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Social Work Malpractice and Liability

Social Work Malpractice and Liability: Strategies for Prevention

Frederic G Reamer
Copyright Date: 2003
Edition: 2
Pages: 344
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  • Book Info
    Social Work Malpractice and Liability
    Book Description:

    Long regarded as the standard text for classroom use and an invaluable reference for agency administrators, social work supervisors, line clinicians, and private practitioners, Social Work Malpractice and Liability has now been updated to include new material on the revised NASW Code of Ethics, recent court decisions related to social work malpractice and liability, boundary issues and dual relationships, and how social workers can conduct an "ethics audit" in the workplace.

    After introducing the concepts of negligence, malpractice, and liability, Frederic Reamer turns to the subject of risk management. Using recent cases, he describes a wide variety of problems related to privacy and confidentiality, improper treatment and delivery of services, impaired practitioners, supervision, consultation and referral, fraud and deception, and termination of service, concluding with practical suggestions for social workers named as defendants in lawsuits.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-53284-6
    Subjects: Sociology, Law

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. 1 Professional Malpractice and Liability: An Overview
    (pp. 1-22)

    Imagine that you are a social worker employed at a family service agency. For three months you have been counseling a twenty-six-year-old man who was referred to you by the staff of a local psychiatric hospital, following the young man’s inpatient treatment for depression.

    Your client has made considerable progress. He is holding down a job for the first time in five years, is living independently in his own apartment, and is romantically involved with a young woman. Your client reports that he is happier than ever.

    Your telephone rings one afternoon, and your client says, in a fearful voice,...

  5. 2 Confidentiality and Privacy
    (pp. 23-76)

    The concept of privacy is central to social work practice. In clinical work especially, social workers have always had a deep-seated respect for their clients’ need for confidentiality. The trust between social worker and client, so essential to effective help, typically depends on the worker’s assurance of privacy. Clients’ willingness to disclose intimate, deeply personal details about their lives is understandably a function of their belief that their social worker will not share this information with others.

    But privacy is also relevant in other social work domains. Social work administrators need to understand the limits of confidentiality as they pertain...

  6. 3 Service Delivery: Improper Treatment
    (pp. 77-131)

    Fortunately, most social workers are competent professionals who provide sound interventions. Unfortunately, on occasion liability claims are filed against social workers alleging that their interventions were somehow flawed. Ordinarily, these claims allege that the social worker’s intervention departed from the standard of care in the profession. The claimant, often a client or family member, sometimes alleges that the social worker carried out his or her duties in a negligent or illegal fashion (acts of misfeasance or malfeasance) and sometimes that the social worker failed to carry out her or his duties (acts of nonfeasance). Whatever the setting and whatever the...

  7. 4 Service Delivery: Impaired Social Workers
    (pp. 132-164)

    Some liability claims against social workers are the result of honest mistakes. Careless oversight, such as forgetting to get a client to complete an informedconsent form before releasing confidential information to another agency, can lead to a lawsuit. Other liability claims may result from well-intentioned, deliberate decisions, as when a social worker decides to breach a client’s privacy in order to protect a third party from harm. And, unfortunately, many liability claims result from incompetent practice by a relatively small percentage of social workers who are impaired.

    George M., M.S.W., was the director of clinical services at Family Services Associates,...

  8. 5 Supervision: Clients and Staff
    (pp. 165-187)

    The concept and practice of supervision have always been central in social work. Practitioners’ training typically includes considerable attention to theory and skills related to supervision (Caspi and Reid 2002; Kadushin 1992; Miller 1987; Munson 2001; Shulman 1995). Over the years the social work literature has addressed a variety of issues related to supervision, including the administrative and clinical responsibilities of the supervisor, the challenge in moving from practitioner to supervisor, and the importance of leadership qualities in supervision.

    Not surprisingly, liability claims and lawsuits sometimes name social workers who have supervisory responsibilities. Although supervisors may not have been directly...

  9. 6 Consultation, Referral, and Records
    (pp. 188-208)

    Social workers often consult with colleagues about their work with clients. Colleagues can provide valuable insights and suggestions, especially with respect to complex and challenging clinical circumstances.

    Social workers should understand the differences between supervision and consultation. Supervision typically entails a chain of command, such that the supervisor has some responsibility over the supervisee and the supervisee is accountable to the supervisor. Supervisees are often expected to accept a supervisor’s advice, although consultees are not necessarily expected to accept a consultant’s advice. Consultation is often much more collegial in nature. According to the NASW (1994), consultation and supervision are differentiated...

  10. 7 Deception and Fraud
    (pp. 209-233)

    When I conducted a workshop in a large midwestern city on ethics and liability issues in social work, a participant approached during a break to ask me a question. She explained that she was a social worker in solo private practice, much of it devoted to family counseling, in a nearby suburban community. She complained that many insurance companies with which she dealt were unwilling to reimburse for family sessions. She explained that because her livelihood depended on third-party payment, she felt compelled to camou-flage the family therapy and on many insurance forms indicated that she provided individual counseling to...

  11. 8 Termination of Service
    (pp. 234-246)

    Many malpractice and liability risks also arise in relation to the termination of services. In my experience the most frequent problems concern allegations that professionals failed to terminate services properly, failed to continue needed services, or were unavailable to clients who were in need of care. Improper termination of service might occur, for instance, when a social worker transfers to a new position or moves out of town without adequately preparing a client for the termination or without referring a client to a new service provider. Or, a social worker might terminate services abruptly to a client who is noncompliant...

  12. 9 Concluding Observations: The Social Worker in the Courtroom
    (pp. 247-266)

    Legal liability is one of the unfortunate risks associated with professional practice. Fortunately, it is also a relatively rare occurrence. The vast majority of social workers will never be named as defendants in lawsuits.

    As I discussed in chapter 1, however, the number of liability claims against social workers has increased, as has the monetary value of related out-of-court settlements and judgments. In light of this trend, social workers need to anticipate the possibility, however remote, that they will be named in a lawsuit and liability claim. Although this book discusses various causes of liability and sources of risk, social...

  13. Appendix: Sample Forms
    (pp. 267-270)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 271-276)
  15. References
    (pp. 277-298)
  16. Legal Citations
    (pp. 299-304)
  17. Index
    (pp. 305-310)