Training to promote ethical practice

Dale Curry

This is the sixth of a series of articles focusing on ethics in child and youth care worker training and development. The previous articles provided an introduction to the National Staff Development and Training Association's Code of Ethics for Training and Development Professionals and discussion regarding core values and principles and ethical responsibilities as professionals to clients, colleagues, the profession and society. Segments of this article are also excerpted from The NSDTA Code of Ethics For Training and Development Professionals in Human Services: Case Scenarios and Training Implications. The document can be retrieved from the NSDTA website (

According to the North American Certification Project Competencies for Professional Child and Youth Work Practitioners (2002), a professional child and youth care practitioner “accepts the moral and ethical responsibility inherent in practice.” A professional is also expected to be able to (1) describe the functions of professional ethics, (2) apply the process of doing ethics and ethics as positive practice, (3) apply specific principles and standards from the relevant Code of Ethics to specific problems and (4) carry out work tasks in a way that conforms to professional ethical standards, principles and values. In order to promote ethical practice, ethics education and training can help practitioners understand the principles and standards of the Code as well as how to apply these principles to daily practice.

There is much diversity in the developmental experiences, educational and training backgrounds, and professional orientations of those who enter the value-laden profession of child and youth care. While there are many similar values and ethical standards within child and youth care work-related disciplines, differences also exist. In addition, there is much inconsistency regarding ethics education within the respective educational programs. Reamer (1998) describes ethics education of students and practitioners as a major challenge in the evolution of social work ethics. Similar concerns regarding ethics education and training are reported in other discipline areas such as psychology and counseling (Downs, 2003; Hill, 1999). Even more concerning is the realization that many workers come to the field with educational backgrounds unrelated to the child and youth care profession or no higher education at all. In addition to these factors, individual agency culture may also be a strong influence on ethical practice. The need for ongoing ethical training that plans for application within child and youth work practice environments is essential.

While the importance of ethics training is increasingly recognized, we have only a beginning understanding of the following important questions regarding ethics training.

  1. How are child and youth care worker educators and training and development professionals training ethics (e.g., goals, methods, content, materials used)?

  2. What are successful approaches to ethics training?

  3. What are the limitations of ethics training?

  4. What kind of organizational supports are necessary to promote ethical practice?

Approaches to Ethics Training
What we know about the effectiveness of ethics training in human service areas such as child and youth care appears to be mostly limited to anecdotal accounts. Training approaches appear to vary according to goals, content, methods, materials used, and evaluation methods administered. Typical education and training strategies have included values clarification exercises, case studies exposing trainees to ethical dilemmas, use of ethical assessment and decision making processes and direct instruction of standards from codes of ethics (Feeney, Freeman, & Moravcik, 2000; Hill, 1999).The reader is referred to Hill (1999) who collected data from 74 counselor education programs and provides a comprehensive listing of texts, professional articles, audio-visuals and other strategies employed by these educational programs.

Conceptual Models
Feeney et al., (2000) emphasize the importance of clearly determining goals when planning ethics training. Training and development professionals can more effectively determine their ethics training goals, select appropriate training strategies, and subsequently evaluate training success by using a conceptual model to guide their efforts.

Mattison (2000) suggests integrating the person-in-situation construct to ethical decision making in social work. Since much of social work involves competing values and competing loyalties and responsibilities, she emphasizes the importance of distinguishing between ethical and practice issues as well as identifying how workers have learned to think about ethical issues. She says that workers may develop a pattern of ethical assessment and decision making that sometimes can be classified as deontological or teleological. A deontological approach emphasizes the centrality of ethical principles. Adherence to rules (e.g., maintaining confidentiality, promoting self-determination) across situations is paramount. A teleological approach emphasizes the weighing of potential consequences of proposed actions. Actions that result in the most good are valued. Mattison attempts to incorporate these approaches into the following framework for ethical decision making.

Reflection throughout the decision making process and in retrospect to promote ongoing self awareness is indicated.

Brophy-Herb, Stein, and Kostelnik (1988) describe another useful ethics training model that emphasizes four phases of development of ethical understanding:

1. Awareness “becoming aware of the values that govern one’s life, the values of one’s professional code, and the specific substance of the code. For example:

According to the Preamble of the Code of Ethics: Standards for Practice of North American Child and Youth Care Professionals, Professional Child and Youth Care is committed to promoting the well being of children youth, and families in a context of respect and collaboration. The Code contains principles and standards pertaining to responsibilities (1) for self, (2) to the client, (3) to the employer/employing organization, (4) to the profession, and (5) to society (International Leadership Coalition,1995).

2. Differentiating ethical judgments from other judgments “figuring out what constitutes an ethical judgment and what does not. Some practice judgments are based on “best practice” standards and/or research evidence and may not involve ethical considerations.

3. Analyzing ethical dilemmas “applying methodological skills and strategies to the resolution of ethical dilemmas. Various models of ethical assessment and decision making have been used in human services education and training (Corey, Corey & Callanan, 1998; Lewis, 2003; Forester-Miller & Davis, 1996; Mattison, 2000; Sinclair, Poizner, Gilmour-Barrett, & Randall, 1987; Van Hoose & Paradise, 1979). Ethical dilemmas are situations where a person encounters (1) a choice between two rationally defensible courses of action, (2) actions supported by one or more ethical principles or responsibilities, and (3) actions having potential significant consequences. They normally involve choices among conflicting values or responsibilities (Harding, 1985; Mallucio, Pine, & Tracy, 2002). Curry, Wentz, Brittain, & McCarragher (2005) suggest that training and development professionals ask the following questions when confronted with a possible ethical dilemma:

4. Applying the Code in daily practice “translating ethical thinking into ethical conduct (transfer of learning). Application of ethics learning to daily practice is influenced by individual, organizational and training design factors. Further discussion of these factors and examples of training and development interventions to promote application of ethics learning will be provided in a subsequent article.

The reader is again referred to Hill (1999) for additional discussion of other conceptual models for ethics education used in counselor education programs.

Limitations of Ethics Training
Child and youth work training and development professionals are increasingly aware of the transfer problem that typically occurs in training. It is estimated that only 10% to 13% of what is learned in training is typically transferred to the job (Broad & Newstrom, 1992; Georgenson, 1982; Rackham, 1979). Increasing awareness and knowledge of ethical standards is a necessary but not sufficient intervention to ensure ethical behavior. This is well illustrated by the fact that one of the most widely known and unambiguous standards within the NASW (and other human service professional codes including the Standards for Practice of North American Child and Youth Care Professionals) is the prohibition against sexual activity with clients. Yet, the most frequently reported violation of the NASW Code is the engagement of sexual activity with clients (Murphy, 1997; NASW, 1995). There are many individual, environmental and training design factors that can promote or hinder application of ethical learning to practice.

Next month: Strategies to Promote Application of Ethics Learning in Practice Settings.



Broad, M.L. & Newstrom, J.W. (1992). Transfer of Training: Action-packed Strategies to Ensure High Payoff from Training Investments. Reading, M.A.: Addison-Wesley Publishing Co.

Brophy-Herb, H., Stein, L.C. & Kostelnik, M. (1998). Ethical explorations: Highlighting ethics in teacher training. Paper presented at the NAEYC Annual Conference, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Corey, G., Corey, M.S., & Callanan, P. (1998). Issues and Ethics in the Helping Professions (5th. Ed.). Pacifica Grove, CA.: Brooks/Cole Publishing.

Curry, D., Wentz, R., Brittain, C., McCarragher, T. (2005). The Code of Ethics for Training and Development Professionals in Human Services: Case Scenarios, and Training Implications. Washington, D.C.: National Staff Development and Training Association of the American Public Human Services Association.

Downs, L. (2003). A preliminary survey of relationships between counselor educators” ethics education and ensuing Pedagogy and responses to attractions with counseling students. Counseling and Values, 48, 2-12.

Feeney, S., Freeman, N.K., & Moravcik, E. (2000). Teaching the NAEYC Code of Ethical Conduct: Activity Sourcebook. Washington, D.C.: National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Forrester-Miller, H., & Davis, T. (1996). A practitioner’s guide to ethical decision making. American Counseling Association Website.

Georgenson, D.L. (1982). The problem of transfer calls for partnership. Training and Development Journal, 36, 75-78.

Harding, C.G. (1985). Moral Dilemmas. Chicago: Precedent Publishing.

Hill, A.L. (1999). Counselor Educators” Perceptions and Practices Related to Ethics Education in Counselor Education: A Survey. Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation. Kent State University Graduate School of Education.

International Leadership Coalition (1995). Code of ethics: Standards for practice of North American Child and Youth Care Professionals. Child and Youth Care Forum, 24, 371- 378. Available 7/28/03 from

Lewis, H.L. (2003). For the Common Good: Essays of Harold Lewis. Reisch, M. (Ed.), New York: Brunner-Routledge.

Malucio, A.N., Pine, B.A., & Tracy, E.M. (2002). Social Work Practice with Families and Children. N.Y.: Columbia University Press.

Mattison, M. (2000). Ethical decision making: The person in the process. Social Work, 45, 201-212.

Murphy, K.E. & Kopels, S. (1997). Is the NASW Code of Ethics an effective guide for practitioners? In Gambrill, E. & Pruger, R. (Eds.), Controversial Issues in Social Work Ethics, Values, and Obligations. (pp. 114-125). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

North American Certification Project (NACP) Competencies for Professional Child and Youth Work Practitioners (2002). Journal of Child and Youth Care Work, 17, 16-49.

Rackham, N. (1979). The coaching controversy. Training and Development Journal, 39, 12-16.

Reamer, F.G. (1998). The evolution of social work ethics. Social Work, 43, 488-500.

Sinclair, C., Poizner, S., Gilmour-Barrett, K., & Randall, D. (1987). The development of a code of ethics for Canadian psychologists. Canadian Psychology, 28, 36-43.

Van Hoose, W.H., & Paradise, L.V. (1979). Ethics in Counseling and Psychotherapy. Cranston, RI: Carroll Press.

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