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Ethical Practice in Social Work

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Social Work
Wordcount: 5147 words Published: 9th May 2017

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The aim of this assignment is to demonstrate links between different codes defining ethical practice, legislation and the requirements of professional conduct. The author will also discuss knowledge of traditional social work values and recent changes in the value base of social work. The relationship of ethical themes and the range of ethical theories will also be considered, concluding with the requirements of professional social work practice.

Although social work is a profession laden with contradictions, the primary task within the social work profession is to ensure that the directives and principles enshrined in social work ethics, call on social workers to establish human rights and willingly be able to challenge unjust principles (Allan et al 2009).

Moral codes and social structure is recorded as far back as the Ancient Greek Polis era with suppression of civic autonomy. The idea of life of virtue and human fulfilment leading on to the new course in ethics chartered during the Hellenistic era are the most discussed social structures discussed to date, regarding early ethics and values although forms of social structural developments were occurring in Egypt, Mesopotamia, China and India has less recorded by historians (Bryant 1996). Bisman (2004) acknowledges that the core concept of moral concerns drove social work’s development during the profession’s formative years. Although Jones (1997) cited in Bisman (2004) (pg: 110) complains that “the profession has been particularly silent over the past twenty years about the shifting patterns in social wellbeing and disadvantage” and that this silence may be a direct violation of the social work codes of ethics.

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The emphasis of social change was more evident during the settlement movement and the emphasis was on Toynbee’s philosophy that there was a need to unite the advocacy of social reform and the inclusion of various classes to ensure society performs those duties (Bisman 2004). Self determination is central to the social workers ethical responsibilities to clients. Hepworth et al (2009) (pg: 60.) predict that “codes of ethics are the embodiment of a profession’s values”. Acknowledgment for principals and standards for social workers behaviours are imbedded in the Codes of Ethics circulated by the National Association of Social Workers addressing the range of responsibilities that social workers have as professionals to their clients, colleagues, employers, profession and to society as a whole (Hepworth et al 2008 ). Addams (1902) (pg: 1) “believed that ‘ethics’ is but another word for “righteousness”… without which life becomes meaningless’”.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child acknowledge that the values vary from country to country and the understanding of values universally are very problematic. However, it is not just the question of different values, but a question of relative power (Heintz 2009). Every Child Matters (2003) contains five outcomes which are being healthy, staying safe, enjoying and achieving, making a positive contribution as well as economic well-being have absorbed the UNCRC Articles into a comprehensible table. This ensures that practitioners are drawn to reflecting the ethical principles and value base when making their decisions regarding client needs.

Wilks (2005) highlights that there are two central conceptual strands that account for social work values; these are social work ethics and anti-discriminatory practice. However although these two strands lie together there are conflicts. Strategies have been adopted to bridge the gap in principle by means of social justice or equality.

Nash (2000) was also interested in the ethics of the individual self and understanding the power differences. Although seeing everyone as social actors, concerned with interaction through social behaviour can at times be fragmented, unstable, fluid and fast changing. This unpredictability is why it is very important that social workers analyse each individual case thoroughly, reflecting on where and when to employ ethical and value based decisions that will influence positive results.

Clark’s (2000) cited in Tovey (2007) acknowledges that there are five basic principles that promote ethical practice in social work are:

  • Respect for and promotion of individuals’ rights to self-determination
  • Promotion of welfare or well-being
  • Equality
  • Disruptive justice
  • Discipline

Furthermore, it is important that traditional social work values are employed, but it is also important that consideration for limitations of traditional social work values and how these values change at macro, meso and micro levels of practice. Dominelli 2004(pg: 63) argues that although empowering clients is seen as a way of moving forward, “it is unable to do more than deal with issues at the micro level of practice in the practitioner-client relationship, and has little impact on structural inequalities, which also need to be ended”. By being involved in transforming the knowledge base and structure of clients current or future situation, the social workers has to rethink the epistemological base on which social work is founded and establish a value base that aims to create a professional culture that can guide particular interventions (Dominelli 2004). Banks (2006) acknowledges that ethical issues are problematic in social work and that the codes of ethics and codes of conduct fail to explicitly address issues faced by those who are regulated by them. Practioner`s find themselves in difficult situations which at times results in ethical dilemmas. It is still imperative to meet the requirements of professional conduct and that the deontological approach creates a logic whereby professionals are duty-bound to follow their ethical code and where ethical practice without guiding principles is inconceivable (Gray 2009 pg: 2).

The Scottish Social Services Codes of Practice (SSSC 2005) 2005 are a key step in a system of regulation for social services delivered along with setting standards for practitioners to be accountable for their actions. SSSC (2005) state that there are six codes of practice that social service workers are required to take account of these are:

  • Protect the rights and promote the interests of service Users and carers.
  • Strive to establish and maintain the trust and confidence of

    Service users and carers.

  • Promote the independence of service users while protecting

    Them as far as possible from danger or harm.

  • Respect the rights of service users whilst seeking to ensure

    that their behaviour does not harm themselves or other people.

  • Uphold public trust and confidence in social services.
  • Be accountable for the quality of their work and take

    responsibility for maintaining and improving their

    knowledge and skills.

Social work has undergone radical changes, in addition, the imperialistic approach has been highly criticised as being stereotyped and culturally preoccupied with the blame culture. Raynor (1984) recognised that there was a difference in accountability, regardless of justification. His findings were that social workers are accountable for their own actions, although social workers were only protecting the weaker party in an imbalance of power. It is important that social workers draw on empirical approaches, although the focus should be on solving problems and narrowing the problematic gap in cultural differences between social worker /client relationship working within a moral rational manner.

A postmodern approach in social work has highlighted areas in the welfare state that acknowledge that specific welfare resources are being cut due to rationalisation. Social services need to look at the way economic, social structures and regional injustices in impoverished communities are constructed and adapt to meet their individual needs. Postmodernism argues for the ‘grand’ or ‘universal’ social change on which social work was founded, but now ultimately social work must refocus its attentions on exposing global economical inequalities and oppressive gender and ethnicity-based relationships across the globe (Noble 2004).

The Kantian philosophy encourages that we should treat others as a being who has choice and desires along with a being is those who are capable of rational thought and self determined actions should have the ability to make decisions and act accordingly to their own choices and desires (Banks 2006).

Although deontological and utilitarian approaches tend to dominate social work ethics Lovat and Gray (2008) dispute that within this postmetaphysical age Habermas offers a form of proportionate ethics through the Aristotelian and Thomistic thinking offering a new and practical approach which is particularly appropriate to a modernately post-scientific, postmetaphysical age. Lovat and Gray (2008) (pg: 1101) also recognised within the moderately post-scientific age, although the thinking had a heavy reliance on science they were “aware of the limitations of science in addressing adequately all of life’s demands and providing all of its answers”. Lovat and Gray (2008) also proposed a new approach to ethical deliberation and judgment that has potential to meet the needs of those seeking greater ontological certainty than science can provide.

By implementing a Proportionism approach, which is an ethical and moral approach and holds promise for a more balanced perspective in that social work is both science and art. Overall the proportionist approach is comfortable with the inconsistent position in any ethical dilemma and by applying wisdom, commonsense and probing scientific explanations an ethical decision can be made. “The value of a proportionist position is best captured when we realise that any ethical decision which runs counter to accepted or popular norms cannot be underestimated in terms of its potential to create tension, fear or recrimination”( Lovat and Gray 2008 pg: 1107).

Changing Lives (2006) highlights the ethical and value base by means of four tier approach negotiating a balance between care and control, although the practitioner is under statutory obligation and the nature of the situation is complex the focus should be with avoiding any ethical boundary disputes working in a multi disciplinary approach focusing on the value base work with the client.

Pitts (2000) discusses the Federation International des Communautes Educatives 1998 (FICE 1998) describes that a sound ethical practice is of critical importance. A code of ethics establishes good practice and offers guidance to individual workers in difficult situations, along with acting as a template against which to test conduct and target reform of modifications that need to be made. This in turn guides the practitioners to think about best practice and new answers to ethical issues that may arise.

Within Getting it Right for Every Child (2006) Big Words and Big Tables section 2.6 Consent/Ethics, ethically empower the child or young person regardless of age to educate and promote the best services available by informing the chid or young person of all resources available. The FICE 1998 is dedicated to promoting the lives and future of children and young people around the world creating and promoting global standards for looked after children, The British Association of Social Workers has a Code of Ethics key principles reinforce what service providers should be doing to meet the needs of children and young people these are:

Human Dignity and Worth

  • Respect for human dignity and for individual and cultural diversity
  • Value for every human being, their beliefs, goals, preferences and needs
  • Respect for human rights and self-determination
  • Partnership and empowerment with users of services and with carers
  • Ensuring protection for vulnerable people

Social Justice

  • Promoting fair access to resources
  • Equal treatment without prejudice or discrimination
  • Reducing disadvantage and exclusion
  • Challenging the abuse of power


  • Helping with personal and social needs
  • Enabling people to develop their potential
  • Contributing to creating a fairer society


  • Honesty, reliability and confidentiality


  • Maintaining and expanding competence to provide a quality service

Harris (1998)(pg: 843) highlights that “in the new social services departments, social work was to exist, not simply as another branch of local authority administration, but in its own right as a state-mediated, bureau-professional labour process”.

Consideration for Biestek’s casework principles, individualisation, purposeful expression of feelings, controlled emotional involvement, acceptance, non-judgemental attitude, service user self-determination and confidentiality were the early foundations of principles that have paved the way for influencing present date values in social work (Banks 2006). Tovey (2007) insists that the principles are open to interpretation and practitioners should be aware of the limitations in ethical decision making and the focus on rules and duties influence determining actions in particular situations.

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The legal framework within the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 (Act 1995) underpins what practitioners are required to do to ensure children and young people are provided for and looked after by parents, guardians or their local authority. The Act 1995 chapter 36 section 19 advises that the plan for services has to take into consideration relevant services to be provided.


  1. Addams, J. 1902. Democracy and Social Ethics. Macmillan: London.
  2. Allan, J., Briskman, L., Pease, B. Critical Social Work: Theories and Practices for a Socially Just World. Allen & Unwin: NSW.
  3. Banks, S. 3rd Ed, 2006. Ethics and Values in Social Work. Palgrave Macmillan: Basingstoke.
  4. Bisman, C. 2004 Social Work Values: The Moral Core of the Profession. British Journal of Social Work 2004. 34, 109-123.
  5. Bryant, M,J. 1996. Moral Codes and Social Structure in Ancient Greece: A Sociology of Greek Ethics from Homer to Epicureans and Stoics. New York Press: USA.
  6. Available on line: Changing Lives: Report of the 21st Century Social Work Review http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2006/02/02094408/8 [Accessed October 2009].
  7. Available on line: Children (Scotland) Act 1995 http://www.opsi.gov.uk/ACTS/acts1995/ukpga_19950036_en_3#pt2-ch1-pb2-l1g19 [Accessed October 2009].
  8. Dominelli, L. 2004. Social Work: Theory and Practice for a Changing Profession. Polity Press: Cambridge.
  9. Available on line:Every Child Matters (2003) http://www.dcsf.gov.uk/everychildmatters/strategy/strategyandgovernance/uncrc/unitednationsconventionontherightsofthechild/ [Accessed October 2009].
  10. Available on line:Getting it Right for Every Child (2006) http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2005/06/20135608/56098 [Accessed October 2009].
  11. Gray, M. 2009. Moral Sources and Emergent Ethical Theories in Social Work. Brittish Journal of Social Work, September 22, 2009.1-18.
  12. Harris, J. 1998. Scientific Managment, Bureau-Professionalism, New Managerialism: The Labour Process of State Social Work. British Journal of Social Work. (1998) 28, 839-862.
  13. Heintz, M. 2009. The Anthropology of Moralities. Berghahn Books: United States.
  14. Hepworth, H, D., Rooney, H, R., Rooney, D,G., Strom-Gottfried, K., Larsen, J. 2009 8th Ed. Direct Social Work Practice: Theory and Skill. Cengage Learning: Canada.
  15. Lovat, T., Gray, M. 2008. Towards a Proportionist Social Work Ethics: A Habermasian Perspective British Journal of Social Work 2008.38, 1100-1114.
  16. Raynor, P. 1984. Evaluation with One Eye Closed: The Empiricist Agenda in Social Work Research. British Journal of Social Work 1984. 14, 1-10.
  17. Available on line: Pitts, J. 2000. Committee on the Rights of the Child: State Violence Against Children. http://www.crin.org/docs/resources/treaties/crc.25/pitts.pdf [Accessed October 2009].
  18. Noble, C. 2004. Postmodern Thinking: Where is it Taking Social Work? Journal of Social Work. 2004. 4, 289-304.
  19. Nash, K. 2000. Readings in Contempory Political Sociology. Blackwell Publishers Ltd: Oxford.
  20. Available on line: The British Association of Social Workers has a Code of Ethics http://www.basw.co.uk/Default.aspx?tabid=64 [Accessed October 2009].
  21. Available on line: The Scottish Social Services Codes of Practice 2005 http://www.sssc.uk.com/NR/rdonlyres/3A6C6F84-EB11-4DE2-90FF-5E143610C2B7/0/SSSCCodesofPracticebookletSept09.pdf [Accessed October 2009].
  22. Tovey, W. 2007. The Post-Qualifying Handbook for Social Workers. Jessica Kingsley Publishers: London.
  23. Wilks, T. 2005. Social Work and Narrative Ethics. British Journal of Social Work 2005. 35, 1249-1264.

Case Study

In this assignment the author had to take into consideration any ethical and value based factors before exploring a workable therapeutic intervention that would meet the needs of the client within this case study. The ethical and value based dilemmas that require consideration needed to be put into a logical workable framework. The author then can identify and progressively translate to meet the needs of any ethical issues faced by both practitioner and client. This process needs to be addressed ethically in three different ways; these are the interests, rights and power. The author will then reflect, explain, analysis and use evidence on how to approach and meet the ethical needs of the client.

The client will be given a pseudonym to protect and ensure confidentiality and privacy throughout this assignment, consent was also given by the main carers. The boy who will be referred to as Marc is now 12 years of age and has recently been diagnosed with (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) ADHD which is now being challenged (Appendix 1).

First and foremost, it is vitally important to look at the young person as a whole by using the Getting it Right for Every Child 2006 (GIRFEC 2006) My world Framework approach which is “underpinned by common values and principles along with shared models, tools and practices that are designed to support work with children and young people” (on line). Although GIRFEC 2006 -Proposal for Action: Analysis of Consultation Responses argue “is there sufficient emphasis and guidance about the child’s involvement and are there sections which need strengthening to ensure that the child or young person is at the heart of the process?” (on line). This statement reinforces the authors need to assess all aspects of the clients wellbeing. This in turn ensures that the author considers all areas of ethical value based concerns before committing to a solution based framework to employ to the service users current situation. By utilising Collingwood’s (2005) three-stage theory framework provided the author with a workable framework to apply a process that would then develop a flexible and developmental tool, which can then identify any specific ethical and value based issues to inform the authors intervention strategy.

Consideration for background information to work ethically with client

By using a Proportionism approach and by looking at the applied science model to solve any ethical issues, then by applying an existing body of professional knowledge to make sense of complex and difficult human situations. This generates an understanding of the current situation, develops a structured sequence to practice in a systematic way, then to practice in a thoughtful and professional manner to allow consideration of cultural circumstance of the current ethical dilemmas (Howe 2002). By completing the Collingwood (2005) theory circle, stage two informed the author of the theory to inform/ intervene ethically and stage three helped identify the knowledge, skills and values to work ethically with the client.

The author drew on more than one principle based ethical approach. This maximised the wellbeing and minimised harm whilst following core values, principles and codes. Although applying the deontological approach allows the author the ability to create logic and ensures that the author is following ethical codes and principles as there are moral judgments and difficult ethical decisions to be made. Gray (2009) reinforces that practitioners should not undermine the importance of principles and codes. It seems logical to utilise modern workable theory to practice by employing the proportional’s approach to explore present situation, consequences and sense of perception on the basis of evidence before the practitioner, using the best means available for forming judgments that springs directly from these means and allows for the end to justify the means (Gray 2009). By applying the Proportionism approach allows the author to build on, manufacture or complement theories, by transcending existing theories to provide a new and superior form of working ethically it can only enhance practitioner/ client relationships (Lovat and Gray 2008).

The following areas were highlighted as in need of development to address the ethical issues for the client.

The author believes that there is an insecure attachment base. Bowlby cited in Butterworth and Harris (1994) argues that insecure attachments contribute to the formation of a neurotic personality as they take the child down a psychologically unhealthy pathway.

Developmental stage using Ericson’s psychosocial stages where the child should be in the fourth stage of industry versus inferiority, recognising that it is important that the child does not run the risk of developing a sense of inferiority – a sense of inadequacy resulting in feeling worthless at this stage (Slee 2002). Leading on to the general effect of the grief, after the mind has suffered an acute paroxysm of grief, and the cause still continues, we fall into a state of low spirits or feel utterly cast down and dejected (on line) (Darwin1872).


It has been long recognised that practitioners have been torn between the utilitarian and the deontologists approach to social work and by breaking free and proceeding on the basis inclusion, open communication, empathy and being impartial is the way forward for practitioners (Houston 2003). “A valid moral decision is reached when those affected by it endorse it as the preferred way forward. In reaching this agreement participants must accept the consequences of the decision for all concerned and its impact on everyone’s interests” (Houston 2003 pg: 822).

Therapeutic interventions are used in many different situations and the end goals of intervention programs are to inspire people to make the necessary changes to take control of their own lives again (on line) (When are Therapeutic Interventions Recommended?).

Consideration for the clients diagnosis as being ADHD is a significant contributing factor to ensuring the best therapeutic model is used to address underlying issues. Controlled longitudinal studies show that by late adolescence and early adulthood, children identified as having ADHD are at risk for a number of mental health problems the most noticeable are anti-social behaviours, cognitive difficulties, poor academic achievement and lower occupational status (on line) ( Thorley 1998). Although diagnose of the clients ADHD is in dispute, ethically the author is at duty to include the probability of ADHD until a conclusive assessment is carried out to confirm or dismiss the first diagnosis when considering play therapy interventions.

The British Association of Play Therapists (BAPT) is the foremost professional body that registers Play Therapists and regulates Play Therapy practice in Britain and have codes of practice along with play therapy standards to regulate play therapy and training (on line)(BAPT 2009). “Play Therapists need to be motivated, concerned and directed towards good ethical practice. They are required to take responsibility to maintain these standards and Play Therapists should always accept responsibility for their professional behavior and actions” (on line) (BAPT 2009).

Consideration for Biestek’s casework principles, individualisation, purposeful expression of feelings, controlled emotional involvement, acceptance, non-judgemental attitude, service user self-determination and confidentiality were the early foundations of principles that have paved the way for influencing present date values in social work (Banks 2006). The author drew on Biestek’s casework principles but found that although Biestek theory focuses on concern of the welfare of the individual it fails to offer satisfactory accounts for relationships. The author has identified that there is a strain on positive relationships, and feels that this is an area that requires prompt development. “Ethical responsibilities flow from all human relationships, from the personal and familial to the social and professional…. Ethical decision making is a process” (Webb 2003 pg: 22).

Holland (2009) acknowledges that a key element within ethic of justice is that of individual rights and that this is a very important development for looked after children. The client has be informed and made aware of all aspects of the intervention process before any structured work can take place as the vast amount of therapeutic play therapy relies heavily on parent participation. This alone poses an ethical dilemma as the client is within a residential group setting and relationships between client /staff may be inconsistent.

In conclusion to this assignment the author feels that it would benefit all parties if the play therapy was delayed until the new adoptive parents were approved. This would then enrich the relationships between client/ adoptive parents, furthermore they can subsequently build resilience in the new family unit, along with educating the new adoptive parents of the complex history and the future needs of the client. The long term value base and ethical benefits would outweigh any short term quick fix solution; the new adoptive parents require the best tools available to ensure that the new family unit works.


  1. Banks, S. 3rd Ed, 2006. Ethics and Values in Social Work. Palgrave Macmillan: Basingstoke.
  2. Butterworth, G., Harris, M. 1994. Principles of Developmental Psychology. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Ltd: UK.
  3. Collingwood, P. 2005. Integrated Theory and Practice: The Three Stage Theory Framework. The Journal of Practice Teaching in Health and Social Work, Volume 6, Number 1, 2005, pp. 6-23(18).
  4. Available on line: Darwin, R, C. 1872. The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals http://darwin-online.org.uk/content/frameset?itemID=F1142&viewtype=text&pageseq=1 [ Accessed October 2009].
  5. Available on line: Dr. Thorley, G. 1998. Therapeutic Intervention for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder http://www.drgeoffthorley.com/ADHD%20article%201998.pdf [Accessed October 2009].
  6. Gray, M. 2009. Moral Sources and Emergent Ethical Theories in Social Work. British Journal of Social Work, September 22, 2009.1-18.
  7. Holland, S. Looked After Children and the Ethic of Care. British Journal of Social Work. August 10 2009. 1-17.
  8. Houston, S. 2003. Establishing Virtue in Social Work: A Response to McBeth and Webb. British Journal of Social Work (2003) 33, 819-824.
  9. Lovat, T., Gray, M. 2008. Towards a Proportionist Social Work Ethics: A Habermasian Perspective. British Journal of Social Work (2008). 38, 1100-1114.
  10. Slee, T. P. 2002. 2nd Ed. Child, Adolescent, and Family Development. Cambridge University Press: UK.
  11. Available on line: The British Association of Play Therapists http://www.bapt.info/playtherapystandards.htm [Accessed October 2009].
  12. Available on line: When are Therapeutic Interventions Recommended? http://ezinearticles.com/?When-is-Therapeutic-Interventions-Recommended?&id=1499263 [Accessed October 2009].
  13. Webb, B, N. 2003. 2nd Ed. Social Work with Children. The Guilford Press: New York.

Appendix 1

Accommodated under Sec 25 C(S)Act 95

Marc was born in England. Marc’s birth parents were substance users and had a chaotic lifestyle. He was unable to remain permanently in their care and as a result was fostered in a number of placements returning to the care of his parents for short periods and having sporadic contact with them. Marc blames himself for not being able to remain in their care.

He was adopted by a couple in Scotland at the age of 5 years. The couple were not able to have their own children. The couple then went on to have a son of their own and since then he has been treated differently. There are no photos of Marc in the house, he does not have a bike (the brother does), he is the family scapegoat and blamed for problems in the parents relationship. Marc has since been diagnosed with ADHD and his diet restricted as a means of attempting to control this. There is some debate by health professionals as to whether the diagnosis is accurate, he is on low dose medication and there has been some reported improvement in his attention levels. Marc also has a developmental delay in self care i.e. knowing how to wash himself, toileting skills. Marc remained with his adoptive parents until last month when his parents asked for him to be removed due to their perception of his behaviour being unacceptable. Marc had stolen sweets. As a result of this Marc has been accommodated in residential home on a temporary basis until a long term family can be identified. Marc believes that stealing the sweets caused the breakdown in the relationship with his adoptive family consequently blaming himself.

Recently a family has been identified and the residential unit is planning to undertake a therapeutic intervention in order to prepare Marc to have an understanding of his history and build his self esteem. The prospective adoptive family are in the process of being approved by the fostering and adoption panel.


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