- Practice in accordance with AASW Code of Ethics
- Manage ethical dilemmas and issues arising in practice
Over my three and a half years of study I have become very familiar with the code of ethics of the Australian Association of Social Workers (AASW), an essential discipline-specific code to draw on and refer back to. The coursework of the Masters has given me useful opportunities for me to become familiar with the code and reflect on how it relates to my own personal values and ethics. It was really valuable to be able to use the code and apply its elements to case studies and discuss how a certain area of the code may apply and to do so in an academic setting where I felt supported in engaging is discussion about different ethical considerations that each of us had, coming from different perspectives. Discussions such as this demonstrate that ethical decisions can be undertaken differently by different practitioners depending on their frameworks, values and ethics, and that there are very often multiple possible courses of action depending on the particular variables. Black-and-white thinking is rarely suitable for ethical thinking and ethical decisions.
The Code of Ethics has been extremely useful during my practicums in practising ethically and dealing with ethical issues, as well as having colleagues and field educators with whom I feel comfortable discussing ethical decision-making in order to help me to decide on a course of action. My first placement was at a state high school working with the chaplain, and it was interesting to see the different priorities and approaches of other sections of the school community, including teachers and non-teaching staff, and how this was similar or different to a social-work approach with different core values. It was frequently useful to discus this with my supervisor and to work together towards outcomes that met the needs of diverse stakeholders. My second placement – in a community-mental-health team within a larger health organisation – was in a clinical mental-health setting. It was interesting again to compare the guidelines and policies of health organisation with those of the AASW Code of Ethics. During my second placement I used both supervision and interaction with colleagues to discuss ethical decision-making that came up on a day-to-day basis during the practicum. I believe that I learnt a great deal with regard to values and ethics and in particular the essential nature of shared decision-making with regard to ethical dilemmas and action based on value judgments.
As my study continued it became more and more apparent that my own values aligned closely with those of the AASW. My motivation in choosing to enter the field of Social Work was originally to support people with mental-health problems, but within a framework of social change within society, and the framework of a person’s particular social environment. I bring a strong sense of social justice, and awareness of central issues such as poverty, equality, and human rights. As a young man, I studied for three years in a Catholic seminary, initially intending to become a priest, and this study introduced me to Liberation Theology (exemplified by advocates such as Gustavo Gutiérrez), inclusive language, and the broader concepts of equality/inequality and inclusion/exclusion within religion.
I have continued informal learning in the field of philosophy, and consider myself a follower of modern Stoicism, which incorporates a strong focus on pro-social action within one’s community and within wider society. I am involved in both face-to-face and online Stoic discussion groups. One of my favourite quotes is from the Stoic philosopher and Roman emperor, Marcus Aurelius, in his Meditations (Book 2, 1; translation by Gregory Hays, abbreviated): “No-one can implicate me in ugliness. Nor can I feel angry at my relative, or hate them. We were born to work together like feet, hands, and eyes, like the two rows of teeth, upper and lower. To obstruct each other is unnatural. To feel anger at someone, to turn your back on them: these are obstructions.”
A significant part of ethics is being able to consciously view the needs and wishes of other people, not only myself. I want to do work that values the things that really matter to me: respect for other people and other cultures through evidence-based practice and critical reflection; movement towards social justice and fairness for everyone, not just those who are privileged like me – born in a wealthy country, the dominant gender, and the dominant ethnicity. The values of social work broadly and as represented by the AASW Code of Ethics have reinforced the things that I believe in.
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