Happy Birthday Balloons, Candle, Bear, HatsBalloons, cake, friends…who doesn’t like a party? And how many invitations to a child’s birthday party have you received?

In early intervention, we constantly walk that thin line between establishing rapport and maintaining professional boundaries with families. It is important that a collaborative, trusting relationship between family members and early interventionists is established and nurtured. This parent-provider partnership is a key element in effective coaching.

Learning to differentiate between that rapport building and professional boundaries is often challenging, especially for new providers.  You want to form a bond with the child and the family. You want to be friendly and engaging. You want to support them, especially when they are facing struggles or challenges. Let’s face it, most of us got into this line of work because we really like being good “help givers.”

On the flip side, should you be the mother’s closest friend? Should you share intimate details of your personal life? Should you run errands for the family, or fold the laundry while you are chatting OR go to the child’s birthday party?

Consider a few tips to help keep those professional boundaries “in check.”

Learn your agency’s policies related to professional boundaries.

Many agencies have policies or regulations that specifically address professional boundaries. These written guidelines may come in handy when a parent asks you to do something that feels like you are crossing that proverbial line. “I’m sorry. I’m not allowed to give you my personal cell phone number. It’s against our agency policies.”

Become familiar with the code of ethics or conduct for your discipline.

Many discipline-specific associations or boards have well defined codes of ethics or conduct. For example, the American Physical Therapy Association’s Code of Ethics states that “Physical therapists shall not accept gifts or other considerations that influence or give an appearance of influencing their professional judgment.” The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association’s Code of Ethics indicates that “Individuals shall not reveal, without authorization, any professional or personal information about identified persons served professionally.”  So the next time a parent says, “I heard you were going to start seeing my neighbor’s child, Johnny,” you can politely inform the parent that you are bound by confidentiality rules to help respect the rights of all children and families.

Access your supervisor if you need guidance.

Sometimes the decisions that early interventionists have to make are not quite so clear cut. If in doubt, talk with your supervisor about the situation.  If maintaining professional boundaries is becoming difficult with a particular family, it may be necessary to consider another provider.

Have you had a dilemma with professional boundaries? How did you manage the situation?

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