The provision of human services is intended to be considerate of the needs of clients and the contexts where they emerge from. Social workers have an obligation to understand their clients, act in their best interests and ensure that they maintain professionalism in the process (National Research Council, 2014). However, this sometimes becomes complicated due to the emergence of ethically dilemmatic situations in the workplace, where there seems to exist two options that both raise critical ethical and in some cases legal issues. In resolving such issues, the human services professional must be careful to explore all the options before them in not only an ethical perspective but also in light of constitutional, statutory, regulatory and case law (Reamer, 2013). This implies that many of the decisions made in ethical dilemmas are self-contained and may not be replicated in other situations due to the need to consider each case independently in its unique context. In this paper, the ethical and legal framework governing a given case scenario is discussed. In addition, the personal, professional and legal risks are established alongside the ethical consequences of each action. In the end, a suitable course of action for the situation is offered and justified. The case features three young children (5-12 years) who needed temporary placement over the holidays. One of the children was unable to find placement with the only options available being to take them home or leave them with the agency. The case is considered in light of the above stated prompts.
Legal and Regulatory Frameworks
There are several laws that underpin the scenario described above. First, the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) outlines several guidelines on reporting and dealing with child abuse and neglect (Jacob, Decker & Lugg, 2016). Child abuse includes sexual abuse which was the case of the child who needed urgent attention, and has been discussed broadly under the legislation to include activities such as child pornography and statutory rape among others. In addition, acts of abuse and neglect under the act are broad not only to cover family members but also caretakers who fail to act in situations where they need to protect children (National Research Council, 2014). CAPTA in essence raises two fundamental issues with respect to the case scenario. First, that the child was a victim of abuse/neglect who needed protection. Though the evident abuse was sexual and had already occurred, the actions taken in the scenario could amount to neglect under the Act. Secondly, as a caretaker in the scenario, there was capability of being accused on neglect. This is because the Act recognizes not only abuse/neglect in the context of family members but also with respect to caretakers which sufficed as a designation in the case scenario.
Other laws in the case included the constitutional provisions in the 14th amendment and the UN Convention on the Rights of a Child. The 14th amendment entails the equal protection clause under which all persons were equally safeguarded by the law (Jacob, Decker & Lugg, 2016). No discrimination was permitted on the basis of belonging to any group such as racial or age. In this case, handling the case needed to demonstrate equal treatment and no form of bias/discrimination in any way. The code of ethics for social workers buttresses this point by indicating that those providing human services must be in the know of the cultural elements of their clients and act in respect to them. There may emerge a discrimination angle if the child who was unable to receive placement appears racially profiled or discriminated in any other way in the way the situation was handled. The UN Convention on the Rights of Children on the other hand has various provisions including the definition of a child as anyone under the age of 18. However, the most significant provision is Article 3 of the convention which states that in any matters concerning children whether undertaken in public or private entities, the best interests of the child should always take precedence. This was an important law that provided guidance in decision making in the case scenario. It was apparent that regardless of what other interests were, the action taken was supposed to represent the best interests of the child. Apart from the above laws, it was important to consider state-specific legislation and any case laws that may speak to the prevailing situation.
Legal, Professional and Personal Risks
The two options in the case scenario presented various legal, professional and personal risks. The first option which was to go with the child at home carried personal risks of varied nature. First, the child could be undisciplined and cause chaos at home or have some sensitivities owing to their past history of sexual abuse that may be triggered by the home setting. In addition, taking them home brings lots of responsibility on their safety, wellness and welfare, meaning that if something bad was to happen to them there would be consequences. Legally, there were risks of neglect/abuse that may arise from the way the child would be handled all along the way. Elsewhere, at the professional level, there was a risk of creating multiple relationships with the client and thus impair professional judgment. This is because going home with the child would create a personal relationship in addition to the professional one. Further, taking the child off the professional setup may expose her privacy and confidentiality. An equally professional issues emerging from the scenario was on consent- given that the child may not have been in a position to offer a valid one.
Leaving the child at the agency on the other hand also featured several risks. At a personal level, there was the looming risk of being negligent, were something to happen to the child after being left at the agency. This was also a legal risk as there could be formal charges of negligence following such action. In addition, there were legal risks of discrimination given that two children had been successfully placed. Based on the cultural, gender and other characteristics of the child, issues could be raised that the child in question had been discriminated against and treated differently from the other two counterparts (Shireman, 2015). There would be need in such a case to justify that the situation the child was in was not deliberate and had not been orchestrated by any bias. Another legal conundrum would be on equal protection, with the handling of the child likely to raise 14th amendment issues. There should be a clear demonstration that the child’s treatment was in equality before the law. There was further an issue relating to the UN convention on the rights of children. Article 3 which calls for actions based on the best interests of the child was in play and there was need to demonstrate that indeed leaving the child at the agency was in their best interests (Jacob, Decker & Lugg, 2016). At the professional level, issues likely to emerge border on client protection. Leaving the child at the agency needed to be justified as sufficient in protecting them from all possible risks. It must also be seen that such a course of action was consistent with all professional standards stipulated in various applicable frameworks. Therefore, each of the courses of action to be taken appear to have varied risks at the professional, legal and personal levels.
A number of ethical issues were evident in both scenarios. In the first case (leaving the child behind), there is an issue of discrimination. The code of ethics provides that no person is discriminated based on any grounds such as age, race, ethnicity or socioeconomic status among other grounds (Reamer, 2013). Leaving the child at the agency after failing to secure them a placement had the potential to be interpreted as a discriminatory action based on the characteristics of the child. There was also an issue of respecting the law, with such an action required to be consistent with all laws governing the rights of children.
There were more ethical issues involved in going with the child at home. First, this may lead to formation of other relationships other than professional with the child (such as emotional and personal) and in the end impair professional judgment. In addition, there was an issue of consent, with the child yet to be in a position to offer valid consent (Reamer, 2013). It would be hard for a neutral party to therefore determine whether the child was taken home voluntarily or enticed were there to emerge any issues in future. There was further an ethical issue on privacy and confidentiality, given that the home settings expose the child to third parties against ethical guidelines.
Preferred Course of Action
In the prevailing circumstances, it was best that the child was left at the agency. This was because this action had less legal and ethical ramifications in addition to reducing personal responsibility on the fate of the child. On the latter, if something were to happen while in custody of the child, there would arise personal responsibility. In addition, taking their custody raises ethical issues of privacy and confidentiality as well as consent. It is also instructive to note that the child would be quite safe at the agency, while the same cannot be assured elsewhere. As a stranger, there could be many factors such as the child’s discipline and past history of sexual abuse that may render them unsafe elsewhere (Jacob, Decker & Lugg, 2016). It was only necessary to leave the child in good hands at the agency rather than take the complicated path of custody.
It is apparent that the provision of human services is a complicated undertaking in the presence of ethical dilemmas at the workplace. There are legal, professional and personal issues to be taken into account prior to decision making in such scenarios. In the given case study, the best course of action was to let the child remain at the agency rather than take custody of them. This decision had less legal and ethical ramifications besides ensuring the safety of the child. There was further a significantly reduced personal risk in the decision, provided that the child was left in good hands.
Jacob, S., Decker, D. M., & Lugg, E. T. (2016). Ethics and law for school psychologists. John Wiley & Sons.
National Research Council. (2014). New directions in child abuse and neglect research. National Academies Press.
Reamer, F. G. (2013). Social work values and ethics. Columbia University Press.
Shireman, J. F. (2015). Critical issues in child welfare. Columbia University Press.
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