Every public child welfare agency should adopt a code of ethics that is applicable to the entire workforce and takes into account the agency’s governance structure and the clients served. The entire workforce should be trained, familiar with, and held accountable for compliance to the agency’s code of ethics. The code must be sufficient in breadth and scope to meet the reality of the agency’s daytoday functions and to advance its mission, values and guiding principles.
Because child welfare incorporates many professions, it is each professional’s individual obligation to be well versed in the codes of ethics from the licensing boards or professional organizations that will hold them accountable for appropriate conduct and behavioral integrity.
Public Child Welfare administrators should take reasonable steps to ensure that the working environment for which they are responsible does not interfere with ethical practice of any profession. The agency must establish protocols to advise and offer counsel to the professions it engages to provide services and to reconcile any potential conflicts. Professionals may encounter ethical dilemmas just as they do in other areas of professional practice. Such conflicts must be resolved in the most therapeutic way possible.
Examples: Dual relationships may inadvertently occur. A child welfare worker’s own child may meet and become friends with a child to whom the worker is providing child welfare services; child welfare workers may have a relative receiving agency services and need to become a part of the family support group; or child welfare workers may engage a client through alternate employment. Such relationships may require the worker to disengage from a situation professionally or alter the professional relationship.
Likewise at times team decision making may create concerns for practitioners. Differences in treatment approaches and methods need to have channels for review so that clients receive the most appropriate, individualized and effective service available. Disagreements that fall within the parameters of acceptable treatment do not constitute violations of ethical practice.
A code of ethics must include the protocols and responsibilities for action when a colleague is impaired or not acting within the parameters of acceptable ethics. Internal regulations should include awareness training and the impact that unprofessional conduct may have on vulnerable clients. Protocols should also provide for the ability of staff to defend and assist colleagues believed to be unjustly accused.
Example: if agency staff have direct knowledge that a coworker is driving an agency vehicle with clients in it while under the influence, this impairment activity presents a threat to client safety and there is an obligation to report this through appropriate channels. On the other hand, if an employee is chronically late for work due to substance abuse but not
presenting a risk to clients, it is the supervisor’s obligation, not the coworker’s, to deal with the performance issue.