Friday, 14 January 2005 - 12:00 PM
This presentation is part of: Poster Session I
Moral Judgment of Social Workers: An Examination of MSW Practitioners' Ethics EducationLaura E. Kaplan, PhD, University of Northern Iowa Department of Social Work.
Although ethics education is required to be infused within social work curricula, there is little research on the efficacy of this education and even less on the moral reasoning of MSW graduates. This study examined the moral judgment of recent MSW graduates, providing a baseline for the profession—we must know where we are before we can examine where we need to go.
Two hundred sixty two (262) individuals of 1000 recent MSW graduates (1999 through 2001) responded to a mailed survey. The sample was drawn from alumni lists of 8 CSWE accredited schools of social work across the US. The surveys included a demographic instrument and the Defining Issues Test 2, developed by Rest, Narvaez, Bebeau, & Thoma (1999) as a measure of moral judgment. Comparison of means using t tests and analysis of variance were performed to compare moral judgment levels (measured by DIT2) among groups--specific ethics courses vs. no ethics course (solely infused ethics education).
The average DIT2 score for all respondents fell in the “maintaining norms” level, i.e. conventional levels of moral judgment similar to Kohlberg’s level 4. Ethics courses at the undergraduate level had no significance. Graduate ethics courses had a significant relationship with moral judgment scores in the opposite direction of the hypothesis--these were more likely to predict lower DIT2 scores than higher scores.
Findings suggest that current ethics education strategies may not be preparing students for reflective social work practice or to critically think through complex moral issues that occur in practice. The types of specific ethics courses taken by MSW students as undergraduates or graduate students (likely as electives) do not enhance their abilities. Although those students with solely infused ethics education scored higher, they remained in conventional levels of moral reasoning—no better prepared for complex ethical decision-making. These findings open the way for discussions on content, strategy, goal definition, and consistency in ethics education.
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