"Beyond the hypothetical" : Practitioner experiences of ethical dilemmas in front-line social work

McAuliffe, Donna Anne (2000). "Beyond the hypothetical" : Practitioner experiences of ethical dilemmas in front-line social work PhD Thesis, School of Social Work and Human Services, The University of Queensland.

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Author McAuliffe, Donna Anne
Thesis Title "Beyond the hypothetical" : Practitioner experiences of ethical dilemmas in front-line social work
School, Centre or Institute School of Social Work and Human Services
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2000
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Margaret Shapiro
Lesley Chenoweth
Total pages 304
Language eng
Subjects L
390204 Professional Ethics
750404 Social ethics
Formatted abstract

This thesis explores, describes and analyses the experiences of ethical conflict from the perspective of Australian front line social work practitioners. The thesis elucidates the complexity of these experiences by examining reflective accounts of ethical dilemmas that took place in a range of fields of practice and organisational settings. Ethics is central to social work as the profession is founded on value premises that emphasise respect for persons and a commitment to pursue social justice with integrity, reliability, fairness and competence. These values underpin the principles of ethical practice. Ethical principles and responsibilities influence assessments, interventions and decisions in respect of work with clients, colleagues and organisational policies and programs. As social work is essentially a moral endeavour, a point central to this thesis, social workers of necessity engage with ethical discourse in all aspects of their work. Increasing ethical self-awareness so that this discourse can become a readily identified and conscious process is critical to the enhancement of ethical practice.  

As a professional discipline, social work has made significant contributions to debates on matters of ethics. The literature has explored ethical issues, both theoretically and empirically, in many practice contexts, and has highlighted the need for ongoing research and discussion as new ethical problems continue to emerge. There are, however, some areas that have remained outside the range of comprehensive inquiry. This study focuses on these areas with the aim of contributing to knowledge about practitioner experiences of ethical dilemmas in the Australian context, and exploring the conflicting ethical principles that confront social workers in direct practice. It investigates the identification and management of ethical dilemmas, and explores contextual factors of influence in decision-making. The study also investigates the avenues of consultation and sources of social support, and explores the impacts and consequences for practitioners who became embroiled in ethical conflict. The conceptual importance of social context m understanding beliefs and behaviour in relation to ethics is highlighted through an exploration of societal, organisational, professional and interpersonal influences.

Thirty experienced social workers, all with a minimum of five years post-graduation practice, agreed to participate in the study through a national recruitment strategy. These workers discussed in detail an ethical dilemma from their practice. A computer-mediated qualitative research tool, based on reflection and dialogue, was developed for the collection of data. Twenty participants engaged in a process of ongoing reflective dialogue over a period of some months using the medium of electronic mail. Another ten participants took part in semi-structured in-depth interviews that addressed the same issues as those covered in the e-mail dialogues. The data was coded using the Ethnograph, a computer program for managing qualitative data transcripts, and was analysed thematically………………………

Keyword Practitioners
Social Work Ethics
Social service -- Moral and ethical aspects
Additional Notes Variant title: Beyond the hypothetical: ethical dilemmas in front-line social work

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