Social Work Boundary Issues in the Digital Age

Reflections of an Ethics Expert


  • Frederic Reamer Rhode Island College



dual relationships, ethics, technology, values, professional boundaries


Throughout social work’s history, practitioners have faced challenging boundary issues. Boundary issues occur when social workers encounter actual or potential conflicts between their professional duties and their social, sexual, religious, collegial, or business relationships. Today's social workers face a wide range of boundary challenges that are unprecedented because of practitioners’ and clients’ widespread use of digital and other forms of internet-enabled technologies. This article presents a typology of boundary-related challenges arising out of social workers’ and clients' use of technology; reviews and applies emerging ethical and practice standards; and discusses risk-management protocols designed to protect clients and social workers. The author offers practical recommendations to protect clients and practitioners, including compliance with state-of-the-art ethics standards related to technology use and development of a comprehensive social media policy.


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