The Ethical Challenges of Technology in Social Work

Mary E. Garrison, LCSW, ACSW
Associate Professor of Social Work, Millikin University
NASW Illinois Board Member, East Central District Chair
Tweet us at #NASWIL
Objectives: Gain an understanding
and provide reminders of
Ethics/Code of Ethics Review
NASW Code of Ethics: Practical Application
Implications of Technology in Clinical Practice
 Social Media/Technology Policy Development
 NASW & ASWB Standards for Technology
Values in Tension
Code of Ethics
• Purpose:
 Offer guidance and professional standards
 Improve practice & promote accountability
 Protect the public
• Essential tools for practice:
 NASW Code
 Other Professional Codes
• Limitations
Areas of Risk
Client Rights
Informed Consent
Competence & Service Delivery
• Social Media:
 Facebook
 LinkedIn
 Twitter
Smart Phones: internet
Cell phones: texting
• Mobility/Accessibility
• Negatively impacted
• Confidentiality
• Conflict of Interest
• Legal issues
• Documentation
 Clients
 Clinicians
Instant support
Applicable SW Ethical Standards
• 1.03e: “Social workers who provide services via
electronic media…..”
• 1.06a: “Social workers should be alert to and avoid
conflicts of interest that interfere with the exercise of
professional discretion and impartial judgment.” (NASW
Code, 2008)
• 1.06c: “Social workers should not engage in dual or
multiple relationships with clients or former clients….”
• 1.07a: “Social workers should respect clients’ right to
Applicable SW Ethical Standards
• 1.07i: “Social workers should not discuss confidential
information in any setting unless privacy can be
• 2.01a: “Social workers should treat colleagues with
• 2.01b: “Social workers should avoid unwanted negative
criticism of colleagues in communication….”
• 4.03: “Social workers should not permit their private
conduct to interfere with their ability to fulfill their
professional responsibilities.” (NASW Code, 2008)
NASW & ASWB Standards for
• Ethics and Values
• Access
• Cultural Competence and Vulnerable
• Technical Competencies
NASW & ASWB Standards for
• Regulatory Competencies
• Identification and Verification
• Privacy, Confidentiality,
Documentation and Security
• Risk Management
NASW & ASWB Standards for
• Practice Competencies:
Advocacy and Social Action
Community Practice
Administrative Practice
Clinical Competencies
• Continuing Education
Social Media/Technology Policies
• Essential for practice
• Share with clients upon intake
• Must be carefully created addressing:
 Policy overview and understanding
 All forms of technology
Social Media/Technology Policies
• Social networking
• Search engines
• Email
• Cell/smart phones/texting
• Skype
• Location-based services
• Business/Consumer Review Sites
Mary E. Garrison, LCSW, ACSW
Associate Professor of Social Work, Millikin University
NASW Illinois Board Member, East Central District Chair
Tweet us at #NASWIL
Scenario for Discussion
• #1: Several social workers posted “mean-spirited” and
“derogatory” comments about other agency staffers on
a social networking site. The social workers assumed
that their privacy settings were set to prevent general
access to their comments. They did not realize that
some network participants had not set their privacy
settings properly and that several of the unprofessional
comments were now circulating on the networking site.
(Reamer, 2011)
Scenario for Discussion
#2: A social worker had just discovered that one of his
clients had visited his wife’s social networking site.
Coincidentally, the social worker’s client and the social
worker’s wife were high school classmates nearly 20
yrs ago and had just reconnected via social networking.
Neither person knew of the others connection to the
social worker. When the client visited his former
classmate’s networking site, he was able to obtain a
great deal of personal information about the social
worker and saw casual photos of him as well. (Reamer,
Scenario for Discussion
• #3: A social worker in private practice created a
Facebook page. The social worker has been providing
counseling services to a client who struggles with
anxiety and borderline personality disorder. The client
become obsessed with the social worker and was
determined to find out information about the social
workers personal life. The client found the social
workers Facebook page and was able to access
personal photos and information and then left explicit
information related to the site on the social worker’s
voicemail system. (Reamer, 2011)
Scenario for Discussion
• #4: Alex is a social worker for a non-profit agency that
provides services for young adults, ages 18 to 21 years
old. An issue of concern for the agency is frequent
missed appointments. As one means of addressing this
issue, the director wants to list the agency as a “check
in” site on Foursquare. She believes the social game
play aspect of the site is a way to engage the youthful
population that is served, as well as increase visibility
for the agency.
continued on next slide…….
Scenario for Discussion
• #4 Continued: As she explained to the staff, users of
Foursquare, a geo-location social networking site, can
“check in” while visiting a venue by accessing the app
on a mobile device. Each check-in rewards users with
points and or “badges.” The director hopes that
incentivizing visits to the agency through this social
networking site will result in greater compliance with
appointments. She tells the staff that a client’s use of
Foursquare would be completely voluntary as would be
the decision to disclose his or her whereabouts.
(Chernack, 2012)
Scenario for Discussion
• #5: Nicole is a social worker at a children’s hospital. The
hospital has an active social media presence on several
platforms including Facebook and Twitter. The purpose
of the hospital’s use of social media is multi-fold: to
engage in consumer outreach; promote hospital events;
disseminate health information; provide support, engage
in fundraising, and create an online health care
community. Another feature of the hospital’s use of social
media is to promote its services by providing a section on
its Facebook page for patients and patient’s families to
“share their story.” Nicole has worked with many parents
who decided to post accounts of their children’s medical
condition and the treatment that was provided.
(Chernack, 2012)
Scenario for Discussion
• #6: Sydney is a recent MSW graduate who works in the
psychiatric unit of a large medical center. A young man
was admitted through the emergency room for an
apparent overdose that was a possible suicide attempt.
The admitting physician requests her help in locating
information about the patient who was brought in by
ambulance after being found unconscious in a public
place. She suggests that Sydney search for the individual
on Facebook and Twitter. She explains that she needs
help in determining if the patient made any suicidal
statements and if there are any factors that are
mentioned that would facilitate his care. (Chernack,
• Beckett, C. & Maynard, A. (2005). Values & ethics in social work:
an introduction. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications
• Dolgoff, R. Loewenberg, F.M. & Harrington, D. (2005). Ethical
decisions for social work practice. 7th edition. Belmont, CA:
• Kolmes, K. , Psy.D. – Social Media Policy – 4/26/13
• NASW News: It’s ‘Better to Be Informed’ About Tech Tools, M.
Malamud, 6, 2011.
• NASW Code of Ethics, 2008, NASW.
• NASW/ASWB Standards for Technology in Social Work Practice,
• Chernack, K.B., DSW, LCSW-R, Update, Vol. 36, No. 4, Summer
2012, pp. 8-9, 26. National Association of Social Workers New
York Chapter.
• Young, T.B., LCSW. Facebook: Ethical and Clinical
Considerations., 10/25/2013.
• Reamer, F.G. (2013). Social Work in a Digital Age: Ethical and
Risk Management Challenges. National Association of Social

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