Protection of Privacy and Confidentiality in Undocumented Children

Subject: Education
Pages: 20
Words: 5275
Reading time:
19 min
Study level: PhD

Introduction

Confidentiality and keeping of private information is one of the key principles that have to be observed in social work practice. However, social workers are often faced with dilemma particularly in decisions concerning disclosing critical information concerning the clients. Essentially, social workers have the duty of upholding the stated ethical principles. The duties and ethical principles are contained in NASW code of ethics as well as in International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) ethical principles. However, as indicated, conflicts between ethical principles often exist in the practice settings. In the profession and social work practice, independence of social workers forms the core of guiding principles while dealing with looming dilemmas. In other words, social worker applies self-rule in making personal judgments as well as offering resolutions to the problems (National Association of Social Workers, 2008). Nonetheless, social workers often act to satisfy the interests of the clients without using personal biases to influence the client private information and keeping the confidentiality.

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Social workers working with illegal immigrant children are often faced with the ethical dilemma. Often, illegal immigrant children are often vulnerable to sexual abuse and detection. Reporting their cases are frequently challenging due to their status of being noncitizen. In most cases, social workers working with these undocumented immigrant children find themselves in a situation where reporting abuse cases of these children may result to their detection and final deportation. Essentially, social workers have to contend with the dilemma of keeping private and confidential information concerning these children and the need to deal with social ills. However, the social workers working under these situations have to deal with these abuses even though the illegal immigrant workers risk deportation.

As such, the purpose of the paper is to critically analyze the manner in which social workers applies the ethical principles to deal with such dilemmas. Moreover, the paper will be analyzing the manner in which social work ethical codes concerning the processing of private information is critical guidance in the social work practice. Essentially, the paper will be examining moral implications and challenges social workers face while charging their duties. Furthermore, the paper will be examining how social workers can find solutions to their problems through the application of various theoretical approaches (Waldo, Lin & Millett, 2007). The moral confines in which social workers operate in relation to ensuring privacy of individuals are constantly being threatened by challenges clients face particularly in situation where the revelation of confidential and private information may cause harm to the client (Waldo et al., 2007).

Even though professional core principles require that the social worker keep the private information retrieved from the client indefinitely even after the social worker has ceased contact with the client, the information can be disclosed particularly when the disclosure is greatly required. Normally, the disclosure of information is required particularly when it is necessary to prevent serious foreseeable and imminent harm to the client or others. In this case, the social workers can utilize this exception to disclose to the authorities the confidential information concerning the clients in order to prevent further abuses not only to the clients but also to others who may be affected. However, it should be noted that such release of private information must be within the precincts of core principles of social work and its practices.

An Ethical Decision-making Model

In most cases, solving ethical dilemmas are not through the application of the codes of ethics and standards that are put in place. Therefore, it is critical to have a framework through which any emerging ethical dilemma could be analyzed and the final decision reached. Ethical dilemmas are usual occurrences in many professions and are resolved through the applicable ethical decision-making models (Koocher & Keith-Spiegel, 2007). However, in this case, various ethical decision-making models will be applied to come up with the solution to the ensuing problem.

Identifying the Issues

Undocumented Immigrant Children

Undocumented immigrant children represent thousands of young children that normally walk long distances to enter illegally into the US through Mexico-US border to search for their parents or minor jobs that would enable them provide support to their parents back home (Dirks-Bihun, 2014). In fact, the children normally walk for over three days with only one cloth and sometimes with sparse food and water. Besides, the children are often accompanied with strangers who provide guidance through rough mountainous desert terrain into US (Finkelhor, Ormrod, Turner & Hamby, 2005). The guides are often paid little amount of money or batter their services with the children body in case of unavailability of money. In most cases, the children are between the ages of eight and twelve without parents and dreadfully need to enter into US. The long, lonely and dangerous journey is because of desperation to find parents or hoping to work in the northern cities and provide financial support to the needy parents (Finkelhor et al., 2005).

Given the fact that the children enter into United States illegally, they are not documented rendering their status to be noncitizens or aliens (Dirks-Bihun, 2014). In fact, the children are vulnerable to various abuses right from the start of their journey to their stay in US. In most cases, the children are victims to sexual abuse either by their guidance or human traffickers. Comparing with children who legally cross into the US, the undocumented children are more likely to be victims of sexual and other abuses (Dettlaff, Earner & Phillips, 2009). The reasons for increased vulnerability to various abuses include lone travels with untrustworthy guardians. Besides, the children easily fall victims to the human traffickers.

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With the increasing number of undocumented children in the US, social workers are highly required in order to attend to the needs of these children. In most cases, social workers are professionals in better position to assist children who made perilous journey into US and find themselves in the circumstances in which they are abused and go unnoticed (Dirks-Bihun, 2014). Instigated by increased demand for prostitution and trade in pornography, thousands of children are smuggled into the US undetected. Most of the children are victims to human traffickers due to various factors including their financial need, record of substantial sexual abuse as well as abductions (Newcomb, Munoz & Carmona, 2009).

The Need for Social Worker

As indicated, with increased number of undocumented children in US, social workers are required to attend to the needs of these children. In most cases, social workers offering assistance to the needs of these children normally encounter unreported sexually abused children. However, the vulnerability is also high even on children who are legally in the US or among the non-survivors of human trafficking (Newcomb et al., 2009). Sexual abuses among these children are undetectable particularly under the situations that such abuses are not being reported or seen. Moreover, discussing the issue with the children is a taboo among the Latinos (Newcomb et al., 2009). In other words, in is not cultural for Latino families to discuss issues of sexual abuse. As such, detecting sexual abuse the Latino children remain elusive.

Besides, apart from physical abuse that can easily be detected by marks and bruises left on the body, sexual abuse can only be detected when make known by the children (White & Epston, 1990). In most cases, such disclosure should be to people such as social workers that are in better position to provide support. Essentially barriers such as social, cultural and language may prevent undocumented children report or discuss some of the abuses they encounter from the hands of criminals (Dirks-Bihun, 2014). Most importantly, the children are in constant fear of being deported in case their history is disclosed either to the immediate government authorities or children protection department (Newcomb et al., 2009).

Additionally, most of the immigrant families cannot seek for needed social services due to fear of deportation. As such, protection from various abuses remains elusive. In most cases, the fear of deportation is the major deterrent to the reporting of the abuses their children experience (Dettlaff et al., 2009). The abusers constantly threaten children with deportation in case they disclose the abuse. The threats have been effective in protecting the abusers since children fear negative consequences in case they disclose or discuses their sexual abuses (Finkelhor et al., 2005).

In these situations, social workers services are greatly needed to reassure the families and the children that deportation should not be the major reason for not reporting the cases of abuse. However, from experience, Latino families and undocumented children understand that involvements with any government services are potential threat to be deportation (Newcomb et al., 2009). Regrettably, undocumented children no longer receive services concerning sexual abuses due to increased security and their stautus.

Identifying Ethical Dilemma

Social workers are greatly needed to provide services to these undocumented immigrant children survivors. Having the knowledge and skills on how to deal with situations the undocumented immigrant children face is critical in the provision of social services and welfare of children (Dirks-Bihun, 2014). According to US census bureau 2011, the populations of these children are increasingly growing. The growth is estimated to be over 20% among the minority groups (U.S. Census Bureau, 2011). Moreover, the group of children has the highest probability of being abused.

With increased number of population, the need for social work services also increases. However, social workers have to contend with problem of fear of deportation. While it is true that constant involvement with government services increases the chance of being deported, social workers have the obligation to assure the families that deportation should not prevent them from reporting cases of abuse (Dirks-Bihun, 2014). Further, in order to understand the problems the children face, social workers have to keep most of the information confidential given the fact that their culture and status does not allow the disclosure of such information. The observation of privacy and confidentiality of the immigrant children is critical in delivering services they require. However, the social workers need to inform the authorities concerning the abusers and human traffickers.

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Therefore, social workers working under these conditions will constantly be faced with the task of keeping the information of the children confidential and the need to report the sexual abuses. According to the moral principles of social workers, it is critical to keep private information retrieved from the clients confidential (Dirks-Bihun, 2014). According to the principles, private information is relative. In this case, discussing sexual issues with anybody is considered private depending on the statuses and cultural beliefs system of the Latino illegal immigrants. Moreover, given the children situation, revealing such information exposes them to constant danger from the abusers or human traffickers. Even though social workers are faced with dilemma, their assistance is greatly needed.

As can be observed from the case, social workers are faced with dilemma of right to autonomy against right to confidentiality. For instance, according to the NASW code of conduct, social workers are not allowed to reveal private information concerning the client. In other words, clients have civil liberties regarding self-determination. In this case, the clients are the undocumented children. Moreover, social workers are not supposed to reveal private information or shared with colleagues during professional associations and contact. Given the status of the illegal immigrant children, the principle applies directly

Besides, divergence in morals and values is a critical ethical dilemma social workers face in this case. For instance, the NASW codes of conduct assert that social workers should have clear comprehension and respect the social diversity of clients concerning ethnicity, race, political beliefs, religion, immigration status as well as mental and physical disability (National Association of Social Workers, 2008). However, in this case, social workers often experience situations where their personal moral and beliefs conflict with the clients’ values. For example, decisions often become difficult in the circumstances where reporting the sexual abuses have to be made while the undocumented children hold certain beliefs against the action. Essentially, social workers often face the problem legal compliance and the protection of the children status.

As such, social workers need to be equipped with particular skills in order to serve this population appropriately. In other words, social workers need to implement several best-practice strategies while working with theses type of clients (Finkelhor et al., 2005). Besides applying various theoretical approaches, the social workers need to understand some aspects of the social group in order to get solution to the ethical dilemma the clients are facing (Finkelhor et al., 2005).

One of the aspects is the cultural practices of the undocumented children. Being culturally competent will enable the social worker to understand a variety of complex issues ranging from immigration practices to history of violence and acculturation (Newcomb et al., 2009). In the case, cultural competence can be confirmed through respect of the Latino families since themes concerned with respect and honor affects the reporting of sexual abuse. Another important aspect is the building of trust. Creating an environment based on trustworthiness is critical in reporting sexual abuses without fear of negative consequences (Newcomb et al., 2009). Most of the undocumented children will require social services under the condition that they are given some degree of anonymity (Dirks-Bihun, 2014). The conditions will also allow social education concerning the individual rights and legal obligations.

Essentially, best-practice strategies based on core values of social work practice including cultural competence, trust and strength perspective can provide social workers with the best experience while working with undocumented children (Dettlaff et al., 2009). In other words, best-practice strategies can offer good alternative solution to the ethical dilemma social workers face while offering services to illegal immigrant children who have experience sexual abuse. Among the best-practice strategies, narrative therapy provide practical framework while running through disturbances related to sexual abuse particularly in a ethnically susceptible approach (Dettlaff et al., 2009).

Identifying Ethical Principles Applicable in the Case

Privacy and confidentiality is one of the ethical principles that social workers need to observe in both profession and practice. Besides, privacy is one of the fundamental human rights that need to be protected in whatever profession one is involved (O’Brien & Chantler, 2003; Waldo et al., 2007). Respecting the clients’ rights is one of the ethical values that social workers uphold all the time (O’Brien & Chantler, 2003). In fact, social workers seek private information from clients in the circumstances that the information needed is to help in offering services or used for research purposes (Waldo et al., 2007). In other words, private information is solicited only for important purposes. As such, social workers have to ensure that private information received from the clients are confidentially shared and kept within the professional context (Waldo et al., 2007). Ensuring that the clients’ private information is kept confidential is one of the core ethical functions of the social worker (Koocher & Keith-Spiegel, 2007).

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The professional core principles require that the social worker keep the private information retrieved from the client indefinitely even after the social worker has ceased contact with the client. However, when the disclosure is greatly required particularly when the information is necessary to prevent serious foreseeable and imminent harm to the client or others the information can be disclosed (O’Brien & Chantler, 2003).

Nevertheless, keeping the confidential information is influenced by various factors including the mode of electronic applications, accessibility, modern information and communication technology as well as the level of confidentiality of the information (O’Brien & Chantler, 2003). Essentially, current advances in the social work practice have greater effect in the manner in which private information can be confidential. While contributions of ethical principles in the daily social work practice are immense, confidential information can be applied invariably in such a way that it impedes the right to privacy of an individual (O’Brien & Chantler, 2003). The manner in which information retrieved from individuals is used pose a great threat to the individual right to privacy particularly within the profession and practice that directly deal with the protection of individual right to privacy.

In the social work practice, a number of discretion and confidentiality concerns are given greater focus. For example, clients’ right to privacy is critical. In other words, the social workers only seek for essential confidential information that is imperative in the provision of services. Additionally, social workers only reveal confidential information to a client given the availability of legitimate consent from the client as well as an individual certified by law to sanction on behalf of the client (O’Brien & Chantler, 2003). Social work practice also focuses on issues such as the revelation of private information to media agents, law enforcement agencies, protection service officials and collection agencies as well as social service organizations (Sewpaul & Jones, 2004). However, such release of private information must be within the precincts of core principles of social work.

Broadly, the core principles of confidentiality and privacy requires that issues including disclosure of private data concerning nationality, race and substance abuse treatment, deceased clients as well as giving out private information regarding participants in the family, couples, marital status should receive substantial consideration in an ethical evaluation (O’Brien & Chantler, 2003).

One of the critical aspects of social work ethics is the assessment of policies and practices utilized in the revelation of private information. In other words, ethical assessments check the procedures applied when conveying private information through all mediums such as computers, electronic mails, facsimile machines, telephones as well as phone related answering machines (Jayartne, Croxton & Mattison, 2007). Further, an ethics appraisal gives greater attention to the practices and procedures used to guard confidential data regarding private information. Moreover, practices put in place to stop social workers from talking about private information in public areas and during legal proceedings form a critical component of social work ethics assessment (Jayartne et al., 2007). The evaluation of competencies of the utilized practices and procedures in updating clients and agencies about privacy matters indicate the manner in which confidentiality and privacy is significant in social work practice.

Inclusive and unambiguous outlines of the rights of clients should be critically assessed in while undertaking social work practice. The plans and practices particularly on how to deal with confidentiality of information, accessibility to information and services provisions should be put in place to enhance coherence in the service delivery (Weinger, 2001). In addition, principles dealing with policies concerning informed consent as well as the right to refuse services and options for alternative services and referrals should also be appraised. Actually, the acknowledgment of equal civil liberties of all individuals is the basis of self-determination, fairness and tranquility in social work services delivery. In fact, there is need to evaluates the rate of recurrence and the competence of social workers in notifying clients about their civil liberties. Further, procedures employed by social workers to inform clients about human rights should be established.

Essentially, while undertaking any social work practice, it is often imperative to evaluate the available ethical requirements and procedures that aid in identifying the risks associated with wok processes as well as avert possible moral grievances arising from legal actions (Koocher & Keith-Spiegel, 2007). The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) code of conduct contends that moral hazards engrossing damages that are anticipated should be prioritized. As such, the significant peril sectors tackled in any social work practice should encompass client rights, confidentiality and privacy, informed consent, service delivery, conflicts of interest, defamation of character, fraud, termination of services, training, referral and consultation as well as practitioner impairment. As such, social work code of conduct reveals numerous ethics-related hazards in work settings. However, in this case, various principles guide the actions of the social worker in order to build confidence and be seen as discharging the obligations objectively. The principles range from observing the clients rights to services delivery. Even though the principles may be looked distinctively, in some social work practices, the principles may amorphously be applied to provide solution to the ethical dilemmas social workers may face.

Ethical Analysis and Approaches

Identifying Codes, Principles and Standards

As already mentioned, the principles that apply to this case include the privacy and confidentiality, integrity, justice and the respect for the rights of the clients as well as the related people. In applying the principles, social workers must ensure that its assessments and actions do not cause subsequent harm to the clients as well as the related people such as the family members. In other words, social workers must ensure that the content of the assessments safeguard the interest of the client as well as the family members. The integrity principle requires that the social workers must observe sincerity, precision and honesty while assessing the client’s situation.

Moreover, all the concerned persons must equally benefit from the actions. Most importantly, the social workers must respect the rights of the client as well as other individuals while delivering the services. The only limiting factor is that while social workers would observe and promote the integrity, justice and rights of one individual, other individual right may be compromised. In other words, striking the right principle balance between the people affected may be difficult for the psychologist (Jayartne et al., 2007)).

During the practice, social workers should put into consideration the ethical standards that include the misuse of their work (Koocher & Keith-Spiegel, 2007). In the case, where social workers realize that one party might benefit from the decisions made, the necessary steps should be taken to correct the situation in order to avoid future conflicts. The other important ethical standard to be observed is the boundaries of competence. Social workers should perform their duties within the boundaries of his social work knowledge, practice experience, training and professionalism (Koocher & Keith-Spiegel, 2007).

Most important, before embarking on any activity, the social worker should perform assessments and make decisions based on the assessment reports. However, social workers should produce the final assessment report based on the informed consent of the client (Jayartne et al., 2007). The standard of informed consent is critical for the final decisions used for interventions as well as legal proceedings that may ensue. The informed consent standard requires that the client is involved in every step of the assessment and the social worker seek out the client’s approval (Koocher & Keith-Spiegel, 2007).

While other principles and codes may apply to this case, privacy and confidentiality should form the basis of all the intervention measures. Essentially, social workers should observe the standard of privacy and confidentiality. Moreover, social workers should establish the limits of private information and the levels of confidentiality without intrusion into the private affairs of the client and related family. Finally, the psychologist should consider the standards of assessment (Payne, 2007). Before putting down the recommendation for further interventions, social workers should thoroughly examine the client in order to have adequate information.

One of the obvious and critical approaches in resolving the issue is through the application of related ethical principle. Social workers have the duty of upholding the principles of confidentially and privacy of personal information and gauge it against the possible consequences. In fact, the social worker should perform their duties within the confines of ethical principles as contained in NASW code of ethics as well as in International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW). As such, conflicts between ethical principles that often exist in the practice settings get automatic resolutions. In the situation such as that presented in the case, independence of social workers forms the core guiding principles. In other words, social workers apply self-rule in making personal judgments as well as offering resolutions to the problems (National Association of Social Workers, 2008). Nonetheless, social workers often act to satisfy the interests of the clients without using personal biases to influence the client.

Besides, the social worker should fully understand the predicaments facing the clients. In situations where right to autonomy of the social worker is competing against right to confidentiality of the client, social workers the consequences of decisions made are often taken into consideration. For instance, in this case social workers are not allowed to reveal private information concerning the client while concealing the information may result in increased harm not only to the client but also to others. In this situation the consequences of concealing the information overweighs the right of the client since the client is part of the benefit. Essentially, whereas clients have civil liberties regarding self-determination, the social worker may be forced to act otherwise. However, in the normal social work practice, social workers are not supposed to reveal private information shared with colleagues during professional associations and contact (Stevens, 2008).

Divergence in morals and values between social workers and clients is a critical ethical issue. For instance, the NASW codes of conduct assert that social workers should have clear comprehension and respect the social diversity of clients concerning ethnicity, race, political beliefs, religion, immigration status as well as mental and physical disability (National Association of Social Workers, 2008). However, social workers often experience situations where their personal morals and beliefs conflict with the clients’ values. For example, decisions often become difficult in the circumstances where sexual abuses have to be reported by the social worker despite beliefs against such revelations by the client.

Assessment and research are critical in solving the ethical issues experienced. According to the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), the appraisal of policies as well as the utilization of initiatives is significant in the identification of knowledge gaps that deprive individuals of the civil liberties (National Association of Social Workers, 2008). In other words, social workers should continuously consult various sources of information as well as assess the ethical issue in order to find appropriate solution to the problem. Essentially, wider consultation and research should form the basis for decision-making process.

The utilization of public input in shaping up the decision making process based on the social principles is critical in averting ethical aspects since all individuals are included in the decision-making processes. Further, great attention should be paid to social actions to alleviate ethical concerns. In other words, social workers should provide equal opportunities for all clients irrespective of gender, nationality or political inclination while offering its duties. Besides, lobbying for the rejection of policies that disposes people of civil liberties is critical (Pollitt & Bouckaert, 2004).

Maintenance of high integrity levels of social work practice is significant in eliminating ethical barriers experienced in practice. In fact, policies that prohibit social workers from having relations with current and past clients as well as accepting gifts and fees for services should be tightened to get rid of such ethical concerns.

Education and training offered is also important since the social workers are provided with the necessary and current knowledge concerning practical procedures. Further, education enables social workers to identify the hazards of exploitation that arise from unethical codes of morals in work settings (Kirkpatrick, 2005). Besides, performance appraisal is also essential since the workers are capable of gauging their output levels. Further, education, intensive training and staff development remain critical in ensuring that modern knowledge in social work ethics and procedures are attained.

Identifying Theoretical Models

Applying the Consequentialism Model to Explain the Case

The theory focuses on the positive outcome of the actions. The social worker, applying the approach, should consider recommending actions that provides maximum benefits to the client (Koocher & Keith-Spiegel, 2007). In other words, the social worker should recommend actions that offer maximum quality of happiness to the client. In essence, the decisions made provide positive should benefit the client. Even though the recommendations should be in favor of the client, the extent to which such recommendations affect the related people should also be taken into consideration.

However, the social worker should be aware of the difficulties in getting the information as well as the extent of the consequences of the actions on the concerned individuals. In other words, it would not be possible for the social worker to measure the extent of the consequences of actions taken.

The model assumes that there exist competing ethical principles and conflicts normally occur between these competing principles. According to this theory, ethical dilemmas should be treated differently depending with the situation and the expected outcome (Parton & O’Byrne, 2000). As such, the social worker should provide assessment recommendations depending with the situation. Further, the theory asserts that there is no ethical principle that can be used to predict the solutions of any other ethical dilemmas (Parton & O’Byrne, 2000). Therefore, the solution to the problem will depend on the situation and the outcome of the assessments made.

The problem with this school of thought is that the psychologist may find difficulties in the situation where genuine principles conflict (Koocher & Keith-Spiegel, 2007). In essence, the social worker should not utilize the experiences from other cases to apply to this situation. The case represents a different situation and therefore the principles to be applied in this case should depend on the assessed factors. In other words, the context in this case should inform the moral principles that should be used to find the solution to the problem.

Applying Moral and Ethical Development

The principle contend that it is often imperative to evaluate the available practices and procedures that aid in identifying the risks associated with wok processes as well as avert possible moral grievances arising from legal actions. Further, contends that moral hazards engrossing damages that are anticipated should be prioritized. As such, the significant peril sectors tackled in social work should encompass client rights as contained within the moral principles. Getting the solution to the ethical dilemma builds on this moral law.

Conclusion

Confidentiality and keeping of private information is one of the key principles that have to be observed in social work practice. However, social workers are often faced with dilemma particularly in decisions in relation to disclosing critical information concerning the clients. Essentially, social workers have the duty of upholding the stated ethical principles. The duties and ethical principles are contained in NASW code of ethics as well as in International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) ethical principles. However, as indicated, conflicts between ethical principles often exist in the practice settings. In the profession and social work practice, independence of social workers forms the core guiding principles while dealing with looming dilemmas. In other words, social worker applies self-rule in making personal judgments as well as offering resolutions to the problems. Nonetheless, social workers often act to satisfy the interests of the clients without using personal biases to influence the client private information and keeping the confidentiality.

From the case, social workers offering services to illegal immigrant children are often faced with the ethical dilemma. Often, illegal immigrant children are vulnerable to sexual abuse and detection. Reporting their cases are frequently challenging due to their status of being noncitizen. In most cases, social workers working with these undocumented immigrant children find themselves in a situation where reporting sexual abuse cases may result in their detection and final deportation. Essentially, social workers have to contend with the dilemma of keeping private and confidential information concerning these children and the need to deal with legal framework of childhood sexual abuse. However, under the circumstances that the confidential information is highly necessary to prevent future problems, the information can be disclosed. Nevertheless, such release of private information must be within the precincts of core principles of social work. In addition, the anonymity of the client must be observed. In other words, even though the social workers are obligated to keep private information confidential, they can find ways through which childhood sexual abuse can be reported without causing harm to the victims.

References

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