for us to acknowledge that clients can’t breach confidentiality in their own case. If a client wants to publish online every document you send them, it’s their prerogative, and you should keep this in mind when providing written documents as well as having oral communications with your clients.
Google, Facebook, and Twitter are the three primary areas that cause the greatest concerns for professionals and students. Here are a few recommendations that may help you move one step closer to having some peace of mind and keeping your job out of jeopardy.
Tips for Using Facebook
Facebook is a double-edged sword. When used correctly, Facebook can expand your reach as an expert, increase traffic to your website, and allow you to provide support to others on their professional development journey. Where people get into trouble is when they try to occupy their professional and personal life in the same virtual space. This is not limited to commenting, but it also includes likes, shares, who your friends are, photos, and etc.
I recommend changing your personal Facebook page to a nickname/middle name with an avatar or baby picture for your profile and cover photos. True friends and family members will know who you are, and Facebook will automatically update your post search history with your middle, nickname, or alternate spelling. But, be careful because it’s possible for Facebook to flag your name change. You should also take precautions to enhance the security of your Facebook account.
This will help protect you when clients are actively seeking out content generated by your social media accounts. Secondly, don’t post case related items on your personal Facebook account. If you need advice or an opinion related to a case, message the Social Work Helper Fan Page. I frequently post #SWHelper Team Questions as case study questions to minimize risks to you, and I hope other social work entities will offer similar support for social workers.
If you chose to anonymize your personal Facebook account, I recommend creating a Facebook Fan Page in your professional name which can also help with establishing your professional identity.
- You can post information and resources for your clients
- You will no longer need to have embarrassing conversations with clients or coworkers about why you can’t friend them
- Clients can follow your Fan Page without exposing client’s to each other
- You can like other Fan Pages your clients may find useful while organizing resources in a central location
- FB feature allows you to seamlessly switch between your FB account and Fan Page without having to log out
- You can also make comments, like, share photos, and share posts choosing from either profile
To prevent Facebook from locking your account due to the name change, you should use a shortened or variation of your real and last name, a common name with a long search results history, your maiden name, or your middle name. These are just some of the possibilities you can choose to prevent Facebook from blocking your account. So, if you don’t want to explain to a client or an ethics committee about how your personal beliefs did not affect your decision-making due to memes and content found on your social media account, please take my advice above.
Making the Most of Twitter
Twitter is one of the best social media platforms for making connections and expanding your professional network while enhancing your ability to advocate for the causes you care about. However, there are times when you do need anonymity to protect your employment especially if actively engaging in conversations you don’t want public. Due to my personal philosophy, I don’t post comments or materials that require me to distinguish between my professional and personal identity with the exception of the occasional tweet when I am watching Scandal.
If you are using your professional name, potential networkers and possible opportunities are not going to sort out your professional tweets from your personal tweets. They will all be considered a reflection of you as an individual. “RT does not = endorsement” is not going to cut it. It’s safer to not tweet and/or not retweet something you don’t want to defend, but you could always phrase it as a question to ask other’s opinions. Also, I recommend adding the disclaimer “my opinions are my own not my employers” on accounts using your professional name. As a rule of thumb, if your account is going to be opinion filled, use an avatar with a pseudonym for anonymity. It’s better to be safe than sorry later.
When using your professional name, it should consist of useful information, advice, inspirational quotes, resources, and/or projects that make you look good professionally. If you are only on twitter anonymously, you are missing opportunities to enhance your professional development. If you are using twitter with your professional name and it’s a private account, you are still doing yourself a disservice. What’s the point of being on Twitter with a private account because it’s difficult for someone to connect with you and no one can retweet your profound 140 characters?
To Google or Not To Google
As practitioners, we should not be asking whether to Google or Not Google instead we should be giving you the information on how to Google clients and potential clients ethically. According to a recent study by American Psychological Association, 98 percent of clinical, counseling, and school doctoral students reported Googling their clients. It’s time for this profession to readjust our reality for the digital world we are living in. When Googling a client or anyone for that matter, one must keep in mind that everything on the internet is not true, and it should not be used to penalize without giving the individual a chance to respond.
However, for potential clients at a private practice or when making home visits to new clients, a Google search may be a vital tool in assessing social worker safety. Dr. Ofur Zur provides one of the most comprehensive resources on whether to “Google or not”, and its complete with scenarios and varying categories to help practitioners decide which category is best for your practice and needs. It also covers how to use informed consent for conducting Google searches at the beginning of the therapeutic relationship.
How Do We Move Forward?
Unfortunately, many people have been introduced to social media and online technology as entertainment or to be used as a personal diary. Even if your account is marked private, using instant messaging, email, online technology and/or social media should never be used with an expectation of privacy. You should always assume any information you post online can be privy to public consumption via screen capturing or other measures from anyone who is intent on hurting or exposing you.
In my opinion, the social worker in the above case was condemned because her comment was posted on Facebook. I argue that if said social worker made the same comment in a restaurant, classroom, or another public place would the disciplinary action have been the same? The counter-argument was that Facebook is public and archived by Google which makes it different. I assert we all need to be more careful and aware because we live in a digital age where you can be video tapped or audio recorder via camera phone, vined, viddyed, snapchat, etc. The individual in possession of such digital data can make your actions and comments public without your consent. The medium in which words and actions are transported is irrelevant, and it stifles our ability to move the conversation forward instead of focusing on best practices.
Most importantly, one of the biggest issues in the above case not being addressed is that fact the client went onto Google searching for the social worker in question. Community Care UK reported that 85% of social workers reported being harassed or verbally abused on the job. Whether the client was acting with nefarious intent or in preparation for a pending court case, we simply don’t know. However, social worker safety should be just as important as client confidentiality. The biggest mistake made by the disciplined social worker was her checking in on Facebook thereby giving the time and location for when she would be in court. Why are we not being programmed to think about social worker safety as much as client confidentiality is drilled in our heads?
As a profession, we can not begin the journey of leveraging online technology and social media to advance social work because we are stuck having conversations about account creation, security, and ethical use. These things should always be ongoing conversations, but we have got to start making advances in tech education and training. Agencies, associations, and social work faculty can not adequately answer or provide solutions because most don’t use social media or they utilize outside firms to meet their social media needs. There is nothing wrong with contracting out to meet the needs of your organization, but we must also have mechanisms in place to address social workers’ technological IQ at the micro and mezzo levels.
We must develop continuing education credits, foundational course work, and in-service trainings to properly prepare current and future social workers for practice in the digital age. Social Work education is expensive and students should be demanding that they get the best resources and training during their education especially when they can be fired or disciplined for it later.
Most importantly, we have a duty to our students and professionals to assist them in harnessing all the advantages that social media and technology can provide.
*Since this was a UK regulatory body disciplinary action, I primarily used UK resources for this article, but they are applicable globally.
Six Reasons Why Social Workers Shouldn’t Worry About the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria
Earlier this month, Dr. Beverly Tatum just released a 20th-anniversary version of her ground-breaking and well-informed book Why are all the Black kids sitting together in the cafeteria: And other conversations about race. She discusses the phenomenon at Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity. This is a topic I think about a lot as the mother of a Black child.
In my son’s small, private, predominantly White school, I noticed that in his grade particularly all the Black students are in one classroom and all the East Indian students are in another classroom which are the two major non-White groups at his school. This got me thinking. School has begun and at public and private schools – elementary through high school – the Black students, the Latino students, the Asian students, etc. are probably sitting together in the cafeteria as I write this. And on that note, so are the band students, the drama students, the athletes, and so on…AND here are some reasons why school social workers, teachers, or administrators should NOT be concerned.
Yes, they are sitting together and it is o.k. We like to sit, play, live, and work with people who make us feel safe and comfortable and the fact is, that is often people who look like us. If I spend all morning and all afternoon in situations that make me feel unsafe and/or uncomfortable or with people who are different than me and I am the minority in numbers, then I want to be able to share a meal (a sacred joyful time in many households) with people who make me safe and comfortable.
Coming to a bookstore near you on Tuesday, 9/5 or you can preorder it now! pic.twitter.com/D5qFiU9otC
— Beverly Daniel Tatum (@BDTSpelman) September 1, 2017
Usually, this means being with people with whom I share some values and beliefs based on our identity. We have to remember that students, particularly those in middle and high school, are figuring out their multiple identities and how those identities intersect. Students are navigating a complex world both internally and externally. To help promote student wellness, let the girls sit with the girls and the drama students sit with the drama students and the Black students sit with the Black students…if they want.
Now, this does not mean that you should tolerate purposeful exclusion, discrimination, or mocking, but rather accept that students (like adults) need to create their own safe spaces. AND you and your colleagues should think about how you can systematically and intentionally create spaces for cross-cultural dialogue that may bridge any gaps at lunch tables or on playgrounds.
Forcing students to sit together in some orchestrated inclusion situation will always back-fire. Let it happen organically. You cannot force people to like each other just because it is a rule in a student handbook. Rather, you can teach students to talk to one another and to hear each other’s stories. You can create spaces and facilitate times for dialogues and learning. Cultural competency is a value and a skill that should be integrated into our schools’ academic curriculum and co-curricular activities.
The dialogues about this should be ongoing. Cultural competence should be reflected throughout every aspect of our schools. Students may still choose to sit together by identity group and with ongoing dialogues, but there will be more awareness and understanding of why. Have you paid attention to what the students’ other needs are? The Brookings Institute estimates that 1 in 6 children come from food insecure household. Add to that the fact that at least half of our school-aged children have a mental health need. And these are just two examples of need.
Our students have a multitude of needs and obstacles that need addressing before we can even get them to attend to sitting and playing together. If a student is struggling at home, in their personal life and space, it is even more challenging for them to be ready to discuss and embrace sitting with people different than them. A student may be worried about what others know and think of their situation. Or, a student may be too distressed to attend to their neighbor. Just think of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – individuals need food, shelter, safety – basic necessities before they can begin to think about and get situated in belongingness and love for others.
The guilt or discomfort we may feel about students sitting together based on identity groups or shared interests has nothing to do with them. No matter how you, myself, or our peers feel about race relations or interacting with groups of different social identities is not how the children of the 21st century feel.
Not a scientific study with proven significance, but still worthy of mention, Good Morning America has done a series called “Black and White,” in which Diane Sawyer and Robin Roberts interview children about their thoughts and feelings about race. When Roberts asked them if their different skin color makes them different from each other the children answered in unison “No.”
We should not place our expectations, guilt, hurt, anger, etc. on them. Students have their own emotions to deal with as it relates to equity, inclusion, and social justice. They don’t even always use the same language to describe it. We need to see them and hear them and let them develop their own space and ways of facing race relations in the 21st century.
Inter-racial friendships may be challenging for some kids to form as Nadra Kareem Nittle points out in her article “Why Interracial relationships are Rare Among Children and Adults“. Children, especially young people, are navigating their own identities and navigating someone else’s adds some sort of pressure or complication to their lives. When your school begins to create a cultural competency plan, include the students and the parents.
Diversity work in schools and anywhere is best done when it becomes part of the integrated fabric of the school and is not just an add-on 1 day or 1-semester program. If you want the students to sit together in the cafeteria or anywhere else, then the school needs to have an ongoing, comprehensive, effective, and impactful plan that begins on day 1 and never ends. The National Education Association has great resources that schools can utilize as a starting place.
Teaching for Tolerance is another resource to find culturally competent and relevant educational information. Remember too that cultural competence needs to be shown in who is hired at the school and who holds leadership positions. Diversity and cultural competence need to be seen in photos, posters, and textbooks year-round. And parents and guardians (as extensions of the schools) need to also have the tools to facilitate such conversations at home and with their families.
So, I am okay with the fact that my son is in the same classroom with the other 3 Black students in his grade. I know that he has always played and sat with all the children in his school, and vice-versa. In reconsidering our concerns about all of the Black children sitting together, social workers should help teachers figure out why this is or is not okay for each child, and administrators should think about what will work best for each school’s culture.
The famous Black scholar W.E.B. Du Boise wrote that the “problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line.” It is now the 21st-century and we should ask ourselves what are we doing if this problem still exists? We also need to think beyond the dichotomy of the Black and White binary and make sure we pay attention to the diversity and intersectionality within our schools and neighborhoods and speak to that specifically, and not just speak to Black and White students.
In the coming decades, the population of our country will continue to become increasingly diverse. Soon, we will need to ask ourselves “Why are the White students sitting together in the cafeteria?” And then we must be prepared to answer that question and do something about it.
Change Never Ages
As the second-oldest state in the nation, West Virginia is in dire need for professionals who can work with its aging population.
The minor is an interdisciplinary program geared toward understanding the biological, social and spiritual aspects associated with the aging process.
“The biggest thing the minor will do for students is set them apart from other applicants in their job search, making them more marketable and helping them receive higher consideration for jobs,” said Kristina Hash, professor and director of the gerontology certificate program and minor.
There are several courses in the diverse program, including online options and a General Education Foundation course that can count toward a student’s major or another minor.
“Usually people come to gerontology from a personal place,” Hash said. “Students might take a course or complete an entire minor just to learn about their aging loved ones. “We have something for everyone, regardless of career goal or major.”
As the baby boomer generation comes of age in the United States, it brings with it the “Floridization” phenomenon. By 2020, the population distribution of the United States will be comparable to that of the state of Florida.
Because of the shifting population, there is a shortage of trained professionals working with older adults. The shortage includes not only physicians and nurses, but the entire helping health profession.
“It’s a crisis at both the national and state levels, and it’s only going to get worse,” Hash said. “That’s where the jobs are going to be.”
This cohort of older adults is different than previous generations because they are healthier and seek more opportunities for recreation and learning. As a result, nursing homes and senior centers are beginning to change by adding new features like coffee bars and Wi-Fi to meet the evolving needs of the cohort. This is opening more employment opportunities than ever before in new markets, such as insurance, marketing, and tourism.
“This particular cohort are people who march for equal rights, who stand up for their beliefs, who question—they are not going to be passive. The baby boomers are pushing the envelope,” Hash said. “In response, many other fields are also changing to prepare for the aging population, leaving a lot of entry points into the sensation that is aging adults. It’s not just social workers and nurses and physicians and pharmacists—it’s economists, marketers, interior designers and urban planners, too.”
The gerontology minor is available now. Students interested in studying gerontology or working with older adults are encouraged to contact their academic adviser to learn more or visit http://eberly.wvu.edu/students/majors/gerontology.
NASW Delegate Assembly Approves Revisions to the NASW Code of Ethics
The Delegate Assembly of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) on August 4, 2017 approved the most substantive revision to the NASW Code of Ethics since 1996. After careful and charged deliberation, the Delegate Assembly voted to accept proposed revisions to the Code that focused largely on the use of technology and the implications for ethical practice.
The NASW Code of Ethics continues to be the most accepted standard for social work ethical practice worldwide. With emergent technological advances over the last two decades, the profession could not ignore the necessity for more clarity around the complex implications of new forms of communication and relationship building through technology. As such, in September 2015 an NASW Code of Ethics Review Task Force was appointed by the NASW president and approved by the NASW Board of Directors.
A special thank-you to Task Force chair: Allan Barsky, JD, MSW, PhD, National Ethics Committee (past chair)
Task Force members:
- David Barry, PhD, National Ethics Committee (past chair)
- Luis Machuca, MSW
- Frederic Reamer, PhD
- Kim Strom-Gottfried, PhD
- Bo Walker, MSW, LCSW, National Ethics Committee
- Dawn Hobdy, MSW, LICSW, director, Office of Ethics and Professional Review
And NASW staff contributors
- Anne Camper, JD, NASW general counsel
- Andrea Murray, MSW, LICSW, senior ethics associate
- Carolyn Polowy, JD, former NASW general counsel
The Task Force was charged with examining the current Code of Ethics through the lens of specific ethical considerations when using various forms of technology. In September 2015, they embarked on a year-long process that involved studying emerging standards in other professions and examining relevant professional literature, such as the Association of Social Work Boards’ (2015) Model Regulatory Standards for Technology and Social Work Practice.
In addition, Task Force members considered the technology practice standards that were concurrently being developed by a national task force commissioned by NASW, Council on Social Work Education, Clinical Social Work Association, and Association of Social Work Boards. A year later the proposed amendments were presented to the NASW membership for review, and many member comments were incorporated prior to finalization.
2017 Approved Changes to the NASW Code of Ethics
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: When does the new NASW Code of Ethics go into effect?
A: The new NASW Code of Ethics goes into effect on January 1, 2018.
Q: Where can I get a copy of the revised NASW Code of Ethics?
A: Copies of the revised NASW Code of Ethics will be available by November 1, 2017. You can preorder a copy by calling NASW Press at 1-800-227-3590.
Q: Which sections of the NASW Code of Ethics were updated?
A: The sections of the NASW Code of Ethics that were revised include:
The Purpose of the Code
1.03 Informed Consent
1.05 Cultural Competence and Social
1.06 Conflicts of Interest
1.07 Privacy and Confidentiality
1.08 Access to Records
1.09 Sexual Relationships
1.11 Sexual Harassment
1.15 Interruption of Services
1.16 Referral for Services
2.06 Sexual Relationships
2.07 Sexual Harassment
2.10 Unethical Conduct of Colleagues
3.01 Supervision and Consultation
3.02 Education and Training
3.04 Client Records
5.02 Evaluation and Research
6.04 Social and Political Action
Q: What educational resources are available to explain the latest revisions to the NASW Code
A: Several resources will be available, including an online training, an NASW chat, a blog, code revision consults, and a posting of the changes with the explanations on the NASW Web site.
Q: Which social workers are accountable to the NASW Code of Ethics?
A: Most social workers are held accountable to the NASW Code of Ethics, including NASW members, licensed social workers, employed social workers, and students.
Q: Do these changes affect social workers who aren’t members of NASW?
A: Yes. The NASW Code of Ethics sets forth the values, principles, and standards that guide the profession as a whole, not just NASW members.
Q: Who was responsible for revising the NASW Code of Ethics?
A: An NASW Code of Ethics Review Task Force was appointed by the NASW President and approved by the NASW Board of Directors.
Q: How am I held accountable if I do not implement these changes by the effective date?
A: If you are a member of NASW, you may be held accountable through the NASW Office of Ethics and Professional Review process, if someone files an ethics complaint against you. You may also be held accountable by a state licensing board if a licensing board complaint is filed against you. Furthermore, you may be held accountable by your employer or your university, which may take disciplinary actions for not implementing the changes. Finally, you may be held accountable through a court of law that looks to the NASW Code of Ethics to establish the standard for professional ethical social work practice.
Q: Have social work schools, employers, agencies, etc., been made aware of the changes?
A: NASW is working diligently to notify the social work profession and stakeholders using various communication channels, including print, social media, and Web-based notices.
Q: Who do I contact if I have additional questions?
A: If you have additional questions, please contact the Office of Ethics and Professional Review at 800-638-8799 ext. 231 or [email protected]
The approved Code of Ethics revisions reflect a collaborative and inclusive effort that drew from a diverse cross-section of the profession. The August 4 approval by the Delegate Assembly marks significant progress in the profession’s ability to respond to our ever-changing practice environment.
The new version of the NASW Code of Ethics comes into effect January 1, 2018. In the meantime, training and technical assistance opportunities will be made available through the Office of Ethics and Professional Review and the NASW website.
Our sincere appreciation again to the task force, NASW staff, and committed members across the globe who contributed to this momentous accomplishment.
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