Having a career in the human services field is one of the most rewarding jobs. It requires compassion, a sense of urgency and an overall desire to help others. But with the rewards the job comes with, it also does come with a handful of tough situations to come in contact with. As a human service worker, you many come across a range of clients from a family just needing assistance to a client in a life threatening situation. The importance of understanding these issues in depth and knowing how to execute the problems with the safety of the client in mind is crucial.
Conchita is a twenty five year old female who has confided to her case worker that she is being sexually harassed by her classroom training instructor. Her case worker is indeed faced with a few dilemmas in Conchita’s case. As stated by the National Organization for Human Services, there are two statements that would apply to this case. Statement one which reads “human service professionals negotiate with clients the purpose, goals, and nature of the helping relationship prior to its onset as well as inform clients of the limitations of the proposed relationships (Ethical Standards, n.d.)” works directly with statement three. This statement reads “human service professionals protect the client’s right to privacy and confidentiality, except when such confidentiality would cause harm to the clients or others, when agency guidelines state otherwise, or under other stated conditions.
Professionals inform client of the limits of confidentially prior to the onset of the helping relationship (Ethical Standards, n.d)”. These two statements would best suit this case due to the confidentially of Conchita’s case. Although the social worker has given her trust and privacy to Conchita, her health may be in imminent danger and therefore the confidentiality may have to be broken in order to better protect her. This all ties in with statement one because it states that as a professional you are to inform your clients that there are limits to the social worker- client relationship. This step in the beginning stages of starting a case is extremely important for your client to understand that their health and safety matters and if need be, confidentiality will be broken to prevent further danger.
In short, there are two possible solutions that come to mind when I see this case. The social worker can ignore protocol and ethical standards by respecting Conchita’s wishes and not reporting the situation; or he/she can inform Conchita on the importance of rectifying the situation, bringing the harassment to an end by filing a grievance, removing him from the classroom, and also giving her proper counseling to overcome the situation. In the end, the harassment needs to come to an end for the overall well-being of the client. If I was her case worker, I would remind her of the conversation we had when we first met. Confidentiality is very important, and I have agreed to protect her word unless I believe she is in danger. Sexual harassment can be detrimental to one’s well-being so I would have to report the inappropriate behaviors.
Although it is not ethical to break confidentiality, it is legal (Mandell & Schram, 2012, pg. 516) and in the end it could save my clients from years of pain and suffering. Because it is legal and for the fact that there are legal protection such as privileged communication to support human service workers of having to open up about a situation that was promised to the client to be confidential, I would use these to my advantage to get Conchita help in her situation. Also, there may be more than one victim and by telling me what happened, Conchita may have helped others come forward.
In Herman’s case, he shared with his counselor that he is no longer using controlled substances but he has recently sold some to a friend. His probation officer called his counselor to inquire about Herman and shared that he has some suspicion about Herman using and selling drugs again, and if so his parole will be revoked. When referring to the Ethical Standards for Human Service Professionals provided by the National Organization for Human Services, Herman’s situation would apply to statement three.
“Human service professionals protect the right to privacy and confidentiality except when such confidentially would cause harm to the client or others, when agency guidelines state otherwise, or under other state conditions. Professionals inform clients of the limits of confidentiality prior to the onset of the helping relationship (Ethical Standards, n.d)”. Privacy, defined as the right to be left alone (Mandell & Schram, 2012, pg. 522) is one thing that Herman believes he has to right to. Although Herman most likely confided in his counselor figuring he is protected by his right to privacy, he has put someone else’s life in danger by providing them with a drug. Also, being that he is on parole he has violated his parole order.
I believe telling Herman’s parole officer would be completely unethical. Herman has confided in me because he knows that we have a confidentiality agreement and he trust me when it comes to telling me things that he normally wouldn’t tell someone. I would refer back to the ethical guidelines and read statement twenty seven which says “Human service professionals seek appropriate consultation and supervision to assist in decision-making when there are legal, ethical or other dilemmas (Ethical Standards, n.d)”. Herman’s act of selling drugs and being on parole is now touching on a legal matter, because he is not supposed to be participating in any illegal activities while on parole. I believe although it is unethical and would break the confidentiality between Herman and myself, I would tell his parole officer what he has expressed to me. He has sold drugs to a friend, which can cause harm and even result in death and more importantly he has broken the law.
In the last case, Indira has admitted having sexual relations with a young man who is believed to have a sexually transmitted disease. She is extremely worried and does not know what to do but does not want to tell her parents what is going on. Indira is only fifteen years old, so to know she is a minor is very important in a case like this. Statement four of the Ethical Standards for Human Service Professionals is an important statement to remember for Indira’s case. “If it is suspected that danger or harm may occur to the client or to others as a result of a client’s behavior, the human service professional acts in an appropriate and professional manner to protect the safety of those individuals. This may involve seeking consultation, supervision, and/or breaking the confidentially of the relationship (Ethical Standards, n.d)”. Sexually transmitted diseases are nothing to joke around about or to take lightly. As her counselor and for her being a minor, I would have to take my concerns to her parent or guardian in order to have her checked out by her doctor. Her overall health may be in danger if in fact she has had unprotected sex with someone who has a sexually transmitted disease.
I would express my concern to Indira. Doing some research with Indira and educating her as to what the dangers are and what a sexually transmitted disease really is. Also, I would remind her of our confidentiality agreement and reinforce that if there are reasons for me to believe that she is in danger then I would need to call her parents or she would need to tell them herself. In the guidelines of Ethical Standards for Human Service Professionals in statement fifteen it states “human service professionals describe the effectiveness of programs, treatments, and/or techniques accurately”. This ethical standard would apply to me as the professional in Indira’s case because I would gather information on support groups, or specialty doctors to her parents in order to make sure she receives the proper care now and counseling or youth groups to support her, let her know she isn’t alone and how to be more cautious when it comes to sexual interactions in the future.
The human service field can be extremely challenging at times. There will be many times that clients want to confide in you, they trust your privacy and confidentiality agreement and do tell you things they don’t just tell anyone. Some of these secrets are currently or will eventually cause harm to the client and may have legal bindings to break the privacy agreement that was made in the beginning of the counselor-client relationship. Using the National Organization for Human Service Professionals has given detailed guidelines on what is expected of and how to properly execute ethical dilemmas.
Mandell, B., & Schram, B. (2012). Understanding Legal Issues. In An Introduction to Human Services Policy and Practice.
National Organization for Human Services. (n.d.). Retrieved March 1, 2015, from http://www.nationalhumanservices.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=43
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