Focus Area 4: Ethics

How will learning about Ethics help me in my work?

Working with youth is often high energy work, sometimes even chaotic, with things happening quickly. No matter how prepared you think you are for whatever may come your way, no matter how well you’ve planned your activities for the day, it’s a given that something unexpected is bound to happen.

As a youth worker, you’re probably pretty good at planning and preparing around tasks and activities for your program. Those are the tangible things that are easy to anticipate.

It’s the intangibles that don’t always lend themselves to pre-planning.

But rather than spend time contemplating a host of “what if” scenarios, most of us are just comfortable to operate by the motto “Expect the unexpected!”

That motto may be especially applicable to youth work. To put it mildly, this profession is just jam-packed with opportunities to think on your feet and improvise!

How you respond to both the expected and unexpected challenges of your role is what this Ethics module is all about.

Think of Ethics as moral principles that help you know what’s right or wrong, what’s good or bad. Principles inform your decision-making. Principles help you distinguish between proper and improper conduct. They guide your behavior and are there to protect both you and the youth you serve. Ethical standards also encompass virtues or values that are important to you such as honesty, compassion, and loyalty.

Ethics is about learning why you do what you do and being willing to question whether your ‘why’ is actually the best response in any given situation. Understanding ethics is really an undertaking in understanding yourself.

In the United States, there is no standard or professional code of conduct for youth work as a whole. But that should not prevent or deter you from creating your own or working with your team to create one for your program.  You’ll be a better youth worker for it. This module will lay a foundation for you to build upon.

An exploration of Ethics is not meant to provide you with answers, only to give you a compass to point you in the right direction. It is intended to raise awareness of key ethical issues that arise in youth work, as well as principles that can guide you toward choices, actions, and attitudes that are ethical and professional.

In this module, you’ll be exploring Ethics through two lenses;

  1. As a set of professional principles and practices that determine how you conduct yourself in your job, and
  2. As a framework for navigating the many ethical dilemmas working with youth can present.

By making a commitment to developing your ethical and professional code of conduct, over time you will strengthen your capacity to make more ethically informed choices, especially when under pressure. As a result, you’ll be more effective in supporting and empowering youth in their development.

Because you’re always learning and evolving, how you think about things can change over time. So, it’s helpful to see Ethics as a continuous study and lifelong exploration. Ethics is your personal pursuit of a principled code of conduct for your professional work with youth.

Learning Tip


Ethics is not really a subject that is easily taught because it isn’t about learning strategies and skills. It’s about exploring your beliefs about right and wrong, about good and bad, about what you value. It’s a process of uncovering what you think you know for sure to discover the reasoning behind your whys and your beliefs.

Use these learning objectives as a guide to that discovery process. And remember, the quiz at the end is based on these objectives.

Learning Objectives Preview

  • Learn the value of an ethical code of conduct
  • Know the ethical responsibilities and professional principles of youth work
  • Uphold healthy boundaries in your professional relationship with young people
  • Apply ethical principles to the challenges faced in ethical dilemmas
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