Eye on Ethics: Shades of Gray in Social Work Ethics--The Rubin Vase

Document Type


Department (Manual Entry)

School of Social Work


Some ethical judgments in social work are clear-cut. There is no debate about whether it is permissible for clinical social workers to date a client, falsify records, or bill for services that were never provided. These actions are wrong, pure and simple, but once we get beyond these obvious circumstances, social workers often have different opinions about the best way to manage ethical dilemmas. Principled and thoughtful practitioners may disagree about the best way to manage complex boundary issues when social workers practice in small, rural communities; whether it is ever appropriate for social workers to share personal information with clients for therapeutic purposes; and the fairest way to allocate limited resources when social service agencies face severe budget cutbacks.