Ethics and Social Work Research

Ethics and Social Work Research

As with other methods of Social Work Practice, an understanding not only of the values and principles of practice is important. The same can also be stated for the ethics of research. Over the years much emphasis has been laid upon the need for researchers to incorporate several safeguards into their research to prevent ethical problems from occurring. One of the first efforts in this direction was the policy statement on ethical principles and guidelines for the protection of human subjects of biomedical and behavioural research in 1979. This document, namely the Belmont Report, was released by the Department of Health and Human Services.

In the context of Social Work research the most important ethical safeguards to be kept in consideration are:

(a) confidentiality;

(b) informed consent;

(c) monitoring the effects of a study on the participants and offering assistance if necessary;

(d) involving research participants in decision making about the study;

(e) selecting researchers without a conflict of interest.

a) Confidentiality: A primary responsibility of the researcher is to protect the privacy of all research participants by ensuring their anonymity. The researcher knows the names of all the participants but promises not to reveal their identity outside the research team. Oftentimes, researchers change the names of their respondents in order to conceal their identity.

b) Informed Consent: The informed consent is sought from the research participants prior to the research process. Mostly the document of informed consent should cover the following areas: general purpose of the study; qualifications and organizational affiliation of the researcher; expectations of the research participant; assurance of confidentiality;
identification of any possible negative effects the study might have on the participants; identification of any possible benefits resulting from the participation; an explicit reminder that the participants can stop participating at any time; the name of someone who can be called to answer the queries of the respondents.

c) Protection of the respondents at all stages of research is a prime concern of the researcher. These concerns are manifold, greater if the participants are in any way vulnerable or can face any physical or psychological harm.

d) An innovative way to increase the protection of the participants in research is by involving them in some or all of the steps of the study as it progresses. The Participatory Action Research is a way of doing so. Some researchers even consult the prospective participants during the designing of the study.

e ) An important aspect is in relation to the report of the study. Misrepresentation of the findings of the study and other actions that compromise the integrity of the study must be looked into. This is usually possible through taking the services of qualified outside researchers who can lend the research the much desired objectivity.