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About this book

Ethics and values, the cornerstone of good social work practice, are vital in upholding the dignity of service users. Written by a group of global experts, this book addresses questions such as, 'How can the ethical demands of the values of human rights, social justice and professional integrity be understood for contemporary social work practice?'

Table of Contents

1. Social Work Ethics And Values in Turbulent Times

This book argues that in social work who we are is as important as what we do. Discussions of social work values are often couched in terms of the good society, as in concepts such as human rights and social justice. However, good social work is also to be understood as the way in which we practise. Overall, according to the Harvard Good Work Project (Gardner 2010), the ethics and values of a profession are formed through several sets of formative influences: first, personal standards, what is popularly called ‘ethics’ (values, beliefs, formative experiences and moral identity); second, the impact of the socializing institutions which form our professional identity (educational institutions, professional associations, role models and mentors); third, the effect of professional cultural controls such as codes of ethics plus the informal and implicit rules and norms that guide professional behaviour; fourth, the role of external factors such as power, status and prestige in shaping good practice. In social work we can add a fifth formative influence: the direct impact of the agency or employing institution on the production (and reproduction) of good practice. The Harvard Good Work Project also uncovered the three processes critical to good work in the professions: ethics, excellence and engagement. In social work we would want to add two more ‘e’s: empathy and equity.
Richard Hugman, Jan Carter

2. Human Rights and Ethics

The merging of human rights into social work ethics has become a guiding force in the last ten years for numerous codes of social work ethics. The most significant development in this merging occurred with the International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) and International Association of Schools of Social Work (IASSW), umbrella organizations for the social work profession in many countries, which incorporated human rights principles into their ethical statement (IFSW/IASSW 2004). As a consequence of this development, and to an extent not previously seen, social work professions around the world and their ethical structures began to rely upon human rights to guide ethical decision making.
Elisabeth Reichert

3. Social Justice

This chapter discusses the evolution of the concept of social justice within the social work profession – how social workers have historically demonstrated their commitment to a more just society, how contemporary social workers try to achieve this goal, and how social justice principles have informed social work practice at both the individual and organizational level. Although the issues discussed clearly have global implications, the chapter focuses primarily on developments in the US. The chapter emphasizes two themes: that social justice has been a defining characteristic of the social work profession, and that it remains a complex and often contested idea, although this conflict is masked by the ‘universal’ tone of official rhetoric. The chapter also explores the implications of these themes for contemporary social policies, social work practice and social service organizations in a rapidly changing environment.
Michael Reisch

4. Professional Integrity: From Conformity to Commitment

The previous two chapters covered the values of human rights and social justice. These values relate to the substantive ends of social work (what it is designed to achieve), as well as the process (how practitioners should work). For example, a commitment to human rights entails promoting human rights in society generally and in relation to users of social work services (ends) and acting in ways that respect people’s human rights and dignity (process). In this chapter, I will look at professional integrity, which has a focus on how well social workers integrate the values of social work into their thinking and their practice. In this sense, it is a complex, overarching value, which entails commitment to all the values of social work, a capacity to make sense of them and to put them into practice.
Sarah Banks

5. Power and Authority in Social Work Practice: Some Ethical Issues

As professionals, social workers exercise power and authority in all aspects of their practice. For example, in many parts of the world social workers act on behalf of the state to implement laws and policies that compel service users to do particular things or which make other decisions about service users’ lives that many people would not choose for themselves and even do not like. There are other ways, also, in which power and authority may be exercised, such as when service users are persuaded or encouraged to make choices that they might otherwise not have considered. Examples of these fields of practice include child care and protection, mental health, physical health, disability, aged care and youth services. All types of practice are included, from counselling, through case management, group work, community development, service administration and research and policy work. In other words, power and authority runs through every aspect of social work.
Richard Hugman

6. The Political Ethics of Care and Feminist Posthuman Ethics: Contributions to Social Work

This chapter considers how the political ethics of care and posthuman/ new feminist materialist ethics intersect with each other and how their intersections have value for social work. The common ground of these two approaches is that neither makes the assumptions of Enlightenment humanist ethics by regarding the independent rational human actor as the centre of morality, or seeing the human being as the centre of moral thought. Rather, the political ethics of care and posthumanism are relational ways of understanding the world, ways that regard ethical agency (the exercise of moral judgement and action) as emanating from intraactions between human and non-human entities (compare with Besthorn et al.’s discussion of environmental justice in Chapter 10 of this volume). In this context the ‘posthuman’ can be understood as that which lies beyond the classic view of ‘human exceptionalism’, as posthuman includes non-human animals, nature, physical matter and technology, and the way in which these constantly act on each other and on human beings. It is, therefore an approach to ethics that seeks to go beyond humanism: it is ‘posthuman’ in no longer seeing the human as the centre of the moral universe.
Vivienne Bozalek

7. The Political is Personal: On Being, Knowing, and Doing Something About Social Justice

A number of authors on the subject of social work with cross-border migrants have claimed that practice in this field is characterized by significant degrees of collusion and complicity in prevailing regimes of social injustice (see for example Hayes and Humphries 2004; Zorn 2007; Briskman et al. 2012; Jonsson 2014). Invariably, such concerns are articulated with reference to the global definition of social work (IFSW/IASSW 2014) and the profession’s statement of ethical principles (IFSW/IASSW 2004). These two documents orient social workers, inter alia, towards confronting and challenging ‘oppressive power dynamics and structural sources of injustice’ and towards promoting ‘social cohesion the empowerment and liberation of people social justice [and] human rights’ (IFSW/IASSW 2014). Before the background of these claims and aspirations, this chapter serves two purposes. Firstly, I contend that it is in fact much harder to promote than merely to declare a professional commitment to social justice and I want to explore some of reasons why this is so. Secondly, I want to develop a few ideas as to what might make the pursuit of social justice a little easier for practitioners who find themselves entangled in complex and comprehensive regimes of social injustice. To this end, I draw on a selection of writers in the feminist relational, ethics of care and anti-oppressive traditions who have suggested that there is a need to attend to the ways in which practitioners’ ways of being, understanding and responding to the world are intertwined with and impact both their interpretation of what it means to further the ends of social justice and their inclination and ability to act upon these interpretations in the specific contexts of their daily work. While focusing on social work in terms of literature and the profession’s ethical framework, I hope that my arguments will be of interest to other welfare professionals and community practitioners as well.
Dorothee Hölscher

8. Shifting from a Rights-Based Social Work to a Responsibility-Based Social Work: An Initial Articulation

Social work has undergone a significant change since the turn of the millennium. The nature of social work has long been shaped by diversified interpretations. Historically social work is committed to notions of social development and social betterment, but in recent years this has become more clearly understood in terms of social justice, equality, advocacy, human rights and social change. These ideas have become ascribed as ‘universal’ characteristics, endorsed by the development of the Global Standards for Social Work Education (Sewpaul and Jones 2004). Nevertheless, the implications and applicability of these Standards to various cultural contexts remain subject to interpretation and argument (Yip 2004). For example, Noble (2004) criticizes the assumption of a universal position that is challenged by an emergence of relativism and diversity of thinking in understanding or resolving increasingly complicated social problems like poverty, ethnic cleansing and hunger (Lyotard 2003; Noble 2004). Such a critique argues that social work exists within a reality that depends on individuals’ own subjective interpretations and narrations in forms of language, power and human relations. Therefore, it suggests, social work practice should be a process of ‘open expertise’ and ‘open dialogue’ among all related parties such as practitioners, service users and members of the community. The views of every party should be respected and heard in the open discourse of social work practice.
Kam-Shing Yip

9. Ethics and Settler Societies: Reflections on Social Work and Indigenous Peoples

Ethics is a set of guiding principles that reflect values of right and wrong and set standards for behaviour. Ideas about right and wrong are grounded within specific belief systems and cultural contexts, making it difficult, if not impossible, to reach agreement on universal standards. What happens when different societies with fundamentally different worldviews come in contact? What guiding principles or ethical standards can guide their interactions? Colonization is grounded in and sustains a significant power imbalance. Colonizing forces may (or may not) be attentive to their own ethical standards but typically have little, if any, regard for the ethical perspectives of Indigenous Peoples. In spite of their dismissal by societal power structures, Indigenous ethical standards can persist and can be an important consideration for social workers and other helping professionals. Choice of terminology both reflects and shapes perceptions. A variety of terms can be used to refer to the original inhabitants of a land such as Indigenous, Native, First Nations, and Aboriginal.
Hilary N. Weaver

10. A critical analysis of social and environmental justice: Reorienting social work to an ethic of ecological justice

Social work’s conventional ideas of social justice have historically referred to human beings’ rights and responsibilities as largely isolated from larger environmental and ecosystem concerns. But, in recent years, social workers began to expand their historic social justice emphases to more clearly align them with a growing international consensus, suggesting that environmental and social problems are closely linked. Environmental Justice has coalesced around the idea that natural systems and resources must be conserved and protected in order to ensure ongoing economic development and social stability. Not surprisingly, critics argue that the social/environmental justice convergence, for a number of intricate philosophical and ideological reasons, has only been marginally successful in protecting the environment and ensuring greater social equality. Alternatively, they call for a deeper Ecological Justice which places the natural world at the centre of all just considerations of social and environmental action. Ecological Justice rejects adjunctive efforts to simply append environmental justice to social justice. And it calls for a radical reorientation of humanity’s relationship to the natural world and how it balances rightful and competing claims to a just existence that ensures the enduring well-being of both the human and nonhuman world.
Fred H. Besthorn, Terry L. Koenig, Richard Spano, Sherry L. Warren

11. SOcial Work Ethics in Community Practice

As a profession with social justice as a core value, social work has long had collective approaches to creating social change as a central element of its practice. However, in thinking about ethics in social work, those of us in the West/Global North have traditionally focused on practice with individuals, families and groups. The unique nature of community work means that the ethical tensions and questions that emerge in practice are often quite different from those that arise in clinical social work or social policy practice and, as such, they require specific attention. In this chapter, I take two approaches to exploring social work ethics in community practice. With the first approach, I explore the ethical foundation of community work in the contemporary mainstream North American context. The influence of neoliberalism and increased focus on the community shape the ethical tensions in community practice there. In this approach, I interrogate the context in which the neoliberal state legitimates itself through a call for community participation that, as is described by Hugman (see Chapter 5 in this volume), is messy and, at times, problematic. When referring to community practice in social work, I am speaking about work in which the client is not an individual or small group of individuals, but rather an entire community or group of people who share a geographic location, interest or identity. When operating within a Western
Sarah Todd

12. Ethics in Organizations

In the contemporary environment, where services are being cut back and efficiencies sought from every corner, it is tempting to see social workers and their values as pitted against their employing organization. However, while social work as a profession and discipline exists outside of organizational constraints, most social workers are only able to put their values into practice because they are employees of organizations. Indeed, it is because of social workers’ organizational positions, particularly their access to resources, that many clients and communities seek social work services. Organizations breathe life into social work. They enable a set of values and theories to become real in the messiness of everyday life. And negotiating this messiness is the stuff of social work ethics. Nonetheless, tensions do exist between social workers organizational commitment and their professional commitment, as was evident in the example in the Preface of social workers negotiating the complex and highly political terrain of offshore refugee detention camps. These tensions are acknowledged within social work codes of ethics. This chapter explores some ethical issues experienced by social workers as employees of organizations. It does not articulate a theory of ethics as best for organizational work. What the chapter does seek to do is move the focus in thinking about ethics in organizations from the individual towards ethics as collaborative work.
Mark Hughes

13. Postmodern Ethics for Practice

A postmodern worldview sees identity (ontology) as socially constructed; knowledge (epistemology) as subjective and inextricably linked to power; and values (axiology) as culturally embedded and plural. There is no single truth. There is no ethical code that can provide us with definitive answers for how we should act. Postmodernism is characterized by moral ambiguity. Certainly, the primary critique of postmodern ethics is that it is ‘groundless’ (Lash 1996) and can justify extreme relativism and nihilism. What does this mean for social work and social work ethics in the postmodern era? How should social workers conceptualize professionalism in these circumstances? Social work is a practice-based profession characterized by the principles of respect for human dignity and social justice (IFSW/ IASSW 2014). Social workers must therefore find a way to apply these principles such that the diversity of values is embraced and relativistic and nihilistic ethics approaches are avoided. This chapter argues that this is possible by taking a postmodern ethics approach building on the work of Zygmunt Bauman. Bauman is the only postmodern ethics theorist to consider the implications of postmodern ethics for social work (Smith 2011). It will be argued that the key to applying postmodern ethics in social work is to take a relational ethics approach, focused on supporting professional moral responsibility for the operation of professional knowledge, power and values. From this standpoint, societal structures, and particularly bureaucratic structures with their chains of command and departmentalization and prescription of duties, diminish our moral responsibility via the roles they place us in. Roles define our relationship and responsibility to others in terms of the function of the role.
Sacha Kendall

14. Rethinking Values and Ethics in Social Work: The Way Forward

Social work has often been described as a values-based profession (Banks 2012: 2). Although there is a long history of social workers also seeking to ensure that they have a sound foundation of knowledge grounded in evidence that is derived from both practice and research (Plath 2014), from the earliest days social workers have ‘worn their hearts on their sleeves'. Indeed, the global definition of social work provided by the International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) and the International Association of Schools of Social Work (IASSW) is clearly couched in terms of values. Social work is a practice-based profession and an academic discipline that promotes social change and development, social cohesion, and the empowerment and liberation of people. Principles of social justice, human rights, collective responsibility and respect for diversities are central to social work. Underpinned by theories of social work, social sciences, humanities and indigenous knowledge, social work engages people and structures to address life challenges and enhance well-being. In this concluding chapter, we seek to draw together threads that have been developed throughout the book concerning social work values and ethics, in relation to differing contexts and foci of social work theory and practice. In doing so, we seek to identify core concerns for the continuing debates around ethics in social work and to point to ways in which the profession might rethink these issues.
Richard Hugman, Jan Carter
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