Principles of Ethics

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Social work calls for ethical principles to maximize the benefits that it strives to provide to those vulnerable and marginalized within society to enhance well-being and support in the provision of basic needs to everyone. Professional ethics, which is integral to social work, is central to and guide these principles. In this ethical sense, the National Social Worker Association offers a code to control social work practitioners and students’ standards, beliefs and values (National Association of Social Workers., 2008). This code provides the basis for this analysis to evaluate four unique ethical dilemmas facing social workers. These scenarios mostly feature social workers in situations requiring application of the code to aid in the resolution of certain moral dilemmas.

The first scenario places John Meenaghan, a social planner, in an ethical dilemma involving members of executive staff in the community fundraising and social planning agency employing him. Via a dependable source, john acquires information indicating the involvement of his executive director and some members of his personal staff in corrupt practice. There is misappropriation of funds in the form of excessive spending on expense accounts by the mentioned staff members. The situation is conflicting since, though dictatorial and punitive, the executive director is a great mobilizer of funds and his ingenuity has increased efficiency immensely. Mr Meenaghan clearly recognizes the disregard of a fundamental value within his profession i.e. integrity. Conflictingly, the increase in available funding tempts one to think the directorship as sound since more funds means more available services to those in need (Dolgoff, Harrington, & Loewenberg, 2011). Moreover, in accordance to the code of ethics that bounds him, he is subject to a number of ethical standards among which is a responsibility, to colleagues, in the practice setting and as professionals.

Though the executive staff members are not social workers, Mr Meenaghan’s handling of the fraud accusations facing them should follow the guide set out by the NASW code of ethics. Of particular relevance is the code of ethics’ section on social workers responsibility to colleagues and specifically the subsection touching on any unethical conduct and the steps to take. Upon gaining access to the information indicating presence of corrupt activities, John needs to rely on the code of ethics and its instructions on how to handle the situation. Under Sub section, 2.11(a) of the code one of the duties of a social worker to his colleagues is to discourage, avert, expose and correct any unethical demeanour by colleagues (National Association of Social Workers., 2008). Moreover, the code of ethics also provides for the steps one is to take when handling suspicions of colleagues’ fraudulent undertakings. In this case, this analysis opines that a formal complaint to a regulatory body or state licensing board would be appropriate. This complaint should aim at initiating a process of proper investigation to uncover the truth.

The subject of another dilemma requiring application of ethical principles is Ellen a supervisor who makes a discovery about one of the social workers she instructs. The social worker in question, Joan Gilligan, is evidently moonlighting and providing social work services outside her contract. This situation is in clear breach of a clause she agreed to when she singed to work in the agency, prohibiting them from offering services in their social work capacity even beyond working hours. Ellen is experiencing conflicting views since Joan’s moonlighting is doing more good than harm even providing commendable services to her (Ellen’s) husband (Dolgoff, Harrington, & Loewenberg, 2011). In this scenario, Ellen has to refer to the standards that guide her profession regarding her responsibility to her colleague, her employer and further her duty to the wider profession.

Following the code of ethics, Ellen is bound to prevent and work to correct unethical behaviour among colleagues. Moreover, she and Joan have an ethical obligation in the practice setting to their employer binding them to the terms and commitments set by employing organization. Even though the outcomes from this predicament are not negative, there is a clear breach of ethical standard by Joan, more so touching the value of integrity. As a commitment to the profession, Joan should not engage in, or associate with corruption, deceit and financial misdeeds in the course of their practice. Joan’s violation of her employment terms is a deceptive act indicating a lack of integrity on her part. In spite of the gravity of the ethical misgivings by Joan, her actions stand redeemable depending on the course of action Ellen takes. A reasonable compromise in the scenario would involve Ellen referring to the section on dealing with colleagues misconduct that allows her to talk to Joan about what she has found out and giving her time to decide which job to keep (National Association of Social Workers., 2008).

The next case under analysis in terms of ethics in the social work profession, examines recently promoted supervisor Thomas Kinane’s situation. With his new position, Mr Kinane now earns more money and this eases the medical costs accruing due to their daughter’s much needed therapy. In the job setting though, Mr Kinane’s supervisory duties are becoming harder to fulfil due to him splitting his time between the satellite location and the headquarter offices. With responsibility over 12 social workers, the record keeping and report writing are taking a toll on his performance at work (Dolgoff, Harrington, & Loewenberg, 2011). This situation precipitates neglect of clients and supervisees though Mr Kinane is unwilling to use group supervision, which would create more time for him to work. In this situation, the ethical issues pertain to Mr Kinane’s responsibilities to the clients, his colleagues i.e. the supervisees and to the practice setting. These issues affect the ethical principles of service and integrity that are central to the NASW code of ethics.

With reference to the code of ethics, Mr Kinane has a commitment to clients that he currently is not achieving. Moreover, the primacy of clients’ interest is all too important and in his consideration any other achievements, personal or professional need to come second. Further, through cancelling his sessions with training workers and his clients Thomas is neglecting his ethical duties in the practice setting. The code binds him to ensure that information is available to clients when social work students and supervisees provide services (National Association of Social Workers., 2008). Additionally, Mr Kinane has the option of requesting Group supervision, which will mean better instruction and services to supervisees and clients respectively.

The final scenario requiring application of ethical principles in its resolution puts the reader in the position of an agency director in a voluntary community organization providing care for Alzheimer’s patients. In a recent board meeting, the directors voted to end homemaker care services though knowledge available to the agency director indicates high demand for these services. Moreover, the cause for the termination of this service is its cost to the agency in terms of higher premium payments to insurance providers (Dolgoff, Harrington, & Loewenberg, 2011). The shelving of less essential services is possible to preserve the homecare service but influential board members back these hence the cropping up of this predicament. As the agency director, one recognizes the responsibility to the client and to the employer further complicating the situation.

Perhaps the same commitment to employers is capable of remedying this apparent conflict of interest; social workers have a duty to employers in helping to better procedures and policies to improve the efficient and effective provision of services. With the director’s presence on the board, it is possible for them to ensure the other board members are aware of the values and standards of social work and inform them on the negative aspect of their decision. More fundamentally, with a commitment to clients as a social worker, the director should strive to promote the well-being of clients and emphasise the central nature of clients’ interest in social work (National Association of Social Workers., 2008).


Dolgoff, R., Harrington, D., & Loewenberg, F. (2011). Brooks/Cole Empowerment Series: Ethical Decisions for Social Work Practice. Cengage Learning. Retrieved March 10, 2017

National Association of Social Workers. (2008). Code of Ethics of the National Association of Social Workers. Retrieved March 9, 2017, from National Association of Social Workers:

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