Case Study: Phan

| May 19, 2014

You are a school social worker who has been working with Phan, a 15 year-old Vietnamese male. Phan’s teacher referred him to you because of his poor grades, poor attendance, and refusal to comply with the teacher’s requests. Phan was born in the United States. His mother is a Vietnamese immigrant and a widow. Phan’s father and older brother were killed in a car accident when Phan was 12.

When you first meet Phan, he is rather defiant and argumentative and makes it clear that he does not like or trust Americans. He says white students pick on him all the time because he is smaller and that they call him and are always trying to take advantage of him. There is a report of one beating in his school file. The other students were suspended for 3 days, but he tells you the harassment has continued off campus. He says the school “doesn’t really care and can’t do anything to help me.”

Phan’s mother barely speaks English and works long hours at three part-time jobs. He is often on his own. Phan is very protective of his mother and states he is always looking for ways to make extra money to help his family.

By the third session, you suspect that Phan is involved in trading sex for money. When you ask Phan, he tells you that he does not want to be poor like his mother. He tells you he isn’t making any money by attending classes. It enables him to be good money while taking advantage of “pathetic old American men who mistakenly think I’m gay.” He tells you it means nothing to him and sees it as sort of a “payback for school.” He also likes the “partying” the men provide-although he refuses to tell you exactly what that means. He says it’s the one part of his life where he feels in control.

Phan makes it very clear that he does not want his mother to know about how he makes extra money. When you mention his risk for HIV, he laughs and says he feels fine. If he ever gets AIDS or if his mother ever finds out about how he makes money, he says he would probably kill himself rather than dishonor her or have an illness become an additional burden for her.

When you review the case with your supervisor, her immediate response is for you to call child protective services and get Phan off the streets before he hurts himself or possibly someone else. Do you? Is that the appropriate moral outcome?

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