This paper will build on findings from a study on ‘ethical stress’ (experienced when social workers cannot base their practice on their values) conducted with criminal justice social workers in Scotland (Fenton 2015. “An Analysis of ‘Ethical Stress’ in Criminal Justice Social Work in Scotland: The Place of Values.” British Journal of Social Work 45 (5): 1415–1432). The study demonstrated that social workers experienced more ethical stress the more risk averse they perceived their agencies to be. However, the study also found that social workers perceived some ethical issues as merely practical ones and, thus, did not find them ethically unsettling. Making the link between ethical stress and moral courage, with the former acting as an impetus to action, this paper will grapple with the concern that neglect of the moral content of actions, and internalisation of the neoliberal narrative, can lead to a collusion with managerial, bureaucratic and technical practice that belies the reality of service users lives. This paper will explore the need for social work education to explicitly acknowledge and encourage the identification of ethical stress and its utility as a catalyst for moral action (Fenton 2016. “Organisational Professionalism and Moral Courage: Contradictory Concepts in Social Work?” Critical and Radical Social Work 4 (2): 199–215), contrary to some current thinking around resilience (Garrett 2016. “Questioning Tales of ‘Ordinary Magic’: ‘Resilience’ and Neo-Liberal Reasoning.” British Journal of Social Work 46: 1909–1925) and as an amelioration of potentially oppressive, neoliberal hegemonic practice.
- Ethical stress
- moral courage