Department for Community Based Services

Standards of Practice Online Manual

1.1 Ethical Practice

Cabinet for Health and Family Services

Department for Community Based Services
Division of Protection and Permanency
Standards of Practice Online Manual
Chapter 1-Fundamentals of Practice
1.1 Ethical Practice

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Legal Authority/Introduction


The department and its employees should recognize the vulnerability of their clients and the serious responsibilities associated with intervention.  The behavior of social service professionals should reflect the emphasis placed by the social service field on professional trustworthiness and on the values of respect for persons, client self determination, individualized intervention, competence, loyalty, diligence, honesty and confidentiality.

Social service professionals have a duty to be familiar with their responsibilities under this SOP and to consider which ethical principles apply in each practice decision.  Social service professionals should follow applicable ethical principles in each practice decision.  If there is a conflict between two or more ethical principles and/or responsibilities in a particular case, social service professionals should consult with superiors and colleagues knowledgeable about ethics issues in choosing a proper course of action.


DCBS employees:

  1. Adhere to standards of ethics, confidentiality and security agreements;
  2. Execute their responsibilities on behalf of the citizens of the Commonwealth.  As such, they do not use their positions for personal gain or influence; 
  3. Strive to improve the quality and efficiency of services rendered by Kentucky state government;
  4. Are honest, objective and diligent in the performance of their duties and responsibilities;
  5. Avoid participation in any activity they know to be illegal or improper activity; 
  6. Are continually aware of the public trust they hold and their obligation to maintain a high standard of competence and dignity in the performance of their duties;
  7. Do not enter into any activity which may be in conflict with the interest of the citizens of Kentucky; 
  8. Refrain from entering into any activity which may prejudice (or give the appearance of such) their ability to objectively perform their duties and responsibilities;
  9. Do not solicit or accept directly or indirectly, any gift, gratuity, favor or other economic consideration from any person, group, private business or public agency which may affect the impartial performance of the employee’s duties; nor do members of their immediate families;
  10. Are prudent in the disclosure or use of information acquired in the course of their duties; 
  11. Shall not disclose information that may infringe upon another’s right to privacy; 
  12. Shall not use confidential information for any personal gain nor in a manner which may be detrimental to the welfare of the citizens of the commonwealth;
  13. Do not use state resources, including time, facilities, equipment, supplies or uniforms for private benefit or advantage; 
  14. Shall secure prior approval of their Cabinet’s management before using state time, facilities, equipment, supplies or uniforms for community projects;
  15. Strive for improvement in the proficiency and effectiveness of the service and products they deliver.

Protection and permanency professionals:

  1. Treat all parties to the case with respect, honestly, fairness and cooperation;
  2. Thoroughly familiarize themselves with the background of the case involved;
  3. Carry out their professional responsibilities with integrity, treating those with whom they have professional relationships in a dignified, respectful, honest and fair manner;
  4. Provide services only within the boundaries of their competence based on their education, training, supervised experience and professional experience;
  5. Act in the best interest of those toward whom they have professional responsibilities; 
  6. Promote the welfare of those toward whom they have professional responsibilities; 
  7. Avoid harming those toward whom they have professional responsibilities;
  8. Minimize harm when it is unavoidable;
  9. Act to prevent discriminatory behavior based on age, gender, race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability, socioeconomic status or any basis proscribed by law;
  10. Seek and obtain the supervision and training necessary to ensure that intervention is unbiased, competent and culturally appropriate; particularly when personal or cultural differences could significantly affect the service provided to a particular individual or groups;
  11. Act to prevent sexual harassment;
  12. Avoid any conduct that would lead a reasonable person to conclude that the social service professional might be biased or motivated by personal or private interest in the performance of duties;
  13. Avoid, whenever feasible, professional relationships when a pre-existing non-professional relationship is present;
  14. Discuss past, existing and potential multiple relationships with their appropriate superiors and resolve them in a manner which avoids harming and/or exploiting affected persons;
  15. Refrain from allowing their private interests or official position, whether personal, financial or of any other sort, to conflict or appear to conflict with their professional duties and responsibilities.  Any conduct that would lead a reasonable person to conclude that the social service professional might be biased or motivated by personal gain or private interest in the performance of duties should be avoided;
  16. Avoid professional matters where they have a private financial or personal interest.  If a situation arises where such a conflict may exist, social service professionals should consult with an appropriate superior and take steps to eliminate any potential or real conflict;
  17. Avoid all conduct which might in any way lead members of the general public to conclude that he is using his official position to further his professional or private interest;
  18. Avoid performing professional activities when they know or should know that personal problems, mental health problems or substance abuse could impede professional judgment and performance.  When such problems could interfere with performance, social service professionals should consider obtaining appropriate professional help and determine, along with their appropriate superior, whether they should limit, suspend or terminate their professional duties;
  19. Document, accurately and truthfully, their professional work according to agency policy and/or legal requirements in order to ensure accountability and continuity in the provision of services to clients;
  20. Ensure that all clients, whatever their age, have the opportunity to make self determined choices according to their level of understanding and decision making capacity;1
  21. Inform clients as soon as feasible and in language that is understandable about the nature of the professional relationship, the nature of the professional intervention, the professional’s delegated authority and the limits of that authority, which decisions the client can make and which decisions the social service professional will make;
  22. Inform clients of the role of the court, if any, and of their legal and procedural rights;
  23. Ensure that their clients have the opportunity to make self determined choices from among the options available to them free from external coercion;
  24. Ensure that their clients have available to them all of the information necessary to make self determined decisions;2
  25. Ensure that psychological constraints to self determined decision making are addressed and, if possible, eliminated or reduced so that self determination is enhanced;
  26. Familiarize themselves with all relevant confidentiality requirements and limitations found in federal and state laws and agency rules that apply to the social service field;
  27. Do not engage in sexual activities with current clients, former clients, foster parents, relatives of these individuals or with other individuals with whom clients maintain relationships; and they do not accept as clients individuals with whom they have had a prior sexual relationship;3
  28. Facilitate the transfer or termination of case services by providing prompt notice of the change, appropriate case counseling or other necessary steps to minimize the interruption of service or abrupt termination of service to the client;
  29. Act with integrity in their relationships with their colleagues, treating them with respect, honesty and fairness and accepting their right to hold values and beliefs that differ from their own;
  30. Cooperate with colleagues in order to serve the best interests of their clients effectively and efficiently;
  31. Accurately represent the views and qualifications of colleagues;
  32. Extend to colleagues of other agencies the same respect, honesty, fairness and cooperation that is extended to colleagues in their own agencies;
  33. Extend to members of other professions the same respect, honesty, fairness and cooperation that is extended to social service professionals;
  34. Testify honestly in court; 
  35. Apprise the court of all relevant facts in the case, both positive and negative, of which they are aware;
  36. Advise the court if they come to know of the falsehood of prior testimony given in a social service proceeding;
  37. Take appropriate action against any unethical conduct they observe in court;
  38. Treat foster parents with respect, fairness, honesty and cooperation.

Supervisors and leadership:

  1. Establish procedures that promote ethical behavior and hold individuals and organizations accountable for their conduct;
  2. Provide a work environment which encourages ethical behavior;
  3. Treat each client, colleague and employee with respect;
  4. Adhere to ethical standards in their interactions with clients, supervisees and other members of leadership;
  5. Maintain truthfulness and honesty and not compromise them for advancement, recognition or personal gain;
  6. Enhance organizational capacity for open communication, creativity, efficiency and dedication;
  7. Accept responsibility for their own decisions and the consequences of those decisions.  They also have a high level of responsibility for decisions made by their supervisees and should accept appropriate responsibility for those decisions;
  8. Communicate, explain and apply legislation, agency policies and administrative decisions necessary for them and for their supervisees to perform their work competently;
  9. Act as advocates for their supervisees by apprising upper management of problems, which impede or prevent them from efficiently and effectively performing their duties.  They should also suggest appropriate changes in policy and procedure;
  10. Provide necessary training and guidance when supervisees’ personal or cultural differences could result in biased or discriminatory professional intervention with a particular individual or groups;
  11. Consult with supervisees and help with remedial action if they have knowledge of the supervisees’ impairment due to personal problems, mental health problems or substance abuse;
  12. Evaluate supervisees fairly and objectively on clearly stated criteria, sharing opinions about the supervisees’ performance in an ongoing manner;
  13. Take appropriate steps to terminate employment of supervisees who are not competent and are not likely to become competent;
  14. Respond to the public in ways that are complete, truthful, clear and easy to understand;
  15. Prevent all forms of mismanagement of public funds by establishing and maintaining strong fiscal and management controls, and by supporting audits and investigative activities;
  16. Conduct official acts without partisanship;
  17. Provide organization members with a working environment which permits frank discussion and criticism of agency operations and with an administrative means for dissent, assurance of due process and safeguards against reprisal;
  18. Promote organizational accountability through appropriate controls and procedures;
  19. Maintain a high level of competence and provide support to upgrade competence throughout the organization.

Practice Guidance

Social service professionals:

  • Should be aware of current professional information and take advantage of continuing professional education in order to maintain a high level of competence;
  • Should have an awareness of their responsibilities to clients.  Clients may be children, adults or families receiving a professional intervention and/or social services from CHFS or through an agency with which CHFS has purchase of service contracts.  The first responsibility of the social service professional is to the client; however, the specific nature of that responsibility differs depending on whether the client is a child, an adult or a family member;
  • Who observe an ethical violation by a colleague should bring the issue to the attention of the colleague if an informal resolution appears appropriate. If the issue cannot be informally resolved, social service professionals should refer it to appropriate superiors;
  • Should take into consideration the potential harm that intimate, social or other non-professional contacts and relationships with clients, family members, foster parents, colleagues and supervisors could have on their professional objective judgment and performance; 
  • Who are also foster/adoptive parents should disclose and have ongoing discussions regarding these dual roles with their appropriate superior in order to prevent conflicts of interest, abuse of power or the suggestion of impropriety in carrying out professional activities.

Related Information

  • The department’s ethical guidelines were adapted from guidelines issued by the Panel on Governmental Ethics and Conflicts of Interest and the Illinois Department for Children and Family Services (DCFS) Child Welfare Code of Ethics. 
  • This code also incorporates KRS 11A.020 and the National Association of Social Worker’s (NASW) Code of Ethics (R.1999) as it relates to the work provided by employees of the Division for Protection and Permanency (DPP).


  1. Client self determination refers to the client’s right to make self determined choices and to freely act upon those choices without undue influence or coercion.  It also refers to the client’s right to receive information necessary to make a self determined choice.  Social service professionals should evaluate the decision making capacity of all clients and re-evaluate it appropriately as circumstances change.  The mandated nature of the many social service professional/client relationship limits the options available to clients, but does not eliminate their right to self  determination. 
  2. Informed consent emanates from the principle of client self determination.  It promotes decision making by the client after complete and accurate information regarding the nature of the intervention and the possible consequences of that intervention have been fully discussed by the professional and the client.  Social service professionals have the responsibility to engage in this process with mandated clients who have not chosen to become clients but who have options to consider and decisions to make within the framework of a mandated intervention. Social service professionals should seek assent for intervention from clients who are not capable of giving an informed consent, giving due consideration to the clients’ preferences in pursuing their best interests.
  3. Social service professionals are in inherently unequal relationships with clients creating the potential for abuse of power.  In mandated relationships there is a special potential for harm and exploitation of vulnerable clients by social service professionals. Social service workers who leave the field continue to have the responsibility of considering the potential for exploitation and harm in relationships with former clients.


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