Professionals should be aware of personal values and professional ethics to avoid engaging in unethical behavior.
Ethics is the systems of acceptable behavior adopted by a profession, while values are a judgment of what is important in life. The National Association of Social Work (NASW) Code of Ethics guide social workers through the helping process by providing a set of specific ethical standards that reflect the core values on which social work's mission is based. According to NASW Code of Ethics, “the primary mission of the social work profession is to enhance human well-being and help meet the basic human needs of all people, with particular attention to the needs and empowerment of people who are vulnerable, oppressed, and living in poverty.” The profession's core values are service, social justice, dignity and worth of the person, importance of human relationships, integrity, and competence. Some of a social workers' ethical responsibilities to her clients include commitment to clients, self-determination, informed consent, cultural awareness and social diversity. Social workers also have ethical responsibilities to colleagues, in practice settings, as professionals, to the social work profession, and to the broader society. A social worker carries out her ethical responsibilities in these concerns with the core values guiding her, and refers to the NASW Code of Ethics when faced with an ethical dilemma, when two or more of these values are competing. The Code is designed to help social workers identify relevant considerations when professional obligations conflict or ethical uncertainties arise. Ethics drive social work practice.
In SOWK 483: Practicum Seminar, we wrote an ethical issues analysis paper, my within-the-classroom artifact, describing and going through the decision-making model that we learned in that class for an issue that was presented to us during our field placement experiences. In this paper, I discuss the issue of the structures that prevented the well-being of clients at my field placement at Columbia High School (CHS). The aspect of a student’s social well-being that I focused on is as within the school environment and on the academic basis, following the standards for social work practice in the school setting: equal educational opportunity, social justice, and the removal of barriers to learning (“NASWCulturalStandards2003.Q4.11,” n.d.). This paper has allowed for me to recognize the complexities of ethical challenges and provided an opportunity for me to use the general decision-making model as a systematic guideline for resolving ethical dilemmas. The decision-making model consists of seven steps to go through to make the best informed decision. I had to understand and delineate the influence of professional roles, personal values and motivations and their status of importance on the resolution of the ethical dilemma.
University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. “Decision-Making Process.” Decision-Making Process - UMass Dartmouth,
Consultation is an important part of the ethical decision-making process. I consulted my site coordinator and we worked towards making changes that were feasible for me as an intern and for us as an outside agency coming in to CHS. Also, some of the structures that I viewed as issues were simply a perspective that I held and lack of understanding. For instance, I perceived that there was an issue of site coordinators taking in students that are not in need of services because of the quota on the number of students that needed to be in Communities In Schools (CIS) by the end of the school year. In reality, everyone in the school is underprivileged and could benefit from the services of CIS. Some students may be in greater need of the services, but if CIS only took in the students with the greatest needs, it would be too taxing on the site coordinators. This was a learning opportunity that helped me differentiate between my personal value of wanting to take in the highest risk students and an ethical issue of not fulfilling the mission of CIS in the school, to help kids stay in school.
For the initial engagement with the students in my beyond-the-classroom experience, I gave them a Needs Assessment, a form that assesses a student’s risk and protective factors. In addition to asking the questions on this form, I asked students about their values. I created a Values Assessment, my beyond-the-classroom artifact, to get a better understanding of what the students prioritize in their lives. Having this knowledge served many purposes, but what I found it most useful for was as motivation. Whenever the students were feeling low, reminding them of their values gave them a reason to keep going and look forward. At this time in their lives, students are building their sense of identity, so it was also helpful for them to identify what they valued and how it shaped who they are. Having and being aware of their values give them strength and purpose during times of adversity.
I realized the importance of the ethics of the social work profession at the beginning of my field placement experience. The site coordinator of CIS at CHS is not a social worker, therefore, not all her professional values aligned with my own. As mentioned, one of a social worker’s ethical responsibilities to her clients is informed consent, which is when a practitioner informs a client that she must break confidentiality under certain circumstances. The client will not feel betrayed if they know beforehand that certain things that they mention to their practitioner will result in the practitioner having to break confidentiality. Informed consent often includes when a client expresses the intention to harm themselves or others. One of the students expressed that they were under the influence and the site coordinator acknowledged it but took no move to address it as a problem. There are many issues that could have risen as a result of that exchange. After consulting my field instructor, I addressed the issue with the site coordinator. Though not in the CIS manual, being under the influence is one of the topics that should be included in informed consent for me as a social work student because if something happens to the student as a result of being under the influence, and I did not inform administration at the school, I will be held responsible. We spoke to the program director, who proceeded to tell us that we are to write a statement any time that a student tells us that they are under the influence. It is also our responsibility to include it in informed consent.
Every social worker works towards doing what they think is right but every practitioner’s idea of what that looks like is different. It is important to have the Code of Ethics because of the variance that people have in constituting what is right. Also, in addition to the core values, social work practitioners carry their own personal values that affect their work. In certain situations where there are multiple ethical courses of action that a practitioner can take, their personal values may influence how they decide to proceed. It is important for practitioners to be aware of their values and to use them in practice when it will be beneficial for the client. The NASW Code of Ethics serves as a way to ensure that the differing values of the many practitioners do not negatively affect their clients, their colleagues, and society at large. I have come to understand the importance of knowing my values and the ethics of my profession. It is important to know my personal values as to not impose them on my clients and to know my professional ethics so that I do not engage in unethical behaviors unknowingly by putting my values above those of the profession. The Code of Ethics provides ethical standards to which the general public can hold social work professionals accountable.