Each of the above problems has a specific opportunity structure and therefore requires separate analysis and response.
People who work with young children, or in child protective services Lawyers and paralegals Administrators of all types of community programs or their sponsoring organizations Non-professional line staff home health aides, overnight staff at residential facilities and shelters In some states, many of these people -- medical personnel, mental health workers, social workers, educators and others who work with children and youth -- are legally considered mandated reporters.
A mandated reporter is required by law to report any suspected instance of child physical or sexual abuse or child neglect. Most formal codes of professional ethics demand such reporting as well.
We'll look at the implications of mandated reporter status later in this section. What are the ethical issues that need to be considered, and how do they play out in community interventions?
Ethical behavior in community interventions relates to the treatment of people, information, and money, and to the general actions of the workers and the organization or initiative, even when they're not dealing directly with the community.
Not all of the areas discussed below are covered by a specific legal or ethical code for every profession or community service, but are nonetheless related to ethical behavior for just about any program or organization. All should at least be considered as you define ethics for yourself and your program.
Confidentiality Probably the most familiar of ethical issues -- perhaps because it's the one most often violated -- is the expectation that communications and information from participants in the course of a community intervention or program including conversations, written or taped records, notes, test results, etc.
Programs' legal responsibilities in this area may vary, but as a general rule, confidentiality is the best policy. It protects both participants and the organization from invasion of privacy, and establishes a bond of trust between the participant and the program.
Depending upon the program, the staff member's position, and the participant's needs, confidentiality may encompass a range of possibilities: No one but the individual working with a particular participant will have access to information about or records of that participant without her permission.
At this level of confidentiality, records and notes are usually kept under lock and key, and computer records should be protected by electronic coding or passwords.
Most programs not required by law or professional ethics to keep all information confidential do so anyway, both out of moral scruples and to establish trust with their participants.
There are, however, specific exceptions to complete confidentiality. Many mental health and other professionals will share clients' records usually leaving out the client's name with a colleague for the purpose of consultation and supervision.
If the program staff member is a mandated reporter for child abuse and neglect, if the participant presents a threat to himself or others, or if the staff member is subpoenaed in a legal case, both the law and ethical codes generally require that the staff person put her responsibilities to the law or to the safety of others above her promise of confidentiality.
Some program staff may consider their relationship with participants to be ethically more important than legal considerations. They may either not take or periodically destroy notes from meetings with participants; refuse to testify in court cases and risk being fined or incarcerated for contempt of court ; or simply "not remember " the relevant information.
The ethics in this type of situation are complex, and it's best for both an organization and its individual staff members to discuss the possibilities before they come up in reality. Having clear policy on these matters makes everyone's course of action clearer as well, and reduces anxiety all around.
What are the obligations of that youth worker at the beginning of this section? Exceptions to confidentiality should be made clear to participants at the beginning of their involvement in the program see "Disclosure" below.
Information is confidential within a program, but may be shared among staff members for purposes of consultation and delivering better services to the participant. Teachers in an adult literacy program, for instance, may confer about a student with a particular learning disability or problem.
This type of sharing is consistent with the rules of the Family Educational Right to Privacy Act, popularly known as the Buckley Amendment, which protects academic records. This act was meant to assure both that student records were not distributed to non-school recipients without the permission of the student or her family, and that students and their families would have free access to copies of their records.
It also gives those students and their families the right to question any elements of those records, and to negotiate corrections where necessary. Information is confidential within a program or to a particular staff member, but may be shared with staff members of other programs in which the participant is involved, either to improve services for the participant, or to contribute to the other organization's reporting data.
This kind of arrangement usually requires that participants be told about it from the beginning, and that they sign release forms giving the program permission to share records and information under appropriate circumstances. Information is confidential within a program, but is submitted to funding sources as documentation of services provided.
This situation can lead to problems if participants have been promised complete confidentiality. In that case, especially if threatened with withdrawal of funds, the program has to decide whether the money is more important than participants' anonymity, or what level of anonymity is sufficient.
Some organizations simply provide the requested documentation without informing participants, on the assumption that funders are not likely either to have actual contact with participants or to misuse an individual record; others feel they must honor their promise, and can't release anything without participants' permission.
The stakes become higher if some participants are illegal aliens. The funders' guarantee that it will neither check on nor turn in anyone in that situation is seldom enough for people who have been conditioned to fear reprisals for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Information is not confidential, or is only confidential under certain circumstances.
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