University of Sussex
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The development of professional social work values and ethics in the workplace: a critical incident analysis from the students' perspective

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posted on 2023-06-08, 17:06 authored by Eleni Papouli
This thesis explores Greek social work students’ perceptions of the development of their professional values and ethics in the workplace during their professional practice placement. To accomplish its goals, the thesis includes a literature review and employs a qualitative exploratory research design with descriptive elements positioned within the constructivist paradigm. This research design allows the researcher to explore and describe a topic - social work values and ethics - that is generally under-researched in the existing literature, as well as being complex in nature and difficult to study. Data were collected using the critical incident technique (CIT). This method took the form of a written questionnaire (the CIT questionnaire) completed by 32 students between 11th and 25th October, 2010. The data were inductively analysed using both qualitative and quantitative approaches. SPSS and SPAD software packages were also used to analyse the numerical and textual data respectively. The study findings underline the vital role of the workplace as a social space for students to learn and develop their professional social work values and ethics. They also highlight the complexity of implementing social work values and ethics in the different workplace environments that students, as trainees, are placed for their professional practice due to their situation-specific nature. Further, the study reveals a number of factors that, from the students’ point of view, are important in applying and upholding professional ethical standards in social work practice. These factors are associated with: a) the need to practice social work values and ethics in the workplace on a daily basis in order to keep them alive and active; b) the students’ own contribution to upholding ethical standards; c) the role practice instructors/supervisors play in the transmission of social work values to students during their placements; d) the importance of ethical collaboration inside and outside the workplace to achieve the best practices for clients; e) the client’s behaviour as a determinant of the ethical practice of social workers in the workplace; and f) the importance of the ethics of management (including the political affiliation of the heads of organisations) in creating and sustaining an ethical work/learning environment. The study suggests that all the factors mentioned above-to a greater or lesser degree- should be considered important elements to take into account in the planning and development of values-based social work education programmes. Special attention should be paid to workplace conditions that can hinder or support the development of values-based social work practice. As the study clearly shows, daily ethical practice in social work, students as individuals, the role of practice instructors, ethical workplace collaboration, client behaviour, and the ethics of management are crucial components for building upon the ethical skills taught in the classroom and developing ethically informed professional identities in real-life workplace situations. The thesis concludes that the critical incidents experienced by students are a valuable source of knowledge and understanding of the development of social work values and ethics in professional practice. In this study, indeed, students gained valuable insights into their ethics development process in practice contexts, from both positive and negative critical incidents alike.


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  • Social Work and Social Care Theses

Qualification level

  • doctoral

Qualification name

  • phd


  • eng


University of Sussex

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