International Summer University in Social Work 

Social work mission and ethical issues

Prof. Ruth Landau — Hebrew University, Israel

Recent social and technological changes raise new ethical dilemmas in the professions and organizations. Social work is not an exception. Since its conception as a profession, social work focuses on interventions that aim to improve the welfare of individuals and communities. These interventions reflect choices based on societal and agency values. However, frequently there are ambiguities and contradictions between competing values and priorities. Thus, social workers daily face questions such as: Who is my client? What obligations do I owe to my client? What are my personal value preferences? What is the ethical way to respond when there are conflicting commitments to different people or agencies?
In this presentation I shall talk about the centrality of the ethical discourse in social work in view of its mission and the ethical tools that can help social workers when facing ethical dilemmas in practice. Following the introduction of basic ethical principles and theories of ethics, I shall present examples from my research on ethical issues such as social workers' professional and personal hierarchies of ethical principles, differential perceptions of ethical dilemmas in hospitals by directors of social work services and direct practitioners, and the attitudes of family and professional caregivers towards the use of electronic tracking devices for people with dementia.

  • Mel Gray (2009). Moral values and emergent ethical theories in social work. British Journal of Social Work 40 (6) 1-18.
  • Patrick O' Leary, Ming- Sum Tsui, Gillian Ruck (2013). The boundaries of the social work relationship revisited: Towards a connected, inclusive and dynamic conceptualization. British Journal of Social Work 43 (1) 135-153.
  • Jay S. Sweifach, Norman Linzer, Heidi Heft Laporte (2015). Beneficence vs. fidelity: Serving social work clients in the aftermath of catastrophic events. Journal of Social Work Values and Ethics, Spring 2015 (12) 1-21.