Credit points


Campus offering

No unit offerings are currently available for this unit



Teaching organisation

3 hours per week for twelve weeks or equivalent totalling 36 hours.

Unit rationale, description and aim

The field of social work deals with human vulnerabilities in that social workers are constantly exposed to complex probelems that require them to build a sound foundation of theories and ethics that will allow them to respond to their clients. This unit will provide students with a critical understanding of the major historical and current theoretical frameworks in social work practice at an advanced level. The theoretical frameworks considered are those relevant for social work intervention in various fields and modes of practice. Debates surrounding the status of theory in social work including questions about what is 'theory' and how theory is integrated into practice will be included. 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 - Explain and critique the purpose, values, and ethics of contemporary social work practice; (GA1,GA3,GA4);

LO2 - Assess and critically analyse the contribution of major theoretical and ethical frameworks to social work practice in various contexts; (GA1, GA2, GA4, GA5);

LO3 - Identify and critique the applicability of a range of social work theories to practice situations; (GA4, GA5);

LO4 - Debate and explain how social work theory and ethical frameworks inform practice with diverse population groups and contexts; (GA3,GA4,GA8,GA9);

LO5 - Critically evaluate the contribution of ethical theories and frameworks to the personal and professional self in social work practice. (GA3,GA4).

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 

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:

GA1 - Demonstrate sense of identity as a professional social worker

GA2 - Demonstrate sound understanding of and commitment to social work values and ethics to guide professional practice

GA3 - 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

GA4 - 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

GA5 - Review, critically analyse and synthesise knowledge and values and a reflective thinking skills to inform professional judgement and practice

GA7 - Demonstrate effective communication and interpersonal skills

GA8 - Work with diversity and demonstrate respect for cultural difference


Topics will include:

Topics will include:

  • An exploration of the purpose and historical development of social work theory and the values and ethical foundations for the profession;

Activities will focus on the application of contemporary theories to Australian and international contexts for practice;

  • Philosophical and religious perspectives on ethics and Human Rights;
  • Critical theory;
  • Modern forms of psychoanalytic theory;
  • Systems and ecological theory;
  • Feminist theories;
  • Postmodern and Post-structural theories.

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 approach adopted in this unit ensures that students integrate ethical philosphies and social work practice theories in practice, preparing students for successful professional practice.    

Attendance Requirement

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

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 first assessment therefore is a quiz designed to ensure students are familiar with and understand the content of the AASW Code of Ethics (LO1,2 4). 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 philosophies and decision making frameworks to challenges that can arise in practice with various client groups (LO1,2,4,5). In the final assessment students are required to verbally articulate comprehensive understanding of two social work theories and outline how these theories would inform and guide their practice with a particular client (LO1,2,3,4,5). 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).


LO1, LO2, LO4

GA1, GA3, GA4, 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

GA2,GA3,GA4, GA5, GA8, GA9

Oral assessment: To encourage student’s understanding of, and ability to articulate, a range of social work theories and application of theories to practice.


LO1, LO2, LO3, LO5

GA1,GA2, GA4, GA5, GA8, GA9

Representative texts and references

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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

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