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• A social worker who provided services to clients diagnosed with traumatic brain injury was sentenced to seven years in prison after he engaged in sexual relationships with three clients.Ethical Risks in Social Work First, the good news: Relatively few social workers are named in ethics-related complaints or lawsuits, and even fewer encounter criminal charges (Barsky, 2009; Reamer, 2015).Most states have a hotline social workers can call when they experience ethical dilemmas.You can discuss your situation confidentially, without using identifying client details, and get professional advice on how to handle things.Sadly, Belinda is not alone among the ranks of social workers, including the following, who are named in ethics complaints, lawsuits, and, occasionally, criminal court indictments: • A social worker in private practice lost her license as a result of evidence that she developed a personal relationship with a client involving travel with the client, extensive gift exchange, visits to each other's homes, and camping trips.• A social worker who was employed at a mental health center was sued by the parents of a former client who committed suicide.Be sure your decisions are sound, not only ethically but legally.
Belinda, who is married and the mother of two young children, is currently on a leave of absence from her position due to "personal issues." Next week, she is scheduled to appear with her attorney before her state's social work licensing board to respond to allegations that she became sexually involved with a 17-year-old client enrolled in the mental health center's school.
Through her attorney, Belinda admitted to the inappropriate relationship and volunteered to surrender her social work license.
She hopes to negotiate a formal agreement with the licensing board that will allow her to seek reinstatement once she completes an extended period of therapy and ethics consultation.
Belinda also faces another challenge: The parents of her former client have named Belinda and her agency in a lawsuit that alleges that she engaged in malpractice and that both she and her agency are responsible for the harm her unethical conduct caused.
The detailed lawsuit claims that Belinda's former client has endured serious emotional injury that has interfered with his ability to finish high school and pursue gainful employment. It describes the life and career rupture of an actual social worker who, it turns out, was struggling with both clinical depression and a failing marriage.