Malfeasance in Helping: A Misguided Approach to Meeting Critical Client Needs

  • Lucinda Nevarez University of Texas at San Antonio
Keywords: social work, ethics, misconduct, competent practice, practice standards


Social workers are called to work in practice areas that are complex and multilayered and with client systems that present moral and ethical challenges. In these situations, we social workers can find ourselves left to navigate incredibly challenging cases in isolation. Our desire to help may exacerbate the moral and ethical issues that frequently accompany our work, leading practitioners to engage in rule-bending, unethical behavior, professional misconduct, and perhaps even criminal behavior—often with good intentions. While the social work code of ethics offers practitioners guideposts, the true action decisions are ultimately left to the practitioners’ professional judgment, leaving room for subjective application of standards of competency and ethics. I outline how intersecting practitioner and systemic factors can converge to create a circumstance ripe with opportunities for lapses in professional conduct. I also explore the influence supervision may have in deterring or preventing these incidences.

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