In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Ethics and Values in Social Work

  • Introduction
  • Self-Determination, Paternalism, and Informed Consent
  • Confidentiality and Privileged Communication
  • Conflicts of Interest, Boundary Issues, and Dual Relationships
  • Digital and Electronic Technology
  • Ethics Committees and Ethics Consultation
  • Ethics Education
  • Administration and Organizational Ethics
  • Supervision Ethics
  • Impaired Practitioners
  • Ethics Risk Management

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Social Work Ethics and Values in Social Work
Frederic G. Reamer
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 August 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 August 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0020


The topic of social work values and ethics has always been central to the profession. Scholarly literature on the subject has burgeoned in recent years. Earlier in social work’s history discussions focused primarily on the profession’s core values. Beginning in the 1970s, professional literature started to focus on complex ethical dilemmas in social work, ethical decision making, and ethics risk management. Various scholars have explored the nature of conflicts among professional duties and obligations, and developed conceptually based protocols for ethical decision making. Key topics include self-determination, paternalism, and informed consent; confidentiality and privileged communication; conflicts of interest, boundary issues, and dual relationships; digital and electronic technology; ethics committees and ethics consultation; ethics education; administration and organizational ethics; supervision ethics; impaired practitioners; and ethics risk management.

Introductory Works

Social workers who seek a full understanding of ethical issues in the profession should become familiar with core concepts related to values, ethical theory, and moral philosophy. Familiarity with these concepts will help social workers appreciate the development and evolution of contemporary ethical decision-making protocols in the profession, which typically draw on central concepts in ethical theory and moral philosophy.

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