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Media Appearances and Social Work Ethics

ethical-standards-in-social-workWe couldn't find a good article online about the ethics of media appearances for social workers. What do you do when asked to comment about a client for newspaper, radio, or TV?  For an answer, we turned to Dr. Frederic Reamer, a professor, author, and social work ethics authority. His response:

I have not written articles on this specific topic, although I say a little bit in my book Ethical Standards in Social Work

I'd suggest reviewing relevant standards in the NASW Code of Ethics (particularly standard 1.07[k]).

As I trust you know, social workers have a duty to avoid disclosure of any identifying, confidential, or privileged information about a client without client consent.  Occasionally a client will consent to such disclosure to media.  I think social workers need to be careful about disclosing such information, even with client consent, if there's any risk that the client would be harmed by the disclosure.  Part of the problem with disclosure with client consent is that the general public may not know that the client consented, and this can create the impression that therapists don't protect client confidentiality.  I often tell reporters that I can comment about "classes" or "groups" of clients in general, but I'm not permitted to comment about any individual client.

I would be careful to document thoroughly any discussion with a client about the potential benefits and risks of disclosure.

For more from Dr. Reamer, try Amazon and his Social Work Today column, Eye on Ethics.

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