Privacy Considered

Privacy Considered

The Supportive Services team at LCBH helps provide holistic solutions that go beyond the short term legal crisis. Our social workers help our most vulnerable clients by performing assessments, locating alternative affordable housing, applying for emergency funding, screening for public benefits, and providing guidance to other essential services. The collaborative environment we have built between our lawyers and our social workers has become a crucial part in our efforts to best serve our clients. One of our ongoing struggles in fostering this team approach has been about how to best resolve the conflict between privacy and mandated reporting.

Social workers are “mandated reporters” and are required to report any suspicions of abuse/neglect with regards to children, seniors or people with disabilities as well as any suspicions of self-harm. Lawyers, on the other hand, are not required to report this information but are instead bound by attorney-client privilege to protect the client’s confidences.

Last year, we started hosting DePaul University students seeking their MSW (Masters of Social Work) in our Supportive Services department as interns. A core feature of the program at DePaul is a requirement that students, in addition to the regular clinical internship duties, also work on a “macro” project. The project we decided to tackle was to create a formalized privacy policy for LCBH.

The DePaul intern, along with our other supportive services interns, partnered up with our legal interns to review the existing literature on the various approaches in use. They worked together most of the year on summarizing and presenting research they found on the topic. After much debate, we all agreed on what we felt would be the best approach for both LCBH as an agency and our clients.

We decided to follow a model called the “Notice Model.” This model allows social workers to continue to follow the codes and ethics of their profession without overriding the lawyers’ confidentiality responsibilities. Prior to accepting supportive services as an additional service (beyond our legal services), every client is first informed of our social workers’ mandated reporting requirements. Clients are informed of this policy before even meeting with a social worker and are able to make an informed decision for themselves about accepting the additional supportive services.

This solution has been in place for several months now and we feel it has been working nicely. In the end, this project serves not only as an example of the productive nature of collaboration between social workers and attorneys, but also as an example of student interns making lasting positive change here at LCBH. We are thankful for the hard work they put in on this and every project they undertake.