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15 Nov 2023

Professional standards

Why professional boundaries are important

Social service workers have an important role in the lives of the people they support and rely on trust and rapport to develop good working relationships. Professional boundaries are the limits that make sure the relationship between a worker and the person using services is a safe and supportive one.

While some professional boundaries will be clear from your own ethics and values, others are set by organisations responsible for care, such as your employer or the SSSC.

Gifts and money

Situations involving gifts and money often arise between social service workers and the people they support. If workers don’t keep clear boundaries, there may be concerns the supported person is being exploited.

The SSSC Code of Practice for Social Service workers says:

‘I will keep to policies and procedures about accepting gifts and money from people who use services and carers.’

If you are offered gifts or money, it’s important to check with your employer how to approach the situation and what their policy is in relation to gifts and money.

Be clear about your role

However, it’s not just by accepting gifts and money that professional boundaries can become blurred.

Suggesting that you can provide services beyond those you are employed to, for example running errands or doing shopping if you’re employed to provide personal care, may make someone you support feel they have to accept your offer to do more. It may also create a belief that all social service workers should carry out more services when that is not the case.

Personal finances

We’ve found that social service workers discussing their personal finances with people they support can result in awkward situations.

A supported person may feel they want to help the worker financially, even if the worker is professionally unable to accept money. While it seems the supported person wants to help, if you borrow money from them, they may feel they cannot ask you to repay it because they rely on you. This is likely to be distressing, especially if a loan is not repaid as agreed.

There is also the chance of misunderstandings if you allow someone you support to use your financial details, like a bank or PayPal account, because they don’t have their own, even if you do it to be helpful.


Workers are expected to build caring and compassionate relationships with people they support and this is clear in the recommendations of The Promise, which says young people in care will grow up loved, safe and respected.

When building these relationships, it’s important to maintain professional boundaries.

If a relationship becomes too close it may interfere with a worker’s professional responsibilities. Blurred boundaries can make it hard to properly provide support and can lead to distress if a relationship breaks down or a worker leaves their job.


Sometimes contacting or visiting people you support outside working hours, when there is no professional reason to, can cause people using services to believe that a relationship is closer than it actually is. The same is true of taking them to your house.

It is natural that workers may want to share personal information about themselves and this can help build a respectful relationship. However, you should avoid over-sharing personal experiences or emotions and think about why you are sharing any information.

You can keep relationships professional by making sure any communication is respectful and preserves the dignity of the supported person. People who use services are entitled to raise issues about the care they receive and asking them not to tell your employer about issues or complaining to them if they have, might alarm them.

Social media

Lots of people use social media and it’s important you maintain professional boundaries online too. There’s more advice in the Maintaining professional boundaries on social media article.

Supporting you with professional boundaries

Our Making better decisions learning resource helps you think about situations you might find yourself in at work, which might affect professional boundaries. Here are some scenarios on professional boundaries.

Contact information

Alison Forbes
Communications Assistant
Scottish Social Services Council