The Evolution of Social Work Ethics

Reamer, Frederic G.
November 1998
Social Work;Nov98, Vol. 43 Issue 6, p488
Academic Journal
The recent ratification of a new NASW Code of Ethics--the most ambitious set of ethical guidelines in social work's history--marks an important stage in the profession's development. This article traces the evolution of ethical norms, principles, and standards in social work during four stages in the profession's history: (1) the morality period, (2) the values period, (3) the ethical theory and decision-making period, and (4) the ethical standards and risk management period. In the past 100 years, social work has moved from a preoccupation with clients' morality and values to the formulation of comprehensive ethical guidelines for practice. In recent years social work has also developed rich conceptual frameworks and practical resources to help practitioners identify, assess, and address complex ethical issues. Implications of these developments for the profession are explored, particularly in light of social work's commemoration of its 100th anniversary.


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