Within this essay I will look at my own personal and professional development in relation to the case study of Mrs Begum, a British South Asian women aged 79 who has been diagnosed with vascular dementia. Although I recognise that there are many more values that could be explored I have chosen the following values to discuss; respect, self-determination and empowerment. I will also explore anti-oppressive and anti-discriminatory values in terms of age, disability and race as they are all included within the case study.
I will analyse my learning in regards to personal and professional values and the reading undertaken to support my learning. Throughout this essay I will identify areas of development personally and professionally in order to use values successfully within social work practice. To date I have learnt about social work values through various sources, how they apply and how they can be implemented. I will outline some of these sources and their value guidelines which will highlight the values that I have chosen to discuss in relation to Mrs Begum’s case study.
The British Association of Social Workers (BASW) has a Code of Ethics which every social worker who becomes a BASW member is required to be committed to. This Code of Ethics comprises of five basic principles; social justice, human dignity and worth, integrity, service to humanity and competence. These principles all include key social work values such as ‘respect the diversity of the societies in which we practice’, ‘respect, promote and support people’s dignity and right to make their own choice and decisions’, ‘uphold and promote human dignity and well-being’ BASW (2012) [online].
The Code of Ethics is there to ensure that service users receive a quality service. It does this by providing social workers with a guideline and checklist to enable them to provide the best service possible. As Parrott (2011, p. 17) states ‘The purpose of social work values is to provide a common set of principles, which social workers can use and develop as a means of working in an ethical way with the service user’. Parrott continues to go on and say ‘The importance of having a value base for social work is that it is intended to guide the action of social workers and protect the interests of the service user’.
The National Occupation Standards for Social Work (NOS) also set out key values that social workers must adhere to. These are; have respect for the users and their carers and the expertise and knowledge they may have about their own situation, empower users and carers in decisions affecting them, be honest about the power invested in them and their role and the resources available to them, respect confidentiality and inform them when information needs to be shared with others, be able to challenge discriminatory practices affecting users and carers and put them first. The TOPSS (2002) [online].
The Health and Care Professions Council also provide a clear guideline on how to apply the practice. Some of the values I will be discussing in relation to Mrs Begums case study such as self- determination and respect were spoken about by Biestek (1961) over 50 years ago but they remain relevant today. Biestek writes about seven traditional values and they have been cited by Thompson (2009) and Dominelli (2009). These values are Individualisation, Purposeful expression of feelings, Acceptance, Non-judgemental attitude, Client self-determination, Confidentiality and Respect for persons.
Firstly I will look at Mrs Begum’s case study in terms of the value respect. A value that is included within NOS, BASW and Biestek’s set of values. NOS sets out that as a social worker I will need to respect the service user regardless of their age, ethnicity, culture, level of understanding and need, also the knowledge the service user may have about their own situation TOPSS (2002) [online]. Therefore I would show Mrs Begum respect by treating her in a way I believe all people should be treated and in a way that I would wish to be treated myself. As stated by Thompson (2009, p. 35) ‘the basic point is a simple one really, namely the importance of treating people with respect – not treating them in a way that you would object to if other people treated you like that’. On meeting Mrs Begum her age, ethnicity and culture would not be an issue. More importantly I would treat her as an individual in order to be able to assess the services that can be provided to her to help her improve her quality of life. Mrs Begum has an insight into some of the difficulties she has been experiencing and is aware of the danger she faces should she have another fall. Mrs Begum’s son has said that his mother ‘must go into a home’.
While I would take his concerns and the information he has provided me with very seriously, it would be my job to respect the fact that Mrs Begum has expressed on a number of occasions that she wishes to return home and I would focus on the help she would need and work with Mrs Begum in order to fulfil her wish. Respect is a value that I’ve always held and pre-course I still would have treated her with the respect she deserves. The next value I would employ is empowerment . ‘To give service users a meaningful choice of courses of action for the present and to enable them to create valuable options for their future’ (Clarke, 2000).
As a social worker it is important to try and provide community care where possible. In order to make Mrs Begum feel empowered enough to live as independently as possible and remain in her own home, I would focus on her, listen to her and respect her wishes while showing her compassion, empathy and understanding of her situation. I would discuss with Mrs Begum what assistance she thinks she needs in order to achieve her wish of living at home, for example meals delivered, help with mobility, home help, help with medication or direct payments.
It is suggested by Adams (2008, p. xvi) ‘the capacity of individuals, groups and/or communities to take control of their circumstances, exercise power and achieve their own goals, and the process by which, individually and collectively, they are able to help themselves and others to maximise the quality of their lives’. I would act as an advocate for Mrs Begum by providing her with as much information and contacting relevant service providers on her behalf. This would ensure that she was aware of the services that are or are not available to her.
To empower Mrs Begum it would be important that she knows that I have taken her wishes seriously and in order to do this I would summarise the points she has made to me so that she has a chance to add or correct anything that I have said but at the same time it will let her know that I have listened and understood what she has been telling me. These actions will help to build a good relationship with Mrs Begum and help her to feel that we are working in partnership towards achieving her wishes. I would also have to respect that not all individuals wish to be empowered.
They would be happy for the social worker to take control of their situation. I believe that all people should be empowered but some to a lesser degree than others as some people’s abilities are stronger than others. The value of self-determination is a bit more complex. As suggested by Beckett & Maynard (2010, p. 130) ‘it would appear that a service user’s right of self-determination should be respected, but only as long as it doesn’t harm others, conflict with the interests of society, or harm the service users themselves.
The service user’s right of self-determination is therefore, provisional, and a social worker is very often placed in the position of deciding whether or not the service user’s wishes are permissible’. As a social worker it is my duty to care and not put the service user at risk, it is also my duty to risk assess and should the assessment show that there is a possibility of significant harm to the service user or others it would restrict the service user’s right to self-determine.
I would have to take in to account that Mrs Begum had been found walking in the street near her home appearing lost. As a social worker I would play an active role in helping the service user to understand the risks. Therefore, I would help Mrs Begum recognise the choices that were available to her to help her remain at home, as mentioned before home help, help with mobility etc. I would provide enough information so that Mrs Begum and her family can make informed decisions about the options and resources available to her and to help her explore these options.
Supporting her and encouraging her to make her own decisions. As mentioned previously within my essay, one of BASW values is to ‘respect, promote and support people’s dignity and right to make their own choice and decisions’ BASW (2012) [online]. I believe it is a person’s human right to be able to express and give their opinion as well as make decisions even if they are unpopular or seem unwise to another individual. This belief has developed during my time on the course.
Other factors that Mrs Begum may experience are ageism – society’s views that older people can be a burden or nuisance in turn being treated insensitively by being shouted at, excluding them from conversations and being patronised. As Butler and Lewis (1973) suggests ‘ Ageism can be seen as a process of systematic stereotyping of the discrimination against people because they are old, just as racism and sexism accomplish this for skin colour and gender’. Due to Mrs Begum’s disability assumptions can also be made such as, she isn’t as capable, her opinion isn’t as valid and her cognitive ability may be questioned.
These are all based around dominant ideas within society which makes things acceptable or unacceptable. According to Disability Rights Activist, Justin Dart (1992) [online] ‘The hard reality is this, society in every nation is still infected by the ancient assumption that people with disabilities are less than fully human and therefore, are not fully eligible for the opportunities which are available to other people as a matter of right’. Mrs Begum is of South Asian decent she may experience racism due to tereotypical believes formed by society about an individual’s race/ culture. ‘The belief that races have distinctive cultural characteristics determined by hereditary factors and that this endows some races with an intrinsic superiority over others. Abusive or aggressive behaviour towards members of another race on the basis of such a belief’ (Collins English Dictionary, Standard Sixth Edition, 2003). These factors and society’s influence can lead to oppressive or discriminative behaviour.
While looking at the case study in terms of values it has become apparent to me that prior to doing the social work degree I did think in an oppressive and discriminative way even if it was not consciously. I would have been looking at the aspects that Mrs Begum could not do for herself and the difficulties she would face rather looking at it from a can do perspective. Stereotypes would play a role. In terms of elderly people I thought they could be stubborn and didn’t always know or want to listen to what is best for them.
In terms of a disability such as dementia I would have thought that someone was practically incapable of making a rational decision as to what was best for them in certain situations and would possibly need full time care and supervision and probably need to go into residential care. Since being on the social work course, I have been able to develop my understanding and instead of sympathising with an individual I empathise with them. I am able to work in a much more anti-oppressive and anti-discriminative way by putting stereotypes to one side and not making assumptions about an or a particular group of people.
By doing so it redresses the power balance within society and enables the social worker and service user to work in partnership. As Parrott (2011, p. 23) states ‘AOP represents a general value orientation towards countering oppression experienced by service users on such grounds as race, gender, class, disability, etc. On the other, it also contains specific practice values; these are values of empowerment, partnership and minimal intervention’.
Also learning about what services are available to individuals such as community care and direct payments I have realised that people of different ages and disabilities are able to achieve a lot more and have their wishes met. To ensure that Mrs Begum did not experience any inadvertent discrimination I would do research in to her culture and her religion if applicable as she is a British South Asian women and therefore, may have different ideas from myself about family and the way society works. Age, disability and race are all characteristics that are protected under the Equality Act 2010.
In conclusion I feel that from the beginning of the course until now I have developed personally and professionally in terms of values and being able to implement them by looking at and putting aside stereotypes I had which in turn has helped me to work in a less anti-oppressive and anti-discriminative way. When I first started the course I thought equal opportunities was about treating everybody the same but I have since learnt that as everyone is an individual each person’s case should be treated according to their needs.
This is done by giving them the same opportunities available to everyone in order to provide them with the best service. I have also become aware of how complex values can be as they are personal beliefs that vary from person to person. Some of the values such as self-determination and the respect for people to make their own decisions may not be able to be fulfilled due to the level of risk to the service user or others involved.
I am now able to look at myself critically and can recognise areas that I need to develop. My self-determination will need to be developed further because there will still be a part of me that will feel that some service users may be making the wrong decision but I will have to respect this as a social worker. I will need to continue to be aware of my development when facing new situations. I believe the way in which I have developed my original value base will help my career as a social worker.