The US Department of Health and Human Services is mandated to protect the overall wellbeing and health of the American citizens. To perpetrate its mandate and fulfill its duties, the department hires and trains a myriad of professionals in different fields. Social workers are important components of the HHS department in achieving its duties. A social worker ensures the social welfare of communities, families, individuals, and populations. To ensure social welfare, a social worker actively undertakes research in different fields affecting the welfare of the population, plans and develops policies intended to address the identified issues, and provides interventions for the issues (Reamer, 2013).
The roles of social workers in furthering the mission and goals of the HHS department are as vital to the department as they are to the general population, who depend on the social workers to ensure their wellbeing and protect their health (Levy & Slavin, 2013). This paper will explore the National Organization for Human Service Education, NOHSE, standards required to become a social worker, as well as the historical perspectives on federal laws related to the same profession. Additionally, confidentiality and ethical issues that arise in the line of practice as a social worker will also be analyzed with the aim of better understanding their contribution in ensuring the welfare of the populations, and protecting their health.
A social worker practices under the health industry under the HHS department. However, the roles of social workers in furthering the health goals and outcomes are different from those of other health professionals such as the nurses, doctors, and psychiatrists. A social worker not only pursues the health and wellbeing of the communities in which they work, but they do so by focusing on the less privileged and vulnerable populations (Reamer, 2013). In addition to identifying issues affecting the health and wellbeing of communities and individuals, the social workers go further to design approaches that can be used to eliminate these issues (Levy & Slavin, 2013).
The approaches are based on theory and research, as well as on expert opinions. In addition to the research and policy development, social workers also practice directly to provide support and advice to the vulnerable populations they serve. The support in mainly in the form of advice, as well as in connecting the vulnerable individuals to the services required. For example, a social worker may decide to provide his/her services focusing on people with physical disabilities. It becomes the responsibility of the social worker to ensure that the individuals have access to social services such as schools and hospitals that help improve the general life of the individuals (Reamer, 2013).
As the social workers practice directly with the vulnerable and less fortunate, they help illuminate the social injustices experienced by the vulnerable populations (Ehrenreich, 2014). In their effort to illuminate these social injustices, social workers act as advocates of justice, in addition to acting as initiators and implementers of change. Most importantly, social workers empower the vulnerable populations, enabling them to take control over their own lives and health. Some of the social injustices that social workers commonly battle in their practice include racism, sexism and gender-based violence, and discrimination against other social strata. Also, if one is a clinical social worker, diagnosing and treating emotional and behavioral health issues falls under his/her mandate (NOHS, 2015)
In their practice, social workers are part of multidisciplinary team, as they work in conjunction with other professionals such as doctors, psychiatrists, legislators, and educationists (NOHS, 2015). A social worker usually works in hospitals and other healthcare centers, schools, mental health centers, and housing corporations for the homeless, although he/she is sent out to visit clients, rather than work from an office. When working with a client, the social worker is required to assess the needs of the client, organize and provide the necessary support needed to meet the needs, make referrals to other agencies and organizations if need be, and keep detailed records of services provided to the clients.
In the recent past, social work has evolved to encompass the cultural diversity of the populations that they represent. Therefore, the social workers are required to be culturally relevant in order for them to provide culturally competent services to their clients. For a social worker to start practice, he/she must have achieved the minimum training requirements and licensure, as outlined by the NOHSE standards. Employers also look for other personal qualities and skills that are not necessarily provided as training in educational centers.
In the United States, social work has been mentioned as one of the fastest growing careers, as it offers a myriad of opportunities for career development to social workers. Social workers must be licensed after meeting the necessary minimum educational and training requirements. NOHSE bears the responsibility of ensuring that the educational standards for social workers are met.
National Organization for Human Service Education Standards
The National Organization for Human Services is an agency whose aim is to transform the lives of individuals and communities through social work (NOHS, 2015). The agency focuses on advancing the professional opportunities for the social workers, while promoting the identity of professionals and organizations engaged in social work through certification. Also, NOHS furthers its mission by fostering strong communications, both internally and externally. The agency also ensures that its financial growth is maintained, as it is through this growth that research, advocacy, and implementation of social agendas is achieved.
The minimum entry into practice for a social worker is a bachelors’ degree, although the clinical social workers are further required to undertake a masters’ program, in addition to supervised clinical practice for 2 years (CSHSE, 2015). In addition to the class work, which prepares the students for a variety of practice positions, aspiring social workers are also required to complete supervised fieldwork. The National Organization for Human Services approves different credentialing and accreditation centers that offer programs in social work. These centers operate under the standards set by the NOHS, which are reviewed often (NOHS, 2015).
The agency collaborates with other organizations, such as the Council for Standards in Human Services Education and the Center for Credentialing and Education to achieve its objectives. It is vital to note that the credentialing offered by these organizations is voluntary, as it is purposed at increasing the marketability of social workers and other practitioners in the human services field. For an organization or individual to acquire the credentials, they must have attained the minimum requirements from accredited and approved educational organizations.
The educational standards for social workers are divided into two parts, with the first part containing the characteristics of the general program, while the second part outlines the curriculum (NOHS, 2015). Each standard contains three parts; the general statement that develops context and rationale of the standard, the standard, and the criteria used to evaluate the compliance to the program standards (CSHSE, 2015). Also, the standards are categorized depending on the level of education, for example, degree, Baccalaureate, and Masters’ levels. According to NOHS (2015), each level’s standards incorporate those of the preceding level. In maintaining these standards, quality and relevance of the social work learning programs is preserved. Therefore, all educational centers that offer programs in social work are required to adhere to these standards.
Historical Perspective on Federal Laws Relating to Social Workers
Social work, just like other professions, is governed by federal laws. These laws are updated often to suit the evolving nature and regulatory requirements of the social work and social workers. Not only is the profession governed by federal laws, but in practice, social workers interact with the federal laws in perpetrating their duties. This is because clients served by social workers utilize the legal system in one way or the other. In addition, social workers are acknowledged as advocates and policy developers for issues affecting the vulnerable populations (Ehrenreich, 2014). As such, the workers must collaborate with political legislators in the passing of laws in parliament. Therefore, social workers find themselves interacting with case laws, statutory laws, constitutional laws, executive, and regulatory laws (Ehrenreich, 2014).
Social services have existed since the inception of the country, although federal laws governing the practice weren’t established until the early 20th century. In the past, social services were conducted without any administrative regulations due to lack of administrative organizations. However, during this century, several organizations seeking to provide social services sprouted, necessitating regulation and administration. The federal laws surrounding the profession of a social worker span across education, as well as across practice. Article 154 of the US constitution provides regulations regarding social work, including definition and outcome of unprofessional conduct, as well as laws surrounding education for social workers (Ehrenreich, 2014).
Some of the laws regarding social work and workers are developed or implemented based on case studies. For example, according to Martson and McDonald (2012), the confidentiality clause for social workers requiring them to furnish criminal cases with clients’ information was established in the 1970, based on the case of Tarasoff versus The University of California’s board of regents (NOHS, 2015). It is imperative for social workers to be versant with the federal laws and regulations that surround the profession, as awareness minimizes the risk of legal lawsuits against social workers, while helping the workers resolve ethical dilemmas encountered during practice.
Confidentiality in this context refers to the protection of personal information of a client from unauthorized access. The concept of confidentiality is also one of the most common ethical dilemmas that social workers encounter in their practice. As such, it is vital that the workers not only understand the concept, but also how to observe and uphold the notion without bias of unfairness. Occasions such as criminal investigations place social workers in duress as they may feel obligated to provide information about a patient, while at the same time trying to observe confidentiality. However, such cases are guided and informed by federal laws (Martson & McDonald, 2012).
Ehrenreich (2014) observes that it is the responsibility of a social worker to protect the personal information of the client. The protection involves the use of HIPAA acceptable medical electronic devices when transmitting patient information. Similarly, social workers encounter confidentiality issues when they are required to whistle-blow on injustices perpetrated against their clients, or those close to their clients. For example, a social worker may discover that a man receiving his/her services is an abuser, and may be obligated to report such cases, hence exposing some personal information of the client. Again, such circumstances are guided by laws that have been put in place.
Also, the Code of Ethics for social workers is a vital resource when it comes to resolving issues related to confidentiality dilemmas in social work. Similarly, informed consent is another resource that social workers can utilize in practice to resolve dilemmas surrounding confidentiality (Martson & McDonald, 2012). A social worker may employ the tactic of informed consent at the very beginning of a client-worker relationship. The worker uses this opportunity to inform the client about the limits of the confidentiality, hence giving the client an opportunity to decide the amount and kind of information to share with the social worker. Also, the client understands the implications of any information provided regarding extenuating circumstances that may require third-party involvement and disclosure of information. It is imperative for the social worker to note that the clients have the right to self-determination, and only they, the clients, determine the kind of information to share with the social worker. As such, clients should not be coerced into providing information.
According to Martson and McDonald (2012), ethical issues are some of the most frequent issues that every social worker encounters in practice irrespective of experience and qualification. As earlier mentioned, confidentiality is one of the concepts that fuels ethical issues. This is because a social worker is as accountable to clients as he/she is accountable to the law. Social workers may also find themselves in the middle of ethical dilemmas emanating from diverging cultural and social beliefs. Like the doctors and nurses, obligation is to the client first, as the wellbeing of the patient should always come first.
However, a social worker shouldn’t be crucified for airing concerns about the collision of personal views and professional activities. For example, a social worker who has reservations about abortion based on religion or cultural beliefs and notifies his/her supervisor shouldn’t be discriminated. Rather, the supervisor should try to assign jobs that do not contradict with the perspectives of the worker, if doing so doesn’t cost the organization extra operating funds. Social workers have the ethical responsibility to protect minors from mistreatment, and while this requirement may arouse dilemmas regarding confidentiality, the code of ethics for social workers clearly outlines the requirements in such cases (Martson & McDonald, 2012).
Ethical issues are common causes for litigations against social workers, and therefore, the workers should be informed about laws and other tools used to mitigate the risk of lawsuits. In addition to respecting the will of the clients and protecting their information, a social worker also has the ethical responsibility of observing fairness and justice in practice. However, this too is threatened by ethical dilemmas. For example, a social worker has the responsibility to protect minors from harm, but may also be bound by law not to provide certain services, say, to illegal immigrants. Such circumstances may threaten the duty of a social worker to perform his/her duties, while at the same time contributing to unfair distribution of social services. This is sensitive to social workers, especially in the light of their profession, which involves working with vulnerable and less fortunate individuals and communities.
Council for Standards in Human Service Education, CSHSE. (2015). Overview of the CSHSE
national standards. Retrieved January 16, 2016, from
Ehrenreich, J. H. (2014). The altruistic imagination: A history of social work and social
policy in the United States. USA: Cornell University Press.
Levy, C. S., & Slavin, S. (2013). Social work ethics on the line. London: Routledge.
Marston, G., & McDonald, C. (2012). Getting beyond ‘heroic agency’ in conceptualizing
social workers as policy actors in the twenty-first century. British Journal of Social
National Organization for Human Services, NOHS. (2015). Certification. Retrieved January
16, 2016, from http://www.nationalhumanservices.org/certification
Reamer, F. G. (2013). Social work values and ethics. Columbia: Columbia University Press.