A long time ago, when I was earning my BSW degree, we had a journal assignment to complete each day during our internship. Basically, I was to identify and discuss an ethical dilemma I encountered each I time I worked. Social workers come across ethical dilemmas every day. They interact with complicated systems and people. The decisions of a social worker impacts individual’s lives and the answers are rarely black and white. It takes work to practice as an ethical social worker.
What are ethics? What does it mean to be ethical? Ethics are different than the law.
The law is about what is legal. For example, everyone talks about the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA.) This is a law. Choosing not to follow this or other laws could lead to criminal charges, convictions, prison and/or monetary fines and other penalties.
Ethics are about the “should.” Ethics are what choice a person “ought” to make. There are not necessarily legal ramifications for not being ethical (although there could be professional or moral consequences.) Ethics are where a person asks- “What is the best decision in this situation.” Unfortunately, when you are working with complex clients the best choice isn’t always obvious. Many times a professional will have to choose between several not so ideal choices and decide which choice is least harmful.