Social media: confidentiality and the Code of Practice

Last year we ran an article in SSSC news on using social media. We had a terrific response and you asked us to give you more information on how social service workers’ responsibilities to respect confidentiality under the Code of Practice might be relevant. SSSC Director of Fitness to Practise, Valerie Murray, provides some examples.

Just one click

Valerie Murray, SSSC Director of Fitness to Practise

Valerie Murray, SSSC Director of Fitness to Practise

Social networks, email, texting, video-sharing sites, blogging platforms: all of these help us to communicate and share information quickly and to cover a lot of ground with just one click of a mouse or button. Anything you post, tweet or text can be ‘liked’, shared, copied and pasted and be around the world web in seconds.

Even the highest privacy settings won’t prevent this, as ‘friends’ can copy and paste someone’s status update into their status bar, click to post and it’s instantly shared with a whole new set of people.

While there are lots of advantages personally and professionally, what you say online and in other ways, especially if it includes information about other people, can and does have consequences for social service workers. And it is particularly relevant that social service workers are aware of this when posting online.

Use your Code

As a social service worker, you need to make sure that you protect the confidentiality of the people you work with and respect the privacy of others. Of course, this applies to any activity and not just online.

The SSSC Code of Practice for Social Service Workers highlights this and here are just some examples from relevant parts of the Code.

SSSC Codes of Practice

1. As a social service worker, you must protect the rights and promote the interests of service users and carers.
1.4 Respecting and maintaining the dignity and privacy of service users.
2. As a social service worker, you must strive to establish and maintain the trust and confidence of service users and carers.
2.3 Respecting confidential information and clearly explaining agency policies about confidentiality to service users and carers.
3. As a social service worker, you must promote the independence of service users while protecting them as far as possible from danger or harm.
3.2 Using established processes and procedures to challenge and report dangerous, abusive, discriminatory or exploitative behaviour and practice
5. As a social service worker, you must uphold public trust and confidence in social services.

In particular you must not:

5.2 Exploit service users, carers or colleagues in any way.
5.3 Abuse the trust of service users and carers or the access you have to personal information about them or to their property, home or workplace.
5.4 Form inappropriate personal relationships with service users.
5.7 Put yourself or other people at unnecessary risk.
5.8 Behave in a way, in work or outside work, which would call into question your suitability to work in social services.
6. As a social service worker, you must be accountable for the quality of your work and take responsibility for maintaining and improving your knowledge and skills.
6.5 Working openly and cooperatively with colleagues and treating them with respect.

Things to look out for

  • If you’re an employer, do you have a policy setting out your expectations of staff in their use of social media and online activities? If you don’t already have one, you need to get one in place quickly.
  • If you’re employed as a social service worker, are you aware of your employer’s policy on social media use?
  • Liking may be a great way to show support and to highlight shared interests. Before you ‘like’ a post, image or video, ask yourself if it’s appropriate to do this publicly, as it will say something about you and your values.
  • You should not post:
    information or comments about your employer or colleagues, people who use services or carers or about work
  • Think about how you behave in public – there’s always someone, somewhere with a mobile phone taking photos or video, no matter where you are or what you’re doing, so think twice about how your actions would be perceived should you then appear on YouTube or find yourself trending on Twitter.

Remember – breaching the SSSC Code of Practice could lead to the SSSC considering whether you remain suitable for registration.

If you come across something that you think is inappropriate relating to people who use services, colleagues or your care service, online or otherwise, then report it to your manager, the employer, the Care Inspectorate, or the SSSC.

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