Credit points


Campus offering

No unit offerings are currently available for this unit



Teaching organisation

A variety of learning and teaching strategies for this unit will include lectures and self-directed learning.

Unit rationale, description and aim

Social Workers are regularly faced with complex situations. Knowledge of theories and ethics can assist them to better understand these issues and provide a framework for responding to their clients. This unit provides students with an understanding of the ethical theories, and social work theories for practice. It introduces critical theory, structural, feminist, systems and ecological perspectives relevant for contemporary social work practice. The theoretical frameworks considered are those relevant for social work intervention in various fields and modes of practice. Emphasis will be given to the value and ethical foundations for social work, including a consideration of the philosophical and religious sources of ethics. An essential element of study in this unit is the influence of the personal and professional self, and the development of the skills of critical reflection and critical analysis. The overarching aim of this unit is for students to understand multiple social work and ethical theories and be able to apply those to case scenarios.

Learning outcomes

To successfully complete this unit you will be able to demonstrate you have achieved the learning outcomes (LO) detailed in the below table.

Each outcome is informed by a number of graduate capabilities (GC) to ensure your work in this, and every unit, is part of a larger goal of graduating from ACU with the attributes of insight, empathy, imagination and impact.

Explore the graduate capabilities.

On successful completion of this unit, students should be able to:

LO1 - Identify how a range of social work theories inform social work practice (GA4)

LO2 - Articulate and critique the purpose, values, and ethics of contemporary social work practice (GA3; GA5)

LO3 - Articulate a critical understanding of the relationship between the integration of social work theories and the development of professional identity (GA7, GA8)

LO4 - Articulate a range of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledges and identify how they can inform social work practice (GA1, GA2, GA4)

LO5 - Conceptualise and critique ethical issues and dilemmas in social work practice (GA3, GA4, GA5, GA8) 

LO6 - Apply ethical and social work practice theories to a range of practice contexts (GA3; GA4, GA9).

Graduate attributes

GA1 - demonstrate respect for the dignity of each individual and for human diversity 

GA2 - recognise their responsibility to the common good, the environment and society 

GA3 - apply ethical perspectives in informed decision making

GA4 - think critically and reflectively 

GA5 - demonstrate values, knowledge, skills and attitudes appropriate to the discipline and/or profession 

GA7 - work both autonomously and collaboratively 

GA8 - locate, organise, analyse, synthesise and evaluate information 

GA9 - demonstrate effective communication in oral and written English language and visual media 


On successful completion of this unit, students should have developed their ability to: 

GA 2 - Sound understanding of and commitment to social work values and ethics to guide professional practice 

GA 3 - Ability to apply social work knowledge and interventions to respond effectively in meeting the needs of individuals, groups and communities in diverse settings, client groups and geographic locations 

GA 4 - Ability to apply knowledge of human behaviour and society, as well as the social, cultural, political, legal, economic and global contexts of practice to respond effectively within a human rights and social justice framework 

GA 5 - Ability to review, critically analyse and synthesise knowledge and values and apply reflective thinking skills to inform professional judgement and practice 

GA 8 - Ability to work with diversity and demonstrate respect for cultural difference 

AASW Practice Standards

This Unit has been mapped to the AASW Practice Standards. The following table sets out the broad relationship between the Learning Outcomes, ACU Graduate Attributes and the AASW Practice Standards 

Standard/Attributes/CriteriaLearning Outcomes

4.2 Understand and articulate social work and other relevant theories and concepts 

1.1 Practice in accordance with the Code of Ethics (2010) 

4.2 Understand and articulate social work and other relevant theories and concepts 

4.4 Understand and articulate how and when theories, knowledge bases and knowledge sources inform practice 


3.2 respect, strive to understand and promote the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and their cultures 

1.2 Manage ethical dilemmas in practice 

5.4 Apply critical and reflective thinking to practice 

5.3 use a range of specific social work methods and techniques appropriate to area of practice 


Topics will include: 

Contemporary social work theories and perspectives 

•  Critical theory 

•  Critical race theory 

•  Whiteness theory 

•  Indigenous knowledges 

•  Structural theories 

•  Feminist theories 

•  Systems and ecological perspectives 

•  Psychodynamic perspectives 

Ethical and values perspectives in social work 

•  Deontological theories 

•  Utilitarianism\Teleological theories 

•   Virtue ethics 

•  Ethics of care 

Social work ethics and values in practice 

•  AASW Code of ethics 

•  Social work ethical principles and values 

•  Ethical dilemmas 

•  Ethical decision making models 

•  Influences of personal, professional and societal values on practice 


The relationships between social work theories and practice 

•  Reflective practice 

•  Models of integrating theory 

Learning and teaching strategy and rationale

Teaching and learning strategies for this unit will include lectures, small group discussions, and skill development workshops. Students will be expected to take responsibility for their learning and to participate actively in class discussions. 

This unit involves 150 hours of learning with 36 hours of face-to-face lectures, and tutorials. Lectures will provide detailed content about ethical theories and social work theories and how to professionally work through ethical dilemmas. Tutorials will incorporate case scenarios for the students to practice their application of theory to practice. The assessment for this unit ensures students are familiar with the AASW Code of Ethics, can conduct informed ethical decision making, and apply social work theories to case scenarios. The approach adopted in this unit ensures that students integrate ethical theories and social work practice theories in practice, preparing students for successful professional practice.


In order to pass this unit, you are required to undertake the following assessment tasks, achieve a grade of at least 50% and meet the 80% attendance requirements. Attendance is required in tutorials for students to have opportunities to practise and demonstrate their ability to apply theory and ethical frameworks to complex and varied case examples, across diverse fields of practice. This is essential preparation for the first Field Education experience. The assessment tasks for this unit are designed for you to demonstrate your achievement of each learning outcome.  

Assessment strategy and rationale

This unit takes an authentic assessment approach allowing students to demonstrate their learning and competency in application of theories to social work practice. The first assessment is a quiz designed to ensure students are familiar with and understand the content of the AASW Code of Ethics (LO2, 5). The Code of Ethics is an essential document for guiding and ensuring ethical social work practice. The second assessment is an essay which requires students to show informed ethical decision making by applying ethical theories and decision making frameworks to challenges that can arise in practice with various client groups (LO1,2,3,5,6). In the final assessment students are required to show comprehensive understanding of two social work theories and outline how these theories would inform and guide their practice with a particular client (LO1,2,3,4,6). Together these assessments ensure students are prepared for ethical social work practice, and are informed by social work theories when engaging with clients. Students who pass the unit will have demonstrated sufficient ethical and theoretical knowledge to be ready for their first placement. 

Overview of assessments

Brief Description of Kind and Purpose of Assessment TasksWeightingLearning OutcomesGraduate Attributes

Short answer quiz: Enables students to demonstrate their understanding of and familiarity with the AASW Code of Ethics (2010). 


LO2, LO5

GA1, GA3, GA4, GA7,GA8 

Essay: The purpose of the essay is to facilitate learning about the role of particular ethical theories. The essay focuses the students’ learning on the process of ethical decision making. 


LO1, LO2, LO3, LO5, LO6

GA2,GA3,GA4, GA5, GA7, GA8, GA9

Essay: To encourage student’s understanding of a range of social work theories and application of theories to practice. 


LO1, LO2, LO3, LO4, LO6 

GA1,GA2, GA4, GA5, GA8, GA9

Representative texts and references

Australian Association of Social Workers (2010). Code of Ethics. AASW: Canberra, ACT. 

Allan, J., Briskman, L., Pease, B. (Eds.). (2009). Critical social work. (2nd Ed.) Crows Nest NSW: Allen & Unwin. 

Bease, B., Goldingay, S., Hosken, N., Nipperess, S. (2016) Doing Critical Social Work: Transformative Practices for Social Justice. Crows Nest NSW: Allen & Unwin. 

Banks, S.. (2012) Ethics and Values in Social Work (4th ed.).New York. New York: Palgrave. 

Bennett, B., Green, S., Gilbert, D., Bessarab. (2013) (Eds.) Our Voices: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Work. Victoria, South Yarra: Palgrave Macmillan. 

Connolly, M. & Harms., L. (2012) Social Work: from Theory to Practice, Melbourne: Cambridge University Press. 

Deacon, L., & MacDonald, S.J., (2017) Social Work Theory & Pratice.London: Sage. 

Fook,J. (2012). Social Work: A Critical Approach to Practice (2nd ed.). London: Sage.  

Gray, M., & Webb, S. (2010) (Eds.) Ethics and Value Perspectives in Social Work. Hampshire, UK: Palgrave Macmillan. 

Gray, M. & Webb, S. (2012) (Eds.) Social Work Theories and Methods. London: Sage. 

Healy, K. (2012). Social Work Practices: Contemporary Perspectives on Change. London: Sage. 

Healy, K. (2014). Social work theories in context: creating frameworks for practice (2nd Ed.). Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan (This is available as an e-book through the library

Ife, J. (2012) Human rights and social work (3rd ed.). Melbourne: Cambridge University Press. 

McAuliffe, D. (2014) Interprofessional Ethics: Collaboration in the social, health and human services. Port Melbourne: Cambridge University Press. 

Payne, M. (2014). Modern social work theory (4th Ed.). Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan 

Reichert, E. (2011). Social work and human rights: A foundation for policy and practice. New York: Colombia University Press. 

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