Ethical Values in Social Work

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Social work values and ethical dilemmas

What are values, ethics, ethical dilemmas and a code of ethics?

Values relate to principles and attitudes that provide direction to everyday living. Values also refer to beliefs or standards considered desirable by a culture, group or individual (AASW). Similar to values, but slightly different, ethics means a system of beliefs held about what constitutes moral judgement and right conduct, they are moral principles (rules, guides) (AASW). So an ethical dilemma is then when a person is faced with a choice between two equally conflicting moral principles and it is not clear cut which choice will be the right one (AASW). Finally, ‘a code of ethics’ is an explicit statement of the values, principles and rules of a profession, which acts as a guide for its members and their practice (AASW).

Summary of the AASW Code of Ethics

The Code of Ethics of the AASW expresses the values/principles of the profession. By having values/principles that guides our practice, this assists our work, and helps us to act in ethical ways. So values/principles provide a guide and standard for ethical practice in social work.

There are five values that inform social work practice, which have underlying principles: • Human dignity and worth (each person has the right to well being, self fulfilment and self determination, consistent with the rights of others) • Social justice (basic human needs, equitable distribution of resources to meet needs, fair access to public resources, individual/community rights, equal treatment and protection under the law, social development) • Service to humanity (to meet personal and social needs and enable people to develop their potential) • Integrity (values honesty, reliability and impartiality in practice) • Competence (proficiency in practice)

There are ethical behaviours which are expected of social workers.

Given the complexity of issues that social workers deal with in a variety of settings, the extent of discretion in relation to ethical behaviours may vary in certain circumstances. However, the ethical responsibilities of social workers are based on the values mentioned. The ethical responsibilities that guide social work practice fall into six categories.

1. General ethical responsibilities
• These ethical responsibilities very much reflect, and are guided by the above values e.g responsibilities are to respect human dignity and worth, be committed to social justice, how we provide a service, professional integrity and practice competence. 2. Responsibilities to clients

• Priority of clients’ interests
• Conflicts of interest
• Client self-determination
• Informed consent
• Involuntary clients (awareness about self determination limitations) • Cultural awareness
• Information privacy/confidentiality
• Records (impartially and accurate)
• Termination/interruption of service
3. Responsibility to colleagues
4. Responsibilities in the workplace
• Service provision
• Social workers in management roles
5. Responsibilities to particular settings
• education, training, supervision, and evaluation, research, private practice. 6. Responsibilities to the profession

Finally the code of ethics also provides guidance for ethical decision making.

Please take some time to read these guidelines and some of the common dilemmas that we as social workers can face in practice. For example, the code of ethics identifies these explicitly: • Conflict of interests (Involuntary clients, multiple clients, confidentiality, workplace) • Conscientious objection

Ethical decision making

Social workers often find themselves experiencing ethical dilemmas when they identify competing values and competing loyalties. For example, the values of self determination can conflict with a...
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