When is it appropriate to call for a welfare check?

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My client came into the office 2 days in a row, wearing the same filthy, very smelly clothes, had dirt everywhere, scalp, nails, ears. He looks like he is physically weak, slow, but mobile and drove to my office. He has a daughter about an hour away who I do not know, nor do I have her phone number. What can I do, if anything?

Answers 1 to 10 of 23
Top Answer
Shel, what kind of law does your firm practice, and what was the purpose of the visit (if you can give a general idea within the limits of protecting the confidentiality of a client)? If it's estate planning or elder law, you're within the scope of the visit to ask him about contacts and family relations, w/o breaching confidence.

If for some other reason, I think you still could ask him about the closest relatives, as it may at some time or other affect your ability to contact him w/I the scope of the work you're doing.

On another level, assuming you have contact information for him, you could call APS to do a welfare check.

However, I would absolutely, definitely make the attorneys in the office aware of the situation before doing anything so there's no issue of breach of "privileged" information.

Some law firms for which I've worked provide a lot of leeway to paralegals; others monitor them very closely. Make sure the attorneys are on board before you contact anyone outside the firm. And the man really is a client of the firm anyway.

(I'm assuming that the state bar in your state still requires attorney supervision over a paralegal's actions.)

I think wanting to get help for him is very thoughtful and considerate.
Getting the county involved can make things much worse, very quickly. Are you able to talk to your client about his situation, and come up with ideas for what would make it easier for him to have help with bathing and laundry? Is he a veteran? Many communities have homemaking services that help with bathing and laundry and cooking, and sometime it can be offered free or at a discounted rate to veterans, disabled persons, or senior citizens. Also, can you ask for his daughter's phone number and give her a call?
If it were me, I would ring my local social services team for older adults and get their advice. You don't have to name names so if you don't like the sound of what they suggest they might be able to do for this elderly gentleman there's no harm done; and depending on what they say you can always call your client and ask him if he would like you to refer him for help. In your position you do also have a duty of confidentiality to your client, so no experienced social worker would insist you provide personal details at this initial stage.

Anyway, that's what I'd do.
I would contact a local Geriatric Care Manager in your area - go to the Aging Life Care Association Website to find one who is local and ask them to start working with your client - there may be some issues in the home that make it hard to complete personal hygiene - the Geriatric Care Manager can do an assessment and let you know what is happening while providing on-going support to your client.
Is the client involved in a church? Many churches have a minister - or senior programmer that do volunteer outreach. I am one of those and minister to our pastor emeritus whose children live out of the area. Although they pay for daily help, someone needs to become the local advocate. Hard to watch, but it sounds like someone needs to do some trust building to learn more.
Absolutely, make that call!

There can be many reasons for the client to be in this state and someone needs to look into matters.
Very good of you to be concerned and want to help....go w/GardenArtist's answer...ck w/attorneys first, and see if you can find out daughter's info....I would think it would be in files, esp. if he has a will thru your firm! BLESS YOU FOR CARING!!!!
Other posters have raised an issue which I should have addressed more specifically. Attorneys, paralegals, secretaries, runners, bookkeepers, receptionists and office managers are all bound by "client privilege", which prohibits them from discussing client information. This is standard throughout law practices.

CM made a good point - any call should be "generic" w/o providing any specific name. I erred in suggesting that APS be called, although I'm not really sure that a call to a government agency on the issue of adult welfare and/or protective services would fall in the same category as releasing privileged information, since this was observational, and not something that was shared in confidentiality. And some specific governmental agencies exist for the exact purpose of intervention in welfare of adults or children.

However, calls to nongovernmental agencies, such as churches or a geriatric care manager, would I think be a breach of privilege.

That's not a criticism of any suggestions; they're all good. But attorneys and all their staff are bound by confidentiality, similar to the role of priests and probably rabbis and other religious leaders.
You will have to follow the ethical constraints of your profession and your own personal sense of what is right. We all want to be respected and have our own sense of autonomy, and so have a right to be a mess and be a waiting crisis. That said, perhaps you have a superior/boss/supervisor to consult with...did they or someone else not see him? Welfare checks usually is a term when we have the police go out and make sure all is well when we haven't heard from someone or they don't answer. In this particular case, you might want to express your concerns anonymously to Adult Protective Services...even if just to talk about it...you might be able to establish rapport with this guy, if you haven't already, convey your concerns, ask if you might be able to help. He may not want it, or his daughter's involvement, or fear being moved out of his home. If this is HIS condition, one can only guess as to what the house looks like, and one might suspect the daughter is not too involved..but you never know. Some parents are so challenging kids give it up...wait for a crisis...parents may reject their help; they may have jobs and other obligations...Wish you luck, and thank you for caring.
What is so sad right now is that at least our county social services believe that it is their choice to live that way. We are not doing right by our seniors in many ways. There are many agencies that have case managers/Social Workers who only work with seniors. You may be able to tie one of your meetings in with a Social Worker who can do an assessment and make recommendations.

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