Menu

Summary summarised

In their own words: Kisthardt, M. (2006-2007). Working in the Best Interest of Children: Facilitating the Collaboration of Lawyers and Social Workers in Abuse and Neglect Cases. Rutgers Law Record, 30, 1-77



The summary:

This reflective article was written more than a decade ago by a social work and legal professional. Although based on the child protection and legal system of the United States of America, we can learn valuable lessons for our South African context. This reflective article was written more than a decade ago by a social work and legal professional. Although based on the child protection and legal system of the United States of America, we can learn valuable lessons for our South African context.

  • The authors argue that working in the best interest of children in abuse and neglect cases is a daunting task for both lawyers and social workers.
  • However, they acknowledge that although collaboration between these two it is widely recognized that it does not come easy.
  • Social workers are sometimes frustrated because they misunderstand the ethical code of attorneys.
  • Two conflicting ethical perspectives between social work and the legal profession that may hamper interdisciplinary collaboration in child protection cases are highlighted below followed by practice considerations.

Reflections on the conflicting ethical perspectives between social work and legal professions

Who is the client?

Confidentiality vs privilege

Practice considerations

  • Social work and legal professionals both a very important role in the child protection field.
  • Legal professionals do not have the same goal and work ethics as social workers due to the inherently different nature of their profession.
  • As such, social workers need to take cognisance of the difference in an ethical approach to who the lawyer’s client is, and steer away from disrespecting the lawyer as a colleague and a professional on the basis of alleged unethical behaviour.
  • However, lawyers also need to acknowledge and appreciate the effects of social workers’ advocacy on the family system, the uniqueness of the goal and purpose of social work and ethical principles that underpin the profession.
  • Furthermore, social workers should steer away from engaging in power struggles with attorney colleagues. Instead treat them with respect, irrespectively if the approach is reciprocal, so as to honour the Social work ethical code.
  • Also, acknowledge that attorneys are there to do a job according to the goal and purpose of his/her profession, based on their ethical principles.
  • Ensure that you as social worker stay within the parameters of the social work ethical code and purpose of social work. Acknowledge that the legal arena is not our playing field – we are there as guests and should adhere to rule and codes prescribed by the legal profession– and do our best to leave a professional footprint when we leave the legal arena
  • A professional footprint may include professional behaviour (e.g. respectful and maintain emotional regulation), professionally written reports (e.g. reflect objective and thorough investigation, and an investigation of multiple hypotheses), and an overall positive outlook and demonstration that you care for the wellbeing of others.

Carefully summarised by: