When Law and Ethics Collide: Social Control in Child Protective Services

Ethics and Social Welfare 3 (3):264-283 (2009)
Social welfare workers in the protective services field?among them social workers, psychologists, and psychiatrists?are expected to follow the laws of the state in which they practice, but are also bound by their professional code of ethics. Often this does not present a problem, but at times ethical and legal expectations differ. This is particularly problematic where the professionals may be seen as agents of control, reporting possible child abuse, conducting child abuse investigations, inspecting homes, monitoring families, removing children from their homes and the like, often working with or reporting to law enforcement agents where expectations are different and codes of ethics absent. This paper explores the relationship between law and professional ethics, and, in particular, situations in which actions and decisions can be legal yet unethical or ethical but yet illegal. It then analyzes some critical child protective service activities where Child Protective Services (CPS) workers exert significant control over parents and children, and where the legal and ethical requirements may differ. Finally, the paper discusses the problems that CPS professionals face when law and ethics collide, and suggests various steps to resolve some of these conflicts
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