Iowa social workers accused of improper relationships with clients
A social worker accused of giving marijuana to a 15-year-old patient has agreed to refrain from practicing while criminal charges are pending. (Photo by the Iowa Capital Dispatch)
An Iowa social worker accused of giving marijuana to a 15-year-old patient has agreed to refrain from practicing while criminal charges against him are pending in court.
State records indicate Benjamin Skeers, 41, of West Des Moines, is facing one count of drug distribution to a person under the age of 18, and one count of using a minor in the drug trade.
According to police, Skeers allegedly texted a 15-year-old female patient of his in March 2021 and asked the girl to provide him with some “shrooms.” Skeers and the teen allegedly agreed on a price and the best way to provide the product, but the teen’s mother saw the text exchange and the deal was not consummated.
In November 2021, Skeers allegedly gave the girl marijuana during a therapy session at Life Works in Ankeny.
The police reports indicate Skeer admitted to police that he asked the girl for “shrooms” and supplied her with marijuana. He has pleaded not guilty to both criminal charges. A trial date has yet to be set.
The Iowa Board of Social Work has negotiated an agreement with Skeers whereby he has agreed not to practice social work while the criminal charges are pending. In return, the board has agreed not to pursue licensing charges against him while the criminal case remains unresolved.
In 2018, Skeers was charged with possession of drug paraphernalia after police found a device in his vehicle that he said was used for smoking liquid marijuana oils. Polk County prosecutors later declined to prosecute the case, saying Skeers had completed “the required number of hours” of community service and had submitted to a substance-abuse evaluation.
Other licensing board action
In other, unrelated matters, the Iowa Board of Social Work recently took action involving other licensees:
— James Burkhalter of Iowa City, who is charged by the board with violating regulations related to the practice of social work. The allegations that prompted the charges have yet to be publicly disclosed by the board, but one of the regulations Burkhalter is accused of violating prohibits a licensee from engaging in “sexual activities or sexual contact” with current or former clients.
Court records show that in August, the University of Iowa police were granted a search warrant for Burkhalter’s phone. In applying for that warrant, a police detective told the court that a former patient of Burkhalter’s at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics had claimed late last year to have had sex with Burkhalter while he was still her therapist.
According to the search warrant application, Burkhalter “retained his employment at UIHC” after the woman first made the allegations and Burkhalter denied them. In April 2022, however, Burkhalter allegedly was back in touch with the woman, despite the hospital having directed him to have no further contact with her, according to the warrant application.
The police detective told the court he had received photos of text messages on the alleged victim’s phone, showing conversations between the alleged victim and Burkhalter, with Burkhalter allegedly writing, “Let’s f—!,” and then continuing with more explicit discussion.
Burkhalter’s phone was subsequently seized but no criminal charges have been filed in the matter.
— Amanda Eason McCall of Castana, who was charged in 2018 with engaging in sexual activity with an individual who was also a client of hers at the time. McCall surrendered her license at the time. The board recently agreed to reinstate her license, subject to a three-year probationary period in which she must have a board-approved worksite monitor who will work regularly in the same physical location as McCall and can objectively report on her actions at work.
— Michelle Weltzin-Trainer of Davenport, who was recently charged by the board with violating regulations related to the practice of social work. The allegations that prompted the charges have yet to be publicly disclosed by the board, but one of the regulations Weltzin-Trainer is accused of violating prohibits licensees from engaging in a nonsexual, dual relationship with a client – such as a social relationship, emotional relationship, employment relationship or a business association.
Another of the regulations she is accused of violating prohibits a licensee from taking unfair advantage of a professional relationship, or exploiting others to further one’s own personal, religious, political or business interests.
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