How to Maintain Professional Boundaries in Social Work

How to Maintain Professional Boundaries in Social Work

Social work is a profession that focuses on improving the quality of life of at-risk individuals, families, groups and communities. Social workers interact with people facing difficulties, including drug addicts, divorcing parents, abused children, the homeless, and young offenders. With such interaction comes the need to establish working relationships. However, it can be challenging to maintain a professional boundary with clients and co-workers.

So, how do you provide effective services to clients without violating the standards of practice in social work? Keep reading to find out.

Understand the meaning of ’professional boundary’

Cases of social workers being sued by clients are not unheard of. To practice the social work profession within the established standards, it is important to understand what professional boundaries are. These are the limits to which a social worker can discharge services without being deemed to have abused his or her position for financial gain, personal benefit or sexual gain. The British Association of Social Workers outlines the profession’s code of ethics.

Provide services only in designated workplaces

One of the most effective ways to maintain professional boundaries in social work is by restricting your service provision to the workplace. If you are based in a residential care facility or community health center, that is the only place you should attend to clients. Although some needy clients may call you in the evening or during the weekend to make an inquiry, be sure to remind them about your official working hours.

Do not accept gifts from clients

Some social workers deal with wealthy parents who are divorcing. They play an important role in helping them develop parenting agreements that can meet the needs of their children. Impressed by their services, some parents may offer money, shopping vouchers or other forms of gifts as a token of appreciation. In a more rational world, this could probably be accepted. In social work though, this is unprofessional. Accept the gift and you run the risk of developing a ’closer’ relationship with the client.

Maintain clients’ privacy

Like most human services and healthcare practitioners, social workers are expected to keep their clients’ personal and health information confidential. In fact, it is illegal for a social worker to disclose his clients’ medical conditions to unauthorized persons. If you find yourself discussing some of the cases you are handling with relatives or friends, then you have crossed the professional boundaries.

Have quality time off

Spending time with your family or doing other activities such as watching a movie, hiking or reading helps you maintain a health-work life balance. If you don’t devote some time to off-the-job activities, your regular work schedule can wear you down, leaving you vulnerable to unethical practices.

Understand the consequences of exceeding boundaries

Without consequences, it can be difficult to adhere to codes of practice. As a social worker, it is important to know what can happen to you when you cross professional boundaries. Some of the consequences include;

  • Inability to provide appropriate services to clients
  • Developing emotional or mental health problem such as trauma
  • Being sued in a court of law
  • Getting deregistered from a professional organization
  • Getting fired.

Finally, if you find that you are continually stepping past professional boundaries, seek professional help from a career or mental health therapist. Do not suffer in silence. Good luck in your social work career!


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