What Social Workers Should Know About Ethics: Understanding and Resolving Ethical Dilemmas

Elaine P. Congress

Abstract


Recognizing ethical issues and dilemmas that arise in professional practice is crucial for social work practitioners, educators, and students. After a discussion about the limited, although growing, literature on social work ethics, the ten main tenets form the most current NASW Code of Ethics are presented. These topics include limits to confidentiality, confidentiality and technology, confidentiality in family and group work, managed care, cultural competence, dual relationships, sexual relationships, impairment and incompetence of colleagues, application to administrators and relevance to social work educators. In addition to understanding the Code of Ethics, social workers can use the ETHIC model of decision making for resolving ethical dilemmas. This easy to use five step process includes examining personal, agency, client, and professional values, thinking about ethical standards and relevant laws, hypothesizing about consequences, identifying the most vulnerable, and consulting with supervisors and colleagues. A case example involving confidentiality, HIV/AIDS and family therapy demonstrates how social workers can use the ETHIC model.

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