Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Information: To Share or Not to Share?

I apologize for taking a detour in my study of the recommendations of the PEW Commission, but something has come to my attention...

Two Very Divergent Responses to Sharing Information

1.) Social workers forbidden to share information about the agency where they work.

The New York Administration for Children's Services has just released an Internet Acceptable Use Agreement, dated April 19, 2006.

According to the ACS's Internal Use Agreement:
"City employees must not publicly disclose internal information that many have any negative affect on the City's image."

Anything that a social worker hears, sees or reads in that agency is now regarded as top-secret. Even on their own time and on their own computers, they run the risk of disciplinary action if they share what's really happening.

A different tack might have been:
- To try to promote accountability for the agency.
- To shed light on problems.
- To admit and learn from mistakes (it's called accountability).
- To combat bad press by sharing positive outcomes.

This top-down, fear-motivated approach is designed to effectively shut down communication with "the outside."

2.) Agencies working together to share information about foster parents.

As New York ACS institutes its virtual "gag order," Ohio social work agencies are working together to share information more freely between agencies.

In many ways, this can be a very good thing.

The one thing that makes this issue complex is that there are three categories of allegations that can be made against foster families:


When foster parents undergo training, one of the first things that they are told is to expect an allegation to be made against them. It's part of the risk of being a foster parent.

I can see this from both points of view. As a child advocate, my first concern is for the children. They've been through enough already, and do not need to be exposed to additional harm.

However, what about well-meaning, hard-working, innocent foster parents? Should they be forever blacklisted without some form of proof?

It seems wise, in my opinion, to treat allegations differently, based on what category they fall into. However, if a foster family has a series of unsubstiated allegations for the same thing, especially if they come from different foster children, that would be cause for concern.

Seasoned, experienced social workers can differentiate between the different types of allegations. But the field of social work has a high turnover rate.

Let's say that a trainee makes a bad call about blacklisting a foster family. Will that poor choice ever be recognized and rectified by the agency? Or, will they just seek to avoid liability and rationalize that decision?

The troubling message that is sent by these two very different approaches is that:

While social work agencies might have the right to privacy, foster parents do not.

Foster families who have a grievance against an agency have limited options available:

- They can appeal the decision.
- They can file a grievance against the agency.
- Other than that, their only recourse is to transfer to another agency.

So, for example, if Agency A makes a bad call, their libel of that foster family would hypothetically be shared with Agency B. Assuming that this foster family is innocent, what can the foster family do in their own defense?

Not much. They can't file charges for libel. Why? Because the agency has immunity.

Now, that's troubling.

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Hi, Lisa
Thanks for visiting and commenting on my blog. Sorry it's taken me so long to get over here and read/comment - I've been very busy. Your blog is very good! You've obviously done lots of research, and with your personal experience w/ the system, you really do a great job touching on the important things... your blog gives alot of food for thought. Keep up the good work, I'll be back soon!
If you don't mind, I'd like to add you to my blogroll. :)
I don't mind at all.

Thank you for the compliment!
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