Ethics in Social Work Research

Ethics in Social Work Research

Based on human values, there are several issues in research and practice. First, research involving human subjects requires their active informed consent. They need to know why you are doing the research [i.e. its ultimate purpose], and how the data you collect will be handled [anonymized, kept in a safe, coded, placed in an electronic repository, joined to other data. If the human subjects in the study are in any way ‘vulnerable’ or unable to meaningfully consent to the research, there must be a meaningful advocate for their interests involved at every stage (Bracken-Roche et al., 2017). The design of experimental treatments and data capture should be purposive and focused on the key experimental variables thought to have a role in the phenomena being investigated. Nonetheless, there should be robust institutional mechanisms that ensure that research credit is properly attributed and that each author of a paper made a specific tangible contribution.

A specific population that has majorly been affected by unethical research is children. While some research experiments have left children with lifelong psychological issues, others have left them temporarily distressed. There are also many research experiments involving children as test subjects who are not aware that they are experimented on (Surmiak, 2018). This questions the ethical concerns of informed consent and protecting participants from harm. An example of unethical research is when Wendel Johnson and Mary Tudor in 1939 conducted a study on stuttering using 22 orphans living in Iowa. The experiment leads to speech problems among a group of those children which they retained the problems in their entire life. Another example is Dr. Lauretta Bender who experimented on more than 100 children with symptoms of schizophrenia at the Creedmore Hospital in New York through electroshock therapy.

The mistreatment of minorities in research has been a major impetus for the development of ethical standards for research on human subjects due to several reasons. Mistreatment of minorities can lead to a lack of meaningful and sensitive discussions concerning informed consent (Surmiak 2018). If research strategies fail to use culturally informed strategies, there is likely to be less trust and rapport with the participants. Thus, coming up with ethical standards that adhere to study protocols will be challenging. Discrimination and racism at multiple levels can lead to underrepresentation and barriers to the participation of minorities in research. This presents a major challenge in coming up with standards that are significant to particular communities.

Ethical standards in research significantly protect the rights of human participants. Those standards imply the most important political principle: never violate other people’s rights. The rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of their happiness. That implies not working to harm participants directly or indirectly (Bracken-Roche et al., 2017). When it comes to direct responsibilities of researchers, anything that violates the rights of participants is out of question. They should seek informed consent and ensure there is no harm on participants. Researchers should honestly and objectively use their philosophy: their values, what they think is “the good”, and the purpose of their research. Because integrity to their values and virtues is only good if those values and virtues are objectively defined, and good.







Bracken-Roche, D., Bell, E., Macdonald, M. E., & Racine, E. (2017). The concept of ‘vulnerability’in research ethics: an in-depth analysis of policies and guidelines. Health research policy and systems15(1), 1-18.

Surmiak, A. D. (2018, September). Confidentiality in qualitative research involving vulnerable participants: Researchers’ perspectives. In Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung/Forum: Qualitative Social Research (Vol. 19, No. 3).

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