The Social Work Ethics Audit: A Risk Management Strategy

Subject: Sociology
Pages: 10
Words: 2614
Reading time:
10 min
Study level: PhD


Over the years, a greater focus on ethical concerns by social workers in refugee environments has been on the increase. In addition, contemporary studies contend that ethics are invaluable in managing risks. In other words, attempts have been made to minimize the expenses arising from settings as well as perspectives encompassing social work professions. As such, increased concentration has been given to the mechanisms that reduce the probable harm to clients and staff. Such steps also aid in preventing court cases arising from morals-associated slackness including conflicts of interest, boundary violations, mismanaging private information, and unethical termination of services (Reamer, 2000).

Ethics Audit

Most organizations carry out prescribed evaluations and authentications of records for various reasons including bookkeeping, excellence, and reassurance as well as utilization review. Further, the major appraisal aspects within an organization’s operations encompass accounting practices and service delivery (Stevens, 2008). Additionally, employee and financial accounts, as well as billing procedures, are critical aspects that are focused on by audits.

The degree of social workers’ knowledge on identified moral-associated hazards in the practice environments is a critical aspect of modern ethics audits. Further, the contemporary organizational practices and codes of behavior concerning the management of moral concerns, dilemmas, and judgments are critical foundations of knowledge in the concept of ethics audit and practices (Reamer, 2000). Considering conventional organizational appraisals, structured guidelines containing significant facets in the operation of organizations are utilized.

Ethical Risks

When undertaking social ethics audit, it is often imperative to evaluate the available organizational practices and procedures that aid workers in identifying the risks associated with work processes as well as avert possible moral grievances arising from legal actions (Reamer, 2000). The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) contends that moral hazards engrossing damages that are anticipated should be prioritized. As such, the significant peril sectors tackled in an ethics audit should encompass client rights, confidentiality, and privacy, informed consent, service delivery, conflicts of interest, defamation of character, fraud, termination of services, training, referral, and consultation as well as practitioner impairment. As such, social work ethics audit reveals numerous ethics-related hazards in work settings.

Client Rights

Inclusive and unambiguous outlines of the rights of clients are critically assessed in an ethics audit. The organization plans and practices particularly on how to deal with confidentiality of information, accessibility to information, and services provisions are evaluated (Weinger, 2001). In addition, the appraisal of principles deals with policies concerning informed consent as well as the right to refuse services and options for alternative services and referrals. The acknowledgment of equal civil liberties of all individuals is the basis of self-determination, fairness, and tranquility. The ethics assessment also evaluates the rate of recurrence and the competence of social workers in notifying clients about their civil liberties. Further, the audit focuses on the procedures employed by social workers to inform clients about human rights.

Confidentiality and Privacy

In conducting an ethics audit, several discretion and confidentiality concerns are given greater focus. For example, clients’ right to privacy is critical. In other words, the social workers only seek essential confidential information that is imperative in the provision of services as well as conducting work audits. Additionally, social workers only reveal confidential information to a client given the availability of legitimate consent from the client as well as an individual certified by law to sanction on behalf of the client. Ethics audit also focuses on issues such as the revelation of private information to media agents, law enforcement agencies, protective service officials, and collection agencies as well as social service organizations (Sewpaul & Jones, 2004).

Confidentiality and privacy issues including disclosure of private data concerning nationality, race, and substance abuse treatment, deceased clients as well as giving out private information regarding participants in the family, couples, marital status also receive considerable consideration in an ethics evaluation.

Another important aspect of an ethics appraisal involves the assessment of policies and practices utilized in the revelation of private information. In other words, an ethics audit checks the procedures applied when conveying information through mediums such as computers, electronic mails, facsimile machines, telephones as well as phone-related answering machines (Weinger, 2001). Further, an ethics appraisal gives greater attention to the practices and procedures used to guard confidential data regarding the death of a social worker, disability, and termination of service. Moreover, practices put in place to stop social workers from talking about private information in public areas and during legal proceedings form a critical component of social work ethics audits (Reamer, 2000). The evaluation of competencies of the utilized practices and procedures in updating clients and agencies about privacy matters is also a critical aspect of social work ethics audit.

Informed Consent

The codes of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) postulate that social workers should only offer services to clients in the perspective of a certified relation on legitimate conversant sanction. As such, social workers exploit patent and comprehensible lingo in notifying clients of the rationale of services, the probable hazards, limits to services emanating from third party requirements as well as the pertinent outlays (Davies, 2000). Clear language is also employed by social workers in communicating their right to repudiate or pull out consent to clients.

Therefore, a close evaluation of social workers’ well-versed consent documents and procedures is a critical component of an ethics audit. More to the point, videotaping as well as audiotaping are important circumstances where informed consent of a social worker is necessitated (Weinger, 2001). Further, several courts, state legislatures, and agencies agree that social workers and related agencies should incorporate several modus operandi and documents concerning consent practices. Specifically, practices guaranteeing clients’ mental capabilities to provide consent, absence of intimidation to influence clients’ permission, and availability of information concerning the clients’ approval need to be audited. In principle, social work morals appraisal evaluates the competence of modus operandi employed to gain knowledgeable permission of clients.

Service Delivery

Service delivery is a critical aspect that must be greatly assessed when auditing social work ethics. Further, an ethics audit concentrates on the workers’ competencies based on training, education, license, documentation, supervised experience as well as consultations received (Stevens, 2008). Moreover, the review of the principles looks at the practice models used by social workers to offer services in substantive areas. Additionally, the ethics appraisal investigates whether social workers employ such practice approaches only after appropriate training and supervision from competent professionals. For instance, requesting private fees for a service rendered is unethical and should be avoided since the practice is detrimental to the client-professional relationship.

Conflicts of Interest

The greatest hazards in the duty of social workers arise from boundary concerns. In other words, workers in more than one sexual, social, or business relationship can face conflicts of interest in practice settings. As such, social morals appraisal examines the scope of social workers’ establishments concerning the maintenance of clear precincts concerning sexual connections with clients. Through social work ethics evaluation, social workers and researchers are capable of maintaining lucid borders regarding encounters with clients in public environments, bargaining with clients for goods and services as well as attending lifecycle events of clients and self-disclosure (Stevens, 2008). In principle, the development of ethical procedures is invaluable in enabling social workers to evade harmful dual relationships. To avoid interference with the exercise of professional prudence and unbiased verdict, clients with probable conflicts of interest consider terminating professional association with the apposite recommendation of the client.

Documentation and Supervision

In an ethics audit, documentation practices and procedures are critical in enabling social workers to recollect the important details encountered in different sessions. In other words, effective documentation boosts quality care if a social worker is incapacitated or is on vacation. In addition, work supervisors are often involved in lawsuits regarding breaches of codes of ethics. Most importantly, work supervisors are normally held accountable for the actions committed vicariously (Jayartne et al., 2007). As such, ethical conduct is imperative in providing the necessary information to supervisors to gain the approval of clients.

Defamation of Character

The publication of documents that are detrimental to the reputation of individuals often brings disgrace to such individuals. Specifically, defamation can occur as libel or slander (Parton & O’Byrne, 2000). The former takes place when an intermediary concerned about a client’s state of affairs access written publications of social workers’ advancement. On the other hand, the latter takes place when a social worker provides an oral account in a court of law concerning the client’s advancement. Saying fictitious accounts about a person results in defamation. Therefore, ethics evaluation audits the scope of training availed to social workers useful in averting cases of defamation arising from the use of harmful speech. In other words, social workers and researchers utilize precise and courteous lingo when communicating.

Ethical Dilemmas

Social workers have the duty of upholding the stated ethical principles. However, conflicts between ethical principles often exist in practice settings (Coulshed et al., 2006). To begin with, in the profession of social work, the independence of social workers forms the core of guiding principles. In other words, clients apply self-rule in making personal judgments as well as offering resolutions to the problems (National Association of Social Workers, 2008). Nonetheless, social workers often act to satisfy the interests of the clients without using personal biases to influence the client.

Right to autonomy against the right to confidentiality is another ethical dilemma facing social workers. For instance, social workers are not allowed to reveal private information concerning the client. In other words, clients have civil liberties regarding self-determination. Thus, social workers should not reveal private information shared with colleagues during professional associations and contact (Davies, 2000).

Divergence in morals and values between social workers and clients is a critical ethical dilemma. For instance, the NASW codes of conduct assert that social workers should have clear comprehension and respect the social diversity of clients concerning ethnicity, race, political beliefs, religion, immigration status as well as mental and physical disability (National Association of Social Workers, 2008). However, social workers often experience situations where their personal moral and religious beliefs conflict with the clients’ values. For example, decisions often become difficult in the circumstances where abortion has to be carried out and a social worker holds certain religious beliefs against abortion (Coulshed et al., 2006).

Engaging in dual relations is also an ethical dilemma faced in social work settings. According to the NASW code of ethics, social workers are prohibited from undertaking sexual activities with current and former clients (Coulshed et al., 2006). However, social workers often meet clients with whom they had relations in the past and cannot ignore such clients.

Social workers also face ethical dilemmas during payment for services. Social workers are restricted by various ethical principles from payments of any form for social services (Coulshed et al., 2006). However, on several occasions, social workers receive gifts from clients for services offered thereby subjecting the workers to the ethical dilemma of either accepting the gifts or declining (Payne, 2007).

Social workers also face problems in situations where human rights and legal procedures conflict. For instance, in the refugee camps, clients seeking asylum have to contend with the strict legal frameworks (Coulshed et al., 2006). On the other hand, social workers must adhere to the stipulated laws and in dealing with asylum seekers.

Besides, the termination of services with clients when such services are not required exposes social workers to ethical dilemmas in several ways. For instance, the social workers face difficulties in partaking steps aimed at withdrawing and terminating services and relations with clients.

Challenges in Social Work Ethics Audit

Diversity and Multiculturalism

Social workers face a challenge of cultural diversity since the populace consists of individuals from diverse backgrounds. Therefore, social workers have to utilize multicultural approaches to achieve optimality in work settings (Coulshed et al., 2006). Studies argue that influencing an individual’s family culture is next to unattainable. For that reason, social workers must comprehend the clients’ cultural diversity to diminish mix-ups.


Social workers are often subjected to disrespect from clients who engage the social workers in unnecessary pessimistic condemnation of the work done(Pollitt & Bouckaert, 2004). Further, demeaning comments inclined towards age, ethnicity, race, nationality, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, and political belief are a major challenge in ethics audit (Coulshed et al., 2006). Additionally, clients often fail to work cohesively with social workers. In other words, lack of corporation leads to a decrease in the value of welfare. Besides, discrimination based on race, color, and nationality is a common challenge faced in social work ethics audits (Coulshed et al., 2006).

Solutions to the Ethical Issues

Assessment and research are critical in solving the ethical issues experienced. According to the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), the appraisal of policies as well as the utilization of initiatives is significant in the identification of knowledge gaps that deprive individuals of civil liberties (National Association of Social Workers, 2008).

The utilization of public input in shaping up the direction of social principles as well as institutions is critical in averting ethical aspects since all individuals are included in the decision-making processes (Pollitt & Bouckaert, 2004). Further, great attention should be paid to social and political actions to alleviate ethical concerns. In other words, social workers should provide equal opportunities for all clients irrespective of gender, nationality, or political inclination. Besides, lobbying for the rejection of policies that dispose of people of civil liberties is critical (Pollitt & Bouckaert, 2004).

The maintenance of high integrity levels of the social work profession is significant in eliminating the ethical barriers experienced in practice (Coulshed et al., 2006). Policies that prohibit social workers from having relations with current and past clients as well as accepting gifts and fees for services should be tightened to get rid of such ethical concerns.

Education and training offered to field instructors are also important since the social workers are provided with the necessary and current knowledge concerning practical procedures (Pollitt & Bouckaert, 2004). Further, education enables social workers to identify the hazards of exploitation that arise from unethical codes of morals in work settings (Kirkpatrick, 2005). Besides, performance appraisal is also essential since the workers are capable of gauging their output levels. Further, education, intensive training, and staff development remain critical in ensuring that modern knowledge in social work ethics and procedures is attained (Pollitt & Bouckaert, 2004).


In summary, ethical evaluations authenticate the standards and procedures on records for bookkeeping, quality control, and reassurance as well as utilization review. Further, the major appraisal aspects within an organization’s operation encompass accounting practices and service delivery. Besides, social work ethics assessment addresses the policies of an organization. Specifically, issues about confidentiality as well as discharge of information, right to use services, and records are critically examined in the assessment. Moreover, client civil rights, discretion, and privacy informed approval, and service delivery forms the basis of social work ethics appraisal. Additionally, conflicts of interest, defamation of character, termination of services, training, referral, and consultation as well as practitioner impairment are major components of social work ethics audit.

Generally, the assessment of social work ethics is invaluable to social workers in several ways. First, social workers can categorize important ethical concerns in work environments. Second, the social workers are capable of planning practical tactics to adjust in modern work setting practices. Moreover, assessment and research as well as education and training of field instructors are major policy interventions that can eliminate ethical concerns.

In reality, when undertaking social ethics audit, it is often imperative to evaluate the available organizational practices and procedures that aid workers in identifying the risks associated with work processes as well as avert possible moral grievances connected to legal actions.


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Kirkpatrick, I. (2005). Taking stock of the new managerialism in English social services. Social Work and Society, 4(1): 234-253.

National Association of Social Workers (2008). Code of ethics of the national association of social workers. Washington, DC: NASW.

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