Open Journal of Political Science
Vol.05 No.02(2015), Article ID:53805,8 pages

Ethicalization of Social Work and Socialization of Ethics?An African Challenge

Ani Casimir1, Ejiofor Samuel2

1Department of Philosophy, Institute of African Studies, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Nigeria

2Department of Social Work, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Nigeria


Copyright © 2015 by authors and Scientific Research Publishing Inc.

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution International License (CC BY).

Received 13 January 2015; accepted 2 February 2015; published 5 February 2015


Ethics in social work will be the extension of the philosophical work in the welfare discipline known as social work. The transformation of social work as a profession flows from the pleadings of social philosophy for a deeper humanitariannization and valuation of social work. It is the marriage of the wise ones with the kind ones. Philosophy being seen as a disciple that creates professionally wise ones while social work is seen as the discipline that creates human welfare workers that help to alleviate the personal and societal problems of man. Ethical education will lead to ethicalization of social work and the socialization of ethics. More people in social work will work in accordance with the values of ethical propriety while ethics will be socialized and popular. This article takes note of the fact that ethics education in social philosophy and social work practice has dramatically evolved over decades in response to cultural and technological changes affecting social work practice in Africa. This ethicalization will lead to the transformation of a profession in a continent filled poverty and social challenges in the 21st century. This is the conjunction of ethicalization and socialization as a social philosophy for achieving a paradigm change in Africa for social workers and practical philosophers of change.


Ethics, Human Values, Philosophy, Social Work, Ethicalization, Socialization, Transformation, The African Case Worker

1. Introduction

1.1. Basic Issues Early Years

There are basic issues that defined the ethical trajectory in the social work profession. They were the necessity of social work education in creating public awareness of the role of ethics and human values in social works; secondly, the significance of establishing core social work values as a professional code of conduct; the importance of recognizing the criticality of ethical decision making as a means of solving ethical dilemmas met during practice; the need to identify and navigate through ethical risk management and the desirability to successfully solve ethical dilemmas as they arise in a cultural and personal settings. The entire collage of ethical issues collate around the main issue of existing ethical dilemmas in the professional practice. In Africa, these ethical dilemmas exist as challenges to professional practice as a result of the existence of cultural and communalistic values of social care. These values put the law and the practice into professional collision. As a result of the relative newness and youthful age of the social work practice in Africa as a profession, these gaps ethical trajectory have created professional gaps in Africa. An African ethical case study shall be used to demonstrate this dilemma in personal, professional, legal and cultural practice in Africa.

To elevate African social work standards to acceptable global levels, there is a need to resolve these ethical dilemmas and incorporate an integrated human values that will solve social work management risks. These should be in a manner that the new values should reflect community care and soci-care tradition native to Africa in a humane manner. Let us take note of the issue of education for the need for ethics in social work practices. Academic work and major articles have been by Western-oriented authors and experts who are European-oriented in their values. Despite this fact, we have to take note of the fact that during social work’s history, there have also been several ambitious attempts to highlight the need to educate social workers about values and ethics. The earliest landmark publication on the subject was Muriel Pumphrey’s 1959 volume, The Teaching of Values and Ethics in Social Work Education, published in conjunction with the Council on Social Work Education’s (CSWE) Curriculum Study. In her introductory observations, Pumphrey noted that even though the social work profession was then more than a half-century old, social work educators had not yet produced a comprehensive curriculum or conceptual template for ethics education. She set out to assess how and to what extent content on professional values and ethics was conveyed to social work students. She systematically gathered data from a sample of social work education programs to determine prevailing views concerning social work values and ethics, how they’re applied in practice, and strategies for teaching this content. Pumphrey concluded that curriculum content on values and ethics needed to be considerably strengthened. She found that while the subject of values was pervasive throughout social work instruction, students were, by and large, not receiving systematic instruction on professional ethics. In 1982, nearly a quarter century after Pumphrey’s groundbreaking report, Marcia Abramson and I published The Teaching of Social Work Ethics as part of a series released by The Hastings Center, a professional ethics research center. The Hastings Center project was the first major effort to explore the teaching of ethics in a wide range of professions, including medicine, nursing, law, journalism, engineering, business, criminal justice, the military, public policy, and social work.

1.2. Emergence of Ethics Education in Social Work

Social work education has a crucial role to play in training students and in preparing them for the realities of practice in a conflict-ridden society. This requires an understanding of the nature of our society and the range of social science disciplines; which will be the foundation of the theoretical base of the student. The knowledge and information of development of social work education in different countries is very important to understand to the social worker. Social worker practice and their knowledge definitely influence their mode of practice. They have to take into consideration the history, social ideology and social development of the particular country before they create programs of action to ameliorate social problems of a country. During this unit, we examined the history of social work education in different countries of Africa. Here, we build on that foundation, considering policies, functioning and philosophies of social work education in Africa. Before going ahead, countries’ welfare system have to be understood within the historical context of the way in which each particular society’s basic institutions were influenced by and responded to the external influences imposed upon them during the pre- and post-colonial era.

In short, especially since the 1980s, ethics education in the professions has been transformed. What once was superficial and cursory treatment of the subject has evolved into a much more deliberate, comprehensive effort to educate professionals about compelling ethical issues that inevitably arise. A key impetus to strengthened ethics education in social work is the CSWE’s Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards. According to Educational Policy 2.1.2, social work education programs must demonstrate that their curricula “apply social work ethical principles to guide professional practice” and ensure that students “recognize and manage personal values in a way that allows professional values to guide practice,” “make ethical decisions,” “tolerate ambiguity in resolving ethical conflicts,” and “apply strategies of ethical reasoning to arrive at principled decisions.”

2. Philosophico-Ethical Considerations in Social Work

Based on the remarkable expansion of knowledge regarding social work ethics and current CSWE accreditation guidelines, many ethics education curricula focus on four key themes: the value base of the social work profession and its relationship to students’ values, ethical dilemmas in social work, ethical decision making, and ethics risk management.

2.1. Social Work Values

Social work is among the most values based of all professions. It’s deeply rooted in a fundamental set of values that ultimately shapes the profession’s mission and its practitioners’ priorities. Every social worker has spent time learning about the profession’s deep-seated commitment to client dignity and worth, clients’ right to privacy and self-determination, integrity, social justice, and so on. Occasionally, both students and social work educators encounter challenging circumstances where these values clash. Common examples involve students whose religious beliefs conflict with social work values or school or agency policy or when a student questions social work’s time-honored commitment to addressing issues of discrimination and social injustice. For example, a student whose field internship is in a health care clinic for low-income patients may oppose abortion on moral or religious grounds and, consequently, have difficulty with NASW’s position and her field agency’s policy respecting clients’ right to make decisions about their reproductive health. Or, in class discussion in a child welfare seminar, a student may oppose the adoption of children by gay or lesbian parents―again on moral or religious grounds―and have difficulty reconciling this with her state NASW chapter’s support of pending legislation that would permit adoption by gay or lesbian parents.

2.2. Ethical Dilemmas

Situations sometimes arise in social work in which core values, duties, and obligations conflict, and these lead to ethical dilemmas. This is when social work students and educators must decide which values―as expressed in various ethical principles and standards―take precedence. Ethical dilemmas that need to be addressed in social work education involve clinical practice, social action and advocacy, administration and management, social policy, and research and evaluation. Typical ethical dilemmas facing clinical social workers involve circumstances where clients’ confidentiality rights clash with social workers’ duty to protect third parties from harm; social workers’ wish to respect clients’ right to self-determination clash with practitioners’ duty to protect clients who engage in self-harming behavior; and complex boundary and dual relationship issues arise (e.g., responding to clients’ questions about a social worker’s personal life, responding to gifts and social invitations offered by clients, managing boundaries when social workers and clients live in rural or other small communities).

Social workers involved in social action or community organizing may have to decide whether to comply with an allegedly unjust law or engage in civil disobedience on moral grounds. Social work administrators may have to decide how to allocate limited agency resources, impose budget cuts that affect vulnerable clients, or manage impaired employees. Social workers employed in policy positions may have to decide whether to promote a policy that clashes with social work values. Social work researchers may struggle with informed consent issues or the use of deception when gathering data from clients or other vulnerable people. Social work educators are in a critically important position to help students identify and address such challenging ethical dilemmas.

2.3. Ethical Decision Making

The phenomenon of ethical decision making in the profession has matured considerably in recent years. Today’s social work educators have far more access to helpful literature and concepts related to ethical decision making than did their predecessors.

Typically, ethical decision-making frameworks include a series of concepts and steps for students to consider. A widely used model asks students to identify the key ethical issues, including the values and duties that conflict; identify individuals, groups, and organizations who are likely to be affected by the decision; tentatively identify all possible courses of action and the participants involved in each, along with the possible benefits and risks for each; thoroughly examine the reasons in favor of and opposed to each possible course of action, considering relevant ethical theories and principles, codes of ethics, legal principles, social work practice theory and principles, and personal values; consult with colleagues and appropriate experts, such as field instructors, agency administrators, ethics experts and, when appropriate, attorneys; make the decision and document the decision-making process; and monitor, evaluate, and document the decision. Such decision-making protocols don’t guarantee easy or unequivocal decisions. However, they can help social workers structure their decision making and increase the likelihood that they consider key issues.

2.4. Ethics Risk Management

During the earliest chapters of social work’s history, practitioners didn’t need to worry about licensing board complaints or lawsuits alleging violation of ethical standards. In the United States, social work wasn’t formally regulated until the mid-20th century, and it took many years for all of the states and other jurisdictions (District of Columbia and Virgin Islands) to license practitioners. Further, until the late 20th century, social workers were rarely named as defendants in lawsuits.

Clearly, times have changed. Today, social work students must be concerned about the risk management ramifications of their ethical decisions and actions, particularly the possibility of licensing board complaints and lawsuits alleging professional malpractice and misconduct. Although relatively few social workers have formal complaints filed against them, this is no longer a trivial risk. By necessity, contemporary social work educators are more sensitive to these issues than their predecessors.

It’s important for students and educators to fully understand the ways in which ethical issues and judgments occasionally lead to malpractice claims, ethics complaints filed with professional associations (such as NASW), and licensing board complaints. Key risks involve social workers’ management of client confidentiality and privacy; informed consent; boundaries and dual relationships; conflicts of interest; delivery of services; digital, online, and other remote communications; documentation; termination of services; and practitioner impairment.

3. The Concept of Ethical Dilemma Explored as a Major Ethical Issue

Ethical dilemmas are considered to be major issues in social work practice. A social worker must reflect a social philosophy that is well grounded in a value fired ethical decision making that makes him to manage risks and challenges especially in a multi-cultural and communistic environment. Karen (2012: p. 23) attempts to define the route to conceptualizing what constitutes an ethical dilemma by defining ethics, values:

In determining what constitutes an ethical dilemma, it is necessary to make a distinction between ethics, values, morals, and laws and policies. Ethics are prepositional statements (standards) that are used by members of a profession or group to determine what the right course of action in a situation is. Ethics rely on logical and rational criteria to reach a decision, an essentially cognitive process ( Congress, 1999 ; Dolgoff, Loewenberg, & Harrington, 2009 ; Reamer, 1995 ; Robison & Reeser, 2002 ). Values, on the other hand, describe ideas that we value or prize. To value something means that we hold it dear and feel it has worth to us. As such, there is often a feeling or affective component associated with values ( Allen & Friedman, 2010 ). Often, values are ideas that we aspire to achieve, like equality and social justice. Morals describe a behavioral code of conduct to which an individual ascribes. They are used to negotiate, support, and strengthen our relationships with others ( Dolgoff, Loewenberg, & Har- rington, 2009 ).

Social workers are routinely confronted with ethical dilemmas in practice, and social work programs infuse their courses with professional ethics and values to help students prepare for this eventuality. The Council on Social Work Education (2008) requires that students learn how to “apply social work ethical principles to guide practice, engage in ethical decision making, recognize and manage personal values in a way that allows professional values to guide practice, and tolerate ambiguity in resolving ethical conflicts” (EPAS 2.1.2).

Social work students become familiar with the Code of Ethics, learn one of the various models on ethical decision making ( Congress, 1999 ; Dolgoff, Loewenberg, & Harrington, 2009 ; Reamer, 1995 ) and, at some point in their education, are typically required to write a paper on an ethical dilemma. However, students are not routinely taught how to recognize what an ethical dilemma is. Correctly identifying an ethical dilemma is the first step in resolving it.

There are three conditions that must be present for a situation to be considered an ethical dilemma. The first condition occurs in situations when an individual, called the “agent,” must make a decision about which course of action is best. Situations that are uncomfortable but that don’t require a choice, are not ethical dilemmas. For example, students in their internships are required to be under the supervision of an appropriately credentialed social work field instructor. Therefore, because there is no choice in the matter, there is no ethical violation or breach of confidentiality when a student discusses a case with the supervisor. The second condition for ethical dilemma is that there must be different courses of action to choose from. Third, in an ethical dilemma, no matter what course of action is taken, some ethical principle is compromised. In other words, there is no perfect solution ( Karen, 2012: p. 78 ).

Finally, laws and agency policies are often involved in complex cases, and social workers are often legally obligated to take a particular course of action. Standard 1.07j of the Code of Ethics ( NASW, 1996 ) recognizes that legal obligations may require social workers to share confidential information (such as in cases of reporting child abuse) but requires that we protect confidentiality to the “extent permitted by law”. Although our profession ultimately recognizes the rule of law, we are also obligated to work to change unfair and discriminatory laws. There is considerably less recognition of the supremacy of agency policy in the Code, and Ethical Standard 3.09d states that we must not allow agency policies to interfere with our ethical practice of social work.

It is also essential that the distinction be made between personal and professional ethics and values ( Congress, 1999 ; Wilshere, 1997 ). Conflicts between personal and professional values should not be considered ethical dilemmas for a number of reasons. Because values involve feelings and are personal, the rational process used for resolving ethical dilemmas cannot be applied to values conflicts. Further, when an individual elects to become a member of a profession, he or she is agreeing to comply with the standards of the profession, including its Code of Ethics and values. Recent court cases have supported a profession’s right to expect its members to adhere to professional values and ethics. (See, for example, the Jennifer Keeton case at Augusta State University and the Julea Ward case at Eastern Michigan University.) The Council on Social Work Education states that students should “recognize and manage personal values in a way that allows professional values to guide practice” (EPAS 1.1). Therefore, although they can be difficult and uncomfortable, conflicts involving personal values should not be considered ethical dilemmas.

3.1. Karen Identifies Two Types of Pre-Existing Ethical Dilemmas below

An “absolute” or “pure” ethical dilemma only occurs when two (or more) ethical standards apply to a situation but are in conflict with each other. For example, a social worker in a rural community with limited mental health care services is consulted on a client with agoraphobia, an anxiety disorder involving a fear of open and public spaces. Although this problem is outside of the clinician’s general competence, the limited options for treatment, coupled with the client`s discomfort in being too far from home, would likely mean the client might not receive any services if the clinician declined on the basis of a lack of competence (Ethical Standard 1.04). Denying to see the patient then would be potentially in conflict with our commitment to promote the well-being of clients (Ethical Standard 1.01). This is a pure ethical dilemma because two ethical standards conflict. It can be resolved by looking at Ethical Standard 4.01, which states that social workers should only accept employment (or in this case, a client) on the basis of existing competence or with “the intention to acquire the necessary competence.” The social worker can accept the case, discussing the present limits of her expertise with the client and following through on her obligation to seek training or supervision in this area. However, there are some complicated situations that require a decision but may also involve conflicts between values, laws, and policies. Although these are not absolute ethical dilemmas, we can think of them as “approximate” dilemmas. For example, an approximate dilemma occurs when a social worker is legally obligated to make a report of child or domestic abuse and has concerns about the releasing of information. The social worker may experience tension between the legal requirement to report and the desire to respect confidentiality. However, because the NASW Code of Ethics acknowledges our obligation to follow legal requirements and to intervene to protect the vulnerable, technically, there is no absolute ethical dilemma present. However, the social worker experiences this as a dilemma of some kind and needs to reach some kind of resolution. Breaking the situation down and identifying the ethics, morals, values, legal issues, and policies involved as well as distinguishing between personal and professional dimensions can help with the decision-making process in approximate dilemmas.

3.2. An African Social Care Case Study and Dilemma

There is an ethical dilemma in Africa-Social work in Africa has a relatively youthful history as we noted earlier. The dilemma faced by the African social worker could be illustrated with social care case study in the twenty first century. The year under focus in this imaginary case is 2014. Imagine a caseworker employed at the African social work Minstry’s Help Centre where you a Government social settlement in Wawaland, Nigeria devoted to easing the burdens of thousands of street children, Orphans and refugees from the Northern part of the country where the Boko Haram insurgents are dealing death and destruction to non-moslems as well as moslems. The centre has become a testament that a social crisis has erupted in Nigeria. People in the Centre are doing their best to adjust to the relentless challenges of life in their new found home, a resultant effect of religious extremism. The civil servants recuited to work at the Centre are graduates of social work from renowned Universities like the Department of Social Work at the University of Nigeria.

There are also social work consultants hired by the Centre who spend countless hours helping the residents in the Centre with health, counsselling housing, employment, food, child care, and education, among other basic human needs. One of the caseworkers (name withheld), eager to enhance her professional skills, learned through the grapevine about a new social work education program sought for educational course that could help him to solve a lot of challenges ,mostly ethical which have challenged his four-year social work education and that after being accepted into the new program what was offered was not that different from other programs he studied at the University which focused on social casework, human behavior, and social policy with ethical education programs that included social work’s nascent core values, particularly related to client dignity, worth, privacy, and right to self-determination.

Indeed, an experimental code of ethics, published in 1920, has been traced to Mary Richmond, one of social work’s best-known pioneers. For decades following the formal inauguration of social work in the late 19th century, ethics education primarily focused on the nature and application of social work’s core values. Foundation-level courses routinely acquainted students with one or more typologies of social work’s values that developed as the profession created an identity formed by its roots in charity organization societies and settlement houses. Those who work at Wawaland are facing traditional ethical dilemmas radically different from those faced by social workers in the twenty first century. Karen (2012) explores the complexity of the twenty first century ethical dilemma faced by the “Facebook social worker”. The African social worker has to be prepared to face the ethical challenges of social work as a profession in the context of newsets Technologies of Information and communication as well elaboarated below:

Now imagine a 21st-century social worker employed in a hospital-based program that serves people with HIV and AIDS, medical conditions that didn’t exist when social work began. The social worker’s principal duties include addressing mental health challenges that arise among the program’s clients. The social worker provides individual and family counseling and facilitates support groups. One of the social worker’s clients contacted the social worker on Facebook and asked to be a Facebook “friend.” Due to his deteriorating health, the client recently moved in with a relative out of state and also asked the social worker if she could provide the client with counseling services using Skype. The social worker was unsure whether she should communicate with a client on Facebook because of the boundary issues or provide clinical services using digital technology across state lines, especially since she wasn’t licensed in the state to which the client moved. To complicate matters, the social worker knows from recent confidential conversations with the client that the client is concerned he may have infected a former sexual partner; according to the client, the former partner is unaware of the client’s HIV/AIDS status. The social worker has encouraged the client to share this information with the former partner, but due to his deteriorating health, the client hasn’t been responsive or proactive. The social worker asked her supervisor whether she has a duty to take steps to notify the client’s former partner about the health risks, even though the client hasn’t authorized such disclosure. The supervisor was unsure about the implications of provisions in the NASW Code of Ethics and several federal and state laws that address confidentiality related to health care and HIV/AIDS. This scenario offers a glimpse of ethical challenges facing today’s social workers that were unimaginable when social work education first began. By necessity, ethics education in social work has been transformed to enhance the likelihood that contemporary social workers can identify, assess, and address challenging ethical issues. Indeed, the evolution of ethics education in social work is among the most remarkable developments in the profession.

4. The African Challenge?From Substance to Ethical Implications

Apollo & Radthlhokw (1996) , identifies the shape and content of the crisis facing social work in Africa:

Social work, a helping profession, is in a state of crisis. This crisis revolves around issues and problems pertaining to its meaning, character and the role it plays in society. The purpose of this paper is to shed some light on the assumptions, characteristics and functions of social work. Based on documentary analysis and the authors’ experiential knowledge, it explores the significant theoretical and practical aspects of social work in Africa. The first part provides a conceptual, methodological and contextual overview of social work. The second part examines the major issues and problems facing a young profession in a developing region. The concluding part underlines the radical ideas running through the paper. Introduction: Conceptual and contextual background a major problem which social workers have to deal with is the vagueness and controversy Surrounding the meaning, objectives, functions and methods of their profession. Social work as a field of study and practice is not well understood, especially in Africa. This is largely due to The fact that social work is a profession still in its infancy. Below An attempt is made to define and explain the character-istics, origins and functions of social work. Efforts Have been made to define social work. Thackeray, Farley & Skidmore (1994: p. 8), For instance, state that social work is: “... An art, a science, a profession that helps people to solve personal, group, and community problems and to attain satisfying personal group and community relationships through social work practice, including case- work, group work, community organisation, administration and research.” This definition approximates definitions put forward inter alia by the National Association of Social Workers (NASW, 1973: pp. 4-5), Friedlander & Apte (1980: p. 4) and Stroup (1960: p. 12). These definitions convey, quite concisely, the basic meaning and function of social work.

Major Issues and Constraints on Social Work: An African Perspective

Compared to other helping professions like medicine, psychiatry and nursing, social work is a relatively young profession. In Europe and North America, Social work emerged in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In Africa Social work is even younger, essentially a product of European colonialism Midgley, 1981; Macpherson & Midgley, 1987). Despite Its recent development, social work is a rapidly growing field. The profession’s phenomenal growth and development throughout the world is a clear indication of its contribution to the alleviation of social problems. However, social work is still a fledgling and struggling profession, whose theory and practice are shrouded in mystery and controversy. Indeed, a number of scholars have described social work as a profession of many faces: stimulating, challenging, confusing and even frustrating, The Enigma and controversy surrounding social work is partly rooted in its ewness and also in the wide array of the concepts, theories, principles, methods and techniques which social workers use. Accordingly, the major issues and problems facing social work today revolve around its structure, functions, identity, resources and education’’ Logwe et al.

Most books and works in social work ethics in particular and social work globally reflect global outlook in the profession with Western European values. An example is the works by Sarah Banks. Sarah Banks, a professor in the school of Applied Social Sciences and Co-Director of the Centre for Social Justice and Community Action at Durham University, UK, wrote a book “Ethics and Values in Social Work in 2012. A qualified social worker and author of Ethics in Professional Life and Ethics, Accountability and the Social Professions and editor of Practising Social Work Ethics Around the World: Cases and Commentaries summarized the work of ethics in social work practice in the book ‘Ethics and Values in Social Work’”, wherein she offered a clear and systematic account of professional ethics in relation to social work practice, framed within a global context. Ethics and Values in Social Work successfully synthesizes the complex ideas and concepts that characterize social work’s value base. Written with Banks’ trademark accessibility and theoretical rigour, this book will continue to be an invaluable resource for all students, educators and practitioners of social work. In the work which combines a sound grasp of theoretical issues with a sharp focus on the latest policy and practice, she did an ethical expose of social work issues in the following areas of practice:

・ Detailed discussion of the participation of service users, including their role as activists and the importance of the service user movement;

・ Extended analysis of professional regulation and codes of practice, and their role in defining the nature of social work;

・ A vast array of practice examples, which bring current social issues to life;

・ Comparison of the latest codes of ethics from across the globe;

・ A wealth of supportive features, such as points for reflection, extended case studies and further resources. To further document the European bias and non reflection of African human values in social work practice in Africa and the need for a new social work perspective, Apollo & Radithlhokw (1996) submits below:

Social Work Education professional training in social work is today well established in the curricula of most African universities. However, despite the increased establishment of schools of social work, most social work programmes leave much to be desired, especially in terms of their relevance to the African situation. The curriculum and other vital components of instruction remain largely conservative and underdeveloped. It is common knowledge that many of the social workers teaching in African universities were trained in Europe and North America. They have internalized values and norms of social work education and practice obtaining in the West. Because of the colonial legacy and the resource constraints outlined above, attempts to reverse this Eurocentric bias in social work training have not been successful. Virtually all the available social work textbooks have been written by scholars who live and were trained in Western Europe and North America. Most of these scholars are basically armchair scholars in the sense that they have not been to the third world. The theories and models contained in the books in question are derived from Western values and experience and are therefore of limited relevance to African and other developing societies (Adler & Midgley, 1984). Given the above, the need to reform and radicalize the social work curriculum cannot be over-emphasized.

5. Recommendations

Ethics education in social work has come a long way. Compared with the profession’s earliest instruction in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which focused primarily on social work’s core values, today’s education is ambitious with its wide-ranging attention to complex ethical dilemmas, conceptually rich decision-making frameworks, nuanced ethical theories, extensive code of ethics standards, pertinent laws, and practical risk-management strategies. But social workers have learned that ethics education can’t be confined to undergraduate and graduate education. Indeed, in recent years, most licensing boards have expanded their requirements to include mandatory ethics education during each licensing cycle. In addition, many human services agencies that employ social workers now routinely include ethics education in staff development workshops and training. This reflects growing recognition that ethics challenges in social work are not static; novel challenges emerge over time as a result of social changes, cultural developments, and technological innovations. For example, when many of today’s practitioners completed their formal social work education, they couldn’t have imagined contemporary ethical challenges pertaining to social workers’ and clients’ use of digital technology and social networking. Social work knowledge related to ethics has burgeoned, and practitioners need continuing education to keep pace with important developments.

Social work’s pioneers in the late 19th century could not have anticipated today’s ethical challenges. Social trends and novel challenges are hard, if not impossible, to forecast. At this stage of social work’s evolution, we now have a firm grasp of enduring and daunting ethical issues faced by practitioners. Our principal duty is to ensure that social workers receive competent and comprehensive ethics education while recognizing that new ethical challenges unknown to us today are likely to arise. Skilled social workers develop the conceptual skills and wisdom required to respond to such unforeseen yet compelling developments.

6. Conclusion

We have identified that ethical dilemma is part of the general gaps in practice facing Africa. When writing an ethical dilemma in their professional practice or when attempting to resolve an ethical dilemma in practice, African social workers should determine if it is an absolute or approximate dilemma; distinguish between personal and professional dimensions; and identify the ethical, moral, legal, and values considerations in the situation. After conducting this preliminary analysis, an ethical decision-making model can then be appropriately applied. This model when applied will help the social workers in Africa to solve their ethical dilemmas in their daily work. The role played by ethics education in social work and other pedagogical options and issues were also examined in this article. We are arguing the point that social work education programs needed to be considerably strengthened and ethical probity professionalized in social work practice as professional values and ethics so as to successfully socialize social work ethicalization in Africa.


  1. Allen, K. N., & Friedman, B. (2010). Affective Learning: A Taxonomy for Teaching Social Work Values. Journal of Social Work Values and Ethics, 7.
  2. Apollo, R., & Raditlhokwa, L. (1996). Social Work in Africa: Issues and Challenges. Journal of Social Development in Africa, 2, 5-19.
  3. Congress, E. P. (1999). Social Work Values and Ethics: Identifying and Resolving Professional Dilemmas. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Group/Thompson Learning.
  4. Council on Social Work Education (2008). Education Policy and Accreditation Standards (EPAS).
  5. Dolgoff, R., Lowenberg, F. M., & Harrington, D. (2009). Ethical Decisions for Social Work Practice (8th ed.). Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole.
  6. Karen, A. (2012). What Is an Ethical Dilemma? In The New Social Worker. Colorado: Social Work Publications.
  7. National Association of Social Workers (1996). Code of Ethics of the National Association of Social Workers. Washington DC: Author.
  8. Reamer, F. (1995). Social Work Values and Ethics. New York: Columbia University Press.
  9. Robison, W., & Reeser, L. C. (2002). Ethical Decision Making for Social Workers. New York: Allyn & Bacon.
  10. Soni, P. (2009). Emergence of Social Work Education in Africa: An Historical Perspective. SSRN.
  11. Wilshere, P. J. (1997). Personal Values: Professional Questions. The New Social Worker, 4, 13.