5 Ways Social Workers Should Hold Themselves Accountable

Social Worker Accountability

  • Conflicts of Interest
  • Client Confidentiality
  • Cultural Competency
  • Accountability to Clients
  • Legal Deadlines and Requirements

Every day across the country, social workers assist, support and protect specific people such as foster children, prison inmates, hospital patients and senior citizens. Regardless of their assigned population, social workers strive to improve individual well-being, functioning, and quality of life. Here are five ways to increase social work quality and transparency.

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1. Conflicts of Interest

Social work conflicts of interest are situations where personal histories and relationships create opportunities for partiality and unfairness. If a social worker is assigned a case involving friends or family, the case will typically be assigned to a different unit. If the case involves a fellow social worker, the case will typically be assigned to an entirely different county. Minor conflicts of interest can be minimized through setting clear and appropriate boundaries at the beginning of the case or relationship.

2. Client Confidentiality

State law, government agencies and professional ethics all guarantee clients the rights to privacy, anonymity and confidentiality. However, some social workers may not realize that if they see a client in public outside of designated work hours, they are generally not allowed to greet or acknowledge the client. They may also not realize that discussing case information and client details in a public setting like a restaurant is violating the client's right to privacy and confidentiality. Social workers can avoid these problems by adhering to state-mandated information security and client privacy rules.

3. Cultural Competency

According to NPR News, the country's diversity is still on the rise with certain population segments increasing. Social workers interact with a rich variety of clients from various backgrounds, so they must have strong knowledge of social diversity and cultural competency. Social workers should participate in both mandatory and optional training to increase their understanding of human differences and appreciation of our similarities. Fortunately, many organizations and government agencies offer liaison opportunities for working with specific groups such as ethnic origin, gender expression and immigration status.

4. Accountability to Clients

The goal of social work is to improve the safety and well-being of clients, but there are city, state and federal legal obligations that must be continually satisfied. This is why the concept of informed consent is so important within the world of social work. Informed consent means that a social worker must clearly explain options, services, costs and consequences of proposed choices and possible outcomes. Social workers should use a standardized method with each client to explain that they can provide and withdraw consent at any time.

5. Legal Deadlines and Requirements

Social work professionals who are employed in specific industries, such as government and healthcare, must conform to strict legal deadlines and requirements. For example, child protective services (CPS) workers who remove children from unsafe and unhealthy living situations are required to legally notify parents or guardians, file appropriate court motions and meet state child welfare requirements. Social workers who are responsible for removing foster children can collaborate with colleagues and supervisors to ensure all legal communication deadlines and requirements are met.

Social workers provide critical support and services to various populations within ethical frameworks. Social workers who hold themselves accountable will enjoy enhanced career, client, and personal satisfaction.