Social Workers Making Rule- Based Ethical Choices: the Role of Personal Values, Professional Values, and Training in Ethics
Anne K. Hughes, MSW, University of Maryland at Baltimore, R. Anna Hayward, MSW, University of Maryland at Baltimore, and Elizabeth J. Greeno, University of Maryland at Baltimore.
Background/Introduction: Ethical decisions are complex and context-bound processes (NASW, 1999) and values are elemental. Researchers have found that training in ethics can increase comfort with ethical dilemmas (Paxton, Lovett & Riggs, 2001; Kadushin & Egan, 2001). Personal values including religion (Csikai, 1999; Landau, 1999), and political affiliation (Hodge, 2003) have been identified as potential considerations for ethical decision making, along with the core values of the profession (Abbott, 1988). The purpose of this exploratory study is to test a model of decision making using several key constructs suggested by the literature as important in addressing ethical dilemmas. Method: Questionnaires were mailed to a national sample of 493 NASW members in January 2006. Response rate was 45.4%. Surveys included: demographics, an adaptation of Abbott's (1988) Professional Opinion Scale, and an adaptation of the Ethical Dilemma Questionnaire (Smith, et al., 1991). Data were analyzed by LISREL structural equation modeling software, using ML estimation. The model tested five latent constructs: formal training in ethics, social work values, participation in organized religion, political affiliation, and ethical choices. Results: SEM revealed that formal ethics training, social work values, and participation in organized religion are all positively related to rule based ethical choices. Political affiliation was negatively related. Model fit was good (Χ2(28, N=209) = 36.39, p = 0.13; RMSEA = 0.036 (90%CI 0.0;0.068); CFI = 0.97; GFI = 0.97; critical N = 272.99). The strongest predictor in the model was political affiliation. Implications: Personal values appear to impact upon ethical decision making. Though training, religion and social work values appear to be positively associated with codified decision making a more democratic political affiliation indicates less codified decision making. Because social workers are generally more democratic and liberal in their political leanings (Hodge, 2003) further research is necessary to explore the relationship between personal values, professional values and ethical decision making.