Exploring the ethics of forewarning: social workers, confidentiality and potential child abuse disclosures
McLaren, Helen Jaqueline
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This article reports on exploratory research on social workers’ perceptions and actions regarding ‘forewarning’ clients of their child abuse reporting obligations as a limitation of confidentiality at relationship onset. A brief overview of ethical principles and former research relevant to forewarning is given prior to explaining research methods and research outcomes of the current study. Data obtained in the current study, from South Australian social workers engaged in human service work with families, articulates a strong desire to practice in accordance with professional codes of ethics. However, findings suggest proactive forewarning as extremely infrequent, with minimised forewarning accomplished only in response to client initiated inquiry and where prior suspicions of child abuse may exist. Generally, discomfort with forewarning was found to result in its avoidance due to concerns about client retention, working in tense relationships and personal uncertainties about clients' reactions towards participants. Participants’ attention to their own emotive needs more actively than the rights of their clients is correlated with having a private, not a public, model of professionalism when establishing the practice context – a problematic issue for ethical social work.