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Ethical Dilemmas in Social Work

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Social Work
Wordcount: 1540 words Published: 3rd Aug 2018

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  • Pashan DeShields



Throughout the years of being a social worker, a person can come across many different ethical dilemmas. An ethical dilemma involves being faced with a situation where a decision must be made under circumstances where ethical principles are in conflict. Dealing with these types of things, there is really no perfect answer that can conform to all of the ethical principles in the professional codes. Due to the fact that social workers have established guide lines for difficult situations, we can do better decision making.

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Ethical Dilemma. Jennifer, 23, is a student working at a halfway house for men on parole, who are also substance abusers. This is part of her final 480 hour field internship. Jennifer is very attracted to Sly, a 26-year-old, handsome client who is also quite charming. She finds it very difficult to avoid responding to his flattering, flirtatious advances. She is halfway through her placement and is finding it extremely difficult not to respond to Sly and secretly date him. The agency has a strict policy that no worker should date a client within six months after either have left the agency. Jennifer finds herself preoccupied thinking about him much of the time. She feels that she’s losing control.

Professional values that apply to the dilemma. A professional value cited in the NASW Code of Ethics that was used in this case in “Integrity”. It tells us how social worker’s should continuously be aware of their mission, values, as well as ethical standards. (p.6) Jennifer forgets her mission and the standards required to obtain this career. She was there on her internship and allowed herself to get caught up in a conflict of interest. In the code, it describes the precautions needed when facing this kind of dilemma. At all times, social workers should be alert and try to avoid having conflicts of interest.

Worker’s professional role and boundary issues involved. Jennifer is taking on the role as an intern which means that she should be following the guide lines for the “Social workers’ ethical responsibilities to the client”. One of the boundaries that have been crossed is Conflicts of Interest. According to the code, social workers should not engage in any dual relationships with clients or former clients (p.9). They should establish appropriate boundaries. This applies to Jennifer and Sly’s situation since they both cannot resist the flirting and are hiding their dating life. They are involved in a dual relationship. She is already in violation with site of where she is interning, who gave a strict rule of no dating clients within six months of leaving the agency.

Another boundary that has been broken is Sexual Relationships. This tells us that for no reason should a social worker participate in any type of sexual contact with a client, whether it was consented or forced. (p.13) Jennifer and Sly may not have had a moment of intimacy, but according to the dilemma, they are close to doing so. She can’t resist his advances and is finding it hard to control herself in secretly dating him. They are young, optimistic, and flirtatious; it is very possible that a mishap can occur.

What emotions, wants, and needs might characterize the worker involved in the scenario? It could appear that she is looking for an outlet herself and has found it in this relationship. Sometimes we search for answers through things, hoping that we will find our help as well. It is very important that a social worker is healthy and whole in every aspect of their life. As a social worker, you have been given trust by your patients that you will help them receive what they need and live a fulfilled life.

Alternatives available for the worker to take. Although Jennifer feels that her situation is becoming too much, there is alternatives that she can take to lessen the stress of the situation. Since she is attracted to him and is very tempted by him, she should address her feelings, sooner than later. She is halfway through with her internship and to not look bad, she should tell the site director. There, the supervisor or her educator can tell her what may be the best route for her to take in regards to her maybe later being employed at which she is interning. Or perhaps there should be a termination of the professional relationship. She should let Sly know that she will no longer be professionally working with him and find him another practitioner where he could still get proficient help from. Or, she could even just keep what has already been going on a secret. She and Sly can secretly date and wait until the 6 month rule has expired that allows her to date a client.

Potential positive and negative consequences for each alternative. Weighing the pros and cons of each alternative is a common perspective in various aspects of social work practice. It is also useful in resolving ethical dilemmas. A pro in being upfront with her supervisor is that she will possibly gain respect. She could tell the truth about her and Sly and how now avoiding him is hard and she doesn’t want to go against the code. The supervisor will see that the intern is aware of her professional responsibilities and wants to maintain the upmost respect of her patient. She could keep her internship and the client could possibly be relocated. Or, the supervisor may not trust Jennifer still being at the site since she has acted unethically. He/she may have to report her which could lead to Jennifer missing out on a good job opportunity. This record may also follow her to future job employments.

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Then, there is terminating the client. If they terminate Sly as a client, a positive would be that she won’t be distracted in her work place. She can be more focused in completing her internship. This is usually the approach that is used for those who have been involved in dual relationships. Also, Sly can really continue to get the help that he needs instead of being at the facility flirting with the newly, young worker. However, in a termination, the clients’ reaction to things can be very negative. Sly can go into a mode of denial or even rage. He may not believe that they are removing him or even get mad that Jennifer is allowing this to happen. By being enraged, this could also cause Sly to relapse back into his substance abuse.

Lastly, she could keep the romance between them a secret. The pro in this is that she can continue to work on landing a good job while establishing a relationship with someone she likes. Due to the fact that Jennifer has already stated the frustration in trying to be in a secretive relationship, this could very quickly turn into a negative. She could ultimately be looked down on and could lose respect and a job. Also, she and Sly’s relationship may not even be long lasting for her to be risking her career. She would be better off being upfront and showing concern with following the code and respecting what is asked of her by the job instead of keeping it a secret, possibly ending up with the same outcome. Professionally, it would look better for her to do so.

How might each alternative affect the client and the worker/client relationship? Ways in which the alternatives can affect the client and the worker/client relationship can come in a lot of forms.

Action that the worker should take that would be the most ethical and appropriate for both worker and client? Ethical choices must be made to allow people to survive and thrive, existing with their basic needs met. There must be a decision made in regards to what is best for the social worker to take. However, before that decision has been made, critical thinking has had to have taken place. It is imperative to use critical thinking and ethical decision making to achieve the optimal result. She should talk the issue over with her supervisor or get counseling help. Face and evaluate the serious negative consequences for both her and Sly. Ultimately, she should terminate their professional relationship, referring Sly to another practitioner so that his services will continue.

Extent to which individual professional discretion is required. It is very important that when dealing with a situation like this, nothing is said or done that causes offense or reveals any private information. You have taken an oath to the service of humanity and to social justice. As a professional, the welfare of your patient is your first priority and the main focus is to make sure the client receives what he/she needs.


Sadly, the pattern associated with Jennifer’s unethical involvement is noticed in a small percentage of social workers, who have been associated with inappropriate behavior with their clients. Although this behavior is known, many social workers have upheld their oath and maintain a high expectancy of the honor and tradition of the social work profession.


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