Dilemma of Ethics

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The ethical challenge is to choose from a variety of potential options, none of which can provide a perfect solution. Ethical dilemmas must occur during the course of the work in the social sector. Social workers therefore need to have high decision-making capacities, which will allow them to explain their behaviors or inactions accordingly.
One of the ethical dilemmas that I had faced was a fourteen year old client, who prayed for me not to reveal something we had spoken to his parents while working as a youth therapist. This adolescent was having a case of indulging in drugs and taking part in burglary majorly because of peer pressure. He began taking drugs when he was thirteen years old and became withdrawn from his family. His parents were so worried about his withdrawal but they never knew that he was using drugs. What prompted his parents to have him see a therapist was the fact he had been mentioned in three theft cases, which he denied being involved in.

He comfortably discussed everything with me but the condition was that I should not share what we discuss with any other person including his parents. He said that he was regretting the bad decisions he made and was already in the process of quitting substance abuse and vowed never to break into any house or steal anyone’s property again. Despite the fact that the case was soul crushing and he was sincerely rehabilitating himself, the legal requirement was that I make a report of the sessions we had not just to the parents alone but also to the Social Services Department. This was an ethical dilemma because it involved making the vest decision from the available options and that whichever decision made would still not offer a perfect solution (Allen, & Friedman, 2010). The possible decisions for this situation are that the social worker upholds confidentiality and monitors the child’s progress while the second one is disclosing the details to the child’s parents only and not informing any other authority and finally informing both the child’s parents and the authorities. Considering the legal requirement that the information be disclosed to both the parents and the Social Services Department solved this situation.

Dolgoff and Lowenberg’s model of decision-making highlights key steps that are to be taken while making a decision. The first step is the identification of the problem including the clients, professionals and the institutions that are involved. The second step is determining who ought to be involved in decision making then the relevant values, which are held by both the social worker, and the client should be identified. The fourth step is identifying if the goals and objectives were attained; if they were attained then this could either resolve the problem or reduce it.

Alternative targets and strategies that can be used to intervene should then be identified and their effectiveness assessed. The most effective strategy should then be implemented and finally the implemented strategy is to be monitored focussing on any unexpected consequences (Dolgoff, Lowenberg, & Harrington, 2009). Dolgoff and Lowenberg highlighted the following ethical principles that are equality, protection of life and inequality, privacy and confidentiality, freedom and autonomy, life’s quality, truthfulness and disclosure and least harm.

Professional values that are outlined in the NASW code of ethics include integrity, competence, respecting all individuals and their beliefs, values, culture and preferences among others, service, social justice, importance of human relationships, a person’s worth and dignity. Culture plays a vital role in every aspect of human behaviour, preference and cognition (NASW, 1999). Culture can therefore be viewed as a defining attribute in human life. Culture plays a vital role in relation to behaviour, beliefs and an individual’s values and this must always be put into account by the social workers while handling clients. The NASW’s ethical principles are enshrined within the values for instance helping those in need and addressing social problems, offering voluntary services, challenging social injustice, giving respect to individuals’ worth and dignity, recognising how important the human relationships are, behaving in a manner that is trustworthy to the client and the community at large, offering services within their area of expertise and constantly improving their skills.

Using the model by Dolgoff and Lowenberg, the above ethical dilemma would have been solved following the outlined steps together with the guidance of the NASW code of ethics. The problem here is whether to disclose the issues of the adolescent to his parents and the relevant authorities or not. Those involved in this situation include the client who is the adolescent, the social worker, the organisation that has employed the social worker, the school from where he met his friends who influenced him into drugs and the Social Services Department who are legally entitled to getting information on cases involving minors. Those who are to be involved in the decision-making are the social worker and the organisation.

The professional values and principles that are involved in this case are respecting an individual’s worth and dignity, importance of human relationship and integrity. Going by the respect of a person’s dignity and worth the right that individuals have to self-determination must be upheld. This right should not only be limited to adults but should also be made applicable to even the youngest clients who are attended to by social workers. Considering the second principle, that is, the importance of human relationship, the decision to breach the confidentiality of a child may have a negative impact on their trust onwards.

The value of integrity requires that social workers behave in a way that is trustworthy. This trust does not only end with the clients in case of adolescents but it also applies to extending the trust to their families and the entire communities being served. These values and principles conflict in his case because in order to uphold integrity, the social worker has to disclose all the information to the adolescent’s parents and other relevant authorities. However, this will interfere with the importance of human relationship since the confidentiality of the case would have been breached.

The personal values of the social worker that can apply to this case include integrity and upholding morality while the client’s values are confidentiality and honesty. The main objective of having sessions with the adolescent was to find out why he was withdrawn from his family and this objective was achieved by identifying that he was taking drugs and taking part in burglary due to peer pressure.

There are three alternative actions that can be taken in this situation. The first one is keeping the child’s case a secret from his parents, school and the Social Services Department, the second one is informing his parents and Social Services Department but not the school, third one is informing the parents, the school and the Social Services Department. The first option would breach the legal requirement that the parents and the Social Services Department should be informed.

The second option may result into the child developing trust issues but he will get the bet assistance while the last option may make him loose be stigmatised in school. The second option of informing the parents and the Social Services Department would be the best decision for this situation. The decisions reached by using model of Dolgoff and Lowenberg and the first decision that was made by the social worker are the same. This model helped in understanding the dilemma much better by offering steps to be followed and in the process getting to identify the magnitude of the issue and those who are involved in the dilemma.


Allen, K & Friedman, B (2010). Affective Learning. A taxonomy for teaching Social Work Values. Journal of Social Work Values and Ethics 7 (2). Retrieved from http://www.socialworker.com/jswve. On 28th August 2017

Dolgoff, R, Lowenberg, F, & Harrington, D (2009). Ethical Decisions for Social Work Pactice (8th Ed). Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole.

Natonal Association of Social Workers (1999). Code of Ethics of the National Association of Social Workers. Washington DC: Author

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