Journal Article

Professional Ethics in Social Work— What Future?


in The British Journal of Social Work

Published on behalf of British Association of Social Workers

Volume 28, issue 2, pages 213-231
Published in print April 1998 | ISSN: 0045-3102
Published online April 1998 | e-ISSN: 1468-263X | DOI:
Professional Ethics in Social Work— What Future?

Show Summary Details


This paper examines the ethical implications of recent changes in social work, particularly in relation to the conception of social workers as professionals guided by a code of ethics. These changes include the fragmentation of the occupation, the increasing proceduralization of the work and the growing focus on consumer rights and user participation. Some people have argued that codes of ethics are becoming increasingly irrelevant in this climate, in that they assume a unified occupational group and are based upon professionals' definition of values without consultation with service users. On the other hand, it has also been maintained that it is ever more important to retain and strengthen codes of ethics in order to maintain professional identity and to defend the work of the profession from outside attack. This paper explores the relevance of a code of professional ethics for social work, focusing particularly on the British Association of Social Workers' code, in the context of the changing organization and practice of the work. It considers two alternative approaches: the ‘new consumerism’ which focuses on the worker's technical skills (rather than professional ethics) and consumer rights (as opposed to professional obligations); and a ’new radicalism‘ which stresses the worker's own personal or political commitment and individual moral responsibility (as opposed to an externally imposed code of professional ethics). It is concluded that the changes in social work do threaten the notion of a single set of professional ethics articulated in a code, and that, in some types of work, this model is less appropriate. However, there is still mileage in retaining and developing a code of ethics, not as an imposed set of rules developed by the professional association, but as part of a dynamic and evolving ethical tradition in social work and as a stimulus for debate and reflection on changing and contradictory values.

Journal Article.  0 words. 

Subjects: Social Work

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.