Values and Ethics an Ethical Dilemma
Social Work Values and Ethics
This essay will explore an ethical dilemma reaching an ethical resolution using Steinman’s framework for decision making, social work ethics and values showing how these are underpinned in practice and using PCS analysis, reflecting on the ways in which inequality and discrimination impinges on clients’ life’s. Social work principles as defined in British Association of Social Work (BASW) and the Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC) will also be examined.
According to Banks (2006, p.6) values are “particular types of belief that people hold about what is regarded as worthy or valuable”, values “determine what a person thinks he ought to do” Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work (CCETSW) (1976:14 cited in Beckett and Maynard). Social work values are based on the principal “respect for persons” Plant (1970 cited in Banks 2006, p.29) which comes from the writings of German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804). From these writings Biestek developed seven principles for effective practice. Kantian principles are individulisation, purposeful expression of feelings, controlled emotional development, acceptance, non-judgemental attitude, service user self-determination and confidentiality. All of these are open to interpretation and will mean different things to different people, which is why professional codes should be consulted.
Beckett and Maynard (2006, p.24) define ethics as “codes, or principles of conduct. Principles, on which decisions as to action should be based, derived from a specific value system, principles on which decisions should be based in a specific professional context (Professional Ethics).” Ethics are the moral standards from which social work codes of practice are framed.
Social workers should always consider the inequalities and discrimination clients face daily and how these may impinge on clients life. Thompson (2006) uses a Personal, Cultural and Structural (PCS) model to help understand discrimination. The personal area looks at the psychological aspects of discrimination and how personal experiences will become apparent in our attitudes. The cultural aspect of the model is about what are perceived as the norms in society and the shared beliefs of society about what is right and wrong. The structural section of the model is making reference to the structure of society and includes within it media, religion and government (Thompson, 2006). I will incorporate this model for identifying discrimination within this essay.
In the case study which I am going to use Kate wishes her 2 children to be cared for by Frances. I am going to use Steinman’s ethical decision making framework for the helping professionals (Steinman, 1998) to help resolve an ethical dilemma, which allows the practitioner to follow a systematic approach to making decisions, acts as a safety device against errors and enables good practice DHSS (1982 cited in Brayne and Preston-Shoot 1997).
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Before working through the ethical decision making process I believe it is in the best interests of both Kate and the children to stay together as a family. The ethical dilemma is Kate’s rights to self determination versus the rights and welfare of the children. I will work through the ethical decision making framework and then reflect on my initial decision, changing it if required.
The first step involved in resolving the ethical dilemma is to identify the ethical standard involved (Steinman 1998). BASW’s Code of Ethics for Social Workers (2002) includes several points of ethical practice which should be considered in this case study. 4.1.1 Priority of service users’ interest, 4.1.1a) “Give priority to maintaining the best interests of the service user” 4.1.1.c) “promote the rights and interests of service users whenever possible”. 4.1.3 Self determination by service users, 4.1.6 Cultural awareness, 4.1.7 Privacy, confidentiality and records. The BASW codes are guidance only and not law. Within the ethical decision making framework each of the points within the code of ethics should be evaluated to see if they offer clear or unclear guidance which is useful or not and if the standard is clear but the action which is considered is wrong. Point 4.1.1a) offers clear guidance that service users best interests must be maintained. However although this standard is clear, it is unclear how best Kate’s interests are to be maintained- in removing the children or keeping the family together. The children are also service users and their best interests must be also be maintained. According to the report Reaching Out Think Families, (2007 Cabinet Office Social Exclusion Task Force) this would best be achieved by keeping the family together “The outcomes for children taken out of the family environment and into state care are extremely poor”. Kate and the children face discrimination daily, the simple fact that they live in an area which is difficult to let means that people will discriminate against them. The area is used by drug users and people may assume that Kate is also a drug user. Kate has also been through the care system and people will discriminate against her. They may assume she was the cause of being taken into care without knowing the details. This will affect Kate and the children on a personal and psychological level. Kate may suffer form feelings of lack of self worth and low self esteem. This discrimination will also be cultural, Thompson (2006) describes cultural discrimination as “an assumed consensus about what is right and what is normal” The norm is society is children being cared for within a family setting. Cultural discrimination is also about religion. Kate considers herself to be a Roman Catholic. Frances is also a Roman Catholic and as The Roman Catholic church frowns on single parents, it may be that Frances is discriminating against Kate and contributing to Kate’s feeling of uselessness.
When considering code 4.1.1 c) it is clear what the code is stating, however the best way to achieve this is unclear. Kate and the children both have rights, legal rights, social rights and human rights. The legal rights of the child is the priority, however there is no suggestion that the children are at risk, in fact Kate has demonstrated that the children’s welfare is her priority. She has never left them on their own and removed herself from the father of the children to safeguard them. The social rights of the children may be best maintained by keeping them all together as a family. The social worker may feel that morally the family should stay together, however their personal opinions should not be considered as this is a view therefore can be challenged.
Point 4.1.3 is clear that self determination by service users is priority however there is no guidance on how to achieve this. If this point only was considered then Kate’s children would be given over to the care of Francis, however the children’ s rights to self-determination would mean that they would have to stay with Kate.
The SSSC Codes of Practice require practitioners to adhere to the code in order to become or continue their registration to the council, without registration social workers will be unable to practice. SSSC Code of Practice (2005), point 1 states “you must protect the rights and promote the interests of service users and carers” This is an important ethical standard to consider. As discussed above both Kate and the children have rights and interests. Following the SSSC Code of Practice means that I am protecting the rights of the children in keeping them with Kate. It is also in Kate’s interest in the longer term to keep the family together, although she feels she cannot cope at present if the children were taken from her feelings of uselessness would increase as she would feel useless as a mother. These feelings of uselessness may be a result of Kate being cared for child. If her needs of love and belongingness were not met as a child, she will according to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (Gross 205) be unable to experience self-esteem and self-respect. If she is helped with her parenting and helped to meet the needs of her children this will result in her receiving love and affection and allow her to move up the hierarchy thus experiencing a sense of competence (Gross 2005).
Point 4 of the SSSC Code of Practice (2005) “you must respect the rights of service users while seeking to ensure their behaviour does not harm themselves or other people” Kate has shown that she has not harmed the children and while I respect her rights of self-determination I also respect the rights of the child to be with their mum, however if the situation is allowed to continue as it is, or the children are removed from their mum they may suffer emotional neglect which can occur from parental rejection which according to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) Child Maltreatment in the United Kingdom: a Study of the Prevalence of Abuse and Neglect causes the child to suffer from low self esteem and causes isolation.
While considering ethical dilemmas it is important to consider if there are any ethical traps to be aware of. There are four ethical traps to consider, the first of which is the “commonsense objectivity trap” (Steinman 1998). This trap should make me think about my beliefs and how they reflect on my decision about the scenario. If I belief that as a social worker I have a sound set of values then I would not consider the scenario to be an ethical dilemma. Considering this trap while thinking about Kate and her children I have to think about my personal beliefs, I believe families should stay together, therefore I have to consider if my decision in this scenario is due to my personal belief of if in fact it is upholding professional ethics. On consideration I belief it does uphold point 1 of the SSSC Code of Practice “you must protect the rights and promote the interests of service users”. The second trap is “the values trap” (Steinman 1998). It is important to consider carefully the professional codes involved as personal values are not professional codes. This again makes me consider my own personal values. It would be unprofessional to allow my believes in what is right and wrong to influence my practice. Therefore it is necessary to carefully consider if my believes in the family is what has made me reach my decision. After consideration I believe that is not the case and it is in the best interests of Kate and the children to remain together. This is underpinned by BASW Code of Ethics (2002) 4.1.1 which states that social workers will “give priority to maintaining the best interests of service users, with due regard to the interests of others”
The “circumstantiality trap” (Steinman 1998), where the circumstances in which the actions took place must be considered. This makes me consider the circumstances under which Kate wishes to have the children taken into care. It is important to consider what has contributed to Kate wanting her children to be cared for. The housing Kate lives in must contribute towards making Kate feel she cannot cope with the children. That Kate herself was cared for will also contribute, she may feel guilty that it is her fault her family broke up in the past and that her behaviour contributed to her and her brother being separated, therefore may feel she cannot keep her family together. The final trap is the “who will benefit trap” (Steinman 1998), consideration must be given that in any situation there will be a winner and a loser and the social worker will have to take sides in the situation. Considering the scenario Kate could be a winner and a loser in the situation. If she keeps the children and things work out for them then all parties are winners, however if things do not work out then Kate and the children could both be losers. If the children are taken into care then Kate has achieved what she wants and may be happier, however she may then regret her actions.
Having considered the identified the professional ethical standards and having considered the ethical traps, I have decided that Kate and the children should stay together with support.
Careful considering of the consequences of my decision is the next step in Steinman’s ethical decision making framework (Steinman 1998). If the children remain with Kate they may all face considerable difficulties in the short term. Kate already feels she can not cope, she may feel she is not ready take control of the children. In the short term Kate needs additional help to gain the confidence she needs to care for the children. However it will be a careful balancing act as Kate cannot become dependant on help as she has become dependant on Frances as this would be disempowering. Allowing Kate to take over control of the children again in a timescale which she dictates would enable Kate to feel empowered.
Longer term I believe my decision to keep the children with Kate is correct. I believe the children and Kate will both benefit. On a larger scale society and the community will also benefit as Kate and the children’s needs are being addressed enabling them to take control of their lives and become less dependant on social services and live a better quality of life within their community (Banks 2006).
In conclusion this essay has considered Kate and her children. Using ethical principals and personal values this essay has resolved an ethical dilemma regarding Kate and her children using Steinman’s ethical decision making framework for the helping professionals (1998) resolved the ethical dilemma. Kantian principles and Biestek principles were also considered. I considered carefully British Association of Social Work Codes of Practice and the Scottish Social Services Council Code of Practice and applied them to Kate and the children’s case study, considering ethical traps which it is possible to fall into. I also considered the psychological issues Kate and the children may experience if they are kept together or if they are separated. I considered some of the discrimination Kate and her children may face and discussed how Kate could become empowered through taking control of her situation and the children with help and support. I revisited my decision in line with Steinman’s framework and concluded the family should be kept together.
Banks, S.,2006. Ethics and Values in Social Work 3rd ed. Hampshire: Palgrave MacMillan
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Brooker, S. Cawson, P. Kelly, G. Wattan, C. 2000. Child Maltreatment in the United Kingdom: A Study of Prevalence of Abuse & Neglect. NSPCC Research Findings
Cabinet Office Social Exclusion Task Force, 2007. Reaching Out Think Families, London Crown Copyright
Gross, R., 2005. Psychology 5th ed. London: Hodder Arnold
Scottish Social Services Council. Codes of Practice for Social Service Workers and Employers. 2005. Dundee
Steinman, S. et. al. 1998. The Ethical Decision Making Manual for the Helping Professionals. Europe: Thompson