Today we are wrapping up our four part blog series on the substantial revisions recently made to the NASW Code of Ethics (COE). Our previous blogs have covered the topics of privacy and confidentiality, informed consent, competence, and cultural awareness and social diversity. Today we finish the series with a discussion of the revisions and additions made to the topics of sexual relationships, education and training, and conflicts of interest-namely, how to address technology within these areas. As always, we will conclude with a FREE practice question for those of you preparing for your social work licensing exams.
Minor Changes (with changes noted in bold):
- As we know, we as social workers should under no circumstance engage in sexual activities with clients. The revised COE has added in that this includes inappropriate sexual communications via technology. Additionally, it explicitly lists written and electronic harassment as forms of sexual harassment.
1.09(a) Social workers should under no circumstances engage in sexual activities, inappropriate sexual communications through the use of technology or in person, or sexual contact with current clients, whether such contact is consensual or forced.
1.11 Social workers should not sexually harass clients. Sexual harassment includes sexual advances; sexual solicitation; requests for sexual favors; and other verbal, written, electronic, or physical contact of a sexual nature.
- The revised COE specifies that harassment between supervisor and supervisee (or colleagues) can also take place via writing or electronically. It also specifies the types of sexual activities/contact that supervisors or educators should not engage in, including verbal, written, electronic, or physical.
2.06 (a) Social workers who function as supervisors or educators should not engage in sexual activities or contact (including verbal, written, electronic, or physical contact) with supervisees, students, trainees, or other colleagues over whom they exercise professional authority.
2.07 Social workers should not sexually harass supervisees, students, trainees, or colleagues. Sexual harassment includes sexual advances; sexual solicitation; requests for sexual favors; and other verbal, written, electronic, or physical contact of a sexual nature.
- Social work educators and field instructors must be mindful of dual relationships that could result through the use of technology.
3.02(d) Social workers who function as educators or field instructors for students should not engage in any dual or multiple relationships with students in which there is a risk of exploitation or potential harm to the student, including dual relationships that may arise while using social networking sites or other electronic media.
Additions to the COE:
- Social workers should avoid non-work-related communication using technology.
1.06(e) Social workers should avoid communication with clients using technology (such as social networking sites, online chat, e-mail, text messages, telephone, and video) for personal or non-work-related purposes.
- Social workers need to be aware of how postings on social media can impact their client relationships.
1.06(f) Social workers should be aware that posting personal information on professional web sites or other media might cause boundary confusion, inappropriate dual relationships, or harm to clients.
Here is a practice question based on one of these revisions that you could see on the exam come January.
A social worker is a vocal supporter of a local politician running for office. The social worker makes several posts on her personal social media page that speak negatively about the opposing candidate and his party. A client that the social worker has been meeting with for several months leaves a voicemail referencing these posts and exclaims, “I didn’t know I was being counseled by some left wing nut job.” What should the social worker do to avoid future situations like this?
- Modify their social media settings so clients are unable to see their personal/political posts.
- Discuss their political views at the outset of therapy to ensure they align with their clients’ values.
- Trust that clients should not be viewing their personal social media pages.
- Acknowledge that this is an unavoidable occurrence and address it on a case by case basis.
So, what do you think? Leave your answer in the comments below and be sure to tune in tomorrow for the answer and a discussion of the rationale!
National Association of Social Workers. (2017). Code of ethics of the national association of social workers. Retrieved from: https://www.socialworkers.org/About/Ethics/Code-of-Ethics/Code-of-Ethics-English