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A social work practitioner must aim to alleviate and prevent poverty and suffering in society, it is also their job to try and cure, control or maintain problematic or deviant behaviour. They have obligations to clients, their employers, to one another and to society. Therefore there is a need for a code of ethics which sets out the values and principles of what is expected from the practitioner, their employer and the client. These values and principles form the value base of social work.
However, elements of the value base can conflict, particularly in child protection.
This essay will critically discuss the value base of social work.
Furthermore, it will explain the benefits of a shared common value base within care settings. It will give examples of ethical dilemmas that can arise in social work, identifying the conflicting values and principles and analysing courses of action that could be undertaken to resolve them. Discussion will also be undertaken with regards to the process of promoting and implementing service values and principles in child protection. Social work practitioners must promote the human dignity and worth of others, believing that every person has the right to well-being, fulfilment and control over their lives.
They must also have respect for basic human rights as expressed in the Universal Human Declaration of Human Rights. Practitioners must both respect and promote individuals right of choice, beliefs, values, culture, goals, needs and relationships. Therefore they are tasked with supplying information to individuals to which they can make informed choices, thus promoting autonomy.
However, in child protection this may not always be possible; there are a large number of parents who demonstrate deviant behaviour.
A practitioner in this area is responsible, on behalf of their employers, to protect children from significant harm as stated in the Children Act 1989 and Children Act 2004. Additionally they must aim to achieve the five national outcomes stated in the green paper “Every Child Matters” (2003). A parent may believe it’s their right to systematically abuse their child; a practitioner may find it arduous to respect those particular beliefs, let alone to promote their autonomy, regardless of the parent’s culture, goals or needs.
A practitioner must also seek to oversee fair and equal distribution of resources and services to those in need. They must not discriminate against any individual, family or community, recognising and respecting the diversity of ethnic and cultural identities. This may pose significant problems as there may be inadequate services due to a lack of funding. This would leave the practitioner with the difficult task of deciding who is needier, resulting in some members of society being alienated further.
However, the practitioner is also responsible for identify areas of structural oppression and discrimination. They must aim to seek change in society and act as an advocate for those in need. Therefore they must identify areas of oppression and discrimination to those in power. Practitioners are responsible for services to humanity; they must help clients meet their personal and social needs; thus enabling them to develop their potential. In order to do this however it requires the client to acknowledge that they are in need, it would also require them to want to develop their potential.
Not everyone engages with Social Services of their own accord, particularly in child protection matters. In these circumstances the practitioner may come across resistance and deceit, this would make it extremely difficult for them to identify personal and social needs. Practitioners must have integrity, as their relationship with the client is built upon trust. They must therefore be honest, reliable and impartial. They must also respect confidentiality to the client, although this also extends to the practitioners’ employers; the client should be made aware of this.
Maintaining confidentiality and integrity may be difficult when working in child protection, as parents may be aggressive and at times physically abusive, to not only the child, but the practitioner too. However, it is thought that by adhering to the values and principles of social work practitioners will be able to create a sense of shared identity and values amongst other care settings. It should also allow the clients to gain knowledge and understanding on what to expect and how their involvement within care settings will be handled.
A Shared common value base should create uniformity, thus reducing uncertainty amongst practitioners and clients. The departments in Social Services however are diverse, as are the clients and their situations. Therefore, whilst the value base of social work appears workable in theory putting it into practice might well be problematic at times. Child protection illustrates this diversity; there have been numerous cases of parents abusing their children, at times leading to the death of the child.
Six year old Lauren Wright (2000) was one such child; she was systematically beaten, mentally abused and slowly starved. In these types of cases culpability is often placed upon Social Services for not removing the child from the family unit, sometimes justifiably too. However, practitioners must seek to promote parental responsibility and aim to keep the child within the family unit. Whilst they may hold suspicions of abuse, without actual proof there is very little that they can do, except remain vigilant. These types of conflicts can lead to ethical dilemmas. Ethical dilemmas occur when a social worker sees herself as facing a choice between two equally unwelcome alternatives” (Banks, S. 2006). Not all ethical dilemmas arise through suspicions of child abuse however, and what may be an ethical dilemma for some practitioners, may not be for others. An example of such an ethical dilemma as explained by Bennett (2008) is as follows: An 11 year old boy lives with his mother and father. Social Services have become involved as there is a history of volatile relations between the father and boy.
During a meeting between the mother and practitioner, the mother confesses that she believes her son suspects that his father is in fact not his real father, and that this may be the reason why their relationship has deteriorated. This information creates an ethical dilemma for the practitioner. He is faced with a number of choices, should he: tell the boy the truth, persuade the mother to tell the boy, advise the mother to tell the boy or do nothing, The conflicts in this case are human dignity and worth and confidentiality to the mother and human dignity and worth to the boy.
The conflict also saw the inclusion of the practitioner’s own values; he believed that “it would be in the boy’s interests to know who his father was or was not”, that “it was his right to know”, believing that “the truth is a very important commodity in all situations” (Bennett, A. 2008). The best possible course of action in this case would be a combination of gentle persuasion and advice from the practitioner to the mother, weighing up the pros and cons and the importance of the boy knowing the truth and its benefits.
By doing this the practitioner would be promoting human dignity and worth to both parties, whilst maintaining confidence to the mother. Furthermore they would be displaying their own professional integrity. It would be unethical for the practitioner to tell boy as this break in confidentiality to the mother would without doubt damage working relations between them, it would also remove her power of choice. To walk away would leave the matter unresolved and this in turn could lead to the problem escalating in the future.
Another ethical dilemma was explained by Banks (2006): A practitioner who was engaged with a travelling family struggling to get nursery places for their children. The family had been told by the local nursery that they could not accommodate their children for fear that it may lead to other users of the service withdrawing their children. During a visit to the family the practitioner became anxious as she noticed the young children playing with an electrical fire. This presented an ethical dilemma; the practitioner is obligated by law to protect children from harm and abuse, yet she was also aware that the family were structurally oppressed.
Therefore, the practitioner had to decide whether she should raise the potential dangers of the issue with the parents, or whether she should ignore what had been seen and deal with matter of finding suitable nursery places. The practitioner was also mindful of the possible risks of isolating the family further if parenting skills were challenged. The solution may seem obvious to some; the parents must understand the dangers of allowing young children to play with electrical fires. However, the family are clearly suffering from social injustice. Subsequently they have sought the help of Social Services.
Therefore is it appropriate to risk isolating the family further by challenging parenting skills? In this case: yes, but the practitioner would need to address the issue with the greatest of sensitivity. By doing this the practitioner will promote the human dignity and worth of the parents and the safeguarding of the children. In addition the practitioner will be able to demonstrate service to humanity; moreover, demonstrating integrity and competence and fulfilling their responsibilities to the client, profession and workplace. It is clear that social work is complex, particularly in child protection.
This is not surprising when it is considered that practitioners must not only internalise and adhere to the values and principles of the profession, but legislation too. However, if all practitioners promote responsibility to the client, profession and workplace then there are indeed great benefits to be gained from a shared common value base. Whilst certain elements of the value base may seem unworkable at times they are integral to good social work practice. Without it, the very mechanisms of social work would descend into chaos, leaving those in need with little support and little faith in the system.
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