Apply a Social Work Case for Meta-theoretical Reflections on Professional Integrity in Social Work Practice: The tensions in maintaining professional integrity in an organizational context.
Madam Wong (real name withheld), aged 60 married to Mr. Ng (real name withheld), aged 65. The couple has a son, aged 25 and a daughter, aged 20. The son works as a construction worker. The daughter on the other hand, was found to exhibit autistic features. The family has been living in Ping Shek Estate for a long time under the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance program. Madam Wong submitted an application requesting for housing transfer to a nearby Estate. The reasons behind the request were the dampness of the floor during summer and heavy smoking of a neighbor that lives downstairs. Madam Wong also complained about the behavior of the neighbor towards her daughter.
The Social Worker, upon review, concluded that Madam Wong’s request has no substantial support and that her reasons were not considered valid enough to grant the request. Madam Wong did not like the decision and complained about it. In order to avoid problems with Madam Wong, the supervisor advised me to grant her request. It should be noted that under the Code of Practice for Registered Social Workers set by Social Worker Registration Board, the social worker is responsible in advancing social justice and safeguarding the cause of human rights.
Social work can be defined as an exercise in engaging with people to facilitate the telling of their story around a particular problem relating to their well-being, that is, to articulate what has happened to them and why (Dominelli 2004). The social work profession promotes social change, problem solving in human relationships and the empowerment and liberation of people to enhance well-being. Social work addresses the barriers, inequities and injustices that exist in society. It responds to crises and emergencies as well as to everyday personal and social problems. Social work utilizes a variety of skill, techniques, and activities consistent with its holistic focus on persons and their environments. Social work interventions range from primarily person-focused psychosocial processes to involvement in social policy, planning and development (Social Worker’s Registration Board 2007). Social work’s core practice revolves around empowerment and well-being of individuals, groups and communities. Social work is grounded on social justice, guided by perspectives that are developing and critical, nurturing people’s strength, and emphasizing human diversity. Social workers promote social change, problem solving in human relationships and the empowerment and liberation of people to enhance well-being. Utilizing theories of human behavior and social systems, social work intervenes at the points where people interact with their environments. Principles of human rights and social justice are fundamental to social work.
According to Chenoweth and McAuliffe (2005) the core values of social work are:
1. Valuing Humanity
Respect for others and acceptance that each person had unique worth as an individual are universal values. In valuing people as individuals, workers are able to acknowledge the importance of human rights, the fundamental cornerstones that create and uphold a moral and just society. In valuing humanity, workers are able to see the individual within their social context.
2. Valuing Positive Change
Valuing change that brings about positive growth and development is one of the commitments social workers make in their work with people who are marginalized or oppressed. Valuing change involves many levels. Change can be attitudinal, behavioral or social. Commitment to social justice means bringing about changes that enable people, groups and communities to have better and more equitable access to resources and services that meet human needs and promote human welfare.
3. Valuing Choice
Self-determination allows people to make choices about the way they live. Ultimately, it is empowering for people to have a workers stand beside and support them as they make decision about how to move forward in life.
4. Valuing Quality Service
Workers have a responsibility to practice in ways that are beneficial and not harmful to others. Important here are competence, integrity and honesty, accountability and transparency, reliability and impartiality.
In social work, values have been important in several key respects, with regard to the nature of social work’s mission; the relationships that social workers have with clients, colleagues, and members of the broader society; the methods of intervention that social workers use in their work; and the resolution of ethical dilemmas in practice. Social work according to Tims (1983) is a value-based and value-inspired effort designed to help vulnerable people through the use of sophisticated methods of intervention cited in Reamer 1999, p. 247).
The Joint Committee of the International Association of Schools of Social Work and the International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) (2002) identifies the following core purposes of social work:
- Facilitate the inclusion of marginalized, socially excluded, dispossessed, vulnerable and at-risk groups of people;
- Address and challenge barriers, inequalities and injustices that exist in society;
- Assist and mobilize individuals, families, groups and communities to enhance their well-being and their problem-solving capacities;
- Encourage people to engage in advocacy with regard to pertinent local, national, regional and/or international concerns;
- Advocate for, and/or with people, the formulation and targeted implementation of policies that are consistent with the ethical principles of the profession;
- Advocate for, and/or with people, changes in those structured condition that maintain people in marginalized, dispossessed and vulnerable positions;
- Work towards the protection of people who are not in a position to do so themselves, for example children in need of care and persons experiencing mental illness or mental retardation within the parameters of accepted and ethically sound legislation (cited in Kwok 2003)
The basic values of the social work profession include:
1. Commitment to the primary importance of the individual in society
2. Respect for the confidentiality of relationships with clients
3. Commitment to social change to meet socially recognized needs
4. Willingness to keep personal feelings and needs separate from professional relationships
5. Willingness to transmit knowledge and skills to others
6. Respect and appreciation for individual and group differences
7. Commitment to develop clients’ ability to help themselves
8. Willingness to persist in efforts on behalf of clients despite frustration
9. Commitment to social justice and the economic, physical, and mental well-being of all members of society
10 Commitment to high standards of personal and professional conduct (Reamer 1999)
Responsibilities as Professionals
Social workers must display professional integrity. Social workers are required to be competent in their field and to avoid any behavior that discriminates against other, private conduct, honesty, personal impairment, misrepresentation, solicitation of clients, and acknowledging credit. In addition to being proficient in fulfilling their responsibilities, social workers must avoid practicing, condoning, facilitating, or collaborating with any form of discrimination and should not permit their private conduct to interfere with their ability to fulfill their professional responsibilities (Reamer 1999). Social workers have ethical responsibilities to the client, their colleagues, agency, profession and the society. In relation to clients, social workers are expected to commit themselves to the service of the clients and to inform them of their rights and choices. In terms of relationship with colleagues, a social worker is expected to pay due respect to the differences of opinion and practice of other social workers, other professionals and volunteers. The social worker is also expected to co-operate with other social workers to enhance service effectiveness. In relation to agency, the social worker is expected to perform his or her duties and responsibilities effectively and efficiently. The social worker should be committed to contributing to the betterment of the service rendered to the clients, groups and communities. In relation to profession, the social worker should maintain honesty, integrity and responsibility in professional practice. Lastly, in relation to society, the social worker is expected to bring to the attention of policy makers or the general public any policies, procedures or activities of governments, societies or agencies which create, contribute to, or militate against the relief of hardship and suffering (Social Workers Registration Board 1998).
Professional Integrity Challenge: Social Policy Practice
Work in the area of social policy can present ethical challenges for those with the responsibility for balancing the needs of society with the needs of individuals and groups. Social policy id driven largely by economic and political agendas that often override the needs of the most disadvantaged. Policies that dictate how limited health-care resources should be distributed, how claims for welfare payments should be assessed and how housing for people on low incomes should be provided.
As social workers, we are responsible for assessing each applicant for Housing, Housing Transfers, Grants, Loans and Assistance and all other services offered by the Social Policy and Housing entities of the Hong Kong government. The professional integrity challenge presented in the case revolves around the decision that was made by the worker and the reactions of the client and supervisors.
In the case, the Worker is being pressured in the form of complaints about the worker’s decision. The worker is also being influenced by the supervisor to grant the request of Madam Wong. This goes against the guidelines set by the Social Worker Registration Board, which stress the importance of professional integrity in performing social services. Social workers must act in accordance with the highest standards of professional integrity and impartiality. The social worker should be alert to and resist the influences and pressures that interfere with the exercise of professional discretion and impartial judgment required for the performance of professional functions.
As a social worker, I am responsible for upholding personal and professional integrity. Standards around professional integrity encourage social workers to go beyond their individual behaviors to take responsibility for improving their organizations’ practices and assure that agencies’ policies do not impinge in ethical practices. Social workers should not allow an employing organization’s policies, procedures, regulations, or administrative orders to interfere with their ethical practice and social work. Standards of integrity also extend further than the social worker’s actions in a professional capacity. Specifically, social workers should not permit their private conduct to interfere with their ability to fulfill their professional responsibilities (White et al 2008).
Professional integrity can be defined as a morally good or correct conduct according to accepted professional guidelines and codes of ethics. It is also considered as ‘standing for something’ or being committed to sets of professional ideals/principles, which may go beyond extant professional norms. Lastly, professional integrity can be described as a moral competence and a process of continuous reflexive sense-making, which may even involve re-evaluating and giving up previously held ideals and principles.
Professional integrity has something to do with codes of ethics. Let us first define what ethics is. Ethics came from the Greek word ‘ethos’, meaning character or custom. Ethics is the discipline that deals with what is good and bad and with moral duty and obligation. Ethics can also be regarded as a set of moral principles or values (Sims 2003).
Professional integrity can be achieved by following the codes of ethics of social work. Codes of ethics according to Bowles et al (2006) are documents that aim to identify the broad values, principles and standards of ethical conduct on which a particular profession is based. The purposes of the codes of ethics are:
- Identify core values and principles that underpin social work;
- Provide a guide and standard for ethical social work conduct to which the general public can hold social workers accountable;
- Help social workers in ethical reflection and decision-making; and
- Act as a basis for investigating and judging whether a social worker has been unethical through a formal complaints process (Bowles et al 2006).
Banks (2006) defines professional integrity using three versions:
1. Morally Good/Right Conduct – acting in accordance to accepted professional guidelines/codes of ethics. Essentially such codes outline what kind of person a good professional should be and how they should act. If practitioners breach the code of good conduct then this damages their integrity as a good professional and damages the profession itself.
2. Standing for Something – practitioners are committed to sets of professional ideals/principles, which may go beyond current professional norms. Integrity involves standing for something that is not only personally endorsed by the moral agent, but this is in a social context which provides a broader reference point for evaluating the worth of the projects/commitments.
3. A Capacity/Moral Competence – integrity can be described as a process of continuous reflexive sense-making. Integrity as a capacity to respond to change in one’s values or circumstances, a kind of continual remaking of the self, as well as a capacity to balance responsibility for one’s work and thought.
Integrity is a key value in many statements of ethical principles and codes of ethics. Social workers are expected to act with integrity. This includes not abusing the relationship of trust with the people using their services, recognizing the boundaries between personal and professional life, and not abusing their position for personal benefit or gain.
Every social worker needs to make decisions regarding many things that may affect the client. It is important that decisions are reached in ethical manner. There are different models of ethical decision-making that a social worker can use.
1. Rational Model
The rational mode of ethical decision-making relies on a rational decision-making process to sort out which course of action to take once conflicting moral principles have been identified. Garcia et al (2003) identifies 7 steps in rational decision making – (a) identify the problem, (b) refer to the code of ethics and professional guidelines, (c) determine the nature and dimensions of the dilemma, (d) generate potential courses of action, (e) consider the potential consequences of all options and then choose a course of action, (f) evaluate the course of action, and (g) implement the course of action (cited in Bowles et al 2006).
2. Virtue Ethics Model
Instead of judging moral rightness on the act or decision itself, as one does in the rational model, in a virtue ethics model moral rightness depends on the personal qualities of the practitioner. These qualities may include integrity, prudence, discretion, perseverance, courage, benevolence, humility, and hope.
3. Prescriptive Models that combine Different Ethical Approaches
These models incorporate several ethical theories.
Social work is a profession that is based on values and ethics. Social workers follow and uphold codes of ethics and guidelines in performing their responsibilities. One value that is given emphasis in this paper is professional integrity. Social workers are expected to possess personal and professional integrity. Professional integrity, first and foremost is about following the codes of ethics and standards of practice set by for the social work profession. A social worker must understand the values and purposes of social work and must know the codes of ethics by heart.
A social worker that has professional integrity analyzes every case, including the facts and details and arrives at every decision by studying and comparing different solutions and considering ethical and moral standards. A social worker that has professional integrity does not let his personal values, beliefs, perceptions, experiences and behavior hinder or influence his decision-making. He also does not let anyone to influence his decisions. In summary, social worker must posses the following – morally good conduct, integrity to stand up for something and moral competence.
Banks, S 2006, Professional Integrity, Durham University, viewed 01 May, 2009, <http://socialwork2006.de/uploads/media/0854_SarahBanks_english.pdf>.
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Chenoweth, L and McAuliffe, D 2005, The Road to Social Work and Human Service Practice: An Introductory Text, Thomson Learning Nelson.
Code of Practice for Registered Social Workers 1998, Social Workers Registration Board, 01 May, 2009,
Dominelli, L 2004, Social Work: Theory and Practice for a Changing Profession, Wiley-Blackwell.
Kwok, J 2003, Social Welfare, Social Capital and Social Work: Personal Reflection of a Hong Kong Social Welfare, Japan College of Social Work, viewed 01 May, 2009,
Reamer, F G 1999, Social Work Values and Ethics, Columbia University Press, New York.
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White, B W, Sowers, K M and Dulmus, C N 2008, Comprehensive Handbook of Social Work and Social Welfare: the Profession of Social Work, John Wiley and Sons.
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