Ethics are a critical component to any profession, but I would argue they are especially important to professions rooted in health and human services. As an undergraduate social work student, the NASW Code of Ethics has played a crucial role in how I look at issues and how I would go about working with clients. As a future social worker, I know that issues are rarely ever black and white. That is why it is important to have a code of ethics and set of guiding principles that one can fall back on when confronted with morally ambiguous issues.
An example of the importance of ethics in social work can be found in a recent North Carolina incidence that saw two social service workers being charged with criminal activity in relation to a child’s death. According to the article by the Huffington Post, Child Protective Services (CPS) was aware of the reports of child abuse in the child’s home, but after the child’s death, two CPS workers falsified records to appear as though they did a competent job investigating the case.
It is important to note that despite the headline, the two being charged with falsifying records are NOT trained social workers. Neither one of the accused has any degree in social work (showcasing why social work title protection is so important). When a client sees a social worker, they should have an unspoken guarantee that the person they are seeing has the training, competence, and ethics to be a social worker.
Several violations of social work ethics can be found in this case. Besides the obvious ethics violation of lying, the two social service workers were guilty of incompetence (competence being one of the six core ethics outlined by the NASW). Could the child’s life have been saved had they been more competent workers? We will never know. But we do know that the investigation could have been far more thorough.
Another NASW ethics violation in this case pertains to the “Unethical Conduct of Colleagues.” According to the NASW, “Social workers should take adequate measures to discourage, prevent, expose, and correct the unethical conduct of colleagues.” One of the accused involved in the case was ordered by his superior to change the records, which he should have refused even if she was his superior. The reason the two social service workers are being charged is not because a child died, but because they falsified records.
According to Ashford and Lecroy (2013), child abuse can be hard to substantiate and “requires comprehensive, time-consuming assessments.” CPS workers are frequently overworked and don’t have the time to give a case 100%. Had the two accused simply behaved honestly and ethically, they would not be in the situation they are in now. In fact, they might have even brought attention to the high caseloads associated with CPS that often negatively impacts successful interventions. Instead, because of their unethical behavior, a child is dead, and they are in a lot of trouble… and I believe, rightfully so.
Ashford, J. B., & Lecroy, C. W. (2013). Human behavior in the social environment: A multidimensional perspective. Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole.
Weiss, M. (2013, April 13). Candice Lassiter and Craig Smith, social workers, charged in Aubrey Kina-Marie Littlejohn’s death. Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/14/candice-lassiter-craig-smith-social-workers-babys-death_n_3079938.html?utm_hp_ref=crime
Greg Achen is a senior in the Undergraduate Social Work program and President of the Undergraduate Social Work Association.