Social workers have ethical guidelines or standards that focus on various areas including training, competence, research, community outreach and legal standards. What do we perceive as our responsibility related to ethical considerations when working with Deaf individuals? Why the study of ethics in provision of services to Deaf clients is important?
Professional ethics are standards of behavior that reflect the profession’s desire to insure the well-being of its clients. When was the last time you reviewed your Code of Ethics?
(a) Social workers should provide services and represent themselves as competent only within the boundaries of their education, training, license, certification, consultation received, supervised experience, or other relevant professional experience.
(d) Social workers who use technology in the provision of social work services should ensure that they have the necessary knowledge and skills to provide such services in a competent manner. This includes an understanding of the special communication challenges when using technology and the ability to implement strategies to address these challenges.
Let’s think about one of the important Ethical Principles:
* Restrict treatment to your areas of competence.. Know your limitations and refer the client to another professional when it is in the client’s best interest.
* Avoid discriminatory behaviors.
Being a competent social worker means having the knowledge, skills and abilities necessary to provide services to Deaf individuals. How much training did you receive prior working with Deaf individuals? Did you know Deaf, Hard of Hearing and Deaf-Blind each have different accommodations? Are you aware of the different communication modes? How do you know if a sign language interpreter is appropriate or will you need a Certified Deaf interpreter? Are you aware of there is increased risk of maltreatment for Deaf children?
1.05 Cultural Awareness and Social Diversity
(a) Social workers should understand culture and its function in human behavior and society, recognizing the strengths that exists in all cultures.
(b) Social workers should have a knowledge base of their clients’ cultures and be able to demonstrate competence in the provision of services that are sensitive to clients’ cultures and to differences among people and cultural groups.
(c) Social workers should obtain education about and seek to understand the nature of social diversity and oppression with respect to race, ethnicity, national origin, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expressions, age, martial status, political belief, religion, immigration status, and mental or physically ability.
* Have you received Deaf culture training?
* What is the difference between Medical/Pathological View and Cultural View?
* Do you know why there is high prevalence of Emotional Disorder in the deaf community?
* What is typical language acquisition among Deaf individuals?
* Did you know American Sign Language is not “broken” English?
* How do you assess a Deaf person? NASW Michigan offers good educational resources about Deaf culture. Go to www.nasw-michigan.org click on ‘Advocacy’ and then click on ‘Deaf and Hard of Hearing Task Force’. There is a list of articles, organizations, and presentations.
1.16 Referral for Services
(a) Social workers should refer clients to other professionals when the other professionals’ specialized knowledge or expertise is needed to serve clients fully or when social workers believe that they are not being effective or making reasonable progress with clients and that other services are required.
* Do you refer Deaf clients to Deaf professionals or other professionals’ expertise in the field of deafness? If not, why?
* Is it harmful to serve Deaf clients with minimal understanding of their culture?
Social work profession promotes social change, functioning in human relationship and the empowerment of people to enhance well-being. They have a responsibility to help Deaf clients through culturally and linguistically appropriate service.
There is no easy solution to complications arising from the ethical problems encountered by hearing social workers working in the deaf community. However, it is important to address ethical problems because the primary goal is to achieve positive outcomes for the deaf population.
There are a few common themes in this article. First, self-awareness and acknowledgement of our own limitation is important to an ethical practice. Secondly, ask yourself why is it difficult to refer to other professionals who provide specialized services for the deaf. Social workers must be willing to explore their own conscious/unconscious motives, and possible long or short term consequences of the issue..
We need to be ready and committed to “do no harm” by referring them to a qualified deaf specialist and resisting the temptation to try to “fix” their problems ourselves.
Written By: Kathleen Mitchell, LMSW
Gutman, Virginia (2002). Ethics in Mental Health and Deafness. Washington, D.C. Gallaudet University Press
National Association of Social Workers. (2017). Code of Ethics of the National Association of Social Workers. Washington, D.C. NASW Press