Article

Social Work and Coercion

Tomi Gomory and Daniel Dunleavy

in Encyclopedia of Social Work

Published by NASW Press and Oxford University Press


Published online May 2018 | e-ISBN: 9780199975839 | DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acrefore/9780199975839.013.1264

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  • Direct Practice and Clinical Social Work
  • Practical Ethics
  • Human Behaviour and the Social Environment
  • Mental and Behavioural Health
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Social work is perhaps most distinctive for its clear and outspoken commitment toward improving the well-being of society’s vulnerable and disadvantaged groups, while still emphasizing the importance of respecting and defending personal rights and freedoms. Though there is a fundamental necessity for coercion, or its threat, for eliciting civil social behavior in a well-functioning society, it is professionally and ethically imperative that social workers make explicit our rationales for, justifications of, and the evidence used to support or reject coercive practices in our work. Social work’s engagement with coercion inevitably entails the ethical and social policy arguments for and against its use, as shown in a review of the empirical evidence regarding its impact on the professions’ clients, exemplified by three domains: (1) child welfare, (2) mental health, and (3) addictions. Recommendations for future improvements involve balancing the potential for harm against the benefits of coercive actions.

Keywords: coercion; social work ethics; social work practice; mandated treatment; involuntary hospitalization; mental health; risk assessment; child welfare; drug abuse

Article.  12703 words. 

Subjects: Direct Practice and Clinical Social Work ; Practical Ethics ; Human Behaviour and the Social Environment ; Mental and Behavioural Health ; Social Work Research and Evidence-based Practice ; Occupations, Professions, and Work

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