Social Work 715

SOWK 715: Ethical Issues in Social Work Practice

Prerequisite: Acceptance into the School of Social Work or by permission of the instructor

Credit Hours: (3)

This course focuses on the ethical issues and dilemmas that confront professional social workers in practice with individuals, groups, families, agencies, and communities. Theoretical models for social work ethical decision-making and the National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics are presented. The ways in which personal and professional values differ will be addressed. The elements involved in ethical decision-making will be applied to case illustrations. Examples from the student’s own practice experience will be used.


Detailed Description of Course

1. Social Work Values
2. Personal vs. Professional values
3. Code of Ethics
4. Ethical Theory Overview
5. Ethical Dilemmas and Current Events
6. Ethical Rank Ordering
7. Ethical Reasoning
8. Impact of cultre, oppression, sexual orientation on ethical considerations
9. Self-determination vs. Paternalism
10. Issues in Social work practice: informed consent; confidentiality/limits; duty to warn; dual relationships; unethical sexual relationships with clients and counter-transference; bartering; fraud
11. Managed care and ethical considerations
12. Practitioner Impairment and NASW Standards for Professional Review
13. Documentation
14. Issues in Macro practice: adminstration and supervision
15. Child Welfare and ethical issues
16. Special Populations
17. Ethical Review Committees
18. Case presentation to the committee


Detailed Description of Conduct of Course

This course is conducted in a seminar format so each student must come to class ready to discuss the assigned readings with critical thinking. Each student will be focused on themselves and their practice as it pertains to the readings and discussions. The class will consist of lectures, videos, guest speakers, small group work, and class exercises on ethical reasoning.


Goals and Objectives of the Course

In this course students will:

1. Study ethical theory, ethical rank-ordering, and the steps involved in ethical reasoning in order to apply these in a thoughtful way to the ethical dilemmas inherent in social work practice.
2. Gain an understanding of the underlying moral principles and values upon which social work is based. These principles will serve as launching points for making sound ethical decisions and for behaving in ethical ways.
3. Begin to differentiate between their personal values and the professional values of social work.
4. Begin to understand the ethical implications of various practice interventions and will be able to identify best practices.
5. Understand the importance of consultation and supervision in the process of ethical decision-making.
6. Understand the vital importance of ethical standards, such as informed consent, in addressing the needs of oppressed populations.

At the end of this course students will be able to:

1. Apply ethical theory, rank-ordering and ethical reasoning by applying these concepts to an ethical dilemma from their professional or personal experience.
2. Demonstrate their ability to articulate the values of the social work profession by grounding their explanation of best practice in the values articulated the profession.
3. Assess for how their values differ from and are similar to the values of the social work profession. Students will demonstrate their recognition of how gender, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation may impact ethical decision-making.
4. Identify best practices that are identified in the social work literature and supported by their own ethical reasoning.
5. Demonstrate their ability to make use of consultation and supervision in the ethical decision-making process.
6. Articulate their understanding of the importance of upholding informed consent and other ethical standards, with regard to all peoples, and particularly in regard to oppressed populations.


Assessment Measures

In-Class Reflection: In this reflection you will reflect on class (discussion, reading, video, guest speakers) and how this content intersects with your professional and personal experience. In the reflection, please speak to how you will use the material in your work or how you already have used some of the concepts in your work.

Current Ethical Dilemma: Students will examine current professional dilemmas in the media and be prepared to discuss in class

Self-Assessment: Students will complete a self-assessment inventory. The purpose of this assignment is to provoke your thoughtful engagement with the material.

Ethical reasoning exercise: Prior to the second day of class you will construct a rough draft of ethical reasoning.

Paper: Students will examine from an ethical dilemma from his or her own experience or from the literature and discuss this dilemma from the perspective of social work professional values. Compare and contrast your personal values with those of social work and how you resolve any discrepancy. Apply the relevant standards from the NASW Code of Ethics to the ethical dilemma you have chosen. Identify an ethical reasoning system and a rank-ordering system to use and apply each of those concepts to your ethical dilemma. Conclude your paper with a comprehensive summary and your decision about how to proceed.

Ethical Dilemma: On the final session of class, each student will both present an ethical dilemma for consultation.


Other Course Information


Abramson, M. (1996). Refelctions on Knowing Oneself Ethically” Toward a Working Framework for Social Work Practice. Families in society: The Journal of Contemporary Human Services. April.

Coles, R. (1986). Our moral lives. Society, 23 (4), 38-41.

Congress, E. (1999). Social work values and ethics: Identifying and resolving professional dilemmas. Chicago: Nelson Hall.

Corey, G., Corey, M., Callanan, P. (1998). Issues and ethics in the helping professions. Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole Publishing Company.

Dickson, D., & Congress, E. (2000). When social work ethics and law collide: Identifying and navigating conflicting standards. A paper presented at the Council of Social Work Education Annual Program Meeting, New York, NY.

Levy, Charles. (1993). Social work ethics on the line. Binghamton, NY: The Haworth Press.

Lowenberg, F., Dogoff, R., Harrington, D. (2000). Ethical Decisions for Social Work Practice. Itasca, Illinois: F.E. Peacock Publishers, Inc.

Kidder, Rushworth, M. (1995). How good people make tough choices. New York: William Morrow.

Manning, S. (1997). The Social Worker as Moral Citizen: Ethics in Action. Social Work. 42. 223-230.

National Association of Social Workers. (1999). Code of Ethics. Washington, D.C.: NASW Press.

Rawls, J. (1999). A theory of justice, revised edition. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Reamer, F. (1995). Malpractice claims against social workers: First facts. Social Work, 40 (5), 595-601.

Reamer, F. (1999). Social Work Values and Ethics. NY: Columbia University Press.

Reamer, F. (1993). The philosophical foundations of social work. New York: Columbia University Press.

Reamer, F. (1997) Managing Ethics under managed care. Families in Society. 78. (1). 96-101.

Strom-Gottfried, K. (2000). Ethical vulnerability in social work education: An analysis of NASW complaints. Journal of Social Work Education, 35 (2), 241-254.

Witkin, S. (2000). Ethics-R-Us. Social Work, 45 (3), 197-200.


Review and Approval
ACPR 1/14/05
VPAA 1/27/05