This advice column offers opinions about the peskier aspects of working in the nonprofit sector.
Sexual relationships between clients and providers? NO!
I'm a nonprofit exec and I'd like to air a grave concern. I'm not writing to be scandalous. I'm writing because I faced a situation 15 years ago that I didn't know how to handle. I had no one to ask for advice and I didn't tell anyone about the situation, which I've always regretted.
At the time, I was 18 and working my way through school with my first quasi-professional job. I was a resident staff member at a shelter for adults with developmental delays. Our staff social worker (and my supervisor) confided in me that she had become sexually involved with a resident and was pregnant. She was in tears when she told me that she'd already confessed to her husband and had just quit her job. She said she planned to terminate the pregnancy and try to save her marriage. I was clearly and profoundly shocked. Based on my horrified reaction, it was a short conversation.
I’m ashamed to say that I did nothing about the situation. I really didn’t know what to do or who to contact. She provided no forwarding contact info and I haven't spoken with her since — nor can I find her today through the usual social channels.
Do you think illicit relationships between providers and clients are at all common? If so, perhaps your advice could help another inexperienced new professional.
Kathryn says ...
I feel your pain, friend. It's hard to look back and know you've done the wrong thing, even if it was due to inexperience or lack of training and guidance.
So, here's my advice.
First, forgive yourself. You didn't know what to do because your employer failed to properly prepare you. Being a houseparent is a difficult and demanding job and you deserved to be thoroughly trained and supported.
Moving forward, you clearly don't know where this troubled and criminal woman is or how to right the wrong from so long ago. You could go to the police, but I don't know if they'd follow up. Do check it out, though, if that seems right to you. (Of course, this is not legal advice — just my thinking on the matter.) Either way, remember that you're not 18 anymore. If this scenario ever comes up again, don’t make the same mistake again or you'll be a culpable part of the problem.
Next, never excuse the predatory actions of a provider against a vulnerable child or adult. Never. Ever. Period. Done. Should you experience a similar situation again, immediately notify both law enforcement and adult protective services in your state. This reporting is your legal and moral responsibility: you must report the abuse, or suspected abuse, of children and vulnerable adults.
If the police and/or APS fail to do their legal duty and intervene, then call the press. People like your former colleague must be outed and they must be stopped.
Illicit relationships between clients and providers are serious. They're illegal and just plain wrong. They're akin to the teacher as predator. Or the priest. Or the police officer. It's power against vulnerability. This social worker should have been reported, lost her license and been tried in court. Who cares if she saved her marriage or how she felt? She preyed on a young adult in her care, who was likely damaged forever by the experience.
Others have shared similar scenarios with me. So, unfortunately, these relationships aren't unheard of — although thankfully they're rare. Every one of us must stand up and speak out the very second we become aware of this sort of behavior. The sickening conduct of a few taints us all and certainly harms those who expect, deserve and usually receive our best, most thoughtful and ethical care.
Thanks for being brave enough to air your experience.