Values and Ethics
Codes of Practice
Key skills in social work process include: • Values and ethics • Anti-oppressive practice • Codes of Practice • Professionals and professionalism In this section we will review values and ethics. ETHICS Definition: 'Social work is a profession which promotes social change, problem solving in human relationships and the empowerment and liberation of people to enhance well being. Utilising theories of human behaviour and social systems, social work intervenes at the points where people interact with their environments. Principles of human rights and social justice are fundamental to social work.' (IASSW/IFSW, 2001) Values can be defined as a set of fundamental moral or ethical principles to which social workers are committed. Ethics is the reasoning behind these principles: the study of what is right and wrong. Values, such as those referred to in the definition, of human rights, justice and empowerment, lie at the heart of social work practice. Service users’ expectations include the values of respect for service users’ own expertise, empowerment in decision making, confidentiality, honesty about power and the social work role, the ability to challenge discrimination and to put users and carers first. Although professional codes of ethics and codes of practice can provide general guidance, they will not give detailed answers to the particular problems that arise in practice. For example, you can distinguish between the general ethical issues that pervade social work and those ethical problems where social workers see a situation involving a difficult moral decision or ethical dilemma that involves two conflicting ethical principles. There are no easy answers to such dilemmas and social work practice is permeated by them. The ‘morally active practitioner’ is one who uses their own reflection, research evidence and advice in supervision as well as reference to codes and local protocols to think situations through carefully and arrive at the necessary decisions for action. If all these steps have been taken, the social worker has acted properly even if the outcome turns out to be poor. In such circumstances a social worker should not be blamed for their judgement. However, it does make sense to expect workers to justify and explain their ethical decisions. Reflective practitioners will continue to question their own, or commonly accepted, practices and to seek improvements.