Texas social workers are criticizing a state regulatory board’s decision this week to remove protections for LGBTQ clients and clients with disabilities who seek social work services.
The Texas State Board of Social Work Examiners voted unanimously Monday to change a section of its code of conduct that establishes when a social worker may refuse to serve someone. The code will no longer prohibit social workers from turning away clients on the basis of disability, sexual orientation or gender identity.
Gov. Greg Abbott’s office recommended the change, board members said, because the code’s nondiscrimination protections went beyond protections laid out in the state law that governs how and when the state may discipline social workers.
And while removing this language does not allow a social worker to discriminate based on other state and federal statutes, especially in the area of disability, it could send the erroneous message that this is allowed. This might deter a client from coming in for services, or cause a social worker to withhold a service they are ethically obligated to provide.
The National Association of Social Workers criticized the board’s decision to follow the governor’s recommendation rather than seek public comment.
Will Francis, director of the association’s Texas chapter, told the board during public comments that their decision was “incredibly disheartening.”
Francis said the board's decision creates the impression that people with disabilities can be discriminated against despite federal rules that are in place to protect them.
“It’s disturbing, even if it’s unintentional,” Francis said. “They created space for people to get the impression that this is allowed now. What the governor has done is put people with disabilities at risk for discrimination for no reason.”
Overall, Texas is a bad place for people with autism and other disabilities. In 2017, the latest year for which comprehensive data are available, ANCOR and United Cerebral Palsy found that Texas had the largest HCBS waiting list and also saw the most growth; 21,538 more Texans with disabilities in 2017 were awaiting support than in 2016.