A colleague of mine came to me for consultation last week regarding an ethical dilemma. I have been trying to find clear ethical verbiage for her but the scenario is so case specific that I cannot find any information on it.
My colleague was a supervisor in a residential substance abuse rehab. At the time she did not have a case load but supervised the program and facilitated a once weekly group for the residents to stay abreast of issues within the community. During her tenure there, she and one of the residents hit it off and there was an attraction there on both ends but she refrained from engaging with him after he graduated the program because ethically she felt it was wrong to do so. Its been two years since he left the treatment, and she has moved on and is no longer working in the same agency. He recently reached out to her via Facebook, wanting to know if they could get together and go out. He is doing well for himself, and is still in recovery. She came to me wanting to know if this would be okay as she wants to pursue this but does not want to risk breaking any laws or ethical boundaries. I looked and in our state (FL) the Dept of Health says that a SW is forbidden from dating a CURRENT client, but is vague about the laws regarding dating a former client. To make matters more confusing, technically this guy was never her client as he was not on her case load, but she did have access to and occasionally reviewed his record for quality review (as she did with all other resident records). However the typical power differential is not necessarily there because she never administered services directly and the client never disclosed personal information to her in confidence.
What is this communities opinion? Is it still an ethical violation if she accepts the offer to go on a date? Can anyone point me in the right direction of written literature where it says that she should refrain from doing so? My only qualm regarding this, and perhaps the reason that I've given it so much thought, is the idea of the right to self determination. As professionals it is our job to protect our clients and maintain boundaries, but at what point does someone stop being a client and start being a person/adult capable of deciding for themselves who they chose to be friends with, date, etc?
Your friend might want to review the National Association of Social Workers' Code of Ethics. This document is published at http://www.socialworkers.org/pubs/code/code.asp.
This document discusses sexual relationships with clients and former clients. It sounds like one of the dilemmas this social worker is faced with is whether the relationship she had with this person could be interpreted as a social worker-client relationship. Social workers who are NASW members can seek ethics consultation about dilemmas like this by calling the number on this site.
My advice, don't chance it. If you look at all of the scenarios that could happen, (reported by jealous co-worker, messy break-up , etc.)versus any benefit, (had an attraction years ago) the answer should be obvious. A good rule of thumb, never mix business with pleasure. There are too many fish in the sea that are a potential great catch.
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