Ethics in Social Work

About Authors

Wade L. Robison, PhD

Wade L. Robison is the Ezra A. Hale Professor of Applied Ethics at the Rochester Institute of Technology. He received his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, with a minor in law. He directed a National Endowment for the Humanities Institute on David Hume at Dartmouth in 1990, has received several National Endowment for the Humanities fellowships, including a year-long fellowship in Political Science at the University of California at Santa Barbara. He was President of the International Hume Society for sixteen years and is active in Ethics Across the Curriculum at RIT and elsewhere. He has published extensively in philosophy of law, David Hume, and practical and professional ethics. His book Decisions in Doubt: The Environment and Public Policy (University Press of New England, 1994) won the Nelson A. Rockefeller Prize in Social Science and Public Policy. He has co-edited anthologies in medical ethics, business and professional ethics, and Hume, and his most recent book, with L. Reeser, is on Ethical Decision Making in Social Work (Allyn & Bacon, 2000).

Linda Reeser, B.A., M.S.W., PhD.

Education Ph.D., Bryn Mawr College
M.S.W., Temple University
B.A., Temple University

Dr. Reeser joined the School of Social Work faculty in 1981. She teaches courses in social policy, social welfare institutions, field education, and social change. She has published in the areas of professionalism, social activism, and social work ethics. Her interests include membership in professional and human service boards and community service. Her research interests are social work ethics, professionalism, activism, field education, and women’s issues.

Learning Objectives

After completing this course you’ll be able to:

  • Distinguish between ethical and legal dilemmas.
  • Devise a method for determining ethically what we ought to do if we have an ethical dilemma.
  • Provide examples of prudent and imprudent acts.
  • Explain why appealing to a code of ethics does not resolve an ethical dilemma.
  • Give an example of a valid argument.
  • Explain why it is a mistake to rely solely on ethical principles to resolve ethical problems.
  • Outline three steps in the method of tracking harms.
  • Identify conditions that must be satisfied if someone is to be autonomous.
  • Apply the Code of Ethics to a client’s right to self-determination.
  • Identify professional and personal relationships which may pose conflicts of interest.
  • Explain a professional’s obligation to serve a client competently.
  • Distinguish among the issues of self-determination, confidentiality, and harm to others in any situation.
  • Describe the inherent dangers of dual relationships.
  • Deal with issues of diversity among clients.

Course Contents

Chapter 1 – Ethics in Social Work
  1. Introduction
  2. Difficult ethical cases
  3. The method of tracking harms: working through a case
Chapter 2 – Reasons for acting
  1. Self-interest and other reasons
  2. Doing what is ethical
  3. Questions
Chapter 3 – Clients
  1. Introduction
  2. Intervention and self-determination
  3. Conflicts with self-determination
  4. Relations with clients
  5. Who is the client?
  6. Questions