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The Social Work Ethics Casebook
Cases and Commentary (2nd edition)
Frederic G. Reamer
ISBN: 978-0-87101-534-1. 2018. Item #5341. 196 pages.
Book Type:

Published in 2009, The Social Work Ethics Casebook was the first ethics casebook, including extensive cases and commentary, written exclusively for social workers. Now, following a revision of the NASW Code of Ethics that went into effect in January of 2018, this revised edition includes extensive discussion of new and updated ethics standards, especially pertaining to social workers’ use of digital and other technology to deliver services, communicate with clients, manage and store information, and provide information to the public.


This book’s realistic ethics cases provide a useful tool for discussing ethical dilemmas and ethical decision making. Following each set of cases, Reamer includes commentary highlighting key ethics concepts and references to relevant standards in the Code of Ethics. The casebook highlights ethical issues related to confidentiality and privacy, informed consent, client self-determination, professional paternalism, boundary issues and dual relationships, conflicts of interest, cultural and ethnic diversity, termination of services, administration, collegial impairment, commitments to employers, social work education and training, and more. Each section of the book also includes discussion questions designed to enhance readers’ understanding and application of important ethics concepts.


Special Features:



  • Complex ethical dilemmas cited in diverse areas of social work practice (such as mental health, child welfare, family services, substances abuse treatment, elder services, school social work, social work administration, social work research, and evaluation)

  • Relevant standards in the NASW Code of Ethics highlighted throughout

  • Ideal format for use by social workers involved with teaching, supervision, training, continuing education, and consultation


The Nature of Social Work Ethics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
• The Evolution of Social Work Ethics. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2
• Codes of Ethics. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
Ethical Responsibilities to Clients . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
• Commitment to Clients. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
• Self-Determination and Paternalism . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20
• Informed Consent. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25
• Practitioner Competence. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 33
• Cultural Awareness and Social Diversity. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 36
• Conflicts of Interest. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 39
• Privacy and Confidentiality. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 46
• Access to Records. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 59
• Sexual Relationships. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 61
• Physical Contact. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 64
• Payment for Services. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 66
• Clients Who Lack Decision-Making Capacity. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 69
• Referral for Services. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 72
• Termination of Services. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 74
Ethical Responsibilities to Colleagues . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 79
• Interdisciplinary Collaboration. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 79
• Consultation. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 82
• Sexual Relationships. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 84
• Impairment of Colleagues. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 86
CONTENTS
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vi Contents
• Incompetence of Colleagues. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 88
• Unethical Conduct of Colleagues. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 90
Ethical Responsibilities in Practice Settings . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 95
• Supervision and Consultation. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 95
• Education and Training. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 97
• Client Records. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 100
• Client Transfer. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 103
• Administration . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 104
• Commitments to Employers. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 107
• Labor-Management Disputes. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 109
Ethical Responsibilities as Professionals . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 113
• Professional Competence. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 113
• Private Conduct. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 116
• Dishonesty, Fraud, and Deception. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 119
• Impairment. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 121
• Misrepresentation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 123
• Solicitations. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 125
• Acknowledging Credit. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 127
Ethical Responsibilities to the Social Work Profession and the Broader Society . . . . . . . . . 131
• Integrity of the Profession. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 131
• Evaluation and Research. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 133
• Social Welfare. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 136
Code of Ethics of the National Association of Social Workers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 139
Relevant Literature . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 171
Index . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 183
About the Author . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 187
Frederic G. Reamer, PhD, is a professor in the graduate program of the School of
Social Work, Rhode Island College. His research and teaching have addressed a
wide range of human services issues, including mental health, health care, criminal
justice, public welfare, and professional ethics. Dr. Reamer has served as a social
worker in correctional and mental health settings and has lectured extensively
nationally and internationally on the subjects of professional ethics and professional malpractice and liability. Dr. Reamer received the Distinguished Contributions to Social Work Education award from the Council on Social Work Education
(1995), the Presidential Award from National Association of Social Workers
(1997), the International Rhoda G. Sarnat Award from the National Association
of Social Workers (2012), and the Excellence in Ethics Award from the National
Association of Social Workers (2015). In 2016, Dr. Reamer was named a Social
Work Pioneer by the National Association of Social Workers.
Dr. Reamer’s books include Risk Management in Social Work: Preventing Professional Malpractice, Liability, and Disciplinary Action (Columbia University
Press); Heinous Crime: Cases, Causes, and Consequences (Columbia University
Press); On the Parole Board: Reflections on Crime, Punishment, Redemption,
and Justice (Columbia University Press); A Guide to Essential Human Services
(NASW Press); Criminal Lessons: Case Studies and Commentary on Crime and
Justice (Columbia University Press); Social Work Values and Ethics (Columbia
University Press); Boundary Issues and Dual Relationships in the Human Services
(Columbia University Press); Ethical Standards in Social Work: A Review of the
NASW Code of Ethics (3rd ed.) (NASW Press); The Social Work Ethics Audit: A
Risk Management Tool (NASW Press); Teens in Crisis: How the Industry Serving Struggling Teens Helps and Hurts Our Kids (Columbia University Press; with
Deborah H. Siegel); Finding Help for Struggling Teens: A Guide for Parents and
the Professionals Who Work with Them (NASW Press; with Deborah H. Siegel);
Ethics Education in Social Work (Council on Social Work Education); The Foundations of Social Work Knowledge (Columbia University Press; editor and contributor); Social Work Research and Evaluation Skills (Columbia University Press);The Philosophical Foundations of Social Work (Columbia University Press); AIDS
and Ethics (Columbia University Press; editor and contributor); Ethical Dilemmas in Social Service (Columbia University Press); Rehabilitating Juvenile Justice
(Columbia University Press; coauthor, Charles H. Shireman); and The Teaching
of Social Work Ethics (The Hastings Center; coauthor, Marcia Abramson).