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Request inspection copy. Request e-inspection copy. Social work in the community offers practice guidance to students, practice assessors and practitioners within a political, theoretical, methodological and ethical framework. The book is written from an experiential learning perspective, encouraging the reader not only to understand the ideas and methods but to test them out in their own practice, which additionally provides an element of problem-based learning.

The book is written within the framework of the practice curriculum for the social work degree, including the National Occupational Standards and an extended statement of values for practice. This will enable students to use the book to make sense of their practice in relation to the knowledge, skills and values of social work practice in its community context.

This book is key to help make that happen. It is this formative professional response to ethics and values that we turn to in the next section. Their orientations and practices are reflections of the prevailing ideologies and values of the greater society in which they are embedded. Ideological shifts in society lead to a re-evaluation of professional values and practices. Franklin characterized this as the period in which social work gravitated from moral certainty to rational enquiry. As we will see in Chapter 17, early approaches to values in social work produced lists of values with Felix Biestek producing the first comprehensive list in Today part of the paraphernalia of rational choice inheres in codes of ethics, codes of conduct and ethical decision-making frameworks as we see in this section on professional perspectives.

Today social work increasingly has to contend with these rational-technical devices sans their moral and philosophical underpinnings since, as we have seen, the study of moral philosophy has all but disappeared from the social work curriculum. Timms noted how, in social work, fluctuations in professional values could be traced to periods of change and instability in the wider society.

In the course of its development, social work has been influenced by several ideological shifts, among them the shift from moral certainty to rational enquiry, from psychological determinism to humanistic individualism, from liberalism to radicalism, and from political conservativism to empowerment and social transformation Webb, This vast range of value positions reflects the huge terrain social work traverses from concerns with individuals to issues of social justice.

Social work is a most varied activity. In his influential book, The System of Professions , Andrew Abbott, following Flexner mentioned above, set out the key distinguishing features of a profession. These involve regulation by a professional association, university-based education, a code of conduct and statement of professional ethics, and a distinctive body of professional knowledge.

We will observe in the section that follows how these elements combine to articulate the distinctiveness of social work through the lens of different value perspectives. Professions, such as social work, claim a broad legal, moral and intellectual mandate. However, professional practice also involves purposive action and interaction with a complex social world that social workers are deeply embedded in to address and solve identified needs in pursuit of the goals and ends that clients present.

Social work practice is not just an activity. It also involves meaningful frameworks of understanding and draws on professional knowledge, including technical knowing that and experiential know-how knowledge. Professional practice is also meaningful in the sense that it has meaning to social work practitioners and other professional with whom they interact because of its theoretical underpinnings, often referred to as professional perspectives.

Such perspectives in social work ethics refer to theories and conceptual frameworks that inform front-line practice. In this first section, we examine various professional perspectives which social work brings to bear on value questions and ethical issues in its practice. Paul Webster in Chapter 3 shows us how, more recently, professional codes of ethics have been supplanted by codes of practice - also called codes of conduct - which herald an administrative legal approach to the regulation of individual conduct within the workplace, with separate codes for employers and employees, though the former are in place mainly to control the latter.

As formal documents or contracts, these codes of conduct are legally binding to various degrees and, when legally enforceable, bolster the power of regulatory councils. In contrast, codes of ethics are subject to professional regulation. Since professional registration or membership for social workers is voluntary rather than compulsory, as in Australia, internal regulatory mechanisms and procedures are a hit and miss affair. Hence, given the risk-aversive workplace environments in which social workers work, something more is thought to be needed to protect consumers and employing organizations and to make professionals publicly accountable for their actions.

One might see codes of conduct as attempts to undermine professional regulation, since it is unreliable, and to enforce disciplinary regimes in the workplace to ensure compliance. Thus codes of conduct trump codes of ethics. One of the distinctive contributions this section makes with the inclusion of the chapter on faith-based practice is to draw attention to the potential tensions between professional codes of ethics and spiritual values.

Indeed, social workers who fail to put aside their personal life are often accused of being unprofessional or lacking a prerequisite professional distance that may bring about a conflict of interest with service users. For example, a social worker who is both a professional practitioner and a believer in say Islam or Christianity is potentially caught between two competing ethical perspectives. On the one hand she is required to adhere to a set of professional codes of ethics that are formalized and socialized in her professional training and on the other hand a non-formal set of beliefs or values that form part of her faith.

The faith-based approach to social work inevitably raises questions about the relationship between religion and secular professional ethics, which have persistently engaged in criticism of particular religious practices, just as religions criticize secular practices. From here we can begin to construct a practical model that provides for a positive relationship between secular professional standards and faith- based religious practices.

It vigilantly looks for transgression. Discipline allows nothing to escape. Not only does it not allow things to run their course, its principle is that things, the smallest things, must not be abandoned to themselves. The smallest infraction of discipline must be taken with all the more care for it being small. Thus we have a broad social context in which security through risk minimization is set in place, which justifies the policing of individual - and employer - conduct and, in the process, undermines traditional professional obligations or a proceduralist duty of care as unreliable.

Lawsuits against service organizations are minimized by holding individual employees accountable for their conduct. In such threatening environments, there is little wonder that faith-based practice has resurfaced. The influence of faith, once subjugated to secular professional interests, are now being raised as a further ethical dimension in social work, as Philip Gilligan shows in Chapter 6. Faith is no less imaginary but whereas law imagines the negative, faith imagines the positive.

It re-imbues uncaring, legalistic environments with hope and possibility. It re-humanizes them. It offers another form of prescription and regulation which may or not be consistent with professional regulation. Liberalism inculcates a belief that things cannot be done in any other way. It seeks to convince us that this is the way things ought to be - this is inevitable.

Values and Ethics in Social Work Practice | Page 4 | SAGE Publications Ltd

It stifles our revolutionary impulse Badiou, In contrast to codes of conduct, which we see as instruments of managerial regulation or governmentality, in Chapter 4, Donna McAuliffe shows how rational ethical decision- making frameworks, which feature prominently in the literature on social work ethics, work in conjunction with professional codes of ethics, as professional rather than managerial disciplinary instruments. If social workers do not have a well integrated and conscious awareness of their own individual decision-making patterns, and the forces that impact on this, and do not understand the importance of honest and critically reflective practice, then no number of models will make much difference.

Like codes of ethics, they are there to be used for guidance, as are agency policies, but in the complexity of the work that social workers do, it is a strong moral compass that is needed, a strong sense of purpose and clarity of vision. As McAuliffe notes, sometimes the social worker is not the one who should be making the decision and sometimes it is not an ethical dilemma that is being faced because the course of action is quite clear. There are many issues that need to be taken into account and models of ethical decision making can be useful in providing a structure where this is of benefit, but they can also prove restrictive and create barriers to solutions that might lie a little to the left of field.

However, as Stefan Borrmann shows in Chapter 5, ethical choices are often complex and involve moral dilemmas where several courses of action are open to the social worker, none of which is any more or less right or wrong. In social work such values tend to focus on human functioning, capabilities and development. Codification: is the process of collecting and restating the mandatory elements of a jurisdiction in certain areas.

It involves the translation of ethical rules and principles into prescriptions for practice. Ethical codes: in the context of a code that is adopted by a profession or by a governmental or quasi-governmental organization to regulate that profession, an ethical code may be styled as a code of professional responsibility that makes practitioners accountable.

Codes are general principles for professional practice. Professional work, however, usually began with practice experience while, later, professional bodies codified principles to guide practice.


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Each country has had its own unique experience in developing codes of ethics for social work. In the United States, the Flexner Report indicated that social work was not a profession because, among other things, it lacked an ethical code. The process of code development has been similar in many countries around the world with social work practice usually predating codes of ethics.

Professional social work associations in some developing countries are still in the process of devising codes of ethics for their social workers. This chapter examines the rich tapestry of codes of ethics in social work. It comprises three sections. The first focuses on key concepts and the difference between values and ethics, and ethical codes, the core values of social work and their universality. The second provides an overview of the social work literature on the nature and purpose of ethical codes and the relationship between codes of ethics and laws.

As US social work educator Helen Harris Perlman noted, our values have limited meaning unless we translate them into ethical practice. Most codes of ethics comprise general value-based statements of principle to guide professional practice. They have varying degrees of enforceability. These include respect for persons, self-determination, confidentiality, social justice, human rights, professional integrity, non-discrimination, and cultural competence Abbott, ; IFSW, Most social work texts on values would include some or all of the following core values and principles in social work.

Respect for persons The literature on social work values and ethics, including codes of ethics, usually express respect for persons as respect for the worth and dignity of the individual or the uniqueness of the individual and the principle flowing from this value is individualization. It leads to a rational approach to ethical decision making in social work with individuals choosing among options, which has led to criticism from those cultures with collective rather than individualistic value systems Ejaz, Its converse is paternalism see Reamer, Confidentiality An important ethical principle is that of maintaining client confidentiality Collingridge et al.

However, from an international perspective, many countries and cultures have differing views on issues of confidentiality. The US NASW code mentions it in relation to individual clients, while the New Zealand NZASW code proposes a dual focus in which social workers help clients find individual solutions but at the same time, work to change the structure of society. Human rights For some, human rights are more universal than social justice see Chapter According to Wetzel , national and local cultural differences lead to a varying focus on human rights from country to country.

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Professional integrity At all times, the profession expects social workers to conduct themselves in a professional manner in accordance with the standards of practice enumerated in the code of ethics. Professional integrity — or professional competence, e. Some codes speak of the importance of agency conditions that support professional integrity, i. Non-discrimination The earlier value of non-judgmentalism, i. In earlier conceptions of social work values, the principle of acceptance expressed this value in a positive way Bietsek, ; Timms, The NASW code of ethics recently added migrant status in its anti-discrimination clauses.

Similarly, the Australian code includes a section on preventing and eliminating discrimination based on national origin, race and culture AASW, , S4. Cultural competence Since , the NASW code of ethics has had a policy on cultural competence that mandates the development of cultural sensitivity — defined as awareness of cultural differences — in working with clients from a different background from that of the social worker concerned. Despite the fact that social workers have always worked with diverse populations in the US, the NASW only added this provision in the last 12 years.

She found that social workers shared two common values, namely, respect for basic human rights and self-determination. Overview of the social work literature The nature and purpose of ethical codes There is some agreement in the social work literature that codes of ethics serve several purposes. Among other things, they i provide a set of ethical standards for social work practice; ii guide practitioners in resolving ethical dilemmas in practice; iii protect the public from incompetent practitioners; iv ensure professional self-regulation rather than governmental control; and v protect social workers from litigation Congress, ; Dolgoff et al.

They do not offer much guidance about how to decide between the conflicting values or principles they outline. For her, this deontological approach seems preferable to a teleological, consequential approach if social workers want to avoid relativism thus compromizing their moral stance.

Ethical Dilemma / Steps for Social Workers

However, there has been much debate on this. For example, for a deontologist, a code of ethics that included consequential caveats to human rights provisions might become a slippery slope for serious ethics violations. In reality, however, most code provisions include some exceptions, as for example the NASW Code of Ethics which makes confidentiality an absolute value except when there is a perceived danger to self or others. Relationship between codes of ethics and laws A fundamental difference between codes of ethics and laws is that the latter are more enforceable. In many countries, social work practice is not licensed.

Hence, the provisions of ethical codes are usually not enforceable except among members of a professional association. Professional associations often have a means to adjudicate members who do not abide by their codes of ethics but, unfortunately, many social workers are not members of professional associations and some do not have the resources for this policing activity. An interesting consideration is how laws and ethical codes are related. At times, laws and ethical codes may be similar, while at other times there may be an ethical provision but no corresponding law.

A third possibility is that there is a law but no ethical mandate, and a final option is that laws and ethical principles, as laid out in codes of ethics, may conflict. An example of the first occurs when both laws and ethical codes have statements about confidentiality, while in the second scenario social work codes forbid a particular practice, such as dual relationships with clients, but there is no corresponding legal provision.

A third situation may occur when laws lay out the qualifications for social work practice, but qualifications are not included in codes of ethics. The fourth is often the most challenging, but an increasing reality in democratic countries with conservative leadership. A current example of this increasing conflict is the regressive laws regarding migrants, while social work codes stress the importance of non- discrimination, respect and self-determination for all people. Congress found that US social workers knew about the NASW code of ethics and applied it in making ethical decisions.

Wolock et al. Holland and Kilpatrick found that social workers did not use the code of ethics when dealing with ethical issues. Jayaratne et al. For the most part, practitioners do not use the code of ethics in practice because they have difficulty with translating its abstract ethical principles into concrete decisions and actions, especially when faced with challenging ethical dilemmas Congress, ; Reamer, a.

The second part outlines what constitutes professional conduct and lists several ethical challenges. These include loyalty to ethical prescriptions in the face of conflicting interests and functions, e. British code of ethics First developed in , the British Association of Social Workers BASW code of ethics sets forth primary objective to make the ethical principles implicit in the practice of social work explicit to protect clients and other members of the society BASW, ; Banks, The British code of ethics cites five main values: Human dignity and worth, social justice, service to humanity, integrity, and competence and provides a detailed discussion of each.

The NASW code of ethics The issue of confidentiality receives a great deal of attention in the US code with the largest number of provisions possibly because US social workers are more likely to be engaged in full- or part-time private practice than social workers elsewhere. Further, a detailed, explicit code of ethics is a safeguard against malpractice litigation.

A large number of charges for code violations involve violations of confidentiality Strom- Gottfried, There has been ongoing concern that the US code is too litigious without sufficient focus on other social work values. Since many social workers are engaged in psychotherapy — or clinical social work, the US code also emphasizes the importance of the client-worker relationship. In striving for concreteness, it includes a number of practice-specific scenarios, especially relating to private practice.

Since social workers enter into a fiduciary relationship with their clients, they must act in a trustworthy manner Kutchins, They must maintain appropriate professional boundaries to avoid harming and exploiting vulnerable clients. With respect to sexual dual relationships, the code advises social workers to avoid sexual relationships not only with current clients, but also with former and future clients.

For example, the BASW code refers to cultural sensitivity and the US code views cultural competence as ethical practice. Similarities and differences across codes In her study of codes of ethics from 31 countries, Banks noted that there was great variability in length, with the page US NASW code being the longest. While some countries have maintained approximately the same length and content for a number of years, others have changed significantly in size and content. There has been a tendency for countries to develop lengthier and more detailed codes of ethics over time.

An example is the US code that grew from a one-page document with 14 aspirational statements in to 28 pages with provisions in , the last time the association revised the code. Depending on length, there was much variability in detail. Some relates to practice issues in the country concerned, e. However, Banks also found many similarities in values and principles: Most codes began with a general statement of principles or values with common themes of respecting the unique value and dignity of each person, promoting self-determination, working for social justice and against discrimination, and maintaining professional integrity.

The second part often focused on ethical principles or standards. For example, the NASW code begins with a declaration of seven core social work values, including service, social justice, dignity and worth of the person, importance of human relations, integrity, and competence, while the values identified by the Australian code of ethics are human dignity and worth, social justice, service to humanity, and competence.

Both the basic concepts and terminology is similar possibly because many countries draw on the IFSW Statement of Ethical Principles or codes from other countries for guidance in developing their codes of ethics. Congress and McAuliffe compared and contrasted the US and Australian codes and found that confidentiality receives much more emphasis in the former than the latter. Collingridge perceived confusion between the terms privacy and confidentiality noting that in the US code, confidentiality was mistakenly elevated to a first order ethical principle, while for Congress and McAuliffe, , despite over-emphasis in the NASW code on confidentiality, the fundamental principles were privacy and respect for persons.

Another point of difference relates to conflicts of interest. The Australian code advises social workers to seek consultation before entering into a sexual relationship with a client. Sonnenberg explored differences between the English and German codes of ethics and found variability in approaches to values within one country, rather than between countries. Nevertheless, the English code had a greater emphasis on anti- discriminatory practice than the German code.

New public management focuses on technical skills and codes of conduct see Chapter 3 rather that professional ethics. For Banks , a code of ethics is an important part of the social work tradition. It provides opportunities for ongoing debate and discussion. Hence, she moves the focus of codes from guides to practice to avenues for dialogue and debate, as Rhodes did much earlier. Conclusion Codes of ethics are important for all professions. The common values of human rights and social justice, as articulated in codes of ethics and the IFSW Ethical Statement of Principles, set forth the mission of social work.

Because of the intricacies and complexities of practice, codes of ethics, by definition, must be general. Translating general principles into daily practice is not easy. At times, the values themselves are in conflict. For example, social workers can waive confidentiality when it poses a threat to their well-being or that of another person, as in the case of impending suicide or homicide. Many countries continually review their code of ethics in an effort to expand their detail and specificity.

As many countries, but especially the US, have become more litigious, there is an increasing trend to use the code to avoid legal action. In a challenging economic climate, agencies are particularly concerned about the possibility of lawsuits. This has reinforced the view that the code is primarily a legal defense rather than a statement of moral principles by which social workers should conduct their professional life.

With an increasing number of social workers in private practice in the US and a subsequent increase in the number of civil and criminal actions against private practitioners, the expansion of the NASW code in recent years has focused on private practice concerns, such as registration, licensing and fees. This contrasts with codes in other countries. Thus, says Banks , codes have a broad purpose in describing social work practice within particular countries.

To some extent, there is a danger that codes of conduct might supersede codes of ethics see Chapter 3. In the final analysis, an ethical code can only do so much in articulating the core values and ethical principles of our profession. The onus is still on social workers to engage in a process of ethical decision making based on the values and ethics of their profession see Chapter 4. Study questions 1. What is the relationship between social work values and ethical codes?

Do they complement or contradict one another? Is the social work code of ethics in your country compatible with the socio-cultural values of your country, the social workers who live there, and the clients you serve? The difference between a Code of Ethics discussed in the previous chapter and a Code of Conduct discussed in this chapter lies in the locus of control. While a Code of Ethics is professionally based, a Code of Conduct is a statutory instrument.


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Risk regulation: Codes of Conduct are risk-regulation standards, i. The regulation is dependent on three processes: information gathering, behaviour modification and standard setting. Disciplinary practice: Developed by French historian Michel Foucault, this term refers to institutional systems e.

In modern societies, Foucault argues that techniques are used to extend disciplinary practice to self-monitoring, e. The compulsory registration of social workers in the UK is seen by some as a means of protecting standards, promoting the profession and embedding social work values. However, as Joan Orme and Gavin Rennie point out, the relationship between registration and regulation is not uncontentious.

Subjugation to a Code of Conduct has less to do with professional ethics and more to do with defensive and defensible practice. One might place a Code of Conduct at the extreme end of a continuum of ethical practice with professional autonomy at the opposite side. The difference between a Code of Ethics see Chapter 2 and a Code of Conduct lies in the locus of surveillance and control. Karen Healy and Gabrielle Meagher document the insidious processes of deprofessionalization created by the routinization and technicalization of social work tasks.

From a broader social policy perspective, Carole Smith notes the shift from old-fashioned, unconditional civic trust in professionals by society to a contractual confidence in public systems of accountability. The latter foregrounds institutionalized conditional confidence in regulatory systems but this comes with some burdensome transaction costs imposed on the individual practitioner, reshaping moral identity.

The codification of this process marks a subtle transformation from engagement with ethical desiderata to conformity with service standards, between what Richard Hugman calls acting well and acting correctly. Key ideas At the heart of social work lies a moral impulse towards the other. Its apex is in due care and minimum control of those in need. Social workers listen to the inner voice in incessant moral talk. To do so is to behave with professional integrity.

The same aim could be said of a Code of Conduct. However, we may ask whether it is really about cultivating our moral impulse, ethically caring for and about distressed others in their fateful moments, or is it really just about the practitioner being prudent, risk-aversive and pragmatic? This chapter makes a connection between a Code of Conduct and what are referred to in moral philosophy as deontological — duty-based - and consequentialist — consequence- based - ethics.

These are the cornerstones of all Codes of Ethics. So too with a Code of Conduct but this has much more to do with external regulation of the social worker than with the care or protection of the client. This works in tandem with a consequentialist ethics wherein the moral agent tries to anticipate the consequences of applying particular principles or rules in any given situation. It is a predictive formula which presupposes that cause and effect are eminently controllable.

As we saw in Chapter 2, this is generally how codes of ethics are viewed in social work. But a Code of Conduct carries with it a metaphor of surveillance and control with the light beam firmly aimed at individual conduct rather than the needs and interests of clients and their significant others. A Code of Conduct has to do with trespass and transgression and this divests it of its protective force. Behind every positive injunction to do something good lies a prohibition not to do something bad.

All codes define failure and errant conduct as much as critical pathways to success or appropriate practice. Hence, a Code of Conduct simply and forcefully tells us what we must and must not do. Simply being obedient offends our professional sensitivities and invokes connotations of unquestioning compliance and docility but this is what a Code of Conduct demands of us.

A liberal-humanist code of ethics struggles with this conflation wrestling individual conscience with social mores and a universal professional ethics. Hence, for a Code of Conduct a searchlight metaphor is still appropriate but, unlike the welcoming beacon of a lighthouse, patrol-like, it sweeps the profession for infractions. Social work is a socially mandated role charged with delivering a public bundle of distinctive ethical goods and services, which carries with it a particular deportment.

This requires a preset array of professional habits, attitudes, commitment, behaviour, and competence. They invoke a revised radicalism in the call to revitalise personal commitment and reawaken our moral responsibility as ethically charged practitioners. This approach calls into question the efficacy of codification as a construct for decision making. Indeed they are not used in practice at all. Most of the more code-specific theoretical literature predates the practical experience of state-regulated conduct and mandatory registration.

However, it should be noted that, due to poor take up, most social workers did not register until when it became compulsory. Frederick Reamer a provides a historical overview of the evolution of social work ethics climaxing in their codification, portraying this as a positive step and hallmark of professional maturity and recognizable status. Others have focused on the changing context of work, the drive towards measurable performance-managed technical skills, the restructuring of welfare services, fragmentation of provision, privatization and the new consumerism, all of which are seen to undermine the more fluid, tacit claims of professionalism in the pursuit of protection of the public and those agencies which serve the public.

The one set of protagonists argue that a dogmatic personal worldview can be used to reinterpret a code but should not since a code is meant to provide a screen through which personal worldviews must be drawn to determine their acceptability in social work practice. The other protagonist argues that a code itself is a particular dogmatic kind of orthodox worldview that discourages open discussion and suppresses dissenting opinion.

Broader social policy and agency agendas also need to be interrogated as a precondition of transformative practice and committed personal ethical fluency. The suggestion is that not to do so is to collude with the powers that be and the imposed given. Aside from official publications, updates, press releases, and regular but parochial commentary in the trade press, there has been a dearth of GSCC-specific literature.

He notes that risk and its management are at the forefront of contemporary social policy: the underlying sentiment is a climate of fear and distrust in which there is a tendency to view people, whether client or social worker, as either vulnerable, dangerous or both. This risk- aversive regime has penetrated social work education. Reid complains that social work lecturers are under pressure by their own institutions as a prerequisite of tenure to register with regulatory bodies and, through an analysis of ethical teaching norms, ponders whether the price is too high.

Malcolm Cowburn and Peter Nelson explore the tensions of managing social work student admission procedures, safe recruitment, selection decisions, and social justice, offsetting them against disclosures of criminality. There are, at present, just a few relevant albeit small-scale empirical studies and surveys for example, Community Care, ; Meleyal, , illustrating just how much is still to be garnered in order that speculative theorizing can be grounded in practitioner realities. The employment of familiar language may overlap but its underlying meaning and purpose are quite different.

One benign definition of regulation is that it is a sustained control exercized by a public agency over activities that are valued by the community. Less benignly, it is a process by which standards are set and enforced by bureaucrats who are somewhat aloof from those who are being monitored. Not benignly at all, regulation engineers external behavioural restrictions to prevent, or at least punish unwanted outcomes by those deemed unruly.

As an adjunct to regulation, at this level a Code of Conduct becomes a technology of control for the regulator on behalf of the state. One key theme to extrapolate from this perspective is that the centralizing risk-aversive political climate has become increasingly interfering and manipulative. It heightens governmental concern to monitor and control social work, questioning its legitimacy and credibility, dismissing traditional modalities of accountable, self-management and substituting its own intrusive instrumentalities.

It gives short shrift to a self-regulating professionalism as not even a complementary adjunct so much as a failed irrelevancy. The notion of perfectly ethical social work, which a code of ethics elusively seeks, is supplanted by a notion of perfectly safe social work, which a Code of Conduct is determined to control through the emission of predictive text.

The official GSCC Code of Practice requires that all social workers must comply with it on pain of admonition, suspension or de-registration. We should pause to interrogate what this means for a practice of value. The GSCC regulates through compulsion, force of law and the trappings of judicial process, around 96, qualified social workers and students in England who must comply with the provisions of its Code of Conduct.

As the official verse goes, all social workers need to be registered, meeting standards of training, suitability and commitment to high standards. They are accountable for maintaining these standards of conduct to the GSCC. Action can be taken against social workers who fall below these standards or who are not suitable to hold the responsibilities of being a social worker. Decisions are taken to protect the public interest and the 1. Each standard is broken down into exact prescribed enumerated behaviours.

These list simple statements that purportedly describe professional conduct and the practice required of social workers in going about their daily work and their personal lives outside of their work. All this is expressed in the catch-all duty not to behave in a way in work or outside work which could call into question suitability to work in social care services 5.

Quite a few are expressly about work procedures. They are intended to confirm the professional standards required in social work and to ensure that social workers know what standards of conduct employers, colleagues, service users, carers, and the public expect of them. Registrants are reminded that they should use the Code to examine their own practice and look for areas of improvement GSCC, Since the first conduct hearing in , in the space of just over two years, 33 hearings took place with 14 being removed from the register, three suspended and 16 receiving an admonition GSCC, However, the level of scrutiny from all quarters is high.

On the one hand, as a legally binding contract every social worker must accept and renew it at every moment while, on the other, the social worker who violates its precepts breaks the contract. Forty complaints about registrants are received on average each month. Very few of these end up being processed for a possible misconduct charge but there is a steady diet of fully-blown cases. Impeachment, branding, banishment, and expulsion motifs are played out through loss of protection of legal title and right to work.

Any code of whatever hue not backed up by meaningful sanction is surely impotent.


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  5. The second most common has involved dishonesty, followed by gross incompetence or inexcusable carelessness in going about work. Usually, where a single injunction of the Code has been breached others have also: the pattern is for findings of multiple and related transgressions. Prompt and timely expressions of contrition and remorse or other mitigating factors may succeed in reducing the tariff. Tales from the field suggest that there is broad approval from service users for an effective Code of Conduct. If anything, the demand is for better access, more punitive decisions and extra powers to curtail misconduct from social workers Community Care, Why then should any genuine social worker look askance?

    I do not wish to dwell on the obvious truism that what constitutes instantiation of particular misconduct is always going to be highly normative and hegemonic. Evidently, some so-called social workers should always be accompanied with a health warning and it is as well that someone is playing the ever-vigilant guard in search of transgressions. The critical point is that our social work bona fides are only a prerequisite for authentic moral engagement, not the engagement itself, and this distinction can get lost.

    By its very monological nature, a Code of Conduct is itself expansive and colonizing, liable to encroach on, usurp and squeeze out ethos or ethics proper. It demarcates the boundary of accepted practice and can become an all-encompassing, obsessive substitute for professional ethical discourse. Regulated conduct is not just about external discipline to inculcate good habits and exorcize bad ones.

    It is also about enforcing behavioural predictability, ensuring that practitioners function within the narrow confines of prescribed behaviour. A Code of Conduct reduces or narrows the range of acceptable behaviour or conduct and once desired habits are learnt, they need only be repeated. It works on the principle that no thought is required other than to think obedience. In removing the need to wrestle with ethical complexities it arrests moral development.

    A Code of Conduct isolates the workplace as a site of fractious misconduct and is served by checklists, formal processes, policies, procedures, rules, regulations, and instructions. The problem is that workplace discipline and obedience as prescribed in a Code of Conduct is conflated with being ethical. The Code of Conduct becomes a surrogate code of ethics.

    Its usurpation of professional ethical identity is totalizing and meets with little resistance since codes of ethics, which might act as a self-righting ethical counterbalance, are not much use in practice at all Rossiter et al. We end up believing that we are all potentially at risk. The Code requires that registrants must not condone unjustifiable or unlawful discrimination by service users, carers or colleagues 5. A culture of deterrence and fear of retribution leads to moral paralysis.

    Conclusion This chapter argues that a Code of Conduct militates against a lively and expansive ethical environment in social work. By default it pathologizes and scapegoats erring individuals without acknowledging the harsh managerial practices, poor supervision or the impossible situations social workers often have to confront.

    Of late, a couple of practitioners have successfully defended themselves on these grounds showing how a well-argued misconduct case can exonerate the defendant, especially if the employer can be shown to have been negligent. However, these are rare events. As the Code requires, frontline social workers are obliged to use standardized procedures to challenge and report dangerous abusive discriminatory or exploitative behaviour 3.

    On the McLaughton premise, this is no surprise since the regime targets frontline practitioners. How far can any code meaningfully capture all that is involved in being a morally active practitioner and if it cannot what does it foreclose? Is it inevitable that a code of conduct will trump a code of ethics? If so, is this due to inherent flaws in the very idea of codification of ethics or to other dynamics? If an authentic ethical identity is ensnared and fixed by the technologies of regulated conduct, how might genuine ethical dialogue and a practice of value be generated?

    Social Work in the Community

    Critically reflective practice: An important dimension of an integrated ethical decision-making framework that must be developed through an exploration of socialized value patterning and the influence of personal and professional experiences. Incorporating critical reflection into ethical decision making requires the social worker to explore the moral realm to clarify issues to do with duty, responsibility, obligation and rights. Moral continuum: The mapping of ethical theory and perspectives along a continuum that incorporates deontological through to utilitarian thought and highlights the place of virtue ethics, ethics of care, ethics of responsibility, discursive ethics, and postmodern ethics.

    As we have seen in previous chapters, these values find their way into formalized documents, such as ethical codes, standards of practice and codes of conduct, which attempt to dictate appropriate ways that social workers should behave in carrying out their professional duties. So, too, it could be argued, do accountants, veterinary surgeons, parents, doctors, builders, florists, nurses, teachers, engineers and politicians. Decision making is part and parcel of life, yet the consequences of decisions are likely to be very different depending on the nature, impact and outcome of the decision, and whether there is potential for harm, oppression or injustice.

    It is the latter form of decision that concerns us in this chapter. But a doctor who decides to discharge an elderly patient to an unsafe home environment or a social worker who decides not to remove a child from an abusive situation is clearly making an ethical decision, i.

    Decisions which are ethical in nature, and which often sit within the professional domain, concern the moral realm when they involve questions about rights, duties, responsibilities and obligations. When a person does not fulfil obligations or responsibilities, the potential for injustice to be caused to another is heightened.

    Social workers constantly deal with a complex array of ethical issues and questions which generate difficult ethical dilemmas see Chapter 5 in a practice environment characterized by continuous and rapid change. They then need to be able to justify these decisions. This chapter poses the question of what makes the decisions that social workers are often called on to make sufficiently complex or important to warrant the burgeoning literature on ethical decision-making models.

    Furthermore, what claims do those who write about ethical decision-making processes make about the potential for improvement of effectiveness of options and outcomes if a practitioner does follow the steps of a particular model? Decision making is largely presented by these writers as a rational or technical process, i.

    10 editions of this work

    It is the ethical part of the decision-making process that provides the wildcard, because every social worker and client carries within them experiences, beliefs, attitudes and personal values that can sway the analysis of a situation in unanticipated directions. The mere act of making ethical or moral decisions is fraught with uncertainty. This chapter traces the history of ethical decision making as a distinct body of social work literature and maps its development as a professional practice skill. It challenges social workers to acknowledge the importance of critical reflection and honest appraisal of socialized value positions.

    A case study shows that what might be a clear path forward for one practitioner engaged in an ethical conflict may not be so clear for others, even when all hold common social work values. Comment is also offered on the teaching of ethical decision making in social work education. Recommendations are given for the development of a broader perspective that focuses more on understanding the critical principles underlying ethical decision making than on rigidly defined processes used to reach resolution of an ethical problem or dilemma.

    Key ideas Social work is moving with the times and entering a period of increasing complexity as the globalized world experiences economic turmoil, environmental change and demographic movement, all of which are placing pressures on the health and welfare systems in which most social workers work. Social workers are at the forefront of many systems that face difficulty, such as housing, mental health and income support, and are well placed to provide practical assistance to individuals, groups and communities at risk of impending disadvantage.

    The moral continuum between deontology and utilitarianism, as commonly constructed in moral philosophy and ethical theory, has been further expanded by explorations of the feminist ethic of care see Chapter 7 , virtue ethics see Chapter 10 , and communitarian and rights-based theories see Chapter Being able to speak the language of ethics to justify their stance on particular moral and ethical issues has enabled social workers to engage more fully with colleagues from diverse disciplines and professions, and thus reach a shared understanding of professional ethics to facilitate ethical decision making.

    The ethical foundations of social work provide fundamental principles that connect social workers across continents. For example, as we saw in Chapter 1, the IFSW statement of ethical principles seeks to provide a unified professional value position centred on the promotion of human rights and social justice. Guided by these ethical principles and a growing body of literature on social work values and ethics, social workers have a starting point from which to explore competing value positions. Against this backdrop, social workers engaged in ethical decision making have an uphill battle in many practice contexts.

    This is why it is so important that an understanding of ethical theory and principles is combined with an honest exploration of prejudices, biases and religious and spiritual convictions, which could lead to judgmentalism, stereotyping and intolerance. Such self-reflection must precede any attempt at developing a decision- making process to work through options and consequences of ethical conflicts and dilemmas.

    Ethical decision making, I would argue, is empty of meaning without the necessary prerequisites of knowledge and self-reflection that should form a major part of social work education. Many attempts have been made to analyse the constructions of the plethora of ethical decision-making models available as they have significant differences in philosophical foundations and focus and are not easily categorized. They construct their inclusive model on the previously mentioned platforms of accountability, cultural sensitivity, consultation, and critical reflection. In developing their degree model Bowles et al.

    The essential steps that social workers are encouraged to work through to reach a principled decision are, in fact, very similar. Whether we are looking at the ETHIC model developed by Congress , the highly reflective Mattison model, the feminist model for ethical decision making Hill et al. What is starting to happen in more recent times in social work, however, is an adding of depth to established models and an extension of the ways in which ethical decision making must be relevant to context.

    Despite the debate and uncertainty about the value of this model, the text is now moving into its ninth edition. The authors clarify that their ethical hierarchy should be used only to stimulate debate. This is a significant move forward since ethical principles cannot be given rank-order priority in the real world of practice. Every situation is different and each social worker has a personal value position despite his or her professional values and ethics.

    This brings us to the question of whether ethical decision-making models are in fact useful or more of a hindrance than a help. The literature certainly suggests that while some models are overly simplistic, excessively prescriptive or lacking in depth, there are valid reasons for continuing to develop decision-making models. They give students and practitioners a starting point from which to develop their own more integrated decision-making processes with time and experience. What we are seeing in the progression of literature, then, is an adding of layers to the core, meaning that social work is embracing a much more complex analysis of ethical decision making than mere reliance on the simplistic reductionism often seen in earlier models.

    It is this complexity that we must grapple with as we move to explore how an ethical decision- making process could be applied to practice. Application to social work practice Ethical decision making is a process by which a social worker arrives at an option for action that may also include inaction on the basis of a weighing up of information, exploration of values personal, professional, social and organizational , and investigation of relevant laws, protocols, ethical codes and cultural viewpoints.

    A decision ultimately reached may depend on which way the balance tips in relation to logic, emotion, moral conscience or possible repercussions. The following case illustrates some of the ways in which these differences can play out. The caseloads for staff are high, the work is complex and there is little opportunity for supervision of practice. Danielle has worked closely with another social worker, Rosie, for the past four years. They are close friends as well as colleagues, and enjoy a mutually supportive working relationship. Rosie lost her partner to an aggressive form of cancer six months ago.

    She has two small children, a high mortgage and little extended family support. She has been desperately trying to maintain control of her emotions at work, but has been feeling detached from clients and has begun to cancel appointments and avoid families that she finds too taxing. She has asked Danielle on a number of occasions to cover particular clients for her, and has taken many days off work, leaving other staff to manage her cases.

    Danielle has tried to help, and Rosie has pleaded with her not to let management know that she is not coping for fear that her contract will not be renewed. It is well known that management of this agency do not consider that staff should allow personal issues to interfere with their work, and there is little sympathy for anyone not pulling their weight in the team. Danielle is feeling stressed and is having difficulty sleeping. Is this an issue that has anything to do with rights, duties, obligations or responsibilities?

    The clear answer here is that there are concerns about the rights of clients, the duties and responsibilities of staff, and the obligations of management. It would be unlikely that it could be argued that this is not an ethical issue. An ethical problem this may well be, but the second question is whether this situation constitutes an ethical dilemma. The common definition of an ethical dilemma is a situation in which there are clearly competing principles at stake, one issue up against another, and there is no clearly defined course of action see Chapter 5.

    It is at this point, before we have crossed the threshold into ethical decision making that four social workers may reach two different conclusions is this or is this not an ethical dilemma , based on four sets of reasoning. Technically both would be correct, and both would be unable to determine which principle to uphold, thereby placing them in an ethical bind. For these social workers, there is evidence of a dilemma that requires further thought. Support of colleagues, particularly when such a tragic event has occurred, is undisputed. Loyalty and confidentiality win out and there is no question of not continuing to support Rosie and manage the caseload demands as best as is possible, preferably covertly given the management culture.

    After all, Social worker C knows what it is like to have been in a similar situation in the past herself, and has strong values about workplace support. Social worker D also sees no ethical dilemma here. There is no place for impaired practice in a service that deals with distressed families. Clients have a right to quality service and if this were not being provided, for whatever reason, management would have a responsibility to act.

    Therefore, Social worker D believes that Danielle has an obligation to report Rosie in the best interests of the clients of the service. At this point, the process-oriented, rational ethical decision-making models would guide the social workers in the direction of ethical codes that refer to the best interests of clients, issues in relation to impaired practice, limits of confidentiality, predominance of duty of care, and loyalty to the employing agency.

    In this situation, ethical codes may provide information, but may not point to a clear way forward. Some ethical decision-making models focus on legal parameters and the assessment of risk. What if a client were to take legal action as a result of poor service? What if the service were to lose funding as a result of unwanted media attention should it become known that clients were disadvantaged?