Valuesand Ethics in Social Work
Thesocial work profession has become one of the most sought-aftercareers in the world today, and this is because of the role thatsocial workers play in promoting social justice and giving meaning tothe human life. Social workers are found in virtually all settings,including hospitals and correctional facilities. These professionalsusually work with disadvantaged persons and people grappling withissues such as substance addiction and domestic violence. In order toequip social workers with the skills and competencies needed toexecute this important duty, a set of standards and values has beencreated, the primary purpose being to outline the ethical principlesthat social workers should abide by. Clearly captured in a documentknown as the National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics,the core values that guide social workers include competence respectfor human dignity and the value of interpersonal relationshipssocial justice service and integrity. However, social workersoccasionally experience conflicts between these core values and theirpersonal values. For example, individuals coming from conservativebackgrounds may initially encounter challenges when dealing withclients with rather unconventional beliefs, such as same-sexmarriages. Apart from this, ethical principles stipulated within theCode, such as confidentiality, privacy, informed consent, andself-determination usually create ethical challenges for socialworkers. This is usually experienced by social workers specializingin the field of substance abuse and addictions, where it is foundthat the reluctance of victims to disclose their problem may compelpractitioners to violate the right to self-determination.Nonetheless, social workers should strive to abide by the core valuesin order to ensure that ethical practice is upheld.
Valuesand Ethics in Social Work
Socialwork is one of the noblest professions today, particularlyconsidering that the primary responsibility of social workers is tohelp in making people`s lives better by acting as advocates for thedisadvantaged (Berg-Werger, 2013). Apart from this, the uniqueness ofthe profession lies in its scope of practice, which is very broad, aswell as the strong values on which it is entrenched. Moreimportantly, social workers are one among the persons that are highlycommitted to economic as well as social justice (Berg-Weger, 2013).These are the same features that make social work a sensitive,demanding profession. To be precise, social workers are prone tofacing legal charges on account of having violated ethical standards.
Thispaper explores the ethical frameworks, principles, and dilemmasinvolved in social work.
Ethicalframeworks for social work practice
Oneof the key frameworks upon which the social work profession isfounded is the Code of Ethics created by the National Association ofSocial Workers (NASW). In brief, the NASW Code recognizes socialworkers as existing to improve the well-being of human beings byempowering the poor, oppressed, and the vulnerable. The valuesoutlined in the Code include service, competence, valuing humanrelationships, social justice, integrity, and upholding everyperson`s dignity. A well-defined ethical principle supports each ofthese core values. For instance, the Code stipulates that socialworkers can only provide excellent service if they focus on the goalof helping needy persons to overcome their social problems.Similarly, the Code stipulates that social workers must exercisecompetence by continually upgrading their professional knowledge. TheNASW Code also outlines the ethical responsibilities of social toclients, colleagues, the society, and the profession (NationalAssociation of Social Workers, 2017).
Socialworkers are also bound by the 1996 Health Insurance Portability andAccountability Act (HIPAA), whose emphasis is on privacy andconfidentiality of client information, as well as social justice.Precisely, the Act recommends the use of electronic systems in datamanagement, besides prohibiting denial of service to needy persons(Krager & Krager, 2016). Like NASW, the Council on Social WorkEducation believes that social workers exist to promote individual aswell as community well-being. However, the central view held by theCouncil is that this mandate can only be exercised to the best extentpossible if social workers are adequately trained and educated. Thisis why the Council has established policy and accreditation standardsto ensure academic excellence for students pursuing the social workprofession. The standards emphasize a shift from content-basedcurricula to those focused on learning outcomes. To be specific, themodel favors the use of assessments to ensure that students canimplement their knowledge in a practical situation (Council on SocialWork Education, 2015).
Ethicalissues facing social workers today
Accordingto Reamer (2013), social workers dealing with small groups andindividuals often face the dilemma of maintaining confidentialitywhilst at the same honoring the need to disclose vital information tothe client’s family members. For example, it would be disastrous tomaintain confidentiality about a client who has suicidal thoughts, asthis may cause harm to the client and his/her relatives.Additionally, inasmuch as social workers play a vital role in helpingpersons struggling with difficult life situations to overcome suchsituations and maximize the quality of their lives, their professionis one of the most demanding, particularly in view of ethicalstandards that guide practice. It is worth noting that the autonomyof social workers is somewhat constrained, as suggested by theobservation that social workers must accept the way their clientsdefine life issues (Zastrow, 2013).
Thismeans that even though social workers are charged with aresponsibility of imparting vital skills in their clients, it isunethical for a social worker to try instructing a client on what heor she in a specific situation. Such a statement implies that socialworkers play a subordinate role in facilitating and guiding, and thiscould be challenging to practitioners because it implies that theirpower to make decisions is limited. Still, on the subject ofdecision-making, it should be noted that even though the NASW Code ofEthics is supposed to provide direction to social workers whendealing with elderly clients, the direction provided by the Code isnot definitive. For example, the Code does not provide a clearposition regarding the right of dying, and whether or not it isethical for practitioners to take part in assisted suicide. Becauseof this lack of definitive guidelines, social workers are oftenexpected to apply professional judgment and conduct a sober, criticalevaluation of the pros and cons of various options before coming to adecision (Green & Simon, 2012). Specifically, social workers mustconsider the core values guiding their work, hypothesize the outcomesof various decisions, and liaise with colleagues as well assupervisors in order to come up with the choice that is most ethical.The above example demonstrates that the Code of Ethics does notprovide a comprehensive, clear direction on the conduct of socialworkers when faced with difficult situations. For this reason, itmight rightly be said that the code of ethics guiding social work is,in itself, a source of an ethical dilemma for social workers.
Additionally,in consideration of the economic hardships facing many societiestoday, social workers often find themselves working with diminishedfinancial resources. This arises from government cuts on publicspending, to which social work belongs. The situation is worsened bythe fact that in most cases, the people who seek assistance fromsocial workers are those from the low-income category (Cowden &Pullen-Sansfacon, 2014). The implication of this is that socialworkers are likely to lose the morale to provide excellent servicesimply because they are not being with adequate financial resources.As Cowden and Pulen-Sansfacon (2014) put it, the quality of servicerendered in times of economic hardship is likely to be compromised,thus making it difficult for practitioners to abide by the ethicalprinciple of subordinating self-interest to service to the society.Moreover, this may encourage injustice and bias in the way socialworkers provide their service (Reamer, 2013).
Socialwork and substance abuse: ethical issues
Althoughthe ethical challenges outlined in the preceding section generallyapply to the social work profession, some challenges uniquely applyto certain fields of practice. For example, social workers whospecialize in offering help to victims of substance abuse andaddictions are not necessarily confronted by the same challenges asthose dealing in corrections and criminal justice. For social workersspecializing in substance abuse, one of the ethical challenges thatabound relates to the issue of self-determination and consent. Asstipulated in the NASW Code of Ethics, it is wrong for a socialworker to obtain a client’s private information without his or herconsent (National Association of Social Workers, 2017). While this isunderstandable, it is important to bear in mind that some people areeither reluctant or shy of disclosing addiction to substances(Miller, 2017).
Ina scenario where a social worker is dealing with a client who is shyof admitting that he or she has addiction problems, it is highlylikely that an ethical dilemma will arise. Specifically, theprofessional is expected to exercise professionalism and competenceby using appropriate strategies to identify the issues underlying theproblem. In most cases, this involves a detailed assessment procedurein which the social worker assesses signs of substance addiction inthe client, regardless of whether or not the client admits havingsuch a problem (Miller, 2017). By virtue of the fact that the socialworker may not wait for the client to self-report the problem, itmight be said that the practitioner violated the principle ofinformed consent in soliciting information regarding the problem.
Accordingto the National Association of Social Workers (2017), one of the coreethical responsibilities of social workers to clients is to upholdthe client’s right to self-determination. In simple terms, thismeans that it is unethical for the professional to impose a treatmentprogram on a client. In other words, the social worker should explainall available options together with their merits and demerits to theclient, leaving the client to decide on the one he or she wants.However, social workers may find it hard to provide such freedom toclients with severe addiction problems. Precisely, social workers maybe unable to resist the urge to refer the client to a rehabilitationcenter. Although such a decision may appear helpful andwell-intentioned, the practitioner may be indicted for violating theclient’s self-determination rights.
Still,on the ethical standards that should be followed by social workers,as contained within the NASW Code of Ethics, the principle ofconfidentiality may create ethical challenges in a case involvingsubstance addiction. Essentially, confidentiality means that anysensitive information pertaining to the client must not be disclosedto a third party, unless with the client`s permission. However,supposing that the client in question is a minor whose parents havesought the assistance of a social worker to the client havingdeveloped behavioral problems, it is not realistic to expect thesocial worker to withhold details about the client’s addiction tohis or her parents. Similarly, it is assumed that spouses have aright to know about each other’s health status, and this may make asocial worker liable for violating the principle of confidentiality.
Corevalues of the social work profession
Asoutlined in the NASW Code of Ethics, the social work profession isunderpinned by six core values: integrity, social justice, a person`sdignity, competence, service, and the fact that human relationshipsare important (Segal, Gerdes & Steiner, 2013). In brief, serviceimplies that social workers must lay their personal interests asidewhen executing their duty and that they must utilize their skillswhilst also volunteering when necessary in order to deal with socialproblems. Concerning social justice, social workers are expected toensure that all clients obtain necessary resources and information toovercome the problems of poverty and discrimination (Ambrosino,Hefferman, Shuttlesworth & Ambrosino, 2015).
Withregard to dignity, social workers ought to treat all clients withcare and respect, regardless of their ethnicity. This is onlypossible where social workers engage their clients as partners, hencedemonstrating the understanding of the value of relationships betweenpeople. Integrity is measured by the degree of trustworthinessdemonstrated by a social worker, whereas competence refers to acontinuous struggle to improve one’s professional knowledge(Ambrosino et al., 2015).
Althoughall the above values appear sensible, especially in light of thenature of work that social workers do, it would be pretentious toignore the conflicts that may arise between the above values and thepractitioner’s personal values. Personally, I find the principlesof service and dignity quite hard to pursue. Specifically, I believethat it is wrong for two people of a similar sex to love one another.Accordingly, it would be hard for me to provide unbiased attention toa client with a homosexual orientation. Nevertheless, I plan to refersuch a client to a colleague who is more comfortable handling it, butin the meantime, I would enroll in a counseling class so that I learnhow to accommodate other people’s views.
Undoubtedly,social workers play an invaluable role in the society they promotesocial justice and strive to maximize the well-being of people. Inorder to be capable of executing this crucial role effectively, a setof standards and values have been developed to guide social work.These values and standards are contained in the National Associationof Social Work, and they include integrity, competence, respect forhuman dignity and relationships, social justice, and service. Insupport of the value of competence to social work, the Council onSocial Work Education has formulation standards that are designed toensure that social workers have sufficient theoretical and practicalexperience and knowledge. With all these guidelines, however, socialworkers frequently encounter ethical challenges, mostly related toconfidentiality, privacy, and self-determination. As such, it emergesthat social work is a vital, yet highly demanding and trickyprofession.
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