As Practitioners Shelter at Home, Participation in PS@EDC Ethics in Prevention Course Grows

Resource Type
Service Spotlight

Since early March, more than 200 prevention practitioners have participated in PS@EDC’s online Ethics in Prevention course—twice the number that attended during the first part of the year. Nearly all seats for the first July session have been filled and another session is planned for the end of the month.

Why the sudden interest? In part, the high demand can be explained by COVID and the corresponding absence of in-person professional development alternatives. For practitioners seeking certified prevention specialist certification or re-certification, the two-week foundational course provides the six hours of ethics training required by the International Certification and Reciprocity Consortium (IC&RC).

But Ethics Moderator Sandra Del Sesto believes there are other reasons for the increased demand, as well.

“During these uncertain times, preventionists are thinking deeply about their roles and responsibilities toward the community,” says Del Sesto. “The course provides a framework for considering our ethical responsibilities during a pandemic, as well as during a time of social unrest.”

The ethics course examines the six principles of the Prevention Code of Ethics: non-discrimination, competence, integrity, nature of services, confidentiality, and ethical obligations for community and society. These are brought to life with realistic examples from the prevention field. The course also introduces a decision-making process to help practitioners apply the code and an online discussion area to facilitate discussion with other course participants.

According to Del Sesto, practitioners in recent trainings are resonating with the code in unique ways. For example, many spoke about their ethical responsibility to build their technology skills during this period of physical distancing.

“The competence principle is intended to ensure high standards of professional practice. It’s about making sure you have the skills to tackle new problems, and about being pro-active about building the skills you need. So it’s interesting watching the lightbulbs go on as participants begin understanding how becoming tech-literate during a pandemic is actually an ethical decision—a necessity for connecting with their communities and providing effective services.”

Participants also spent time exploring the ethical implications of only being able to connect with people online.

“Part of the non-discrimination principle is about delivering prevention services in ways that are accessible, equitable, and appropriate for diverse populations,” says Del Sesto. “So what does this mean when you’re working with people who don’t have a computer, or Internet access? Is providing services solely online inherently discriminatory?”

Perhaps most pressing were questions about advocacy and lobbying, and the ethical responsibility of prevention practitioners to take a stand and speak out about injustice. According to the Ethical Obligations for Community and Society principle, prevention practitioners receiving Federal monies are expressly prohibited from using their funds for lobbying activities. However, they do have an obligation to advocate for programs, policies and services that support wellness.

“Many participants wondered whether the rules against lobbying also applied to comments made on social media. I explained that they did, so long as their social media presence linked them to their agency. But I also explained that we are all free to do and say whatever we want as individual citizens— that they don’t lose their civil rights when they become prevention professionals. They just have to be mindful of when they are speaking as a provider and when they are doing so as a private citizen,” says Del Sesto.

According to Del Sesto, participants overall seem to be more aware of their own ethical and moral responsibilities, and of the relevance of the ethical principles to their lives.

“People are making the connection between what’s in the course and what’s happening in the real world. Competence and integrity are more than abstract concepts. Responding to injustice isn’t just an ethical obligation but a daily priority. As public health practitioners, we need to grapple with these issues—now more than ever.”


For more information or to sign up for the next Ethics in Prevention training, contact Anina Estrada at