Social work: setting client boundaries in the age of social media

Limestone College Social Work

Imagine your life as a successful social worker. Now imagine one day receiving a Facebook friend request from your client. What do you do? Do you accept? Do you ignore the request? And what influence, if any, might your client’s condition — say, severe depression, for example — have on your decision?

As social media continues to influence the way people interact and communicate with each other, such ethical dilemmas have become a real consideration in social work practice.

In his Social Work Today article, Frederic G. Reamer, a social work professor at Rhode Island College, examines these questions and suggests one practical solution: a social media policy. A document that clearly outlines what is and isn’t appropriate behavior between client and social worker in the context of social media, could help both parties navigate these dilemmas.

As for the question of accepting or ignoring a client’s Facebook request, Reamer advises against interacting with clients on social networking sites due to a number of issues from consent and confidentiality to privacy and documentation.

Take for example the issue of privacy. According to the National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics, social workers must respect their clients’ right to privacy and as such should not conduct electronic searches about their clients. To that end, Reamer says, “ethics-based social media policy should explain to clients that their social worker will not conduct electronic searches about them unless there is, for example, a genuine emergency where information obtained electronically might protect the client from harm.”

Beyond social networking sites, social workers should also consider other aspects of their online presence such as professional blogging. For social workers that may wish to share their views online, an article on offers the following advice:
• Protect client’s identity and never share client’s name or other personal information
• Maintain consistency across views shared online and the advice you give to clients
• Avoid association with issues and causes that may alienate clients.

At Limestone College, students pursuing a Bachelor of Social Work will learn about the role of various social environments, including social media, as they relate to social work practice. In SW 208 – Human Behavior and the Social Environment II, students will examine the individual in social systems that include family groups, community organizations, culture, and society.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *