Legal and Ethical Contexts of Practice

Subject SCWK90055 (2013)

Note: This is an archived Handbook entry from 2013.

Credit Points: 12.50
Level: 9 (Graduate/Postgraduate)
Dates & Locations:

This subject is not offered in 2013.

Time Commitment: Contact Hours: 24 contact hours (8 x 1 hour lecture, 8 x 2 hour seminar)
Total Time Commitment:

In addition to the subject contact hours, students are expected to devote approximately 6 hours a week to this subject.



Corequisites: None
Recommended Background Knowledge: None
Non Allowed Subjects: None
Core Participation Requirements:

It is University policy to take all reasonable steps to minimise the impact of disability upon academic study and reasonable adjustments will be made to enhance a student's participation in the University's courses. Students who feel their disability will impact on meeting this requirement are encouraged to discuss this matter with the Course Coordinator and the Disability Liaison Unit.


School of Health Sciences
The University of Melbourne
Level 1, 200 Berkeley St
Carlton Victoria 3053 AUSTRALIA
T: +61 3 8344 4171
F: +61 3 8344 4188

Subject Overview:

This subject provides an overview of social work ethics and the Australian and Victorian legal systems. It explores values and principles upon which human services law and social work ethics are based. The subject examines current legal and practice issues which practitioners can expect to encounter in such practice areas as child protection, family law, domestic violence, mental health, guardianship, and working with refugees. Whilst the principal legal focus of the subject is upon the legal context of practice in Australia, the subject will incorporate reference to international trends in legal responses to the practice areas encompassed, and students will be encouraged to identify international developments which could be applied within the Australian context.


The subject seeks to raise student awareness of issues, perceptions and implications for the practice of social work and of the legal scenarios in which human service workers frequently practice. It incorporates an examination of two of the key contexts within which social work practice occurs - the legal and ethical context - and of the implications of this context for professional practice. During the subject several themes will be addressed:-

  • the interconnectedness of social work practice and law;
  • the notion of rights, their definition and their enforcement;
  • the interrelationship between access to justice and gender, sexual orientation, Aboriginality, and ethnicity; and
  • the ethical and legal responsibilities of social workers in their practice generally, and in relation to the needs presented to them by individual, family or community.
  1. Two written essays of 2,500 words and 50% each (one due mid and one end of semester)
Prescribed Texts:

Swain, P. (ed.) (2002). In the shadow of the law: The legal context of social work practice. Annandale: Federation Press.

Breadth Options:

This subject is not available as a breadth subject.

Fees Information: Subject EFTSL, Level, Discipline & Census Date
Generic Skills:

Students who complete this subject should be able to:

  • critically analyse texts and practices;
  • understand recent developments in social work contexts of practice;
  • link theory to practice;
  • competently communicate in ways relevant to both academic and practice contexts;
  • undertake independent research.
Links to further information:
Related Course(s): Master of Social Work

Download PDF version.