Social Work Ethics on the Line is another of Charles S. Levy's valuable contributions to the profession's growing body of literature on ethical decision making. The first half of this compact book provides a clearly articulated overview of ethics and places it in the context of professional decision making. The second half provides a broad range of exemplars in which Levy applies his ethical framework.
In chapter 1 Levy defines ethics, ethical conduct, and the premises and functions of ethics in the profession and the larger society. This section is clearly written and free from philosophical jargon. However, some of the assumptions that underlie traditional ethical decision making are not articulated and therefore not easily critiqued by novice readers.
Chapter 2 identifies the connection of ethical decision making to professional goals; a code of ethics; the law; and characteristics of the relationships that exist between social workers and their clients, their agencies, and the larger society. Levy alerts readers to the inherent conflictual nature of practice, and his illustrations will be familiar to anyone who has practiced for more than one day. His discussion of the nature of social work relationships and the issues of risk and vulnerability inherent in the process is particularly poignant.
In chapter 3, the heart of this book, Levy offers a paradigm for social workers to use as they take on the complex issues related to ethical decision making. His format consists of six tasks: (1) identifying ethical principles in a situation, (2) establishing priorities among the principles, (3) assessing the potential risks and consequences of a course of action, (4) identifying compelling conditions that could supersede normal application of ethical principles, (5) enumerating provisions and precautions necessary to cope with a course of action, and (6) evaluating decisions in the context of ethical and professional responsibility. This succinct format should prove useful to practitioners as a guide to approaching everyday situations; its focus on the decision-making process follows what many mainstream ethicists have suggested. However, to this reader Levy mentions only some issues that are particularly troublesome. For example, before any of the questions in his framework can be useful, the worker must decide who the client is. If a child protective services worker receives a...