March THE CODE OF CONDUCT AND PRACTICE Standards for Hotline Counselors

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1 March THE CODE OF CONDUCT AND PRACTICE Standards for Hotline Counselors Developed by Faith Nassozi Kyateka for Communication for Development Foundation Uganda and Health Communication Partnership 1

2 Introduction Communication for Development Foundation Uganda (CDFU) with technical support from Health Communication Partnership (HCP) is operating a toll free hotline providing telephone counseling, information and referral to callers in the areas of HIV/AIDS, Family Planning, Gender Based Violence and alcohol abuse. This hotline is available from 8am-5pm, Monday to Friday. Given the very nature of this service, the central actors in the provision of this service are the counselors who receive calls and respond to the problems and needs of clients. The work of the hotline counselors is laden with significant professional and ethical challenges and dilemmas which if not well handled can lead to frustration and disempowerment on the side of both the counselors and the clients. HCP and CDFU are committed to ensuring that the critical role of counselors is discharged in a manner that guarantees the highest possible standard of ethical and professional conduct. It is against this background that this Code of Conduct for hotline Counselors has been developed. PURPOSE AND OBJECTIVES OF THE CODE OF CONDUCT The overarching purpose of this code of conduct is to ensure that hotline counselors offer services that meet the highest possible professional and ethical standards and adhere to sound practice principles. Specifically, this code of Conduct is geared at ensuring that; 1. There is a standardized approach, and uniformity in service provision to all hotline clients. 2. The general principles that guide professional code of conduct for hotline counselors are uniformly understood as a basis for judicious appraisal of conduct 3. In their day to day work, Counselors are supported to deal with and resolve ethical dilemmas that they may encounter. 4. Stipulate the guidelines of dealing with counselors whose practice may be contrary to the set standards. The hotline counselor s code of conduct is in line with; The Counselors Code of Ethics Uganda Counselors Association (2009)

3 Communication for Development Foundation- Employee Handbook JHU/CCP Uganda -Human Resource Policies and Procedure Mannual CATEGORIES OF PEOPLE BOUND BY THIS CODE OF CONDUCT This code of conduct has specific application to the hotline counselors, supervisors and volunteers. 1. Hotline Counselors and Volunteers: In their day to day work, hotline counselors have a specific duty to ensure that the standards set in this code of conduct are adhered to. 2. Supervisors of Hotline Counselors: Counselor supervisors have a duty of ensuring that every counselor under their supervision is fully oriented about this code of conduct and that they establish a mechanism for ensuring and assessing compliance with it. SECTION A COUNSELING PRINCIPLES AND ETHICAL STANDARDS In discharging their functions, hotline counselors shall adhere to and uphold the general principles and ethical standards that govern professional counselors. They include the following; Confidentiality 1. All information provided by clients as part of the counseling process is confidential and should not be shared with anyone outside the call centre unless when authorized. During debriefing sessions and support supervision sessions, a counselor should do everything in his or her power to encourage group members to maintain confidentiality. 2. Counselors shall take all reasonable steps to inform staff and all other people with whom they work of the need for confidentiality regarding any information obtained as a result of the provision of professional services. 3. During the session, counselors should reassure clients about the confidentiality of the information they are sharing with the caller to ensure that the caller can open up. 4. Total confidentiality will be maintained, subject only to the following exceptions: a) Disclosures with the permission of the client.

4 b) In cases where non disclosure may cause serious harm on a third party. c) In cases where non disclosure may leave the counselor liable to civil or criminal court procedure Autonomy Counsellors shall respect their client s right to be self-governing and avoid imposing solutions or directions on their clients. Beneficence and non malfeasance: In their helping role counsellors shall always be committed to promoting and protecting the client s well-being. The counselling process involves physical, psychological, emotional and legal risks. Counsellors shall always endeavour to assess these risks and avoid exposing their clients to harm. Justice and Fairness: Counsellors will at all times demonstrate fair and impartial treatment of all clients and provide them with adequate/appropriate services. Counsellors will also consistently apply appropriate criteria to inform decisions and actions. Counselors shall not engage in any action that violates or diminishes the civil or legal rights of clients. Empathy: Counsellors shall nurture and demonstrate the capacity to relate with clients in a manner that communicates an understanding of the client s experience from the clients perspective. Sincerity and Integrity: At all times Counsellors will maintain a personal commitment to consistency between what is professed and what is done as well as to being moral, straight forward, honest and coherent in dealing with others. This includes providing clients with accurate and complete information as far as possible. In situations where the counselor is not aware, the counselor should transfer the caller to a more informed colleague or supervisor. Humility: Counsellors shall endeavour to accurately assess and acknowledge their own strengths and weaknesses and seek to build on their strengths while mitigating possible weaknesses in the course of their work. Non- Judgemental Attitude Counselors should accept callers as they are. This includes their background, beliefs, attitudes

5 and actions. Clients have a right to behave in accordance with their own value systems. Thus avoid deciding for them what is right or wrong in your perspective instead carryout client education and empower them to make informed decision basing on their values and beliefs. Client Centered Approach The counseling session is about the client, not the counselor. Counselors should therefore be centered on the caller s feelings, attitudes, beliefs and opinions. Termination: Counselors shall terminate services to clients and professional relationships with them, when such service and relationships are no longer required or no longer serve the clients needs or interest. Counselors should also terminate prank, abusive and silent calls following the steps in the agreed protocol for call termination. In such scenarios counselors should remain calm, diplomatic and polite Counselor Competence Hotline counselors will endeavor to maintain and develop their professional competence, to recognize and work within its limits, and to identify and ameliorate conditions which restrict it. The specific implications of this standard include; 1. The counselor should work within his/her competence and be willing to make referrals whenever necessary. It is the counselor s responsibility to ensure that clients are referred to a competent helper either within the call center or outside. 2. In the event that a counselor gets a challenging call, he/she should share it with the supervisor and if deemed necessary the supervisor can grant some time for the counselors to ventilate. 3. Counselors should not offer professional services when their physical or psychological problems are likely to harm a client 4. The counselor has the responsibility to maintain his/her effectiveness, commitment and ability to help clients within the counseling profession. This can be through attending various trainings and online research. SECTION B Professional Responsibility and Conduct for telephone based counseling Hotline counselors entirely depend on a telephone to communicate with clients and thereby

6 provide the necessary services to these clients. In recognition of this unique but limited avenue of communication in a counseling context, hotline counselors shall adhere to the following set of good practice in telephone based counseling. 1. Personal phones should be in silent mode or off whenever the counselors are receiving calls. No personal phone calls should be made or taken during this period. Counselors should also avoid unnecessary movements during this time. 2. Counselors should ensure that they meet the target number of calls per day which is 50 calls per counselor. 30 of those calls should be genuine answered calls. 3. For each call, Counselors should be straight to the point and quick at identifying and addressing the client s really issue. They should avoid lagging on line with a client who is not progressing to the next step. 4. The counselor shall ensure that he/she is at her call reception centre at all times during the allocated working time period and if any short term absence is inevitable, the counselor should inform the supervisor so that alternative arrangements can be made to ensure the availability of a suitable stand- in counselor. 5. The telephone receiver shall never be found lying on the side or off the hook neither will the phone line be unplugged. 6. Counselors are expected to be available whenever the hotline team conducts training. Counselors are required to participate actively in all debriefs and at least lead two debriefs in a Month 7. Counselors are expected to behave in an exemplary way, and give due respect to each other 8. Counselors are not supposed to reveal their details for example telephone contact, real names and the location of the hotline to the callers, only pseudo names are to be used.

7 9. Counselors are not allowed to meet clients for face to face counseling, all counseling must be done on the phone and a client should be referred for any further support needed. 10. The phone should be answered each time it rings and the counselor should be emotionally ready for each call. He/she should offer a warm and open presence to all callers. The Counselor should speak strongly so that the caller can hear yet with warmth and understanding as though they are speaking to a friend and not a customer 11. In case callers become too attached and dependant on you, and want to know when you will be on duty again, do not tell callers when you will be on duty again. Do not make the mistake of thinking you are the only counselor able to understand and help them (even if they tell you so!), rather encourage callers to phone again and speak to whoever is on duty; you may not be available when they urgently need someone and if they are unable to speak to anyone else, then this undermines the effectiveness of the hotline service. 12. Counselors should not block strong emotions. One of the main purposes of counseling is to help a client express or ventilate their emotions. Strong emotions need to be expressed like being resentful, angry, frustrated, impatient, furious, disgusted, annoyed and outraged among others. They can be potentially destructive if kept inside /repressed. 13. Counselors should not attempt to provide answers to topics or questions that are outside the hotline areas. In such cases counselors may refer the caller to the right place or organization for their issue and inform the caller of what the hotline does. 14. In order to reduce stress and burnout, counselors should endeavor to receive at least 2 hours per week of counseling and self reflection from a senior counselor or supervisor. 15. During lunch breaks counselors are not supposed to have any meal at their desk, they are supposed to move off their desk to a designed place either in the compound or supervisor s office and using specific allocated time for that break.

8 SECTION C Book Keeping 1. Counselors shall endeavor to keep proper records of all calls according to the set hotline data capture tool. Counselors should not proceed to answering another call before recording all the information from the previous call appropriately. 2. Counselors shall only record information which is necessary for the provision of coordinated services and should use the hotline data capture tool as their guide 3. Counselors are expected to spend no more than 2 minutes filling in the hotline data capture tool after receiving each call. Thereafter they should pick the next call. 4. Counselors and supervisors should always update the hotline referral database with new credible contacts of service providers 5. The supervisor should generate a monthly report based on records from the caller s data base and share it with the hotline coordinator who distributes it to the hotline stakeholders. SECTION D Declaration All hotline counselors are regulated by this counselor s code of ethics and counselors are mandated to abide by it. I hereby acknowledge to have read and understood the provisions of this code of conduct and hereby agree to abide by them. Any failure to abide by or breach of any of the practice/ethical standards set forth in this code could lead to the termination of my services as a Hotline Counselor or Volunteer Counselor. Signed by Witnessed by

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