Controversial issues within the social work industry

Social work professionals and students who are earning their master’s in social work (MSW) should expect to find themselves dealing with individuals whose lives are affected by issues that may be considered controversial. Such instances are unavoidable due to the nature of social work, but this does not mean that the case or individual cannot be dealt with compassionately, professionally and appropriately.

Throughout the course of their careers, students who graduate from MSW programs may find themselves dealing with cases involving some of the following controversial issues.

Abortion rights

The Abortion Debate An overview of the debate on pro-life versus pro-choice as it stands today. This paper examines issues such as the history of abortion policies in the U.S., political motivations and how these issues can affect healthcare policy.

Jesse Jackson’s Views on the “Right to Life” Issue Baptist minister and African American civil rights activist Jesse Jackson’s paper on the right-to-life issue, first published in 1977.

Life or Liberty: What’s a Mother to Choose? A paper examining the moral dilemma faced by one social worker when confronted with ethical guidelines set forth by the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), which conflicted the author’s personal beliefs.


Inter-country Adoptions: FAQ’s for Social Workers A comprehensive list of frequently asked questions concerning international adoption cases pertinent to social work professionals.

American Adoption Congress A nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing causes related to adoption, raising awareness of legislation affecting both children and adoptive parents, and to providing information on adoption issues.

Capital Punishment

Mitigating circumstances in death penalty decisions A paper examining the role of social worker intervention in cases of capital punishment. The article includes a debate on the validity of traditional social work mitigation strategies and their impact on the decisions made by jurors in capital punishment cases.

Expert testimony by social work professionals in capital punishment cases An examination of the role social workers can play by providing expert testimony during court cases in which the death penalty is a potential sentencing option for judges.

Mitigating Death Full text of a paper examining the role of social work in a wider context within capital punishment legal proceedings, first published in the Cornell Journal of Law and Public Policy.

Child Abuse

Understanding Child Abuse and Neglect A reference text examining issues of child abuse in the U.S.

Social Workers’ Views on Differential Outcomes in Child Sexual Abuse Cases A study on the varying methodologies employed by social workers when dealing with cases of sexual abuse of children. The report analyzes various treatment techniques, traditional approaches of social workers in such cases and the outcomes of these differing types of cases.

The Role of Social Work in Child Maltreatment A paper that provides a detailed overview of how social work professionals are instrumental in the effective handling, treatment and prevention of cases involving the abuse of children, whether emotional, physical or sexual.

The National Data Archive on Child Abuse and Neglect This website offers a huge range of datasets relating to cases of child abuse and neglect. This may be a valuable resource to students pursuing their MSW and professionals who are carrying out their own research projects.

Domestic Abuse

The National Violence Against Women Prevention Research Center A nonprofit organization dedicated to advocacy of women’s rights and raising awareness of the dangers and prevalence of domestic violence.

Child Protection in Homes Experiencing Domestic Violence An overview of how social work professionals can approach cases of domestic abuse involving children, published by the Department for Health and Human Services.

The Criminalization of Domestic Abuse: What Social Workers Need to Know A publication examining how social workers can effect change through public advocacy and legislative intervention.

Domestic Violence Awareness Handbook A series of guidelines for identifying and dealing with potential cases of domestic violence and suggestions on what action can be taken.

Strategies for Prevention and Early Intervention A paper detailing the frequent crossover of domestic violence, child abuse and youth delinquency cases, as well as how social work professionals can intervene in such instances.


Determining social workers’ attitudes toward euthanasia and assisted suicide The matter of a terminally ill patients’ right to die is one that can often prove to be a considerable moral dilemma for many social workers. This paper examines how the attitudes of social workers can change depending on individual circumstances.

The Implications of End-of-Life Decisions on Social Work Social work professionals are called upon to serve their clients and the needs of society as a whole. This study deals with the potential implications on the social work profession stemming from discussions of policies regarding euthanasia.

Rape and Sexual Assault

Statutory Rape: A Guide to State Law and Reporting Requirements This publication by the Department of Health and Human Services outlines state laws regarding statutory rape and how such incidents should be reported by social service professionals.

Services for Victims of Rape – A Dualistic Practice Model A paper derived from an NASW conference detailing approaches to rape crisis intervention strategies and their effectiveness.

Understanding Rape Survivors’ Decisions Not to Seek Help from Formal Social Systems Despite their own personal feelings on matters relating to sexual assault, social workers must be able to remain respectful of their clients’ wishes if they should choose not to report instances of sexual assault. This paper examines how social work professionals can begin to understand a victim’s decision to not report a sexual assault.

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