Schreiber attends social work conference, publishes article on virtue ethics

In 2010, Calvin College hosted a conference on the role of virtue ethics in social work. The ideas which began there have been developed, and this fall, the “Journal of the North American Association of Christians in Social Work” published a special in which SIUE professor of social work Jill Schreiber co-authored one of the articles.

Professor of social work Jill Schreiber co-authored an article for the “Journal of the North American Association of Christians in Social Work” with faculty from Calvin College. “Introducing a Virtue Perspective for Social Work and Helping” was published this fall.

Schreiber wrote “Introducing a Virtue Perspective for Social Work and Helping”  with Cheryl Brandson, Provost of the Sociology and Social Work Department at Calvin College and Ruth Groenhout, philosophy professor, also of Calvin College.

Schreiber said she “really enjoyed” being in a community to think about ethical issues because it is rare to get the opportunity to work on an interdisciplinary team.

The weeklong gathering included 15 scholars, consultants and practitioners within the philosophy, theology and social work disciplines.

She added it was “really helpful” to write with a philosopher.

“Social workers aren’t typically interested in deep philosophical issues.” Schreiber said.  “They are pragmatists. They think about what can we do and how we can we fix it.”

According to Schreiber, all ethical systems need to address three components: who the person is, what they do, and what the consequences of their behavior are.

She added that social workers are “really driven” by a code of ethics which is focused on the second component: what they do.

The virtue perspective, according to Schreiber, is about the person or agent.

“If the person comes from a virtuous perspective–if they in essence are of good character–then that’s the most important,” Schreiber said.

According to Schreiber, a better understanding of virtue ethics “helps gives new tools and new language” to talk about divisive issues in social work such as foster parenting by gay couples.

“How do you learn to work with those differences?” Schreiber said.  “[The article] opens the conversation in recognizing that there are differences between virtue, values and social work practices.”

The article, according to Schreiber, is a “particularly helpful venue” for people interested in issues of faith and social work, since many social workers are people of faith and many social organizations are faith-based.

“When you have two traditions–Christianity and social work—there are some overlapping values,” Schreiber said.  “Both value good relationships…but some values do not overlap. How do you reconcile when you have tension?”

Schreiber said she applies her research in teaching clinical classes because it is important for students to be self-reflective about their ethics, virtues and traditions.

She added that it is crucial for students to understand how these may or may not fit with the profession or be consistent with clients’ perspectives.

“If you don’t spend time thinking about that, then you kind of are shooting from the hip,” Schreiber said. “[The article] provides a helpful frame for people thinking how to integrate social work and ethics.”

Schreiber earned her doctorate in social work which combined interdisciplinary work in religious studies and philosophy at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2013.

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