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Ethical Dilemmas in Macro Practice Amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic

Social workers will tell you that they regularly face ethical dilemmas in their casework (a micro-level practice) - Should I override the client's self-determination when the non-compliance to treatment will endanger his/her life? Do I reveal to the patient's son that he was adopted (for informed consent) before he makes a living organ donation to his father who would refuse organ transplant if his son was told? These are tough decisions, requiring careful consideration of individual rights and future implications.

Ethical Issues Faced by Social Work Leaders

However, social work managers also experience ethical dilemmas when running their agencies and managing limited organisational resources. Especially during this COVID-19 pandemic, managers have to grapple with decisions about staff work-from-home workload and out-of-office practices - How can I be fair in distributing work between the tech-savvy and the tech-challenged? How can I ensure data security? Can I allow staff to access the client's cases from home where family members may have incidental/ accidental access? How do I mitigate the reduction of client contacts to monitor their progress?

Ethical Issues Become Dilemmas

Managers also grapple with decisions about dwindling resources. With a reduction in donations, which programmes do I shelve until the financial situation gets better? Which client should I drop if I do not have enough resources for all? Who do I let go if I do not have enough to support the headcount?

While social workers may have their peers and supervisors to turn to for consultation when encountering ethical dilemmas, managers usually find themselves alone in grappling with theirs. Having a team of senior executives is a luxury that bigger social service organisations have. For smaller agencies, managers probably have their Board to turn to for advice and direction. Often, most of the members of the board are not likely social work trained and may view issues raised from the perspective of governance and organisation's survival.

While we may think that the social work managers' role and experience as administrators should be sufficient to guide decisions in macro-practice, their social work values like empathy, upholding human rights and social justice gives a unique element to their struggles in decision-making.

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