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Covid-19 Pandemic – Ethical Guidance for Social Workers

Responding to the very specific circumstances generated by COVID-19

This Ethical Guidance for Social Workers aims to respond to the very specific circumstances generated by COVID-19 which disrupts health, care, safeguarding and support services.


Coronavirus and social work ethics

Blog by Richard Servian, with input from David Jones and Martin Sexton.

We are in the midst of the most severe crisis for many years and this may well create working conditions and situations which we have not had to face before. Exceptional guidance is necessary which aims to preserve fundamental ethical principles whilst supporting colleagues working in unprecedented conditions. We can hope the situation will not be as serious as we fear although the experience of our colleagues in eg Spain and Italy suggests it is responsible to anticipate and prepare for the worst.

Where do we start in producing an ethics guide for Social Workers working through the current Pandemic? A subgroup of BASW’s Policy, Ethics and Human Rights Committee (PEHR) has been considering this.

BASW’s Code of Ethics reflects the requirements of a profession often in positions of power with people we work with, but also sometimes in poor power positions with regard to antagonistic government policy, unsympathetic employers or more powerful other professions. Coronavirus throws up a whole new area in which a Code of Ethics is important.

The Coronavirus Act went through Parliament in less than a week, and in that time gave Ministers the ability to suspend a range of previous legislation developed over years to support vulnerable adults. We recognise that this legislation and policy are exceptional and temporary. We will be looking to the government not to hang on to these powers longer than really necessary. Whilst the Care Act has in parts now been suspended we expect Councils to work, as far as possible, as if the suspended responsibilities still existed.

The current situation for Social Workers throws up a number of dilemmas. Many of us will be in very worrying life and death situations where Doctors with very limited resources are deciding who should get ICU support. Grieving processes will be limited to the other end of a telephone line or facebook page. Should we go out to Children at risk or families in domestic violence situations, when we are not confident we can protect ourselves because of a lack of protective equipment or because such equipment may get in the way? How can we work with those who are suspicious of authority, often for good reason, and don’t believe a word of what the government is saying? Can we intervene to protect young people being moved from residential care when the rest of us are being told to stay at home?

There are deeper more political questions we could ask and will need to take further when the Pandemic reduces. Why hasn’t Protective equipment been available, why hasn’t there been testing and subsequent contact tracing? Did ideological approaches get in the way eg in terms of early government apparent preferences for a ‘herd immunity’ approach. Has a decade of austerity damaged the resilience of services against the virus?

For now we are providing clear advice and ethics guidance to support and help each other through this difficult time.

The BASW ongoing survey is still seeking the views of members on our website. This has been very influential in our approach. We will review this regularly so are keen to hear from members. In the meantime, we may well have to think the unthinkable about the future.


Further information