5 Critical Rights for Consumers of Social Services

Social Service Clients: Critical Rights

  • Privacy and Confidentiality
  • Access to Services
  • Access to Records
  • Informed Consent and Self Determination
  • Grievance Procedures

When social workers provide any types of services or treatments to clients, they must first notify them of their consumer rights pertaining to social service programs. Social service consumers have nearly a dozen important rights when applying for assistance; however, five of these rights deserve closer scrutiny. These five rights and brief descriptions of each can be found in the following sections.

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1. Privacy and Confidentiality

Privacy and confidentiality go hand-in-hand as one of the most important rights of consumers of social service programs. Social workers must always inform their clients as to how their personal information will be used and under what circumstances there may be exceptions to this rule. An example of an exception to the privacy and confidentiality rule might be a case in which the social worker needs to protect a client from self-harm. Another exception may be a case in which the social worker needs to protect a third party from possible harm inflicted by a client.

2. Access to Services

Another critical right for consumers of social service programs is the right to understand all of the programs available to them through their local social service agency. Social workers must let clients know about all of the programs offered by their agency regardless of whether or not the clients qualify for every program available. They must also provide clients with appropriate referrals when necessary in the case that clients do not qualify for help from the agency.

3. Access to Records

According to an article published by Social Work Today, under normal circumstances, clients have the right to view their social service-related records if they wish. The only exception to this right is in the case that a social worker has solid evidence that releasing such records could pose harm to the client or a third party. And in such a case as this, the social worker can limit access to the entire file or simply a portion of it depending on the situation.

4. Informed Consent and Self Determination

Before social workers can provide services or treatments to consumers, they must obtain informed consent. Informed consent is essentially written permission signed by clients which allows social workers to provide any necessary services or treatments. An exception to this right is if the client is determined to be unable to act on his or her own behalf. In these cases, consent may be given by a close family member or the state depending on the client's unique situation.

5. Grievance Procedures

When consumers of social services do not agree with a decision made by a social worker, they have the right to appeal that decision. Common reasons why clients may choose to appeal decisions include disagreeing with determinations pertaining to eligibility for various programs, termination of benefits or services, and total amounts of financial benefits. When clients apply for services, they must be notified about their rights to file appeals as well as the appeal process.

Social service agencies provide consumers with a variety of helpful programs that assist them with daily living. But before social workers can provide any types of services or treatments to clients, they must notify them of the critical rights for consumers of social services as described above.