Tuesday, January 9, 2018

2018 NASW Code of Ethics (Part 3): Interview with Allan Barsky, JD, MSW, PhD

[Episode 115] Today's episode of the Social Work Podcast is the third of a three-part series on the 2018 National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics. I spoke with Allan Barsky, JD, MSW, PhD (whom you might remember from Episode 78 on social work ethics and Episode 76 about social workers in court).

In today's episode, Allan and I talked about 1.06(g) – professional affiliations and the removal of the word “disability."  Allan talks about the difference between baseline standards – don’t have sex with your clients, and aspirational standards – the ideal world in which, for example, we will always be promoting social justice. We talked about section 1.15 – disruption in electronic communications. We ended with a discussion of resources, such as the free NASW webinar on changes to the 2018 NASW Code of Ethics, and ways that you can provide feedback about things that you like or don’t like about the 2018 NASW Code of Ethics. Allan encourages people to be involved in the many online discussions of ethics. He encouraged folks to read and write articles for the Journal of Social Work Values and Ethics and other sites.

Download MP3 [24:48]


Allan Barsky, JD, MSW, PhD, is a professor at Florida Atlantic University where he teaches ethics, conflict resolution, addictions, generalist social work, and diversity-informed practice. His book credits include “Interprofessional Practice with Diverse Populations,” “Conflict Resolution for the Helping Professions” (Oxford University Press), “Clinicians in Court” (Guilford), and “Ethics & Values in Social Work” (Oxford).  Dr. Barsky has chaired the NASW Code of Ethics Task Force and the NASW National Ethics Committee. He has taught internationally in Israel, the United Kingdom, Canada, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Finland. For further information, please see www.barsky.org


Jonathan Singer: Hey there podcast listeners, Jonathan here. Thanks for coming back for Part 3 of my discussion with Allan Barsky about the 2018 NASW Code of Ethics.

In Part 1 we talked about the history of the Code of Ethics and section 1.03(i) electronic searches. In Part 2 Allan and I talk about Section 1.04(e) knowing the laws in your jurisdiction and the one where your client lives and how that affects practicing across state lines with or without technology.  We also talk about 1.05, cultural competence.

In today’s episode, Part 3, we talked about 1.06(g) – professional affiliations and the removal of the word “disability”.  Allan talks about the difference between baseline standards – don’t have sex with your clients, and aspirational standards – the ideal world in which, for example, we will always be promoting social justice. We talked about section 1.15 – disruption in electronic communications. We ended with a discussion of resources, such as the free NASW webinar on changes to the 2018 NASW Code of Ethics, and ways that you can provide feedback about things that you like or don’t like about the 2018 NASW Code of Ethics. Allan encourages people to be involved in the many online discussions of ethics. He encouraged folks to read and write articles for the Journal of Social Work Values and Ethics and other sites.

And now, without further ado, on to Episode 115 of the Social Work Podcast: 2018 NASW Code of Ethics (Part 3): Interview with Allan Barsky, JD, MSW, PhD.

Jonathan Singer: So, one of the things that's changed in the 2018 Code of Ethics is that the term disability was removed and there's a section under Conflicts of Interest 1.06 (g) and it talks about "Social Workers should be aware that personal affiliations may increase the likelihood that clients may discover the Social Workers presence on websites, social media and other forms of technology. Social Workers should be aware that an involvement in electronic communication with groups based on race, ethnicity, language, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, mental or physical ability, religion, immigration status and other personal affiliations may affect their ability to work effectively with particular clients." Can you talk about that one?

Allan Barsky: Absolutely. So, one of the things that you had stressed in the way that you were reading it talks about the shoulds, in terms of "should be aware", so there's no requirement here for some sort of behavioral response that's really left up to the discretion of people. So, we're not saying that you should completely avoid any personal affiliations, that you shouldn't be involved in online social networking or any of that. But every Social Worker should have the awareness and then use their own judgement about how they want to conduct themselves in their personal life and how that could affect their professional life, and again we're not telling you this is what you must do but given your context of practice and also thinking about the types of practice you may do years ahead in the future, you may want to think about what types of personal affiliations that you would like to engage in online whether it's through online social media or even other forms of technology.

So, for example, I am gay. If you do a google search on me you'll find affiliations with me with a number of different LGBT organizations. If I am working with clients who, you know, are offended by my being gay or feel that it goes against their religion, it's going to affect my types of relationships with them. So, it's not telling me that I shouldn't be affiliated with LGBT organizations but I need to be aware that people are going to know that, people may be offended by that and when I'm working with clients that may be something that I keep in mind if there's some sort of barrier or obstacle to our relating with each other, that might be a possible issue to discuss with the client.

Similarly, there are people who get strongly engaged in political discussions. So, there's been a lot of controversy about our current president. Some people are saying some very positive things about the president and some people are saying some very negative things about the President. You have the right to engage in those types of dialogues and join groups that are for or against.

But think about how your affiliations and the types of discussion that you have in various forms of media might impact your relationship. So, some people may decide you know what I'm really going to limit some of the types of discussion or even some of the types of affiliations because of the particular type work that I'm doing.

If I were a Forensic Social Worker and I were appearing in court on behalf of certain types of clients, I might decide you know what I want the court to see me as an objective person and if I put out a lot of biases on the issues that are relevant to the cases that I am doing that's going to have a negative impact on my work, so again we're not saying that you should or you should not, but you should be aware and then you can decide how you want to manage your personal life and your personal affiliations as well as your professional life and professional affiliations.

Jonathan Singer: I appreciate those clarifications and those examples that you gave because when I first read that section it was a kind of like the parent being like "Now don't get involved in groups that might make the profession look bad" and what you're saying is that it doesn't say that at all. There's nothing about what you should be doing or not doing, it's that you should be aware of how your professional affiliations online and offline can affect how people think of you in a professional context and at that point you just have to make some decisions about what you are doing but that there's no prohibition.

Allan Barsky: Absolutely. It may useful for people to think about the concept of baseline standards versus aspirational. So, there are some baseline standards, not having sexual relationships with their clients, that's a baseline standard, don't fall below that or you can get in really serious trouble. There's a lot of standards that are more aspirational. In an ideal world, our personal affiliations won't have any negative effect on our professional practice. In an ideal world, we will always be promoting social justice.

Well at this moment am I promoting social justice for people from Puerto Rico or people who are trying to immigrate or migrate or be refugees to this country and I'm not, but those are aspirational standards so we aspire to them and hopefully we put some effort into them and our awareness of our professional and personal affiliations should be thought of but it's not as if that people are going to be held accountable and thrown out of the Association for not being aware.

The baseline standard are the ones that are more based on particular behaviors, that if you breach the Code of Ethics, then there's going to be serious harm to clients or to the profession.

Jonathan Singer: That's great. Thank You. Now there is a word in here that I want to ask you about and I mentioned it before but I'll just say it again so it says, "mental or physical ability" and one of the changes from the previous version of the Code of Ethics is that the word disability was threw out and the word disability has been removed and replaced with ability. Now I've heard from folks in disability communities that's sort of tantamount to making them invisible in the Code of Ethics. Could you respond to that?

Allan Barsky: So, there's different views that people have on the use of language. So, there was no intent obviously to make people with disabilities invisible or to take away an identity that they've been working towards to having that validated and inserted into certain types of legislation and access to certain services on the basis of disability so there are some people, but not all people, from the disability community who are concerned about that.

One of the things that Social Work stands for is a strengths based perspective. So rather than just focusing on negatives-disability, the word ability focuses on all different types of abilities. People with disabilities have lots of strengths and it's not just defining them by the disability.

If you also look at the language in the rest of the sentence we don't talk about particular groups, we talk about a type of social status or social identity group. So, under Sexual Orientation we don't say Gays and Lesbians, it doesn't matter what your sexual orientation is there shouldn't be discrimination or there should be positive awareness and cultural competence around those issues, same sort of thing with race and ethnicity.

We don't limit it to just talking about African-Americans or Latinos or whatever groups. It runs across whether it's people from minority groups, majority groups oppressed groups or not oppressed groups. We want Social Workers to look at the full range of diversity within each of these factors. We also added in some places mental or physical ability again sometimes people look at ability and they just think in terms of physical ability so we wanted to clarify that in each of the different sections.

So, I absolutely understand that some people felt that it's taking away, but you can think of some situations, not in this particular standard, but under part six when we talk about promoting social justice, informed consent and other areas where we've also changed the word from disability to ability.

We want to take into account all people's abilities. So, if you are looking at how do we change our practice based on ability you might have people who are very strong in a particular area and wouldn't you want to build on that person's strengths, but at the same time we need to acknowledge that Social Work has historically allied itself with people who are the most vulnerable and sometimes that vulnerability does relate to disability so I absolutely understand what the concern is. I wouldn't say that everybody from those communities agrees with that. If you look at universities and other organizations a lot of them had Centers for Disability or Centers for Students with Disability and they've changed the language to Centers for Student Accessibility or other types of more positive language so there's a split in terms of what type of language is appropriate. If you're working with an individual client absolutely allow them to self-identify. When you're creating Codes of Ethics or agency policies you need to decide which is the preferred language and understand that people may not feel that it's the best language.

Jonathan Singer: Well thank you for addressing that and I also appreciate the emphasis that the Code of Ethics does not prescribe how Social Workers should refer to clients that because the Code of Ethics removed the word disability doesn't mean that Social Workers are not allowed to use the word disability especially in communities where that's been a term that has been reclaimed and is considered a term of power.

Allan Barsky: Thank You

Jonathan Singer: So, one of the sections in the Code 1.15 Interruption of Services which says, "Social Workers should make reasonable efforts to ensure continuity of services in the event that services by factors such as unavailability, disruptions in electronic communication, relocation, illness, mental or physical ability or death." Could you talk about that?

Allan Barsky: Sure, really the addition there is the disruptions in electronic communication. So, think of a client who may be in a crisis situation or is depending on a Social Worker for particular types of help whether it's with school or with work or with anxiety or whatever. So, we want to make sure that clients are not abandoned even if it's for brief periods of time.

So historically we think about things like the Social Worker becoming ill, the Social Worker passing away or people moving to a different location. Now when we are relying on a lot of electronic communications with people, we need to have some thought about what happens if there's some sort of disruption. If you look at Puerto Rico recently, you know, how much of the country still is without electricity and so how can you have communication with clients when they're in dire need even though there's no electricity.

Here in my home state of Florida we had some people who were in a nursing home, an assisted living facility, elders, that had no electricity. They died because of issues related to heat and lack of air conditioning. Well, I don't know this for any sort of fact, but if they had problems with communication, maybe they couldn't have reached out to Social Workers or other service providers in their greatest state of need. So, we need to think about what are some of the potential causes of disruption.

So, it could be things like hurricanes, tornadoes and something that affects our electricity and power grids. It could be that the disruption is just caused by people not using the technology effectively or it could be that somebody hacks into the system and so it's helpful for us to think about what we would do in such and such cases, so having back up plans.

If I am using videoconferencing with a client and the videoconferencing breaks down is telephone a suitable backup? If we know that certain people are at high risk and communication is cut off do we have a backup system? So, do they know who they can contact in terms of other crisis intervention services or if we wanted to send somebody out to help do we emergency contact numbers?

One of the issues, when we are serving clients in remote locations, is we may not even know where the client is or what types of services are available and so for Social Workers providing services for clients in remote locations we should think about asking them who we could contact for back up if there was an emergency? Who could they contact? So even if I don't know all of the emergency services have I talked to them and maybe help them problem solve around those issues.

Jonathan Singer: So, the way that you're talking about this is, that sort of the inclusion of disruption of electronic communications is a prompt for Social Workers to think about if I'm using technology or even if I'm not using technology but particularly with technology I should think through how I am going to address interruption of services. But having it in the Code of Ethics doesn't it mean that this something that sets up Social Workers for liability so if there is disruption in electronic communications even if the Social Worker has thought through something else, isn't this the kind of thing where a lawyer maybe not an ethical lawyer, but a lawyer could come in and say "Ahh Ha! Your Code of Ethics says that you should make reasonable efforts to avoid disruptions in electronic communications and we don't think these are reasonable efforts."

Allan Barsky: So, you've picked up on some key language. What would be considered to be a reasonable effort? So, in a state like Florida if we haven't thought about the possibility of what happens in a hurricane that would be a problem. In other locations where hurricanes aren't that common having a response to hurricanes wouldn't really be considered to be reasonable. It's really the same sort of standard in terms of malpractice anyhow, so even if we didn't have this standard here, lawyers could make the same claim.

We've got a duty of care once we engage clients we're offering services, we're saying that we are going to be available with them on some sort of basis, if we breach that duty of care all of a sudden, we are not available for them as we promised, then we breached that standard of care.
If they suffered damages as a close result of that breach of that duty of care we would be responsible anyhow. So, we would be responsible regardless of whether it it's in the Code of Ethics. So, this is more of let’s be aware of what the potentials are and let's educate ourselves so that we can deal with these types of issues. So, this one I don't think adds to liability that wouldn't already be there

Now if you go to the Practice Standards it goes into greater depth of some of the analysis for these types of issues. So, for example, you might want to have a communication policy or even a media or social media policy with clients. So, they should know if they're going to contact you would it be reasonable for them to expect a response in twenty-four hours, forty-eight hours, a week? What would be the appropriate response rate? On telephones people will put messages that say in case of emergency call 911 or other emergency services. So that might be your backup for electronic communication. In other cases, you need to think about other forms of back up for your electronic communication.

There's no expectation that we're going to be perfect and that everything is always going to run perfectly smoothly. One of the challenges with some types of technology is not all of the bugs have been worked out in some of the newer technologies. Does that mean that we should avoid them all together? Well, it might mean that for particularly risky situations a particular type of technology isn't stable enough so avoid it. But other forms of technology they've been around for years and years and years and they're wonderful. The example of dealing with crisis over the telephone. We've been using that for years and years and years and it's wonderful that we've been able to use that technology Is telephone perfect, no? But it certainly has provided services to people in need that might not get them if we were just relying on in-person services.

Jonathan Singer: For folks who are interested in learning more what are some things that they can do to learn about the differences between the 2018 Code of Ethics and the previous version?

Allan Barsky: Great question. So, the NASW has conducted an online training and it's a free training that anybody can have access to. I would encourage people to even share this with their agencies and some of our other mental health professions so that they're familiar with what some of our obligations are. Various NASW chapters around the country are having annual conferences where some of their keynotes or some of their sessions are focusing on the changes to the Code of Ethics. The Council on Social Work Education is looking at how it can provide additional training for educators and how to incorporate the various changes in courses in MSW, BSW and Doctoral programs and I think just you know, opening up the Code of Ethics itself and taking another look at the wording of some of the sections. So, you may know generally what's in it, but sometimes the particular words do make a difference in terms of what the actual obligations are.

Jonathan Singer: If somebody had feedback about the Code of Ethics, you mentioned that, three, six, nine years, the possibilities for revision. How would people submit feedback now that the Code of Ethics is sort of done for this cycle? Where would they go? What would they do and would their feedback be considered in any sort of organized or systematic way?

Allan Barsky: So, I think people could contact the Office of Ethics and Professional Review by email or by phone and provide feedback. I think that you've noted that it's not likely that there will be changes in the near future, don't necessarily even within three years have the expectation that there will be changes. So, the best time for changes is when NASW announces that there is a national task for us to review the Code, that's a great time to be providing people with feedback.

But a lot of things that we talked about today I think that it's worthy of discussion and there's various types of online Social Work forums and blogs so it's great for people to have conversations and how you can build on these. People should be submitting articles and reading articles. We have an online journal of Social Work Values and Ethics and so it's a great opportunity for us to continue the dialogue and talk about how we are interpreting these and if there's needs for change, let's get those changes documented and when it is time to have another revision, then hopefully those will be considered at that time. You know one of the great other things with online communication is that people are sharing different types of resources. People could share their Social Media policies or their Informed Consent policies or even their assessment forms to show how they are taking technology into account. I think that's helpful to the Profession. Some people have already been generous with sharing that sort of information so I'm sure it'll continue.

Jonathan Singer: That's great. Well thank you for those resources and again Allan thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today. I really appreciate it.

Allan Barsky: Okay. You're doing a great service for the Profession. Thank You.

Jonathan Singer: Thank You.


Jonathan Singer: Hey there podcast listeners, don’t forget to listen to parts 1 and 2 of this conversation. Part 1 is an overview and history of the NASW Code of Ethics, and a discussion of section 1.03(i) searching the web for information about your clients. In Part 2 Allan and I talk about Section 1.04(e) knowing the laws in your jurisdiction and the one where your client lives and how that affects practicing across state lines with or without technology.  We also talk about 1.05, cultural competence.

Resources and References

APA (6th ed) citation for this podcast: Singer, J. B. (Producer). (2018, January 9). #115 - 2018 NASW Code of Ethics (Part 3): Interview with Allan Barsky, JD, MSW, PhD [Audio Podcast]. Social Work Podcast. Retrieved from http://www.socialworkpodcast.com/2018/01/Ethics2018-3.html

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