Teaching ethics for social work: whose values?

Higgs, Alison and Martin, Anne (2016). Teaching ethics for social work: whose values? In: Joint Social Work Education and Research Conference (JSWEC) 2016, 15 Jul 2016.

URL: http://jswec.net/2016/sessions/teaching-ethics-for...


This workshop focuses on an aspect of social work education which is particularly relevant at a time when increasingly, cuts to social work provision and widespread privatisation challenge accepted notions of good practice. How can the kinds of social work values such as respect for personal dignity and the importance of keeping families together be squared with a reported 30% rise in rough sleeping in the UK (Independent 2016) , or responses to refugees (including children) which effectively institutionalize abuse and neglect? (Robinson 2013). The presenters will argue that the boundary between ethics and politics has never been as clear-cut as some classic theorists have suggested. Nevertheless, today's students and practitioners may find today’s political climate one which makes even identifying practice dilemmas as ethical in nature almost impossible: moral thinking is very difficult when resources are non-existent and where social workers themselves fear for their own livelihoods.
The presenters will argue that appeals to ‘upholding social work values’ will not in themselves help promote good social work practice and that teaching in this area needs to offer students ethical frameworks to conceptualise their work. Most social work scenarios involve working with complexities including competing interests; there may be more than one ‘right’ perspective and respecting one person’s dignity may compromise someone else’s. In social work practice, different perspectives, views, wishes and interests cannot usually be ‘resolved’. These complexities can hardly ever be thought about simply by appealing to the kinds of values which the profession holds dear. Instead, the presenters will argue, ethical thinking needs to be taught – but how and what to teach is contested.
The workshop will look at the distinction between ‘ethics’ and ‘values’ and will encourage participants to share ideas and debate the place of moral philosophy and politics in the social work curriculum.

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