By Alison Laurio
Will Francis, LMSW, said he “saw the writing on the wall” after new laws were implemented in Texas and took action to inform NASW Texas Chapter members about how to stay safe while doing their jobs.
Freedom of Social Work: How the First Amendment Supports Safe Spaces — Francis’ presentation at the state conference — is an informational showcase of what social workers should do and should not do to legally protect themselves and their clients during these current political times.
Francis said he has seen an erosion of safe spaces that allow people to talk about some current issues over the last couple of years, and he knew the chapter needed to provide a “heads-up” to make sure social workers have the right tools. For example, if a client asks a particular question, the social worker needs to know what not to say.
“It’s about where people have safe spaces to talk about issues; it’s 100 percent about that,” he said.
“I had a bunch of people reach out — from private practices, schools, clinics, all settings — saying, “‘I’m afraid [of] what to do with a client.’ The more I heard, the more I knew I had to do something.”
Laws recently passed or those Francis anticipates coming in the next state legislative session are or will be about abortion and gender-affirming care, he said.
Francis worked with Thomas S. Leatherbury, director of the Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law’s First Amendment Clinic and adjunct clinical law professor, to gather information about case laws and case law histories.
“My goal is to provide social workers with the confidence that they have the laws and HIPAA and Code of Ethics (to defend themselves) against any person who says, ‘You have to’ or ‘You can’t’ talk to a client about that,” he said.
“It’s an important connection when you engage with a client and you listen and respond. If social workers can’t talk, that goes away.”
Licenses and the work itself could be at risk if a civil situation or criminal situation is brought up, he said, and the First Amendment, the Code of Ethics and HIPAA all are about areas that impact practice.
“That the work itself could lead to an impact on their career, that’s what they’re afraid of,” Francis said. “Our advice is to get educated about what your rights are. You know how HIPAA works. The Code of Ethics is bigger than NASW; it’s the foundation of social work. People need to write them into policies.”
Our professional Code of Ethics is foundational to what we do, he said.
“It can work as a form of protection that can help you focus on how to respond to what is brought to you. The more you use, the more you can use as a defense later. What I’m talking about is a defense to social work.”