CYC-Online 79 AUGUST 2005
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The training and development professional's ethical responsibilities to clients

Dale Curry

This is the third of a series of articles focusing on ethics in child and youth care worker training and development. The first two articles provided an introduction to the National Staff Development and Training Association's Code of Ethics for Training and Development Professionals and discussion regarding core values and principles. The full document can be retrieved from the NSDTA website (

This article will provide standards from the NSDTA Code emphasizing the human service recipient/user, the participant/learner, and the employer or sponsor. Each standard will be followed by an example of compliance and non-compliance. The illustrations are intended to promote understanding of the standards. However, they are not intended to be absolute. Although all of the examples in this article do not specifically mention child and youth care worker trainers, the implications are very relevant to child and youth care worker training and development activities.

Training and development professionals often simultaneously serve multiple clients (e.g., human service recipients, training participants, supervisors of training participants, program sponsors, etc.). In addition to multiple clients, professional roles may blend. For example, a worker’s supervisor may also be the trainer. The training and development professional must clarify roles and responsibilities to all relevant parties and discuss potential possibilities of conflicting loyalties.

Human Service Recipient Focused Standards
Although the primary activities of human services training and development professionals are typically directed to those who serve individuals and families and others who work in organizations to support service delivery, the ultimate goal of all human services training and development activities is to promote the well-being of persons who receive human services (children, youth, adults, and families).

Training and development professionals advocate for the well-being of human service recipients.

Compliance Example – A curriculum designer organizes each content area in such a way that it provides reminders to trainers that the ultimate goal of staff training is improved client well-being outcomes. Each worker learning objective is logically connected to client well-being outcomes.

Noncompliance Example – A training participant provides an example of how her organization's client visitation procedures interfere with family reunification. However, due to strict adherence to a standardized curriculum (and its time restraints), the trainer fails to provide any discussion time regarding the procedures. The trainer also does not follow up with the participant or organization after the training.

Training and development professionals preserve and promote the dignity of clients discussed in training and development activities.

Compliance Example – A foster caregiver trainer involves the parents of a former “child in placement” as a presenter to help foster parents better understand the need for maintaining ties with birth parents.

Noncompliance Example – In order to provide “humor” during the training, the trainer repeatedly uses nicknames when referring to clients (e.g., “frequent fliers” for youth who have runaway and “Klingons” for those with difficulties with interpersonal space).

The confidentiality of clients is maintained during training and development activities.

Compliance Example – Prior to the start of a training review (booster shot) session emphasizing the application of learning, the trainer reminds participants to disguise case situations sufficiently to maintain client confidentiality.

Noncompliance Example – A trainer uses a brief clip from a video-tape of a counseling session to illustrate an interview technique. The trainer previously obtained written permission from the client to use the video for supervision purposes only.

Training and development professionals provide training and development activities that help human services workers better understand and promote the well-being of human services recipients.

Compliance Example – A trainer providing training on behavior management to child and youth care workers emphasizes the importance of understanding behavior as an expression of the needs of children/youth. After a participant labels a child in his/her care as a “bad seed,” the trainer helps the participant recognize how the behavior is an expression of a basic or developmental need. In addition to reframing the problem from the child/youth being a “bad seed” to a normal expression of need, the trainer also helps the participant to learn ways to teach the child/youth to meet his/her needs in socially acceptable ways.

Noncompliance Example – Concerned about having a confrontation with a group of child and youth care workers in training, a trainer permits several participants in the group to label children and youth in negative ways such as referring to them as “sick.” The trainer continues with the standardized training content and does not attempt to change the learner’s perception of the children/youth.

Participant/Learner Focused Standards
The dignity and worth of all program participants/learners are recognized, protected, and where possible, enhanced.

Compliance Example – A social worker aide trainer makes a point of mentioning during training the important role that aides have in promoting client progress.

Noncompliance Example – A trainer of independent living assistants repeatedly states during the training that she will try to make the training content less complex since many of the learners do not have college degrees.

Expectations are clarified regarding: (1) the training and development program’s goals, (2) the roles of those involved in the training and development activities (e.g., trainer, supervisor, learner, and program sponsor), (3) the rules/policies affecting the learner (e.g., attendance policy, expectations for application of learning on-the-job, and policies regarding confidentiality of information shared during training), and (4) interpersonal behavior such as how to respectfully disagree with others.

Compliance Example – Prior to attending training with a child welfare regional training center, new employees receive a letter from the training center director welcoming them to the field of child welfare and providing key information regarding the training program’s goals, the roles of those involved in the program, and the policies of the training program, including expectations before, during, and after training. The new employees are also invited to attend a pre-training learning readiness seminar that provides additional information regarding the program and information on how to maximize their learning during training.

Noncompliance Example – Participants are selected by their supervisors to attend a workshop titled “Professional Development.” They receive no additional information regarding the training. Many of the participants are surprised when the trainer requests that the participants openly discuss with the training group all personal experiences with intimate violence including sexual abuse, rape, and physical assault. In addition, the trainer gives no assurance of confidentiality of the discussion. The participants express concern and confusion regarding the trainer’s request. However, the trainer just emphasizes the importance of self-awareness and professional use of self.

All reasonable efforts are taken to promote participant physical and emotional safety. When training and development activities present a risk to the physical and/or emotional safety to the participants (e.g., learning how to physically restrain a youth when (s)he is a attempting to harm oneself or others), the training and development professional should consider the potential gain of learning and development with the potential for discomfort or harm to the participant. Alternative learning activities should be considered.

Compliance Example – A trainer of domestic violence has found that this topic is often difficult for many participants, especially those who have had personal experiences as victims of domestic violence. When training this topic the trainer provides descriptive information regarding the content of the training in all pre-training advertisements/advance notices. At the beginning of each training session, the trainer ensures that everyone is informed of the upcoming content and knows that they are able to leave the room if necessary. A trainer assistant is also available during the training to help participants who may need to talk about their experiences.

Noncompliance Example – A trainer of child maltreatment reporting laws shows community professionals a video on child abuse indicators. The trainer does not consider the potential emotional reactions of the participants and fails to warn the participants of the graphic nature of the video. After showing the video, the trainer suddenly ends the session after providing a brief discussion on the technical components of physical abuse indicators and implications for reporting. The participants are not encouraged to discuss their feelings about the video.

When there is a potential risk of participant harm or discomfort, the participant should be made aware of the risk and potential for learning and given the opportunity to participate or not participate.

Compliance Example – In a simulation/experientially-based training regarding children who have been abused, the participants are permitted to choose the role they will experience. The roles are clearly defined so that participants can avoid roles that might be difficult or uncomfortable. Participants who choose not to experience any role are given another learning assignment that supports the same learning objectives as the simulation. Training assistants are available to “step into” roles that participants do not fill.

Noncompliance Example – A public child protective services agency makes sexual abuse training mandatory for all staff. A supervisor sends a student intern to the training but fails to prepare the student for the intense nature of the subject matter. The student, who recently experienced a sexual assault, grows more and more emotionally upset during the training. However, not wanting to challenge the supervisor or agency policy, the student remains in the training.

When training content areas that have a high likelihood of causing emotional reactions, the training and development professional should have a plan on how to handle reactions that will support the participant experiencing the reaction without distracting the other participants from their learning process.

Compliance Example – A training manager ensures that sufficient staff development personnel are available to observe for any participants who appear to be experiencing undue emotional discomfort during a session on domestic violence. The domestic violence trainer is aware that the staff development personnel may approach a seemingly distressed participant and provide a supportive reminder that she may take a break from the training at any time if the training becomes too emotionally intense for her.

Noncompliance Example – A training participant who recently experienced a death of a close family member, bursts into tears during training on separation and loss. Concerned about the participant, the trainer stops the training and counsels the participant for 75 minutes.

Training and development professionals attempt to promote a climate of trust and mutual respect in training and development activities so that participants feel supported enough to take risks to promote their learning and development.

Compliance Example – A curriculum designer of child and youth care worker training carefully sequences activities that require demonstration of skills by the participants. Skills that the participants can easily accomplish are planned before more difficult tasks. When newly learned skills are expected to be performed, the participants are provided “cue cards.” The curriculum also suggests verbal prompts by the trainer/coaches if needed by the participants to successfully perform the skill. Throughout the curriculum, the trainer is reminded to model appropriate risk-taking and provide ample support for the participants.

Noncompliance Example – After viewing a video-tape of participants from a previous training group attempting to perform client engagement skills, the training participants are told that they will also be video-taped. The trainer then critiques (overemphasizing the mistakes) the performances on tape from the previous training group.

Training and development professionals have the responsibility to promote participant acquisition of knowledge and skills as well as participant self-awareness and self-development.

Compliance Example – A social worker trainer emphasizes the importance of self-awareness and self-development throughout a six-week sexual abuse interviewing skill-building training. The trainer carefully monitors participant progress with ongoing embedded methods of assessment during the training. Differences in learning (pre to post training) are communicated to each participant via post-training individual feedback sessions with the trainer.

Noncompliance Example – A trainer provides a “canned” training on sexual abuse interviewing that she provides to various groups around the country. The trainer makes no attempt to adapt the training to the individual needs of the training group. In addition, the trainer makes no attempt to assess the learning (increase in knowledge, skill, self-awareness or change of attitude) of the participants. The trainer emphasizes the importance of the content rather than the learner.

Training and development professionals help participants plan for application of learning to the job.

Compliance Example – In order to promote transfer of learning, a child and youth care worker training center regularly uses an “idea catcher” at the beginning, middle, and end of every training workshop. Trainers introduce the idea catcher form and the importance of action planning at the beginning of the workshop and ask participants to write down new ideas that they learned in training. Throughout the training, the trainer periodically stops the training and directs the participants to the idea catcher to add ideas. Near the end of training, the trainer asks the participants to develop a more formal action plan from the ideas on the idea catcher. Before the close of the training day, the trainer asks for participants to voluntarily give examples of objectives that they have included on their action plan for others to hear. One week following the training, the trainer sends a reminder to the participants to implement their action plan objectives. Three months after the training, the training center evaluator sends a brief postcard evaluation form asking the participants to assess their accomplishment of their action plan objectives.

Noncompliance Example – A trainer who almost always receives high evaluation scores on reaction evaluation administered immediately following training, does not feel that planning for application is her responsibility. The trainer tells the participants that she does not like to use “bureaucratic action plan forms.” She adds that she is required to give the participants the forms, and does so at the end of training without any instruction as to how they are to be used.

Program participants are provided an opportunity to provide feedback regarding the training and development activities they receive. Training and development professionals should provide clear guidelines on procedures for providing feedback/evaluation.

Compliance Example – A state training program develops written guidelines regarding the process of ongoing evaluation of training by the participants after each training session. The evaluation guidelines are provided to all training program personnel and training participants.

Noncompliance Example – Since a standardized training curriculum is mandated for all new child welfare caseworkers, a training program manager decides that participant feedback will not affect training delivery and does not administer training evaluation/feedback questionnaires to the training participants.

Interested participants are admitted to programs without discrimination as to race, gender, age, disability, sexual orientation, religion or national origin.

Compliance Example – A staff development administrator quarterly reviews training attendance records. Part of her review includes a comparison of the entire training population with those who attended during the quarter. A comparison of the percentage of those who attended relative to the entire training population is conducted on known demographic variables such as gender, race, and age. Proportional discrepancies are monitored closely and a plan developed to eliminate any inequities.

Noncompliance Example – A statewide child welfare leadership development program admits 2% more females than males to the program which is considered a stepping stone to future promotions. However, the number of direct service females is 85% of the workforce compared to only 15% of males.

When using “deception” (withholding information from participants or providing misleading information to participants) for strategic teaching purposes (e.g., the surprise effect), the training and development professional must “undo” the deception by providing correct information at the conclusion of the activity. The benefits of the deceptive activity should be assessed relative to the potential loss of trust and/or discomfort of the participants.

Compliance Example – A trainer attempting to illustrate the power of nonverbal communication conducts an exercise that verbally tells the participants to do one thing and nonverbally tells them to do another (e.g., the trainer asks the participants to make a circle with their forefingers and thumbs and place it on their chins while at the same time the trainer demonstrates placing the circle on her cheek). After the participants experience the “ah hah” effect, the trainer explains that she provided both a verbal and nonverbal instruction, continues processing the learning points and apologizes for “tricking” the participants.

Noncompliance Example – A trainer, attempting to help the participants understand the concept of “start where the client is,” arranges for someone to interrupt the session and give her a note. The trainer pretends to read the note and states the following to the group. “There has just been a bad car accident in the parking lot and someone’s car was just badly damaged. It’s likely that the car belongs to someone in the room. However, let’s go on with the training and find out more information during the break in 20 minutes.” The trainer was unaware that the week before the training, there was a car accident at the training and one of the participant’s car was significantly damaged. A reasonable assessment of the potential for participant discomfort and loss of trust was not assessed by the trainer.

Expectations regarding the confidentiality, as well as limits of confidentiality, of information shared during training and development activities should by clarified prior to and/or at the beginning of those activities. If information will be shared with others (e.g., Participant knowledge test scores shared with the participant’s supervisor/employer), the participant should be informed.

Compliance Example – A regional training center provides a training orientation packet to all new training participants that clarifies the training program’s goals, the roles of those involved with the program and the program’s policies including a policy on confidentiality of information obtained during training. Since information occurring during training is generally not shared with other personnel (e.g., a participant’s supervisor), a newly mandated employee certification process that requires post-test training scores be reported to the employees supervisors conflicts with the policy stated in the orientation packet. The training center amends the orientation packet and notifies all program participants of the change prior to attending the affected training. In addition, participants attending training affected by the new certification process are verbally reminded of the new program policy at the beginning of the training.

Noncompliance Example – A foster parent trainer, unaware of the training program’s policies regarding confidentiality overhears one of the foster parents during a break state that she violates the agency’s corporal punishment policy to maintain discipline in her house. The trainer pretends that she did not hear the conversation and continues with the training after break. The trainer does not discuss the violation of agency policy with anyone.

Employer or Sponsor Focused Standards
Prior to the initiation of training and development activities, expectations should be clarified with the employer/sponsor regarding: (1) the training and development program’s goals (e.g., the type of training need addressed), (2) the roles of those involved in the training and development activities (e.g., trainer, supervisor, learner, and program sponsor), (3) the rules/policies affecting the learner and others involved in the learning and transfer process (e.g., attendance policy, expectations for application of learning on-the-job, and policies regarding confidentiality of information shared during training), and (4) interpersonal behavior such as how to respectfully disagree with others.

Compliance Example – Prior to signing a training contract, an independent training consultant arranges a meeting with training program and key agency personnel to discuss how the planned training would meet a training need. In addition, the specific goals of the training are delineated as well as the roles of those involved in the training. A specific plan for promoting transfer of learning is developed and the training program’s policies are reviewed.

Noncompliance Example – A training consultant is asked to conduct a seminar on teen suicide for the “typical” trainer fee. The trainer asks “where and when” and commits to providing the training without further discussion.

Training and development professionals should strive to adhere to commitments made to employers or sponsoring organizations. However, professionals should not permit employers or sponsoring organization to interfere with ethical obligations.

Compliance Example – A training and development department is told to provide training on a new practice area that the agency has not yet developed specific policies and no one in the agency has expertise in the new practice area. However, due to a court order, the agency must have the training completed within three months. Personnel from the training and development department recognize that they do not have the expertise to offer this training. In addition, they recognize that certain policy decisions must be made prior to conducting training. The training and development director decides to go outside the agency and contact national experts on the topic. The national experts present the agency administration a proposed plan on an appropriate training curriculum. Prior to training the curriculum, the national experts provide consultation on potential policy changes. The administration makes a plan for appropriate policy changes and the changes are incorporated into the planned training. The curriculum is trained by the national experts with the approval and support of the agency’s administration.

Noncompliance Example – An administrator of a social service agency does not agree with a “best practice” standard established by the profession and incorporated into federal law. The training and development department is ordered not to discuss this practice in training. The trainers do not agree with the agency administrator’s directive, but agree to not discuss the practice.

The above standards build upon and further delineate the core values and principles discussed in the previous two articles. For example, the standard that says when training and development activities present a risk to the physical and/or emotional safety to participants, the training and development professional should consider the potential gain of learning and development with the potential for discomfort or harm to the participant, is derived from the two core values that pertain to (1) beneficience and non-maleficience and (2) learning, development, self-awareness and self-actualization. Adhering to this standard involves a conscious determination by the training and development professional that considers both core values. This deliberative process might involve the following questions:

  1. How crucial is the learning point?
  2. How much risk to the learner is involved?
  3. Can I achieve the same degree of learning (or at least sufficient learning) with a less threatening strategy?
  4. When training crucial but learner-risky learning areas, what safeguards can I provide for the learner?
  5. How can learning strategies/activities be adapted to move toward the lower-right cell in table 1 (high learning but low risk to the learner)?

Table 1
Examples of Training Activities that Involve Different Levels of Potential for Learning and Potential for Harm

Low Learning Potential High Learning Potential
High risk Requiring learners to attend sensitivity training emphasizing emotional issues that are not perceived to be relevant to child and youth care work and facilitated by trainers without child and youth care experience Practicing physical crisis intervention techniques with “life-like” simulations
Low risk Listening to a long lecture on information that is not perceived to be relevant to practice after working the night shift Observing a skilled practitioner performing a task that is a high training need for the learner
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