Connections and Conflicts of Interest

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    Hannah.Cameron
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    Sarah is an intake worker in Child Protection. A referral has come in to another worker alleging abuse and neglect of an 8-year-old child, George. George has autism and is shy and reserved, refusing to speak to people with whom he is not comfortable. The social workers have not been able to obtain any information from George, which makes it difficult to complete an assessment of risk. As Sarah listens to them discuss the case, she realizes that she knows the child through family friends. She is certain that George would be comfortable talking to her, and she might be able to discuss his home life with him. This is a clear conflict of interest, as she knows the child and family from previous connections. Interacting with her in this context might be uncomfortable for the family. However, it may be the only way that George will talk about his situation. Sarah’s supervisor is supportive of her offer to talk to George, as he feels George would not be able to understand the conflict of interest and therefore would not be uncomfortable. Sarah’s supervisor feels that George’s comfort is more important than the family’s comfort in this situation. Other team members feel that making an exception to a rule puts social workers in a precarious position, as it opens the door for other exceptions to be made. One team member worries that if George is brought into care, the situation will become more complicated, as Sarah will have to decide again whether to become more involved with the family.

    1) What would you do in this situation?
    2) Who would you consult in this situation?
    3) Which is more important in this case – the family’s privacy, or possible risks towards George?
    4) In small or niche communities, where dual relationships are likely, how can social workers maintain professional boundaries without secluding themselves?
    5) Would this situation change if the reason for George’s communication difficulties was a language barrier? For clients who belong to linguistic minorities, often the only people able to translate are those who are already friends or family of the client. How might this affect the intake process?

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