By Emaley McCulloch, M.Ed, BCBA
bSci21 Contributing Writer
Gift-giving is an expected norm in most cultures. Thus, many behavioral professionals will find themselves in the awkward situation of having to turn-away a gift offered by a client or client’s family. The BACB’s Professional and Compliance Code for Behavior Analysts has recently made the issue very cut and dry: “Behavior analysts do not accept any gifts from or give any gifts to clients because this constitutes a multiple relationship.” This leaves little room for interpretation. “Any gifts” would include anything that is of monetary value, large or small. Because of the nature of our job as a helping profession, many well-meaning clients and family members want to show appreciation through a gift card, plate of cookies or handmade item. Typically, these gifts are tokens of respect and appreciation and may not cause any problems. In some cases, however, the exchanging of gifts can open up a complicated set of boundary and relationship issues.
The fact of the matter is, the BACB has decided to prohibit the accepting of all gifts of any kind from clients. As a result, both BCBAs and RBTs are required to comply or risk being reported. So, here are some things you can do instead of accepting gifts from clients.
- Be Proactive. You or your agency should send an email to clients and parents informing them of the code of ethics and that no gifts will be received. This may prevent awkward situations for you or your staff.
- Offer an alternative. In the email alerting clients and parents of the “no gift” rule, offer them the opportunity to say something nice or give feedback to you or about your staff. Kind words can mean more than a plate of cookies or a gift card. It could also provide an opportunity for clients and parents to provide feedback on services.
- Give them this printable card. When someone does offer you a gift—which is inevitable—it can be really hard to not accept without offending or embarrassing the giver. Giving a card like this—although cheesy—can help disperse the awkwardness in the situation and help them understand that you are grateful for the gesture. Besides, just look at how cute that sun is.
It’s important to note that the BACB also recognizes that it’s important to acknowledge the gesture and thoughtfulness of the gift-giver. We should be careful how we explain the ethical code as not to imply that the gift may have strings attached to it and that other professionals who accept gifts are less ethical than we are. Or, most importantly, that we are grateful for the kindness they show and the trust they put in us.
What are some other ways you can avoid awkward conversations or ways to communicate this ethical practice to clients and their families? Let us know in the comments below, and be sure to subscribe to bSci21 via email to receive the latest articles directly to your inbox!
Emaley McCulloch, M.Ed, BCBA co-founded Autism Training Solutions, LLC in 2008, and is currently the Vice President of Relias Institute at Relias Learning. Relias Learning is the premier provider of online health care training for Health and Human Services, Senior Care and Public Safety. Emaley is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst and holds an MA in Special Education. She has served in the field of ABA for over 18 years and has provided and overseen services to individuals between the ages of 18 months to 24 years in homes, schools and clinical settings. For eight years she served as a consultant and supervisor at agencies based in Hawaii and Japan where she trained groups of professionals and parents. Emaley’s passion is elearning, staff training, dissemination of evidenced-based interventions, research, film and videography and using technology in the field of behavior analysis and special education. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.