Is it ever acceptable for social workers to ignore their clients?

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A person sits alone on the street. Their converse are visible in the foreground. They are quite blurry. The picture feels a bit lonely.Image source, Getty Images

Nobody likes being ignored.

Regardless of whether it is a friend, family member or co-worker, you might be forgiven for feeling aggrieved when a person you know fails to notice you.

But what if it is someone with whom you share a more complex relationship?

This was the case for a man featured on the popular Humans of New York blog, when he ran into his social worker and her family on the street.

She did not acknowledge him - and after he confronted her about it in their next meeting, she explained that she had been in her "private space".

He likened the feeling to "a stake in my heart".


The social worker was criticised in the comments on the Instagram post, as many users believed that she should have acknowledged the man.

It was suggested that "obviously the career [social work] does not suit her", while some called her "heartless" and "an embarrassment".

In a post on Twitter, with 38,000 likes, one person said the story "ripped my heart into a million pieces". Another asked: "Why do we treat people like this?"

Meanwhile, it was suggested by others that the reason the social worker had not acknowledged the man might be more noble.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

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'An ethical obligation'

And various people who work in services with vulnerable people took to social media to defend the social worker's actions.

One person cited boundary issues that people could have outside of work, while another suggested that the main issue concerned the client's right to privacy.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

A representative of the National Association of Social Workers, the largest professional social work association in the United States, told the BBC: "Social workers have an ethical obligation to protect clients' privacy and confidentiality.

"Many social workers make the decision to not approach clients publicly, as a means of protecting that client's confidentiality.

"In this scenario, it may have been a means of avoiding family members asking about the client.

"Ideally, this should be discussed at the beginning of services and as needed so that clients know what to expect and are not hurt or confused by the apparent disregard."

By Tom Gerken, UGC & Social News

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