Legal Responsibilities of Social Workers

by Michelle Hickman; Updated September 26, 2017
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A social worker has more than the obligation of helping clients through counseling, psychotherapy and social services such as health care. In all of their various roles -- educators, managers, evaluators, negotiators, facilitators, advocates -- social workers, as health workers, must abide by legal responsibilities concerning clients' personal information, treatment and behavioral issues. The National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics provides them with guidance in fulfilling those legal responsibilities and maintaining professional conduct.

Clinical Note Accuracy

Social workers must keep accurate clinical notes regarding a client's medical and mental health services. Having the most up-to-date and accurate clinical notes ensures every client received the proper services -- and will continue to do so based on the client's treatment history. These clinical notes consist of the client's private information along with therapist's summary observations. Other types of notes important for the client's record include prognosis, collateral contacts, evaluations and contact dates.

Medical Record Privacy

Social workers take care in keeping health records private concerning the client's mental health. Disclosure of the records could hamper the client from becoming employed. The client may also feel emotional distress knowing that such information about the psychotherapy sessions was made public. Social workers take the appropriate methods to safeguard the client's medical and mental records so that only authorized personnel have access.

Legal Proceeding Confidentiality

If a social worker must speak at any legal proceeding regarding a client, then the social worker must maintain the client's confidentiality. Although the social worker must comply with the court order, she must ask the court to limit the amount of information requested to that which is necessary for the court case. The social worker also has the obligation in requesting what specific matters will be taken to keep the client's private information undisclosed and restricted from public record.

Child Abuse Cases

Social workers have the legal responsibility to protect the welfare of every client, from adults to children. Although the thought of reporting child abuse can become an ethical issue, social workers have a responsibility to report abuse and neglect so that children do not become victimized. According to the National Association of Social Workers, more than 1,000 victims have died from such abuse. Social workers who report such abuse and neglect can aid to prevent these tragedies.

About the Author

Based in southwestern Pennsylvania, Michelle Hickman has written since 2006 on an array of topics including lifestyle, writing instruction and financial services. Her first articles appeared in "The Pittsburgh Tribune Review: Focus Magazine." She holds a certification in computer and information science from Central Westmoreland Career and Technology Center.

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