Social Work Ethics Resources and Research

Below is an overview of social work research related to the profession’s ethical standards and values, including examples of publications that provide an overview of:

  • Research on Ethics – examples of knowledge-building about the role and function of various ethics components
  • Issues in Research Ethics – examples of pre-study conceptualization of research issues related to ethics. This set provides a developmental perspective of the research-building process.
  • Ethical Decision Making in Practice – examples of studies exploring ethical implications in specific practice situations

NASW Code of Ethics

A code of conduct is a hallmark of a profession. It prescribes behavior of professionals in serving and protecting clientele, colleagues, and the society at large. The NASW Code of Ethics for the social work profession has been developed through its major professional association.

Evolving from the first Code (1960) that was a one-page statement of 15 principles to the current Code of 27 pages, NASW has historically defined and refined its Code of Ethics in light of emergent practices and research findings, and through analysis of ethical dilemmas that reached the adjudication sanction processes. The Code is developed by a team of experts and ratified by both the Association’s Delegate Assembly and Board of Directors. Licensing bodies in most states require continuing education in ethics to assure that those licensed not only adhere to defined practice standards, but to ethical conduct as well. Many states specifically reference the NASW Code of Ethics as the ethical standard that must be adhered to by licensees.

  A requirement of NASW membership is adherence to the Code. The Code addresses social workers’ ethical responsibilities:

  1. To clients
  2. To colleagues
  3. In practice settings
  4. As professionals
  5. To the social work profession
  6. To the broader society

Despite the importance of ethical practice as evidenced by the extensive NASW Code of Ethics, a search for literature reporting research findings relating to ethical issues produces a relatively small number of articles, many of which are case studies, and several of which address pre-study tasks of concept development, value explication, and frameworks for developing research. The latter are important, however, not only for their indication of the emerging state of research into social work ethics, but also for their ethical implications for the formation of any social work research study design. Of particular concern is the consideration of human protections during the conduct of research.

Federal Human Research Protection Regulations

In addition to the NASW Code of Ethics, federal regulations (45 CFR part 46) set standards to protect people involved in research studies, with requirements for the research sponsoring institution’s oversight through its Institutional Review Board (IRB). Attending to ethical research practices is especially important when research participants are engaged in interventions that affect them. In order to conduct federally funded research, the Principal Investigator must first take a course in ethics, and adhere to the federal code oversight of human research participants (formerly known as subjects). This language shift from subjects to participants is in itself indication of increasing expectation for the relationship of researcher–participant to be a partnership in knowledge development. The Department of Health and Human Services Office of Human Research Protection (OHRP) is responsible for assuring adherence to the Federal Regulatory Code (FR 46). 

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Ethical standards in social work: A review of the NASW Code of Ethics. Reamer, F. G. (1998).
This is the first comprehensive, in-depth examination of the code of ethics of the social work profession. Ethical Standards in Social Work provides guidance for practice in areas such as confidentiality, boundary issues, informed consent, conflicts of interest, research and evaluation, and more. Using many case examples, this practical and essential guide provides a firm foundation for making ethical decisions and minimizing malpractice and liability risk. (Journal Abstract)

The Journal of Social Work Values and Ethics
This journal seeks to inform and influence social work practice and education. It addresses scholarly inquiry, including development of models for analyzing and resolving value and ethical conflicts; description of new value dilemmas and their impact on social work practice; research studies on the influence of values and ethics in social work practice decision-making and in agency program development; examples of good practice that clearly highlight ethical and value considerations; theoretical articles that explain the origin, development, and evolution of social work values and ethics; discussion of ethical and value dilemmas related to the development of new technologies; and review and analysis of scholarly and practice books, monographs, and articles written on the topic of social work values and ethics.


The following references selected from a broad literature search using key words ethics, social work, and research is not exhaustive, but reflects the range of research-related writings addressing value-relatedness, problem identification, and methodology. Provided are examples of case studies, and both qualitative and quantitative methodology. The references are grouped in three sections as defined above: Research on Ethics, Issues related to Ethics Research, and Ethical Decision-Making in Practice. The articles are listed in descending order from most recent publications from 2005 to 1990, with the exception of two earlier publications that provide perspective of particular note.

Research on Ethics

Sexual ethics: A comparative study of MSWs and BSWs.
AU: Duran-Aguilar-G; Williams-C-J
SO: The-Journal-of-Baccalaureate-Social-Work. 11(1): 58-70, Fall 2005.
MSW and BSW members of NASW in one state were surveyed to assess their attitudes about sexual contact with clients and their perceptions about their training and education in this area. Both groups were found to be critical of sexual conduct between social workers and clients and would take action if they became aware of sexual contact between a colleague and a client. The study found over 90% of BSWs reporting a moderate or significant level of course content in ethics in one or more courses, compared with 71% of MSWs. The authors suggest that more research is need to in order to adequately determine training and attitudes among BSWs and MSWs in the area of sexual ethics.
(Journal abstract.)

Boundaries in social work: The ethical dilemma of social worker-client sexual relationships.
AU: Mittendorf-S-H; Schroeder-J
SO: Journal-of-Social-Work-Values-and-Ethics. 1(1): Online, Fall 2004.
This article reports the results of an exploratory study examining social workers’ attitudes and beliefs about sexual involvement with clients and their knowledge of the prevalence of this behavior as reported to them by their clients. It also presents an historical perspective for discussing previous research documenting the incidence of this unethical behavior and offers policy implications that address prevention of social worker misconduct. (Journal abstract.)

The use of vignettes in qualitative research into social work values.
AU: Wilks-T
SO: Qualitative-Social-Work. 3(1): 78-87, March 2004.
Values play an important role in the construction of social workers’ professional identities. However, current accounts of social work ethics can have difficulty in providing an account of social work values in practice that incorporates the complexity and reflexive nature of much value talk in social care. Direct research in this area has been very limited. Where it has been carried out, quantitative research using vignettes has been an important approach. Vignettes have many advantages when used to examine ethical dilemmas. Their increasing use in qualitative research offers new possibilities in exploring values that might generate more complex and sophisticated understanding of social work ethics. (Journal abstract.)

Race, practice behaviors and the NASW Code of Ethics.
AU: Jayaratne-S; Croxton-T-A; Mattison-D
SO: Journal-of-Social-Service-Research. 28(3): 65-89, 2002.
The NASW Code of Ethics is intended to serve as a guide to the everyday professional conduct of social workers. While the code is relatively comprehensive, it is viewed as a set of guidelines, and social workers are not necessarily obligated to abide by the code. This study examines the perceptions of African American (n=219), Asian American (n=185), Hispanic (n=185), and White (n=502) social workers on the appropriateness of a variety of professional behaviors utilizing random samples from the NASW membership directory. (Journal abstract.)

Dual relationships in social work education: Report on a national survey.
AU: Congress-E
SO: Journal-of-Social-Work-Education. 37(2): 255-266, Spring/Summer 2001.
Dual relationships between social work educators and their current or former students are largely unstudied. This article reports on a survey of deans and senior social work educators’ ethical beliefs on dual relationships. Educators were asked how they regarded different types of dual relationships and differences between dual relationships with current and former students. They were also asked about ethics education in their schools. Beliefs about dual relationships varied, especially regarding current students and former ones. While ethics education in schools of social work is extensive, policies on dual relationships are scarce. Further research is needed on the ethics of dual relationships in social work education. (Journal abstract.)

Ethical vulnerability in social work education: An analysis of NASW complaints.
AU: Strom-Gottfried-K
SO: Journal-of-Social-Work-Education. 36(2): 241-252, Spring/Summer 2000.
This article reports the findings of a study reviewing ethics complaints filed with the National Association of Social Workers from 1986 to 1997 and details the degree to which students, faculty, and field instructors are the subject of allegations and findings of misconduct. The research is examined in the light of the literature on supervision, academic misconduct, and student and personnel grievances. It concludes with recommendations for promoting ethical practice in social work education. (Journal abstract.)

Ensuring ethical practice: An examination of NASW Code violations, 1986-97.
AU: Strom-Gottfried-K
SO: Social-Work. 45(3): 251-261, May 2000.
The NASW Code of Ethics is intended to serve as a guide for practice and as a statement of professional standards that the public may use to hold social workers accountable for their actions. At times, however, the Code’s proscriptions may seem overly general, difficult to apply, or unrealistic in light of the challenges social workers face daily. How then is the Code interpreted? What actions by social workers may result in findings of ethics violations? This article reviews earlier research on violations of the NASW Code and reports on a recent study reviewing allegations made against NASW members from 1986 to 1997. The article describes the frequency and types of behaviors that resulted in findings of ethical misconduct and offers suggestions for enhancing practice and reducing exposure to ethics complaints. (Journal abstract.)

Sexual contact with clients: Assessment of social workers’ attitudes and
educational preparation.
AU: Berkman-C-S; Turner-S-G; Cooper-M; Polnerow-D; Swartz-M
SO: Social-Work. 45(3): 223-235, May 2000.
The purpose of this study was to assess social work students’ attitudes about sexual contact with clients and their perceptions about their training and education in this area. The sample included 349 social work students in their final semester of an MSW program. There were relatively high levels of approval for sexual contact between social workers and clients in certain circumstances in which professional relationships were terminated, were brief, or had involved only concrete services. Students with less social work experience and who thought class content on sexual ethics was inadequate were more likely to approve of sexual contact between social worker and client. Students did not feel that they had received adequate education or training on sexual ethics, and many felt unprepared to handle sexual feelings from or toward a client. Implications for education, training, and practice, and suggestions for future research are discussed. (Journal abstract.)

Professional socialization, ethical judgment and decision making orientation
in social work.
AU: Landau-R
SO: Journal-of-Social-Service-Research. 25(4): 57-75, 1999.
The purpose of this cross-sectional study was to explore the impact of demographic variables and professional socialization on ethical judgment and decision-making orientation in a sample of social work students (N = 360) and practicing social workers (N = 212). Data were collected at three points in time: before students’ exposure to social work education, near its completion, and during their professional social work. Data were collected using a standard measure of ethical judgment and six vignettes to identify changes in ethical decision-making orientation. The only background variable that significantly affects the respondents’ ethical judgment is religiosity. The data indicating greater client orientation and, to a lesser extent, nonintervention orientation among third year than first year students suggest that social work education has an important role in conveying central social work values. (Journal abstract, edited.)

Boundary violations in social work supervision: Clinical, educational and
legal implications.
AU: Bonosky-N
SO: The-Clinical-Supervisor. 13(2): 79-95, 1995.
Professional social work has been remiss in directly addressing issues of “dual relationship” abuse within student-supervisory relationships. But such relationships, especially of a sexual nature, may lead to violations of confidentiality and objectivity, exploitation, psychological damage, and educational distortions. Dual relationships may foster dysfunction in the student’s subsequent professional relationships. Supervisors open themselves up to serious legal and professional consequences when they violate boundaries with students. Questions of abuse of a predominantly female student constituency have implications for social work ethics and values. Further research into ethical dilemmas unique to social work supervision is urged. (Journal abstract.)

Classification and correlates of ethical dilemmas in hospitals.
AU: Proctor-E-K; Morrow-Howell-N; Lott-C-L
SO: Social-Work. 38(2): 166, March 1993.
Hospital social workers’ descriptions of ethical dilemmas were coded according to the specific principles in conflict, and most were found to involve conflicts between client self-determination and client best interest. This study enhances an understanding of ethical dilemmas and advances a methodology for studying their occurrence and consequences. (Journal Abstract.)

Social work ethics in the practice arena: A qualitative study.
AU: Kugelman-W
SO: Social-Work-in-Health-Care. 17(4): 59-80, 1992.
This paper is a report of an exploratory qualitative study that examined the role that social work ethics plays in informing social work behavior, as compared to other influences of an extra-ethical nature. The paper begins with a review of the literature exploring how ethical principles are utilized in professional practice. A discussion of the methodology focuses upon the choice of a qualitative design. Excerpts from participants’ responses to a fictional case history are presented and discussed. The reader is offered an understanding of the area of study through access to the “natural flow” of thoughts presented in the excerpts. This research demonstrates how ethical principles, as codified in the National Association of Social Workers’ Code of Ethics, can be effective in informing practice decisions. (Journal abstract.)

What do we know about social workers’ ethics?
AU: Cossom-J
SO: The-Social-Worker-Le-Travailleur-social. 60(3): 165-71, Fall 1992.
This paper discusses the topic of ethics and ethical behavior, and why this is of such current interest to professions, including social work, and likely to remain so. The paper reviews the findings of research studies concerned with social workers’ knowledge, attitudes, perceptions, and behavior as related to ethics. This review consists primarily of empirical studies conducted after 1980, since this is a period of resurgent interest in ethical issues. In conclusion, some suggestions are made for further research on social work ethics. (Journal abstract.)

Personal versus professional values in social work: A methodological note.
AU: Horner-W-C; Whitbeck-L-B
SO: Journal-of-Social-Service-Research. 14(1/2): 21-43, 1991.
Empirical studies of the values of the social work profession typically have focused on the personal values of social workers. This study is a pretest of a research design that distinguishes between the personal values of social workers and their perceptions of the values of the social work profession. The findings indicate that both the personal values of social workers and their perceptions of the values of the profession are distinguishable from the values of a sample of U.S. adults, but in different ways. The authors conclude that the values of the profession are accessible to empirical research and propose a research methodology. (Journal abstract.)

Ethical issues in social work: Toward a grounded theory of professional ethics.
AU: Holland-T-P; Kilpatrick-A-C
SO: Social-Work. 36(2): 138-44, March 1991.
How do social workers understand and deal with ethical issues in their professional practice? Reported on is a qualitative study that sought to identify dimensions of ethical judgment used by practicing social workers. Three sets of bipolar dimensions were inferred from the analysis of interview transcripts: the focus of decisions, ranging from emphasis on means to emphasis on ends; the interpersonal orientation, ranging from independence or self -determination to mutuality or community; and the locus of authority, ranging from internalized to externalized. Implications regarding further research and professional development in this area of practice are discussed. (Journal abstract, edited.)

The impact of professional values on the competency of child protective
service workers.
AU: Whelley-J-N
DA: Fordham Univ., DSW, May 1990.
The major purpose of a study was to assess the association between the values of professional social workers and child protective service competency. Other questions for research concerned the correlation of selected worker characteristics and situational factors with competency. Of secondary interest was the relationship of intolerance of ambiguity to competency. A nonprobability sample of 189 child protective service workers from a nine -county area was surveyed using a tripartite instrument that included the Abbott Professional Opinion Scale, the Budner Scale of Intolerance of Ambiguity, and a measure of competency developed for the study. Analysis of the main hypothesis revealed that no relationship between professional values and competency existed for the sample; nor were intolerance of ambiguity nor antecedent variables associated with competency. If values and competency are independent of each other, implications arise for social work education, practice, and research.

The impact on social work practice of the social injustice content in the
NASW Code of Ethics.
AU: Brill-C-K
DA: Brandeis Univ., Ph.D. Dissertation, Feb. 1990.
A research project studied social workers’ knowledge of and views about the National Association of Social Worker’s Code of Ethics and how well they are implementing its mandates on issues of social injustice. The findings indicate that most social workers are familiar with the content of the Code and believe it should require action on social injustice issues; however, the majority of social workers reported that they were not implementing these sections of the Code in their practice. Action taken tended to be on issues that were focused on clients rather than social change, but many of the social workers who had acted on issues of social injustice believed they were successful. To reduce the gap between values and practice, social workers must work together to implement the social injustice mandates of the NASW Code of Ethics. There are, however, serious limitations to reforming the profession without seeking broader social changes in society.

Ethical decision-making processes of social work practitioners in
organizational settings.
AU: Kugelman-W-E
DA: City Univ. of New York, DSW Dissertation, Jan. 1990.
Examined were both the ethical and extraethical elements that bear upon the ethical decision-making processes of social workers practicing in agency settings. Literature was reviewed from the fields of organizational theory, power, ethics, and social work ethics and a qualitative research tool was developed. Two basically identical interviews were conducted with 20 participants from two distinct settings. Participants were asked to reconstruct ethical dilemmas from their practice and to respond to created case histories. The study found that an uneasy relationship exists between agency social workers and their employing organizations; many participants felt resigned and helpless in dealing with organizational constraints. Several, however, demonstrated that ethically informed positions taken in response to constraints can enhance the quality of social work.

Ethical decision making in human services: A comparative study.
AU: Walden-T; Wolock-I; Demone-H-W
SO: Families-in-Society:-The-Journal-of-Contemporary-Human-Services (formerly
-Social-Casework). 71(2): 67-75, Feb. 1990.
In a study in which social workers and students were presented with case vignettes posing ethical dilemmas, respondents elected a middle-range position between client and organizational needs. They balanced the simultaneous demands for both a client and organizational focus; they also chose small gains while simultaneously protecting their beliefs and enhancing their status. Subjects for the study were 210 graduate social work students and 169 social work practitioners in acute-care general hospitals and a state child welfare agency. The research instrument contained 12 scenarios posing conflicts with ethical elements in the aforementioned settings. Choices for responses were categorized as system-oriented, client-oriented, combined client/system, or deferred decisions/nonintervention. The conceptual framework followed a cost-benefit approach to decision making. The findings suggest that the National Association of Social Workers is caught in a complex existential web that produces an internally conflicting, incomplete, and oversimplified ethical code. A discussion recommends a continual periodic testing of this code against real cases, with ongoing modification as appropriate. (Author abstract, edited.)

The social work professional and his ethics: A philosophical analysis.
AU: Felkenes-Sandra-W
DA: Alabama, DSW, Aug. 1980.
The concerns and positions of clinical social workers at the micro level of practice were studied with regard to their professional and personal ethics. Questionnaires with Likert-type scales were sent to a random sample of 300 registered clinical social workers. Questions designed to measure moral reasoning were included and personal ethical positions were examined by means of a philosophically oriented classification scheme. One hundred thirty-five usable questionnaires were analyzed. Results showed that in regard to their professional ethics, at least 33 percent or more respondents indicated that their ethic was abstract and unhelpful. They were unwilling to report client fraud or engage in research and social reform activities. Their unwillingness did not relate significantly to their clarity on professional ethical obligations or agency constraints. They indicated primary dependence on personal rather than professional ethics. In regard to personal ethics, 17 percent of the respondents showed an understanding of postconventional morality. Forty-nine percent chose theoretically consistent positions and over 70 percent scored high on potential insensitivity to feelings.

Issues in Research Ethics

‘Value talk’ in social work research: Reflection, rhetoric and reality.
AU: Powell-J
SO: European-Journal-of-Social-Work. 8(1): 21-37, March 2005.
This paper begins with an exploration of values in relation to current approaches within social work research, thereby revealing tensions between what might broadly be conceived as scientific rigor and relevance to practice. It goes on to examine the purpose of social work research emphasizing the notion of the researcher as engaged in a critically reflective dialogic process. Four core values conceived as guiding principles in undertaking research are identified as the basis for further ‘value talk’ in the context of developing culturally sensitive approaches without relinquishing a common sense of purpose in developing knowledge of and for social work practice. (Journal abstract.)

The ethics of human subjects protection in research.
AU: Drewry-S
SO: The-Journal-of-Baccalaureate-Social-Work. 10(1): 105-117, Fall 2004.
This article explores the evolution of research ethics in the protection of human subjects. Included in the examination of research ethics are a brief history of 20th-century critical incidents in human subjects research, a review of formal efforts to define the values and principles of research ethics, theoretical foundations of ethical research, and relevance to contemporary social work theory, practice, and education. (Journal abstract.)

Beyond individual rights and freedoms: Metaethics in social work research.
AU: Antle-B-J; Regehr-C
SO: Social-Work. 48(1): 135-144, Jan. 2003.
Increasingly, social workers are called on to demonstrate the efficacy of their interventions and to contribute to knowledge building in the social sciences. Although social workers have a long tradition of practice ethics, less attention has been given to the unique dimensions of research ethics for social workers. A social work model of research ethics would consider how to balance highly valued ethical principles that are individually focused, such as self-determination and nonmalfeasance (the obligation to do no harm), with equally important values that have a collective focus, such as justice and beneficence (the obligation to bring about good). This article reviews current principles guiding research ethics, such as autonomy, beneficence, nonmalfeasance, and justice and provides an outline of the salient issues for social workers as they strive to address individual and collective interests in research endeavors, such as a greater emphasis on the social justice mission and the need to ensure that social justice objectives do not obscure individual rights and freedoms. The article concludes with preliminary recommendations for developing a social work perspective in research ethics. (Journal abstract.)

Methodological and ethical issues in research on lesbians and gay men.
AU: Martin-J-I; Knox-J
SO: Social-Work-Research. 24(1): 51-59, March 2000.
Martin aims to help social work researchers prepare for studies involving lesbians and gay men by raising their awareness of methodological and ethical issues in such studies. These issues involve theory and problem formulation, population definition, sampling and generalizability of findings and preventing harm to study participants. (Journal abstract.)

Good and proper: Considering ethics in practice research.
AU: Campbell-L
SO: Australian-Social-Work. 50(4): 29-36, Dec. 1997.
As social workers increasingly take up the challenge of researching social work practice, ethical issues arise for which they have been inadequately prepared. With the growth of qualitative data collection methods that better suit many practice research enterprises, more assistance has become available on ethical and political issues, but it is argued here that the convergence of practice and research in agency settings poses distinctive dilemmas. These center on social work’s complex unit of attention and the consequent need for multidimensional research strategies, and on the status of the practitioner-researcher who often straddles both practice and research domains, whether as an insider or outsider to the research site. As agencies accelerate their efforts to provide guidelines and structures to manage ethical research, social workers themselves should take the initiative to shape these structures to retain flexible and creative research opportunities. (Journal abstract.)

Developing a social work research agenda on ethics in health care.
AU: Jansson-B-S; Dodd-S-J
SO: Health-and-Social-Work. 23(1): 17-23, Feb. 1998.
This study advocates greater empirical research on ethics in health care by social work researchers. Although an extensive theoretical literature exists, scant empirical research has been conducted on ethical issues by social work researchers since 1980, compared with physicians and other health care researchers. A theoretical framework is presented as a heuristic device to stimulate research on a range or topics, including the content and nature of ethical deliberations, contextual factors, and ethical outcomes. By demonstrating empirically that their interventions improve ethical outcomes, social work researchers can provide ammunition to support social work’s role in ethical deliberations in health care settings. (Journal abstract.)

Ethics and the single-system design.
AU: Bloom-M; Orme-J
SO: Journal-of-Social-Service-Research. 18(1/2): 161-80, 1993.
This paper offers a beginning sketch of a code of ethics for evaluators using single-system designs. Extending the research section of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) Code of Ethics, this paper attempts to add the evaluative dimension to basic Hippocratic ethics, from “providing help” to “providing demonstrable help,” and from “doing no harm” to “demonstrating that no harm is done.” Because single-system designs oblige practitioners to be more specific in their practice, such as operationally defining targets of intervention, a new set of ethical issues are raised that require reconsidering every aspect of the scientific practitioner’s relationship to the client. This essay is intended to initiate such a reconsideration. (Journal abstract.)

The power of silence: Ethical dilemmas of informed consent in practice evaluation. AU: Millstein-K-H; Dare-Winters-K; Sullivan-S
SO: Clinical-Social-Work-Journal. 22(3): 317, Fall 1994.
The concepts of minimal risk and informed consent when practitioners use their own case material for practice evaluation and single subject research are examined. Two student research projects conducted as requirements of a second year masters seminar in practice evaluation are used to identify specific ethical dilemmas and practice research implications. (Journal Abstract.)

Ethics, gender, and ethnicity in single-case research and evaluation.
AU: Nelsen-J-C
SO: Journal-of-Social-Service-Research. 18(3/4): 139-52, 1994.
Social work practitioners and students are now being encouraged to do single -case research or at least, to evaluate their practice outcomes objectively. Ethical issues in both endeavors, including issues related to clients’ gender and ethnicity, need more attention than they have been given. This article explores a number of ethical issues in single-case research and evaluation, with special attention to possible gender and ethnic bias in selecting clients or target problems to monitor. Guidelines for reducing bias, seeking informed client consent, and use of human subjects review are proposed. (Journal abstract.)

Standing for values and ethical action: Teaching social work ethics.
AU: Joseph-M-V
SO: Journal-of-Teaching-in-Social-Work. 5(2): 95-109, 1991.
This article is focused on the role of ethics in the professional socialization of the student and the place of ethics in the social work curriculum. The content and structure of the ethics component and related issues are considered and an educational model, a teaching-learning approach, with its underlying learning theory and philosophical orientation, is presented and instructional technology discussed. The material presented in this article is based on experience in teaching required courses in ethics at both the master’s and the doctoral levels of social work education, workshops and institutes, and in research on ethical issues in practice in a variety of settings. (Journal abstract, edited.)

Confidentiality: A constraint on research.
AU: Macarov-D; Rothman-B
SO: Social-Work-Research-and-Abstracts. 13(3): 11-16, 1977.
Widespread resistance developed among students and agencies involved in a study, to the point that it became useless to continue the research. The study was based, in part, on clients’ assessments of the success of treatment. The population consisted of second-year students in casework field instruction settings and their potential clients. After a case was closed, the agency was to solicit the client’s consent to be contacted by the researchers. The researchers turned their attention to the basis of the resistance and succeeded in identifying the following interconnected constraints on the research: (1) the concern for protection of the right to privacy, with consequent confusion of the definitions of confidentiality, anonymity, and secrecy, and (2) the unwillingness of agencies to be apprised of the existing situation concerning practice or to have questions raised, with concern for confidentiality used as a rationalization. Because the concept of confidentiality is subject to a variety of interpretations, the profession would benefit if field work agencies and schools of social work established as part of their contractual agreements guidelines regarding ethics and procedures to be used in research investigations. (Author abstract, edited.)

Ethical Decision-Making in Practice

Caregivers’ use of spirituality in ethical decision-making.
AU: Koenig-T-L
SO: Journal-of-Gerontological-Social-Work. 45(1/2): 155-172, 2005.
This qualitative study examined ethical dilemmas faced by female caregivers of frail elders as well as the dominant role of caregivers’ spirituality in addressing these dilemmas. Dilemmas are difficult decisions that involve conflicting values, e.g., freedom versus safety. In-depth interviews were conducted with 13 ethnically diverse caregivers recruited from a home health agency and its parent hospital. Purposive sampling was used to obtain variation among research participants. Focus group interviews of home health staff, key informant caregivers, and interviewees provided guidance for the research design, reflection on findings, and development of implications. In order to deal with ethical dilemmas, all caregivers used spirituality as (1) a philosophy of life, e.g., “This is what you do when you’re family,” (2) an aid to decision making, e.g., through the use of prayer; and/or, (3) a way to transcend dilemmas, e.g., “no choice is hard.” Implications include the importance of caregiver-driven assessment, professional self-reflection, and sustained formal services for caregivers. (This is one of 13 articles in part one of this special issue on spirituality, religion, and aging.) (Journal abstract.)

Ethical considerations in prenatal sex selection.
AU: Hollingsworth-L-D
SO: Health-and-Social-Work. 30(2): 126-134, May 2005.
Developments in assisted reproductive technologies have made it possible for couples to select the sex of a child prenatally. This article used the NASW Code of Ethics and information from the Ethics Committee of the American Society of Reproductive Medicine to consider ethical dilemmas related to social justice (for example, reinforcement of gender bias, the potential for gender discrimination and oppression, a move toward eugenics, restricted assess based on social or economic status, and the discarding of human embryos), the importance of human relationships (for example, threats to the well-being of sex-selected children, parent-child relationships, and couple relationships), and self-determination and the dignity and worth of the individual (for example, the right of individuals or couples to choice and personal desires). Implications are discussed for social work practice, policy articulation and advocacy, research, and education. (Journal abstract.)

Contentious issues in research on trafficked women working in the sex industry: Study design, ethics, and methodology.
AU: Cwikel-J; Hoban-E
SO: The-Journal-of-Sex-Research. 42(4): 306-16, Nov. 2005.
The trafficking of women and children for work in the globalized sex industry is a global social problem. Quality data are needed to provide a basis for legislation, policy, and programs, but first, numerous research design, ethical, and methodological problems must be addressed. Research design issues in studying women trafficked for sex work (WTSW) include how to (a) develop coalitions to fund and support research, (b) maintain a critical stance on prostitution, and therefore WTSW, (c) use multiple paradigms and methods to accurately reflect WTSW’s reality, (d) present the purpose of the study, and (e) protect respondents’ identities. Ethical issues include (a) complications with informed consent procedures, (b) problematic access to WTSW, (c) loss of WTSW to follow-up, (d) inability to intervene in illegal acts or human rights violations, and (e) the need to maintain trustworthiness as researchers. Methodological issues include (a) constructing representative samples, (b) managing media interest, and (c) handling incriminating materials about law enforcement and immigration.

Documentation in social work: Evolving ethical and risk-management standards.
AU: Reamer-F-G
SO: Social-Work. 50(4): 325-334, Oct. 2005.
Social workers’ understanding of the relevance of documentation has evolved over time. During the profession’s earliest years, social workers viewed documentation primarily as a mechanism to facilitate theory building, research, and teaching. This was followed by social workers’ development of detailed and sophisticated documentation standards for clinical and other direct practice settings. Most recently, social workers have begun to appreciate the relevance of documentation for risk-management purposes, particularly as a tool to protect clients and to protect practitioners in the event of an ethics complaint or lawsuit. This article updates the profession’s literature on documentation by summarizing current ethical and legal standards. Implications for social work practice, supervision, management, and administration are addressed. (Journal abstract.)

Reporting bad results: The ethical responsibility of presenting abused women’s parenting practices in a negative light.
AU: Buchbinder-E; Eisikovits-Z.
SO: Child-&-Family-Social-Work. 9(4): 359, Nov. 2004.
The purpose of this paper is to present and analyze the ethical dilemmas involved in presenting research findings that describe abused women’s parenting practices in a negative light. The study was based on data collected by in-depth interviews for the purpose of examining the turning point among 20 Israeli abused women who refused to live with violence and took active steps to stop it while staying with the perpetrator. Overall the analysis indicated successful survival stories but the women’s parenting practices became questionable. This raised dilemmas as to how to present such findings and what are the ethical implications related to interventions with abused women. (Journal abstract.]

Unethical treatment of gay and lesbian people with conversion therapy.
AU: Jenkins-D; Johnston-L-B
SO: Families-in-Society. 85(4): 557-561, Oct.-Dec. 2004.
This section begins with a presentation of the position statement regarding conversion therapy from the Code of Ethics of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW, 1999), followed by a brief overview of unethical use of out-come research by the proponents of conversion therapy. After the overview, the focus turns to discussion of violations of six values and ethical principles from the NASW Code of Ethics and the corresponding ethical violation committed by practitioners using conversion therapy. (Journal abstract.)

Social workers’ participation in the resolution of ethical dilemmas in hospice care.
AU: Csikai-E
SO: Health-and-Social-Work. 29(1): 67-76, Feb. 2004.
Ethical dilemmas are inherent in every health care setting. A sample of hospice social workers with no direct access to a hospice ethics committee (N = 110) was surveyed regarding ethical issues in hospice care, how the issues were managed, and the extent to which social workers participated in resolution of ethical dilemmas. Common issues discussed were the patients’ medical condition, involvement of family, and family denial of terminal illness. Difficult cases were discussed most often in interdisciplinary team meetings. Social workers were most involved in traditional social work activities, such as providing knowledge of community resources and patients’ psychosocial histories and promoting self-determination in policies. (This is one of seven articles in this special issue on end-of-life care.) (Journal abstract.)

Confidentiality intervention: Effects on provider-consumer-family collaboration.
AU: Marshall-T; Solomon-P
SO: Research-on-Social-Work-Practice. 14(1): 3-13, Jan. 2004.
A study was conducted to investigate the efficacy of a model intervention clarifying confidentiality policies regarding releasing information to families or significant others in improving provider-consumer-family collaboration. Findings revealed that the model intervention may enhance collaboration between providers, consumers, and families. (Journal Abstract.)

Clinical, ethical, and legal issues in e-therapy.
AU: Kanani-K; Regehr-C
SO: Families-in-Society. 84(2): 155, April-June 2003.
In recent years, many social workers have joined the ranks of virtual or e-therapists. While this offers exciting new opportunities for social work practice, the advent of e-therapy has come with a host of challenges particular to Internet communication that may not be reconcilable with current social work regulation. This paper reviews the social work codes of ethics in both the United States and Canada, legislation governing treatment, and case law with respect to several important issues related to e-therapy. The paper begins with a discussion of jurisdictional issues and expertise to practice e-therapy. Next, it suggests that if e-therapy fits within the purview of acceptable social work practice, the establishment of therapist-patient relationships creates professional duties of care owed to patients and to the public. Four of the most critical duties in a therapeutic encounter are considered: the duty to obtain informed consent, the duty to maintain confidentiality, the duty to warn third parties of harm, and the duty to maintain professional boundaries. (Journal abstract.)

Ethical activism: Strategies for empowering medical social workers.
AU: Jansson-B-S; Dodd-S-J
SO: Social-Work-in-Health-Care. 36(1): 11-28, 2002.
Little empirical research examines the extent medical social workers try to change attitudes, norms, expectations, and protocols to create a hospital environment that encourages their participation in ethical deliberations. The researchers developed an ethical activism scale that measured the extent medical social workers engaged in such ethical activism, confirming its reliability from data obtained from a sample of 162 medical social workers in 37 hospitals in the Los Angeles basin. They tested seven hypotheses that probed the extent specific ethics-training, organizational, and demographic variables influence the extent social workers engage in ethical activism. Data strongly suggest the need to expand ethics training to include tactics of ethical activism, since many social workers do not engage in ethical activism. Data also suggest the need to target such training to social workers in hospitals that are relatively unreceptive to social workers’ participation in ethical deliberations, since social workers are least likely to engage in ethical activism in such settings. (Journal abstract.)

The state of hospice ethics committees and the social work role.
AU: Csikai-E-E.
SO: Omega. 45I(3): 261-275, 2002.
This study found that in six states, most hospices (73 percent) had access to some type of ethics committee; however, less than 1/3 maintain a hospice-specific ethics committee. Social workers, although integral to the hospice team, were only members of about one-half of the hospice committees. Further, the study examined social workers’ current participation and role expectations of social workers and committee chairs for social work participation. Both groups viewed that social workers were important contributors and expected higher participation in all the three main activity areas–case consultation, policy, and education–than currently took place. As the particular skills and values of social work parallel both the purpose of ethics committees and hospice philosophy, and as these data suggest, opportunity exists for social workers to take on a greater role on hospice ethics committee and may be an important resource in the formation of such committees. (Journal Abstract.)

Ethical issues in the social worker’s role in physician-assisted suicide.
AU: Manetta-A-A; Wells-J-G
SO: Health-and-Social-Work. 26(3): 160-166, Aug. 2001.
This article presents the results of an exploratory study of social workers’ views on physician-assisted suicide (PAS), situations in which PAS would be favored, and whether there is a difference in education or training on mental health issues, ethics, or suicide between social workers who favor PAS and those who oppose PAS. A questionnaire was administered to a convenience sample of 66 social workers in South Carolina. The authors raise questions about the training in mental health issues, ethics, and suicide that social workers have received to prepare them to work with clients making this end-of-life decision. Implications for social work practice and suggestions for future research are presented. (Journal abstract.)

Values underlying end-of-life decisions: A qualitative approach.
AU: Leichtentritt-R-D; Rettig-K-D
SO: Health-and-Social-Work. 26(3): 150-159, Aug. 2001.
The purpose of the study discussed in this article was to reveal the values that would receive priority attention when considering end-of-life decisions. Nineteen elderly Israelis and their 28 family members participated in individual interviews that were analyzed using a hermeneutic phenomenological method. Analysis of the transcripts indicated that participants considered a unique set of value priorities that raised different considerations in each of four domains of life: physical-biological, social-psychological, familial, and societal. Three transcendent values crossed all four life domains: dignity, quality of life, and quality of death. These value considerations are useful information for social workers who consult patients and family members at times of end-of-life decisions. (Journal abstract.)

Confidentiality in direct social-work practice: Inevitable challenges and ethical dilemmas.
AU: Millstein-K
SO: Families-in-Society. 81(3): 270-282, May-June 2000.
Social workers have long concerned themselves with confidentiality and its importance to practice. In 1922, social workers created their Code of Ethics, a major precept of which is the protection of confidentiality, defined as the regulation, both legal and ethical, that protects the client’s rights of privacy. Social workers are confronting many ethical issues related to confidentiality, such as increasing demands for accountability, mandated duty-to-protect or duty-to-warn provisions, expanding court involvement in professional decision making, and widening access to information in records through the expanded use of computer technology. The objective of this study was to learn more about practitioners’ ethical dilemmas in maintaining client confidentiality. A mailed, anonymous survey of experienced social work practitioners was conducted to gain an understanding of how practitioners address confidentiality issues in their work with clients and to identify specific areas in which practitioners experience ethical dilemmas related to confidentiality, the factors contributing to these dilemmas, and the resources used to resolve them. Major issues of practitioner concern and specific areas in which practitioners felt a need for more resources, education, and policy clarification were identified. (Journal abstract.)

Ethics and administrative practice: Care, justice, and the responsible administrator.
AU: Gummer-B
SO: Administration-in-Social-Work. 20(4): 89-106, 1996.
This article is a compilation of a review of articles on ethics and management. The study notes the public’s generally cynical reaction to the notion of an ethical manager, whether in the public or private sector.

AIDS and social work: The ethics and civil liberties agenda.
AU: Reamer-F-G
SO: Social-Work. 38(4): 412-19, July 1993.
Social workers are becoming increasingly involved in casework and social policy debate related to the AIDS crisis. To enhance their delivery of services and contribution to policy formulation, social workers need to be familiar with a wide range of ethical and civil liberties issues that have been generated by the AIDS epidemic. This article provides an overview of six major ethical and civil liberties issues pertaining to social work practice related to AIDS: (1) mandatory screening and testing of clients for the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), (2) client access to health insurance, (3) professionals’ duty to treat HIV-infected clients, (4) privacy and confidentiality, (5) client involvement in AIDS research, and (6) relevant legal issues. Implications for social work practice are highlighted, particularly with respect to protecting clients’ rights and formulating a social action agenda. (Journal abstract.)