The execution of laws which establish and fund social service functions is completed at the point where the intended service is directly delivered by an individual to the individual who requires the service. “Social work” can therefore include everything from law enforcement to processing applications for food stamps and other benefits.
We tend to think of the Child Protective Services, Welfare, and hospital discharge nurses as the only true social workers, but most public servants, including the military, conduct some form of social work or another in the course of their professions.
Some aspects of social work involve direct interaction between human beings. Emergency medical technicians, firemen, patrol officers, and home health care workers are on the front lines in the battle to provide safety, security, aid, and assistance to members of society. But they also provide problem solving, counseling and other areas of support.
As a consequence of their increased authority, social responsibility, and fiduciary accountability, all who conduct social work have higher levels of authority and power to make profound decisions as to what happens in the course of human lives. In the ultimate cases, law enforcement officers and others have the authority to kill.
As such, social workers are most often held to higher ethical and moral standards in their professional and sometimes, personal lives. It is far too easy for a welfare department data processor, in collusion with others, to take bribes in order to provide benefits to unqualified individuals. It is far too easy for law enforcement to become abusive, engage in criminal activity, and to become financially coercive with community members, as opposed to working out fair public safety programs. Unethical, criminal, and immoral behavior by soldiers who commit criminal acts on either foreign or their own nation’s local economy never fails to insure public outrage.
Ethical issues concerning child protective services social workers are hard to determine. When social workers are burdened with far more caseloads than any person can effectively handle, there is very little that happens when they complain that more workers are needed. So, when they fail to prevent a known hazardous situation from resulting in a child’s horrific death, it is difficult to pass judgment on them, and it is far easier to blame the higher levels of management and government for not providing resources that ease the individual caseload.
As society suffers increases in problematic behavior by adults and children due to what is now generational drug abuse, criminal enterprise, and breakdown in the economy, not to mention other social stresses, the social worker becomes far more burdened by caseload than the national, regional and local budgets allow. It is difficult to gauge or even to properly identify the ethical challenges, or the changes in ethics, that social workers undergo, when there is very little evidence that they have worked in a fully staffed and fully funded environment for the past twenty years.
In such an extended environment of unclear access to unclear resources, while society demonstrates increasing levels of dysfunction, it would be far more fruitful to go back to the beginning, with elemental and structural analysis of the changing and deteriorating working environment of social workers, and the ways in which they form their ethical constructs now, in real world situations, and not in comparison to any models for effective ethics in social work.