[T]he moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life; the sick, the needy and the handicapped.
—Last Speech of Hubert H. Humphrey
It might seem intuitive that laws created to protect the most vulnerable parties in our population should be straightforward and without complicating circumstances, but this is far from the case. There are many ethical dilemmas that may arise for psychologists regarding the unintended consequences of reporting abuse or neglect of children, elders, and residents of long-term care facilities.
Consider, for example, that you are working with a young mother in your private practice. She confides that she has been poorly and inadequately treated in several mental health agencies and she specifically sought your services in private practice because she heard you are very supportive of recovering drug addicts. She is recovering from drug abuse, wants to stay on the right path, and has come to you for help; however, she informs you that as recently as five days ago she did not have any formula or breast milk for her infant (a frequent situation in past months). If it had not been for her sister being unexpectedly home and willing to buy formula, your client has no idea what she would have done. Is this neglect? Should you report the situation and risk alienating your client from receiving your help? What about your duty to protect and do no harm to your client? Her baby? If you do not report it, are you opening yourself to charges that could potentially lead to losing your license to practice? What is the correct legal and ethical decision? Is there one? Are the legally and ethically correct responses the same or different?
This week, you consider issues related to mandated reporting laws and rules through the lens of a case study. Being knowledgeable about these policies, especially as they pertain to your state or jurisdiction, is an important and necessary component of your ethical repertoire.
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