Gray can be a scary color. The "in-between" can be a challenging place to stand. There is safety in clear right and wrong. When we find ourselves in a situation that does not presents us with the clarity we prefer, it can be difficult to navigate. We all face moments in our career where situations demand a decision, but that decision seems to be hiding somwhere in the fog of multiple ethical options. So how do we brave such a challenge?
Review Our Own Ethics
To even know what options are available in our decision, we need to have some baseline understanding of an ethical code. For social workers, the main code we operate under is the NASW Code of Ethics. While it is unrealistic to think we would memorize its entirety, it is essential to have a working knowledge and to identify when we need to reference the code in more detail. There may also be policies and ethics of the organization where we work that are important to note and reference as well. However, it is important to remember that as social workers, under our governing board, our code of ethics always takes precedent over an organization's policies if there is a discrepancy. Losing a job that is replaceable is always preferable to losing our license.
Keep The Client First
At the heart of the code of ethics is doing what is best for the client. It can be helpful to try and run through each possible decision we are considering and see the potential impact that each choice will have for our client. If our intentions are aimed at prioritizing the client's best interests, we will at least be heading in the right general direction.
We have people around us in our workplaces for a reason, one of the main reasons being consultation. The best place to start is in supervision. Associates have the opportunity to bring ethical dilemmas to individual or group supervision. Our supervisor and our co-workers are our best resources. They will be able to look at the dilemma from different angles and possibly give us a fresh perspective. Tapping into others' experience is never a bad idea. For those who are members of the NASW or the California Society for Clinical Social Work, they offer ethics consultations. Unfortunately these are not free options as memberships do cost money.
After reviewing the relevant parts of the code, considering client outcomes and consulting others, it is extremely important to document everything that we included in our decision making process. We want to have record of why we made the decision that we did. This is where we can best ensure we are protecting ourselves and our careers. It is important to show that the decision we made was well thought out, done in the best interests of the client, and would be something that other social workers in the field would reasonably choose.