Credit points


Campus offering

No unit offerings are currently available for this unit



Teaching organisation

150 Hours of focussed learning

Unit rationale, description and aim

Professional practice in the human services is informed and guided by sound theoretical foundations. Human service practitioners are expected to practice ethically and are regularly confronted with ethical dilemmas in their practice.

This unit provides students with an understanding of the ethical and practice theories, including critical theory, structural, feminist, systems, ecological perspectives and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledges relevant for contemporary human service practice. The theoretical frameworks considered are those relevant for intervention in various fields and modes of practice in the human services. Emphasis will be given to the value and ethical foundations for practice including a consideration of the philosophical and religious sources of ethics, and ethical and practice guidelines. 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 different theoretical perspectives and ethical theories and practice standards and be able to apply these 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 theories and ACWA Codes of Ethics and Practice Guidelines inform human service practice (GA4);

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

LO3 - Articulate a range of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledges and identify how they can inform human service practice (GA1, GA2, GA4

LO4 - Conceptualise and critique ethical issues and dilemmas in human service practice (GA3, GA4, GA5, GA8)

LO5 - Apply ethical theories and different theoretical perspectives practice 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 

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

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


Topics will include:

Contemporary theories and perspectives for the human service context

  • Critical theory
  • Critical race theory
  • Whiteness theory
  • Indigenous knowledges
  • Structural theories
  • Feminist theories
  • Systems and ecological perspectives
  • Psychodynamic perspectives

Ethical and values perspectives in human service practice

  • Deontological theories
  • Utilitarianism
  • Teleological theories
  •  Consequentialism

Ethics and values in practice

  • Ethical principles and values
  • Ethical dilemmas
  • Ethical decision making models

Influences of personal, professional and societal values on practice

  • The relationships between theories and practice
  • Reflective practice
  • Models of integrating theory into practice

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 key practice theories and ethical frameworks 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 ACWA Code of Ethics and Practice Guidelines, can conduct informed ethical decision making, and apply relevant theories to case scenarios. The approach adopted in this unit ensures that students integrate ethics and theories in practice, preparing students for successful professional practice.

This unit may also be offered on or off campus in intensive mode or multi-mode for sponsored / special cohorts, with the learning and teaching strategies being equitable with on campus mode offerings as endorsed by the School Curriculum Implementation Committee

Assessment strategy and rationale

This unit takes an authentic assessment approach allowing students to demonstrate their learning and competency in application of theories to human service practice. The first assessment is a quiz designed to ensure students are familiar with and understand the content of the ACWA Code of Ethics and Practice Guidelines. 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. In the final assessment students are required to show comprehensive understanding of two theories and outline how these theories would inform and guide their practice with a particular client. Together these assessments ensure students are prepared for ethical human service practice, and are informed by 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.

Intensive and multi-mode assessment of this unit will be transparently equitable with on campus mode offerings as endorsed by the relevant Course Implementation Committee.

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 ACWA Code of Ethics & Practice Guidelines



LO2, LO5

GA3, GA4, GA5, GA9

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, LO4, LO5

GA2,GA3,GA4, GA5, GA9

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


LO1, LO3, LO4, LO5

GA1, GA2, GA3, GA4, GA5, GA8, GA9

Representative texts and references

Australian Community Workers Association (January, 2017). Code of Ethics.

Australian Community Workers Association, (February, 2017). Practice Guidelines.

Banks, S. & Nohr, K (2012) (Eds.). Practising Social Work Ethics Around the World. New York: Routledge.

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.

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

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.

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

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

Have a question?

We're available 9am–5pm AEDT,
Monday to Friday

If you’ve got a question, our AskACU team has you covered. You can search FAQs, text us, email, live chat, call – whatever works for you.

Live chat with us now

Chat to our team for real-time
answers to your questions.

Launch live chat

Visit our FAQs page

Find answers to some commonly
asked questions.

See our FAQs