Ethics in social work

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  • 1. Ethics in Social WorkAn ethical code for social work professionals
  • 2. ContentsIntroduction 3Why an Ethical Code? 3Ethical Issues in Social Work 4 Different aspects of social work 4 Ethical dilemmas and risks 5Ethical Values and Norms 6 Fundamentals of ethics 6 Ethical values and norms 7 Ethical traits of character 11Ethical Guidelines 13Case Reports for reflection and discussion 14This document deals in its entirety with the ethical code for social workprofessionals. The essence of the code—its core text—is expressed in theEthical Guidelines on p. 13. This document was prepared by Erik Blennberger, Th.D., researcher onethics, Ersta Sköndal University College and Titti Fränkel, Head of Development,Akademikerförbundet SSR, in collaboration with a reference group of expertsand practitioners. The document “Ethics in Social Work—An ethical code forsocial work professionals” was approved by the SSR Board in 2006.2
  • 3. IntroductionThis document presents an ethical code—ethical reflections and guidelines—for social work professionals. The intention is to offer a fundamental directionconcerning the role of ethics in social work. An ethical code is meant to focus attention and give direction in mattersdemanding the exercise of own judgement. The code is also intended tostimulate an ethical debate between social work professionals and within theorganisations where they practise their profession.Why an ethical code?In social work one is forced to make decisions that It is important for the public to know how socialinvolve ethical judgements. There will be difficult work professionals view their tasks and what kind ofchoices to make that will have important conse- support they can expect to get, beyond what is writ-quences for individual lives. Aspects of control and ten in laws and other official regulations.dominance are inevitable in the work. The individualhelp seeker is in a position of weakness that is some- Social work professionalstimes very evident. This makes it important to be This ethical code is intended for social work profes-aware of value judgements in social work and how sionals. A majority of these are social work graduates,the work affects people’s lives. Social work, in other but there are many persons working within the pro-words, demands observance of ethical behaviour. fession who have other academic qualifications.Competence and professional identity Different activities stand underThe value of an ethical code—with ethical reflections different responsible authoritiesand guidelines for the work—is evident in a growing Core activities in social work are carried out withinnumber of professional fields. Such a code is intended the municipal social services. But social work is alsoto create an insight into ethical norms for the pro- extensively carried out within the field of health andfession and to focus attention on ethical issues. It is sick care, in schools, correctional care, treatment insti-an important professional competency to be able to tutions, and by National Social Insurance offices.conduct a line of reasoning and come to ethically The greater part of social work takes place withininformed decisions. An ethical code serves as guid- the public sector, but a significant amount is also car-ance in taking up a stance. ried out by professionals in voluntary organisations, An ethical code also contributes to the strength- client organisations and churches, as well as in pri-ening of professional identity. The code has both a vate enterprises. A large part of this work, however,symbolic and a guiding role and is a reminder that the is financed by the public sector and is under publicperson practising a profession is also a representative supervision.of that profession. Ethical codes for different profes-sions also have a value for the organisation. They add Clients and other citizensclarity to the tasks and should lead to greater ethical We use different words to denote the persons whoobservance within the organisation. become the concern of social work professionals. In an ethical code important themes can be These terms vary with the context and its char-brought forward that are not found in statutes, rules acter. The persons may be pupils, children, youngand regulations; for example, how to receive and treat people, patients, care receivers, relatives, customers,clients, basic approach to humanity, and the person- clients, inhabitants, inmates, and substance abusers.al ethical qualities that are desirable in professional Throughout this document we use the general termpractice. client. 3
  • 4. Ethical issues in social workDifferent forms of social work entail different kinds sional represents her client before—and sometimes inof ethical problems. An approximate picture of the opposition to—various authorities and social group-diversity of social work can be gained by asking what ings in the society.aspects the work covers. While the empowerment theme foremost aims at strengthening the client, the advocate’s role is more about being a strong and driving ombudsman cham-Different aspects pioning the client’s interests.of social work The idea of advocacy also refers to social groups or categories of citizens. The role of advocate may thenSocial work can be categorized and described in dif- mean—e.g. in an evaluation or a research project—ferent ways. This document has already pointed out that one should choose a perspective representative ofthe divisions between responsible authorities and persons and groups in a vulnerable position.their respective activities. Social work can also bedescribed from the viewpoint of how regulated it is Community work and social integrationby law, i.e., whether and to what degree there are Social work representatives can play an importantelements of the exercise of public authority in the role in community planning and the developmentwork. Another classification—that mirrors a frequent of social support programmes. A part of communitydiscussion in social work—can be made on the basis work is also to create meeting places and to work inof methods and ways of working. social problem areas. In this document, aspects or dimensions of social Another important aspect of community socialwork refer to salient features of the work and their work is the attempt to promote better social integra-purposes. Any social work activity—irrespective of tion. That work may have elements of troubleshoot-regulations and responsible authority—has different ing/conflict solving and lead to better understandingaspects, of which one is often particularly dominant, between individuals or groups. The work may alsobut each separate aspect will involve ethical problems, aim at creating increased participation in the socialif of partly different nature. life of the community and a greater sense of loyalty with the democratic social system.EmpowermentOne aspect of social work with a strong position in Guidance and fosteringthe international discourse is that the work shall be Fostering is a classic aspect of social work andcharacterized by and aim towards empowerment, the involves—when the society finds the client’s atti-term used to lift forward the basic idea that indi- tudes and way of life problematic—guiding the cli-viduals or groups of citizens shall develop their own ent towards a more constructive social bearing. Butresources and in this way be able to influence and here balance is vital. If this aspect should be allowedimprove their living conditions. to dominate, there is the risk of intimidating or bul- Such themes as consciousness-raising and libera- lying individual citizens.tion belong here as well. Social work is then seen as a Fostering and ‘disciplining’ can be used to get theliberating pedagogy that can strengthen citizens’ abil- client to accept an inferior position in society; to cre-ity to act independently. ate muteness and obedience, which is clearly repres- sive behaviour. But disciplining and repression do notAdvocacy necessarily go hand in hand.That social work is a form of advocacy is signalled by Fostering and disciplining should rather aim tothe term client, which is Latin and means charge or help a person to gain control over his/her life and toprotégé. In contemporary language the expression is promote social consideration, so that the client is nomainly used in legal contexts and in social work. In longer a threat to other citizens’ safety and welfare.the same way that a lawyer advises and represents herclient in legal proceedings, the social work profes-4
  • 5. Care, support and protection What aspects should dominate depend on the fieldA very important aspect of social work is to offer care of activity in which we practise. This may also mirrorand support to citizens in different life situations. ideological judgements on the role of social work inThere is also an essential, shielding aspect to social shaping better welfare and a good society to live in.work; to protect against violation and assault. The professional identityWelfare services and counselling of the social workerThe aspects of social work that now have been brought The different aspects of social work—combined inup often aim to change people’s lives and social iden- different ways—involve partly different profession-tities. But social work can have a more purely service- al roles and partly different professional ideals. Anminded aspect, to assist people with advice and other emphasis on empowerment places one in a differentservices in various situations. Social work also means role from seeing oneself foremost as advocate, com-offering a person what s/he needs and has a right to munity builder, guide and fosterer, support, care-without any ambition to change that person’s life, giver, or citizens’ service function.social identity or role in the society. In certain professions, established phrases exist that briefly outline of the essentials of their task.The diversity of social work An example of this is the formulation, “prevention,These different aspects or dimensions of social work healing, alleviation and comfort”, mainly used in theindicate the diversity found within the field. We can medical profession. There is no such key expressionview such aspects as alternatives to choose from, but in social work, but an example of a condensed pro-it is more relevant to see them as a repertoire to be fessional identity might be the ambition “to help acombined in various ways. greater number of people to live a life of dignity”. 5
  • 6. Ethical dilemmas and risksSituations arise in social work that involve ethical Some of these dilemmas entail conflicts of role or ofdilemmas. Often these concern the social worker loyalty for the social work professional. Others mayprofessional’s own self-understanding and appear in concern the difficulty of making priorities within adifferent variations in different fields of activity, some limited range of resources or of choosing the mostof them related to the matter of which aspect of the constructive solution to a problem. Such dilemmaswork ought to be the primary one. are often coupled to difficulties in assessing the con- A list—with no claim to completeness—of such sequences of different courses of action, e.g. the riskdilemmas might include the following: of a person being harmed by a measure intended to• Care, support and assistance versus control and help. demands. Ethical dilemmas in social work may be related to overall ideological issues: To what degree is the public• The risk of a—seemingly necessary—caring society responsible for the individual citizen? How attitude leading to the loss of a person’s own much of the responsibility for a person’s situation and power of initiative and sense of dignity. future is entirely his own? Which ethical values and• Respect for a person’s right to self-determination norms are essential for judging the balance between and freedoms versus the risk of one’s efforts lead- the responsibility of the public society and that of ing to the stigmatization of that person and their the individual? wounded self-esteem.• Difficulties in treating clients with respect and of Dilemma and risk creating a positive relationship in a job that has Apart from these dilemmas about making construc- unavoidable elements of demand and control. tive choices and judgements, there is also in the job• Maintaining democratic values such as individ- the risk of a negative personal development. One such ual freedoms and equal opportunities for both dilemma is the risk of becoming insensitive, of exhib- sexes versus showing admiration for persons and iting insufficient empathy or plain cynicism, arising groups who do not uphold these values. from the problem culture encountered in social work, the stress and strains of the job, or disappointment• The conflict between, on the one hand, defend- over the behaviour of clients. ing/protecting certain clients and, on the other, Another common dilemma is the objectifying of taking into consideration the interests of those the client, who becomes merely another in the endless closely related and others. line of problematic citizens each day encountered,• The right of the child to advantageous living with the risk that each person’s unique conditions and conditions versus the right of the parents to role as subject is reduced to a diagnosis to be cured or exert their parentage and live their family lives a case to be dispatched. on their own terms.• Prioritizing time and resources between different After this roughly outlined reminder of the client categories with different needs. ethical problems that may be encountered in social• Carrying out measures deemed necessary and work, let us now discuss the ethical values and norms proper versus demands for economic stringency. that are essential in social work.• Maintaining loyalty with the work and the organisation, even when one finds policy and working conditions to be contrary to well-found- ed practice and the best interests of the client, and perhaps also to juridical norms for the work.• Conflicts of loyalty between defending the client’s best interests and support and defence of a colleague.6
  • 7. Ethical values and normsFundamentals of ethics Responsibility presupposes freedom to act. The greater the power and the freedom to act, the greaterIn ethics there are many different issues and themes the responsibility. The concept of responsibility raisesto explore. We will here make a division into three questions of our intentions and of our fundamentalfundamental ethical questions and areas of discus- attitude to life and to other people. What sort of per-sion: human value, what is right, and what sort of son—from an ethical viewpoint—should I strive toperson we should to strive to be. be? And how are we to evaluate other people’s inten- tions and motives? When is moral criticism justified?Human value These are classic ethical questions that have gainedA fundamental question is how we view human worth renewed attention both in the moral philosophy andand the value of human life. We are then faced with the media debate since the 1990’s.the established position constituted by the principleof human dignity, which maintains the equal and it is importAnt to keep apart these different ethi-eminent worth of every human being. This worth is cal themes even if they touch upon each other. Ininherent and not dependent on how useful we are, the following section on ethical values and norms,what status we have or how great our sense of well- both the principle of human dignity and the differentbeing. The principle of human dignity can be seen as values and norms that answer the question of “whata declaration of love for human life and entails show- is right?” will be commented upon. Personal ethical ing respect towards and taking responsibility for our qualities are later discussed in a special section.own and others’ lives.What is right? Ethical valuesAnother basic question in ethics is what makes anaction, rule or structure right? In that discussion we and normscan refer to established principles and norms as a A professional should be well grounded in the generalpoint of departure or goal for our efforts. ethical values most strongly entrenched in our society. Respect for every person’s dignity and integrity is Ethical values and norms in social work are mainlyan established norm, as is respect for every person’s the same as for other professions, but the choice offreedom and right to self-determination. Values such these values and the emphasis placed on them var-as justice and equality are also central in the assess- ies between different professions, organisations andment of actions and rules, along with the principles activities. The following brief overview comments onof human rights, humanity and solidarity. those viewed as generally applicable, but with special Such values and norms can be seen as valid in reference to the social work professional role.themselves so need no justification. But they can alsobe recognized as leading—if we utilize them—to best The principle of human dignityoutcomes for human lives and societal conditions. All the following ethical norms build on the principle Reference to consequences confronts us with a of the equal, high worth of all human beings, whichfollow-up question: What do we mean by best out- constitutes the basis for other ethical norms and oncomes? Or in other words, what is—or can lead to— the whole for the exercise of ethical responsibility.quality of life and a satisfactory existence? This principle means that all persons should be met with equal respect and care, and be allowed equalWhat is my own responsibility and influence; also that every form of discrimination iswhat sort of person ought I to be? disallowed.A third basic question in ethics directs attention to This is a core value for all public administration,the perpetrator of actions. Here, we are confronted finding expression in, e.g., the Swedish Constitutionwith issues of moral responsibility and of personal along with the 1948 Universal Declaration of Humanethical qualities or virtues. Rights, which opens with the following words: 7
  • 8. … recognition of the inherent dignity and “brotherhood” that can be interpreted as a principle of the equal and inalienable rights of all mem- dealing with both humanity and solidarity: bers of the human family is the foundation All human beings are born free and equal in dig- of freedom, justice and peace in the world … nity and rights. They are endowed with reason and (our italics). conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.Human rightsHuman rights are a core principle both on ethical Welfare, resources and securitygrounds and on grounds of juridical relevance. By this The expression welfare is one of the code words forprinciple the individual has the right to certain living social work, as for the caring sector generally. Withconditions and resources which in turn puts demands expressions such as ‘welfare’ and ‘the welfare society’on nation-states, but also on organisations and other we mean that citizens have access to different kinds ofindividuals. In social work the concern is mostly for resources and security guarantees that can contributethose types of resources and measures that correspond to their personal well-being.to social rights, e.g. an adequate standard of living,dwelling, work and access to health and sick care. Dignity and integrity Apart from the Universal Declaration of Human Dignity-integrity is an important ethical principle ofRights, the 1950 European Convention and the 1966 huge relevance in social work. This is a compositeEuropean Social Charter are important texts that help concept and it is not entirely self-evident what it real-define the extent of human rights and show the unity ly means to safeguard people’s dignity and integrity.of support for the belief in entitlement. However, there is cultural agreement on some of Human dignity and human rights are two con- the central aspects of dignity. For example, that we arecepts that belong together. We then see others as treated with respect and shown interest, that there isequal citizens to whom we owe respect. space for us to exert influence, i.e. that we can make our voices heard and that what we say is paid dueHumanity regard. Further, we have the right to a private sphere.Humanity is another central ethical principle that We need to be protected from other people’s curios-denotes that one ought to be particularly observant ity and from simplified judgements about ourselves,and sympathetic towards persons in a vulnerable and and we experience any infringement of these aspectsdifficult situation. We then see others as fellow beings of our personal dignity as an offence.whom we shall meet with empathy, sensitivity and Respect for our dignity and integrity also means compassion. that we can share in the resources and the help offered by the society when we are affected by difficulties inSolidarity life. Certain welfare resources, therefore, form anSolidarity is a sister concept to humanity, but solidari- integral part of dignified living.ty also suggests comradeship, a particular affinity with Dignity is also an important value for social work(certain) others, whose projects and aspirations we in the sense that the work aims at giving people bettersupport. The solidarity idea expresses fellowship and chances of living with dignity. The ambition is thenan expected mutuality, “being there for each other”. not only to respect a person’s dignity and integrity but However, the difference between humanity and also to help strengthen that citizen’s sense of dignity.solidarity becomes clearer if we consider these ethi-cal norms in relation to correctional care. We can Freedom and self determinationdemand human correctional care, but hardly anyone Freedom and self-determination are a closely relat-would advocate solidarity in that context, since the ed ethical principle. As with the dignity principle,fellowship and sympathy entailed would there be there are also here the double aspects of respect andquite out of place. strengthening. Solidarity presupposes that other people can be In social work we ought both to respect and toviewed as friends with whom we have some form of strive to help individuals to develop the capacity tokinship and feel sympathy for. make free choices and come to own decisions as far as The first article of the Universal Declaration of this does not involve a threat against others’ freedomHuman Rights contains a compelling exhortation to 8
  • 9. and well-being. This is partly about respecting a per- wants with what are considered human rights; thoseson’s actual self-determination, and partly attempting very rights that usually are related to basic humanto increase and bolster a person’s chances in life and needs. Social justice based on needs and social justicemargin for action. based on human (social) rights therefore mainly have the same content.Democracy and participation Other criteria of justice are reward for achieve-Principles of democracy connect with the freedom ment and justice as compensation. Certain aspectsand self-determination concept. Social work should of compensatory justice are found in some forms ofhave a democratic framework on the organisational social work.level. In the work itself the democratic approachmeans openness, dialogue, and the influence and Equalityparticipation of clients and other persons involved. The keyword equality emphasizes the importance of having a significant portion of needs- and similarity-(Social) justice based justice in any social work operation. This con-Justice is another code word for social work. The cerns not least the matter of equivalence in the recep-question of justice is imbued with the complication, tion and treatment of clients, which shows respect forhowever, that there are several concepts of justice that the equal and high worth of each individual.are defined by different criteria. The endeavour to give an equal reception does not Justice can be weighed from the point of view of mean, however, that we ought to ignore the imbal-equality, to treat similar cases in a similar manner. But ance that exists between social work professionals andjustice may also be based on need, to pay attention to their clients with regard to the preferential right ofthe unique needs of each individual. interpretation and the exercise of authority. There is A concept of justice based on different needs for indeed a marked asymmetry in such a relationship;support and care must combine an assessment of one does not meet on equal terms. Equal reception 9
  • 10. is especially therefore a necessity. This means that a The social services shall, taking into considerationsocial work professional must receive and treat the the individual’s own responsibility for his and others’client-citizen as an equivalent human being. social situation, aim at liberating and developing the innate resources of individuals and groups. ActivitiesConsequence-ethical judgement shall be based on respect for the self-determination—what helps create a good society and integrity of the individual. In measures concern-and a good life? ing children, particular attention shall be paid to theWe can ask the question “why?” of all these values and demands placed by consideration of the best interestsnorms. Why should we assert/uphold rights, human- of the child.ity, solidarity, dignity, freedom, justice and equality? Not least the reference to the “best interests of the There are several answers to this question. One of child” can be seen as a consequence-ethical rule withwhich is that we do not need to justify these princi- due attention paid to a vulnerable life situation inples; they are valid in themselves! order to prevent or minimize the risk for harm. An alternative is to give a consequence-ethicalresponse: These values and norms are valid because An international ethicalthey lead to a good life and a well-functioning soci- code for social workety. If we want to achieve total consequences that are An international ethical code for social work drawnas positive as possible then we should stick to these up by the International Federation of Social Worknorms. If we think in terms of consequences, then (IFSW), which is made up of various nationalwhat is decisive for right action is the answer to the organisations, and the International Association ofquestion “what makes a good life?” Schools of Social Work (IASSW) can be accessed at It happens that some of these values come in con- www.ifsw.org – Publications – Ethical Documents. flict with each other. There are also situations when See also Human Rights Manuals.it is unclear which norms we ought to follow. Social The Swedish ethical code adopted by Akademiker-work professionals may find themselves faced with förbundet SSR naturally has a great deal in commondifficult choices where there is no self-evident particu- with the IFSW code. Of the values and norms brieflylar norm to lean against. It is important here, then, to discussed above certain principles in particular aremake an assessment of probable consequences based denoted as central in the IFSW ethical code; Humanon the ambition to create the best possible condi- rights, Human Dignity and Social Justice.tions for those involved, although even that assess-ment may be hard to make. The relation between different ethical values and normsParticular attention to persons There are, then, quite a number of ethical values,in a vulnerable life situation norms and principles that are relevant to social workThere is a vital tradition in social work not to count professional ethics including some not discussed inon total consequences alone. We also—all the more this document.so—need to be attentive to whether there are indi- These ethical values can be related to each other inviduals or groups at risk of ending up in a vulnerable several ways. Some principles have certain commonlife situation. This implies a principle of awareness of aspects and so overlap each other. Some principlespossible harm and minimization of damage. Clearly, constitute the argument for other principles and havemaking an assessment of total consequences for all a more fundamental character. The most fundamentalconcerned is not enough. We must also be attentive position is the principle of every human being’s equalto whether a particular individual or group is—or worth.risks being— especially affected. There are naturally other ways of grouping these values and norms but in the following we have electedThe Social Services Act’s to relate them to each other by placing them on dif-opening paragraph ferent levels of argumentation.A majority of these values and norms are expressedin the opening paragraph of the Social Services Act(Ch. 1, § 1):10
  • 11. Ethical arguments for social workWelfare–resources, dignity–integrity, freedoms–self- Ethical traitsdetermination, social justice, and equality are very of charactercommon answers to the questions of why we should The qualified practice of social work demands all-carry out social work as well as how this work should round knowledge and professional competence.be carried out. These values have a strong position in While professional skills may not directly be of anour understanding of society. They can be combined ethical character, an ethical demand is to maintainin different ways and have then somewhat different and develop those skills.connotations. The combination, for example, of wel- However, a part of social work professional com-fare and equality gives other associations than com- petence is of a directly ethical character. These arebining dignity with freedoms. But all the five main the personal qualities normally included in classicvalues listed above can be combined and can also be descriptions of ethical consciousness and integrity.used as motivation for each other. We can, e.g. assert Examples of such ethical qualities in social work are:that the why of welfare (resources) corresponds to alife lived in dignity or because it is fair (based on any • Integrityof the various justice criteria). • Critical self-insight Asking “why?” with reference to each of these five • Responsibilityvalues leads to the next level; humanity, solidarity, • Courage/moral couragerights and democracy. But we can also bypass thislevel by simply pointing to the positive consequences • A sense of justiceor go directly to the next, final and most fundamental • Balanced judgementlevel, the principle of human dignity. • Tolerance/ broad-mindedness Continuing our line of reasoning, we may also • Empathy/sensitivityask the question “why?” of the second level; human-ity, solidarity, rights and democracy. Naturally, these • A basic attitude of respect, friendliness and principles can also be combined in different ways and equality in relation to othersused to strengthen each other. We can, e.g. justifythe why of social rights on the basis of the humanity These qualities normally find expression in the actionsprinciple. But we can also there point to the good taken and in many cases refer to a manner of treatingconsequences or bypass that argument and refer to other citizens, but they also indicate an inner bearing.the principle of human dignity. But why should we be so anxious about good Personal qualities withconsequences and a good life for all? Pointing to the an ethical dimensionprinciple of human dignity is the almost self-explan- There are other important personal qualities and abil-atory answer to that question. The principle of paying ities that are not foremost of an ethical character butparticular attention to persons in vulnerable life situ- that can harbour an ethical dimension and that linkations (awareness of possible harm and minimization up with ethical traits of character. For example,of damage) can also be connected to the principle of • Objectivity and clarityhuman dignity. • Creativity Here, however, we need to be reminded that • Social competencebetween consequence-ethical assessment of what isbest for all and assessment of individual consequences • The will to understanding and the ability to for persons in a vulnerable life situation there may be co-operatedifficult decisions to make. • Independence The principle of human dignity is a fundamen- • Humourtal precondition for the entire argument. The idea ofeach human being’s equal and high worth backs up Developing and maintainingother values and norms and provides the basis for at ethical integrityall taking ethics seriously. In all professions with social responsibility, the exer- cise of the work itself can contribute to ethical devel- 11
  • 12. opment, but this does not take place automatically. The personal mooring of ethicsThere is the risk of losing one’s ethical integrity and A genuinely ethical attitude presupposes a fundamen-of instead developing a meagre standard procedure in tal experience of worth and love, a binding under-dealing with clients or even a stunting cynicism. standing of the other person’s importance and of the The qualities listed constitute a powerful ideal value of life. In that sense, love is a central theme inthat is relevant to many professional areas and life ethics. In the introduction to Akademikerförbundetsituations. We are normally attracted to these quali- SSR’s 1997 Ethical Guidelines for Social Work Profes-ties and strive to develop them. Since we realize their sionals, now superseded by this present ethical code,relevance for both our own lives and for practice of one particular passage has been paid due notice and isthe profession, we can hopefully also develop in a cited in the international literature on ethics in socialpositive direction. work. It is the following formulation, which expresses Ethical qualities can also be developed through the importance of having a personal rooting in anthe positive input of other persons and through a ethical ground:stimulating and open-minded work environment. “Moral lacks a deeper personal basis with-Supervision and collegial dialogue can also be of out experience of values and love. Ethics purelygreat value. It is probable that we can also develop under subjects such as rational egoism, obedi-in a positive direction by reacting and protesting ence, group pressure or care of one’s own con-against attitudes and behaviour/actions that signal a science is not sufficient, as they have not beendestructive approach, e.g., indifference, intolerance touched by love and seriously discovered theand cowardice. other individual and the values of one’s own life.” (Banks, S. (2001, p. 93). Ethics and Values in Social Work. Palgrave, England.) 12
  • 13. Ethical guidelinesIn the following ethical guidelines—a summation • make sure that the demands placed on clients and specification of the arguments presented in this have a reasonable foundation and are capable ofdocument—directions are given as to how social contributing to an improvement of their situa-work professionals should view their ethical respon- tionsibility. The guidelines are also intended to contribute • never use the position of dependency of the to continued ethical reflection. client in different situations to own advantage • maintain client confidentiality and make sure The basis of social work and the profession that information concerning the client is han-• Social work and the professional role of the dled in conformance with the law and generally social worker shall be related to scientific find- with great prudence. ings and proven experience. Fundamental values in the work and for the profession are human The organisation, colleagues rights and humanity. The work shall contribute and the workplace to creating a good and dignified life for all citi- Social work professionals shall zens and to developing the welfare of the society. • be aware of and show loyalty to the organisa- tion’s basic taskProfession and personalitySocial work professionals shall • show loyalty and respect towards colleagues and other members of staff as well as towards mem-• in their work and way of life respect each indi- bers of the board vidual’s equal and high worth • challenge and work against offensive or discrimi-• show particular responsibility towards persons natory attitudes and actions within the organisa- and groups in a vulnerable position tion or in the behaviour of colleagues or clients,• use their professional position with responsibil- aware that this may be in conflict with other ity and be conscious of the limitations of their loyalty demands own competence • contribute towards the upholding of high stand-• maintain and develop their social work skills and ards of quality in the work so that the profession strive towards ethical consciousness and personal can develop in step with citizens’ needs and with development. changing conditions in the society • help to make the workplace a constructive and The client/citizen responsive social environment.Social work professionals shall• show an equalitarian attitude to other citizens Society and treat clients with respect, empathic atten- Social work professionals shall tion and amiability • be open to co-operation with other organisa-• respect the client’s personal integrity and safe- tions and other professions, under the condition guard the individual’s right to self-determination that this is of value to clients and other citizens in so far as the same right for others’ is not • strive to build up confidence in social work and infringed upon and there is no risk of damage in their own professional competence, as well to the client. Measures shall as far as possible be as being open to demands for accountability based on participation and mutual understand- and critical appraisal of the way the work is ing performed• inform the client as to rights and duties, i.e. • as a professional and as a citizen stand for a clarify the conditions and resources that exist democratic social ideal comprising human within the current activity and other authorities rights, humanity and solidarity. involved 13
  • 14. Case reports forreflection and discussionThe following cases give examples of the ethical dilem- The rules clearly state that no drugs are tolerated onmas that social work professionals may encounter. the premises. Should any one of the house inhabit-One can naturally arrive at a standpoint concerning ants break this rule then the rule demands immedi-these cases through engaging in an open discussion, ate discharge from the treatment programme. Eachbut it may also be useful to formalize the discussion new member on arrival is informed of this rule andusing structured questions based on the texts in the requested to sign a promise to keep it.code. In the first instance, the following questions One morning when the personnel arrive at themay be asked of each case. treatment centre they find the place in chaos. There• What ethical principles and norms are relevant has been partying during the weekend involving the to this situation? use of cocaine. Urine tests show that at least three of the inmates—Pia, Hugo and Claes—have clearly • How should one act in consideration of the been offenders. It is suspected that others have also probable consequences for all involved? participated, but of this there is no proof.• How should one act in consideration of the According to the rules these three offenders should probable consequences for those in a particularly now be discharged, but there is disagreement among vulnerable position? the personnel. Some say discharge is the only reason-• What personal ethical qualities are important for able action since they have clearly broken the treat- right action in this situation? ment centre’s most important rule. Any exception to• Which ethical guidelines are relevant to the this would simply undermine the rules and lessen problem? confidence in the treatment and the personnel. Others argue that an exception should be made inA racist ‘back problem’ this case since a discharge would have serious conse- A man of about 25 comes to the social services with quences and perhaps even lead to some person’s earlyan unusual problem. He has since his teens been a demise. Pia has been in and out of treatment institu-member of racist groups and has had “whites only” tions since the age of eight. She has now for the firsttattooed on his back. He has now given up these con- time been able to receive the help offered and hasvictions and even moved on to new friends. The tattoo begun to achieve some kind of order in her life. Sheon his back feels increasingly alien to him and he now has been at Soberia for a long time and it is an impor-wants it removed but the public medical services say tant source of security for her. The personnel fear thatthat it is not the business of the public sector to bear discharging her will send her back to prostitution andthe cost. He will have to go to a private surgery and the use of drugs. If Claes is discharged several of thehimself pay the cost of SEK 30.000. This money he personnel are concerned that he may fall into a deepdoes not have and neither does he know anyone from depression and become suicidal.whom he can borrow it. A debt registered with the How should one act in this situation?enforcement service prevents him from getting otherloans. His hope is that the social services will pay the Medicine in yoghurt?cost so that he can be quit his racist blemish. A man in an old people’s home suffering from demen- Is this a problem that should concern the social tia will not take his medicine and spits out the tabletsservices? What, in that case, should one do? when placed in his mouth. Without his medicine he becomes very depressed and has aggressive outbursts.Exclusion from a treatment programme After consultation with the head of unit the person-on account of broken rules? nel decide to crush the pills and put them in yoghurtAt the Soberia treatment centre, persons live and are to make it easier for him to ingest. The first timecared for who have problems with substance abuse. they do this, they show him what they are doing.14
  • 15. He neither comments nor protests so they continueto administer his medicine in this way without eachtime demonstrating the procedure. Are the head of unit and the personnel acting in aproper manner? If the man had refused the yoghurt-medicine when it was demonstrated the first time,should the personnel anyway secretly administer themedicine in this way?A certificate attesting to virginity?A high school counsellor receives a visit from a pupilrequesting a certificate attesting that she is a virgin.She wishes the counsellor and the school nurse towrite such a certificate or to refer her to a gynaecolo-gist who can issue one. She is not a virgin, but needsa certificate to convince her own and her boyfriend’sfamily. She insists that it is crucial for her whole futureand that without it she will be in very deep trouble. What should the counsellor do?Offensive language on the InternetMichael, a 28-year old man with Asperger’s syndrome, lives in an own apartment close to sheltered commu-nal housing, where he visits daily and where he eatsmost of his meals. The personnel know that he oftenengages in chats on the Lunarstorm youth site. One day, one of the personnel browsing the siteto check up on what her own children may be upto, notices that Michael is active, which is possible because he has told them his user name. She sees that previous habits he is served vegetarian meals. One dayhe is chatting with young girls and using very sexually he happens to eat by mistake a portion of meatballs,explicit language. Before the personnel can take any potatoes, brown sauce and lingonberries intended foraction, Michael comes to the home complaining that another patient. He enjoys this very much and at thesome of the girls have called him “a dirty old man” next meal notices for the first time that he is beingand written that they were going to report him. served different food to all the others. The personnel The personnel urge Michael to stop chatting on persuade him to eat his vegetarian meal, but the nextLunarstorm, which advice he appears to accept. After day he refuses point blank to eat “any special muckthis he speaks of quite other types of dialogue that that’s only for me”.he engages in on the Net and seems convincing. But The personnel discuss the situation with his wifeafter some weeks another member of the personnel who in no uncertain terms expressly forbids them tobrowses Lunarstorm and discovers that Michael has give him anything but vegetarian food. She insistsnot changed his behaviour and is still using the same that it is against his (and her) convictions to eat meatextremely offensive language. or “warmed-over dead body parts”, as she puts it. The In that situation, what should the personnel/per- personnel try to comply but encounter vociferoussons in authority do? protest at each meal from the man, who sometimes with triumph and great delight manages to appropri-Allow an inveterate vegan to eat meat? ate food left over by someone else at the table.A man who was deeply involved in the vegan move- How are the head of the unit and the personnelment for many years falls ill with Alzheimer’s disease to handle this? Should they allow him to eat meat?and is placed in a home, where in accordance with his What shall they tell his wife? 15
  • 16. AKADEMIKERFÖRBUNDET SSR / jUNI 2008 / PHOTOS: MARTIN NAUCléR The Swedish Association of Graduates in Social Science,Personnel and Public Administration, Economics and Social Work Akademikerförbundet SSR Box 12800, SE-112 96 Stockholm, Sweden phone +46-8-617 44 00, fax +46-8-617 44 01 ssrdirekt@akademssr.se www.akademssr.se