This episode of The Steward Project Podcast came from a post I saw on Instagram. The post hit a nerve for me and when I saw the comments from fellow social workers I knew I had to address this topic: Ethics & Humanity.
When I saw this post from Humans of NY, it hurt my heart. And then I saw comments like, "As a social worker, I cannot say hello to a client on the street...it's a violation of HIPPA." First, it's HIPAA (Human Insurance Portability & Accountability Act). Second, the goal of HIPAA is, "to insure an individual's health info remains confidential in order to protect the patient's well-being and the public's health." This is related to health care records and the sharing of that information to third parties.
To say hello, smile, nod your head or some other small physical gesture is NOT a violation of privacy or confidentiality. Initiating contact or saying, "Hello, John...How's that depression going?" IS a clear violation of privacy & confidentiality. Those are two very different responses and clearly this gentleman only expected a "hello"...nothing more.
When we think about our work with clients, we must understand and uphold privacy and confidentiality. Of course. We must also hold very clear boundaries for our work and self care. Of course. AND we can show our humanity by being human in our interactions with them outside of our work.
Here are some steps to take to ensure you can balance ethics & humanity:
Decide if you want to live & work in the same city/town. This is very important, based on the kind of social work you do and the risk levels of those you serve.
Understand HIPAA, privacy, confidentiality laws and the code of ethics for yourself & your organization/agency.
Set clear boundaries with your clients...in the 1st session. Be clear about your Mandated Reporter duties and confidentiality.
Create a 'secret/special greeting' with your client for when you have a public encounter.
How is this resonating with you? What are your thoughts on this topic? Does this help you consider what boundaries you might want to put in place around seeing clients outside of your work? I'd love to hear what you think!
Resources from this episode:
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