A Study And Report On Social Work
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Social work has always been considered as a difficult and complex occupation, with a complicated and perplexing framework. This is due to its different settings accompanying different tasks.
An inevitable part of social work is its values and ethics and the questions and debates that surround its structure. Although values can be considered as personal and individualistic, it is also possible for a group with the same beliefs to share the same values, such as social work. It is important to acknowledge that values continually shape our actions and it is of the opinion of Ronnby (1992) “that someone becomes a social worker because they have the same ethics and values and attach them to the position”.
Biestek developed traditional values in the late 50s. (Biestek, 1961). His principles outlined the basics of traditional social work and were constructed of a seven-point scheme.
The principles consisted of 1. Individualism.2. Purposeful expression of feelings. 3. Controlled emotional involvement. 4. Acceptance. 5. Non-judgmental attitude 6. User self-determination.7. Confidentiality,
Many of Biestek beliefs were very traditional and were criticised for their diversity in their interpretation. Controversies relating to different principles caused many problematic conclusions e.g. individualisation and confidentiality. Individualisation could not be possible in the fast moving modern world, people lose their identity and individualisation is not respected. Confidentiality has its limitations to be enforced e.g. If a user divulges information where someone will be harmed, the social workers duty is to share it as a right to other individuals. It was clear these key issues had to be developed and advanced to help social workers.
It was considered that there must be guidance on values and ethics for social workers, as they play a major part in their work
Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work was a significant part in the development in education for social workers. It is also acknowledge by (CCETSW, 1998) that it is a necessary part as the title suggest, that social workers must gain an understanding of ethical awareness as part of the professional practice. Skill development gave social workers a range of skills that are needed to ensure that social work is a high quality profession.
The CCETSW set out details of a number of competencies that they should be able to cover in their work. It is considered that there are two main ideologies within social work, social justice and personal caring. These were considered to be benefit for social workers as they exercised anti-oppressive practice.
They produced a list that social workers had to identify with.
This stated that a social worker:
- . Should be committed to:
- Respect and value of individuals
- Promote peoples rights to choice privacy protection and confidentiality, while looking at the rights and demands
- The right of individuals to make choices
- Strengths and skill embodied local communities
- Right of protection for those at risk
- Develop awareness of inter-relationship of the process of structural oppression, race, class and gender
- Understand and counter act the impact of discrimination from poverty, age, disability and sectarianism
- Demonstrate an awareness of individual and institutional racism
- Understand gender issues and demonstrate anti-sexism in social work practice
- Promote policies and practices which are non- discriminatory and anti- oppressive
Demonstrating these skills in learning, acknowledge that they had competence in practice. The Central Council for Education in Social Work stated that ‘practice must be founded on, informed by and capable of being judged against a clear value base' (CCETSW, 1995).
This knowledge base was very important, but it did not give ready-made answers as to how social workers should continue in any particular situation. However it gives lots of insight and clues about situations that social workers may face, it also enabled them to have an appropriate response for any particular predicament. Never the less it is still down to the individual social worker to acquire and expand their knowledge base for practising in social work. The range of skills that can develop from learning will be responsible for an established and high quality in the service that are offered to service users.
There are professional ethical standards that are relevant to social workers in practice. These allowed social workers to work at a professional standard and to behave professionally. These standards concern ethical responsibilities to clients, colleagues, social work profession and responsibilities to the broader society.
Some of the standards are guidelines for professional conduct, such as the code of ethics for social workers.
For social work the code of ethics plays a major role in its training, policy making and its professional literature. These guidelines provide a framework for making sense of the practice in social work.
The code of ethics for social workers (BASW 1996) was put in place in 1975 to ensure that social workers had a set of guidelines for professional activities.
The primary objective of the Code of Ethics is to make these pragmatic principles clear for the protection of clients and other members of society. Its principal objectives are to ensure that the professional social workers were recognised as a non-bias worker.
The code covered two main areas, including principles and practice,
The statement of principles covers social workers understanding and identifying of the values and dignity for every human being, irrespective of origin, race, status, sex, sexual orientation, age, disability, or religious belief.
Social workers are expected to prevent and eliminate exploitation and discrimination against any person, group, or class on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, colour, sex, sexual orientation, age, marital status, political belief, religion, or mental or physical disability.
Millerson (1964) argued that the code of ethics could become irrelevant, as it was difficult to use, as it could not be dominated by one specific area within social work.
Millerson noted that there were many areas of specialist including child protection, community care, mental health and family therapy, that it becomes more difficult use the code as a principal source of moral guidance. Ethical awareness is a necessary part of the professional practice of any social worker. His or her ability to act ethically is an essential aspect of the quality of the service offered to clients.
It has been thought that the code of ethics was set in place to allow social work to be recognised as a professional occupation. Social workers were expected to Identify and interpret the basis and nature of individual, group, community and social problems. Illustrating their ability to recognise professional and personal limitations, and refrain from any behaviour that may damage the profession.
The uncertainty of day to day practice brings with it many ethical dilemmas, which are a challenge for many social workers. The complexities of ethical dilemmas arise when a social worker has two or more possible undesirable conclusions that go against their own moral principals, these dilemmas cause a battle because they have to make a choice and they don't know which one is right.
Professional service shall assist clients to take responsibility for personal actions and help all clients with equal willingness.
Social work is a decision making occupation that can lead to many problems, the feeling of guilt and blame for the outcome of many decisions that they have been involved in.
This may cause much stress and strain for social workers in having to make major decisions and choices, but also to take responsibility for any outcomes that may go wrong.
This essay has described the value base of social work in its development and education, also looking at its effect and consequences. Learning base work can give possible solution as to how social workers should proceed in a situation; it can also give lots of insights into fields that they have no experience in.
The codes of ethics standards were explained and considered it has been argued of its effect and purpose, its usefulness and its guidance for the profession of social workers. How we deal with them will always be a challenging and stimulating process for all social workers. There are many instances in professional social work where simple answers are not available to resolve complex ethical issues.
A case study has been discussed and analysed, showing anti-oppressive practice. It is shown that power and oppression of all kinds must be regulated and resisted, we must acknowledge that power and oppression is always present in individuals and within society.
In conclusion social work can be a challenging subject and one that will actively push the boundaries of all social workers on a personal level and professional level. It is agreed within social work that ethics, morals and values are all an inescapable part of professional practice and ‘Ethical awareness is a necessary part of practice of any social work' (IFSW, 1994).
Values and ethics are not simply reasonable matters that we can unravel through logical arguments; they are a combination of thoughts and feelings closely linked to action. There must be distinctions on how to apply social work values and ethics into their professional work, without causing personal conflict.
Moreover, the Social work values emphasises that the social workers should “identifies and question their own values and prejudices, and their implication of practice;… and they should “Respect and value uniqueness and adversity….and identify (discrimination), analyse and take action to counter discrimination, racism, disadvantage, inequality and injustice using strategies appropriate to role and context” (CCETSW, paper 30 referred in UB. 2002: 6).
Therefore, the social work value gave people a direct power to clients by letting them choosing and decide for themselves and social worker are advised to “promote opportunities for people to use their own strengths to make decisions for themselves (CCETSW, paper 30 cited in UB. 2002: 4). In other words, social work has widened the concept of ‘freedom' and ‘toleration' by being considerate for all members of the community, which is now-a-days known as ‘anti-discrimination', freedom of choice' and ‘equality'.
There are also issues regarding to social worker's practice e.g. practicing in ‘traditional' way due to personal prejudices, which has oppressed the clients and has stigmatized the social work itself. Thompson (1997: 11) emphasise that the “…social work practice which does not take account of oppression and discrimination can not be seen as ‘good practice….”. The ‘bad practice' is portrayed through the media but the good practice is not awarded and neither praised by media. The social work constantly reviews the policies to encounter prejudices and emphasises high on anti-discriminatory practice.
The concise oxford English dictionary defines “values” as “principles or standards of behaviour”. Personal values can very dependent on our social, cultural and religious background. Although being inherent these values can change as we develop and mature and become less dependent on the values that are important to our parents, family and peers. David Howe (1999) advises that “values are important because they help to guide action” (Study Unit 1, p.18) he also suggests “values spell debate and trouble” (Study Unit 1, P.18), values can cause conflict and tensions which need to be reflected upon. I come from a large family and lived on a council housing estate where family and neighbours “looked out” for one another. I have six brothers and one sister and, although we were disciplined, our parents always showed their love for us. Within my immediate and extended family there was a feeling of security in that we all knew we had people who cared for us and who would always be there for us no matter what. It was inherent in us to care for each other and I perhaps made the assumption that most families had the same values as ours. I think I considered people who did not have these values to be untrustworthy, unreliable and uncaring and at that time I did not realise that this was a preconceived opinion based on no actual experience. It was not until I started to work in residential childcare that I began to question my prejudices. I realised that not everybody was brought up with the same values as I had been and that my values and beliefs would change and grow through my experiences within my work. I worked with many children and young people from varied cultural, religious, racial and social backgrounds with a wide range of emotional and behavioural difficulties. I saw how little some parents/carers valued their children and how badly they treated them. As parents/carers have such a big influence over a child's life this meant that the children themselves had very little self worth or value, with low self- esteem and feelings of social isolation. They found difficulty in forming relationships, having been subjected to various levels of physical, emotional and sexual abuse. Through this experience I achieved a greater sympathy and understanding of how people's life history can affect their future. People have individual life experiences and because of this their values and beliefs are very often different from our own. The speakers on tape one (K111 Side 1 Band I) state that we should “reflect on our own prejudices and not skip over them and we should be willing to accept others beliefs”. I have learned through experience that we cannot impose our own personal values and opinions on others; we must constantly re-evaluate our thoughts and actions.
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An experience with one of the young people in the Children's Residential Unit where I worked illustrates how my values have been called into question and reflected upon. The young person had only had contact with his mother, who was white and had never met his father, who was black. His father had a long troubled history involving drug and alcohol abuse. When he was 9 years old, the young person chose to make contact with his father, against the wishes of his mother and siblings, who were born to a different father. They thought that contact would split the family even further and this put a lot of pressure on the young person. The father at first offered consistency but this was short lived and there were problems with his lack of basic parenting skills. To alleviate these problems it was necessary to build a working relationship with the father to improve the lack of support given to the young person. Whilst dealing with these problems it was important to work in a non-judgmental way as there were issues that whilst they may have seemed adequate to some, I did not totally agree with. This taught me that it was important to allow the young people choices, and to respect those choices, and to allow them to take control of their lives. Empowering a young person will give them “more control over their lives, to have a greater voice in institutions, service and situations which affect them”(Bray & Preston-Shoot, 1998:48 cited in set book Adams, Dominelli and Payne, p.38) There were also issues surrounding the father's race. The mother and the siblings were all white and lived in a white environment and this caused some strain between the children. By using positive encouragement and working in an Anti-Oppressive (seeking fundamental change in power structures and exploitative relationships which maintain inequality and oppression)(Bray & Preston-Shoot 1995 cited in Study Unit 1, Part A, p.77), Anti-Racist and Anti-Discriminatory (challenging unfairness or inequity)(Bray & Preston-Shoot 1995 cited in Study Unit 1, Part A, p.77) way I managed to alleviate some of the problems. This made me reflect on how important a person's culture is to their identity and I have learned not to discriminate on the grounds of race, religion, culture, language, social status and life-style. In “identifying and questioning my own values and prejudices”(CCETSW 1996 p.18 Aids to Practice Cards) I am constantly re-evaluating my thoughts and actions through reflection.
During my past experience I have also become aware that “our professional values may sometimes conflict with those of organizations for whom we work” (Aids to Practice Card, Valuing). I took care of two young brothers who, when they were placed in the residential care home where I worked, had serious attachment disorders, behavioural problems and mental health issues. My colleagues and I worked closely with them in conjunction with other relevant agencies, which included Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, in order to enable them to gain trust and establish relationships with us. The children were thriving in our care and had stopped self-harming but, after two years of working with them, the funding local authority decided, because of lack of funding, to remove the boys from their placement and return them to a facility in their hometown. This was done against their wishes and against the advice of the mental health team.
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The children's right to choice was disregarded. As social workers are challenged to be advocates for those who are unable to advocate for themselves and “all the social workers efforts should be directed towards removing the obstacles which enable the service user to take control of their own life”(Aids to Practice card Advocacy & Empowerment) the decision was contrary to my personal and professional values and a difficult one to accept. This experience made me reflect that there will be times during my practice when my values will conflict with others but difficult decisions will always have to be made. I hope I can learn from past mistakes within the system and continue to practice within my professional code as described in the course reader, “will respect their clients as individuals and will seek to ensure that their dignity, rights and responsibility shall be safeguarded” (BASW 1986 Set Book Adams, Dominelli, Payne, p.34)
Describe your current understanding of professional social work values and how you have arrived at this understanding. Outline those issues which you find problematic and want to work on during your present placement.
Professional social work values as listed in the course material (K111 stage 1 p.20) are part of the core competencies. The K111 aids to practice card (valuing) defines these as “having a clear set of values which actively informs your social work practice, particularly concerning promoting the intrinsic ‘worth' or ‘value' of another human being”. These are values that need to be inherent within any professional and indeed hopefully within each worker on a professional and a private basis.
My own understanding of professional social work values has changed and evolved over time through my own past experiences. I feel that, fundamentally, respect for other people is the most important value as ultimately you should treat people the way that you would wish to be treated yourself “There is a long tradition in social work that emphasises the importance of ‘respect for people'(Study Unit 1, Part A, P.76). Bisteck, 1961 (as cited in K111 study unit 1 p.76) listed “seven principles of casework which included acceptance, self-determination, confidentiality, individualisation and a non-judgemental attitude. These are grouped together under the umbrella of ‘respect for persons'”. I feel that I have learned to build on my respect for others through past contact with service users, especially in residential care where the majority of children and young people had little or no self-respect. Valuing something means that we know it's worth. “This is essential in social work precisely because many service users are seen as ‘undeserving' by society, or as worthless. Indeed, some service users have this view of themselves”(Aids to Practice Card, Valuing). Treating them as individuals, each with their own identity, and not as part of a homogenous group, helped me to understand how important self-identity, self-awareness and self-worth is.
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I have been able to reflect on this and bring it into my practice. Although I did not necessarily agree with or approve of the values and behaviours of the families of some of the young people it was imperative that I was guided by the ‘values of social work' (CCETSW 1996 p.18, Aids to Practice Card, The Values of Social Work) and that I communicated a non-judgmental attitude toward them. Acceptance of others and a belief in the worth and dignity of every human being are values that are conveyed through non-judgmental behaviour. To be able to respect another person's privacy and safeguard confidentiality affirms that persons worth and dignity. I presently work with children from areas that are classed as “disadvantaged”; these areas have a high transient population from all over the country, including the travelling community. This makes for a wide range of cultures, religions, social status, ethnic minorities and to treat people as individuals and “respect and value uniqueness and diversity”(Aids to Practice Card, The Values of Social Work) is essential when practising in such diverse social settings. The traveller's who I have worked with have views which are very different to my own. They believe that girls do not need to be educated at all and that boys only need formal education until the age of ten. Because this goes against my personal values I sometimes find it difficult to promote people's right to choice in such situations but I do recognise the need to “work with individuals and families from backgrounds and cultures of which I may have little direct experience in a way which is sensitive to this diversity” (Study Unit 1, Part A p.19). I try to recognise that changes must come from within the service user and that we cannot impose our standards and values on them. However, I am always conscious of the need to be aware of any child protection issues and the need to “assist people to increase control of and improve the quality of their lives, while recognising that control of behaviour will be required at times in order to protect children and adults from harm”(Study Unit 1, Part A, P.20)
I am constantly learning about myself and other people and re-examining my own attitudes and prejudices. The K111 Aids to Practice card Valuing, informs us that “the assumption is that the values which inform training will come to influence practice” and perhaps more importantly, “having a set of principles to apply to the practice of ‘valuing' the existence and contribution of another human being, of respecting them and upholding their rights and responsibilities, is seen as essential to accountable social work”. The values that are central to social care should affect all aspects of my working practice. My current understanding is that the profession of social work centres on the improvement of quality of life for people and the enhancement of human potential for full, productive participation in society. If we let our own personal values be guided by the “values of social work”(Aids to Practice Cards, The Values of Social Work) then we would allow everyone that we come into contact with to try and develop their full potential whilst also giving them the choice of and responsibility over their own actions.
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Adams. R, Dominelli. L, & Payne.M, 2nd Edition Social Work: Themes, Issues and Critical Debates, Palgrave
K111 Social Work Practice Learning, Stage 1, 2002, Aid to Practice Cards, The Open University, Milton Keynes
K111 Social Work Practice Learning, Stage 1, 2002, The Open University, Milton Keynes.
K111 Social Work Practice Learning, Stage 1, 2002, Tape 1, Bands E-I
Pearsall. J, The Concise Oxford English Dictionary (2002), 10th Edition, University Press
Day 2: Users' expectations of social workers
The main points that I felt were reiterated during the sessions led by the service users were; an expectation that the partnership with their social worker would possess the positive qualities of any good relationship. The focus was on an open and equal attitude, mutual trust and respect. Empowerment was crucial to the service user as it addresses their feelings of impotence within society; this can be achieved by being informative e.g. sign posting to other agencies for support and empowerment and assisting with direct payments so that service users can make their own decisions regarding their care. I learned that it was the positive qualities of any good relationship that were most appreciated such as a personal and friendly approach; practical offers of practical help i.e. useful phone numbers and keeping to appointment times and agreed timescales and these made the difference between a good working partnership and a poor one. One service user felt that, because she presented as very articulate and independent, she had not been offered assistance with filling in forms for direct payments, which highlighted to me that a positive assumption can lead to needs not being met. (193)
Day 3: Carers' expectations of social workers
One of the key things that I learned from the meeting with carers and my own experience within my family was the emotional rollercoaster of the 24hour commitment involved. One of the case studies we looked at during the module highlighted how the focus of support is mainly directed at the service user and the needs of the carer are often overlooked. One point that stood out from one of the lectures was how personality has some influence on what care is appropriate for that person. The example given was a service user whose mental health problems sometimes conflicted with the delivery of care for his physical health problems adding extra stress for the partner and carer. As a family carer myself I identified with how good sign posting from the social worker can assist with the frustrating process of trying to gather knowledge of how and where help can be accessed. I also identified with other carers experiences of the need for the professionals involved with our family member's care to respect our family member's individuals needs e.g. her religion and her food preferences to maintain dignity. Maintaining good interprofessional relationships was highlighted, to maintain cohesion and continuity of care and to be prepared to advocate on behalf of the carer and service user. (217)
Day 4: Cultural competence
Cultural, ethnic, linguistic, and economic differences impact on how individuals and groups access and use health, education, and social services. They can also present barriers to working in partnership in health care interventions particularly when practitioners stereotype, misinterpret, make faulty assumptions, or mishandle with insensitivity their encounters with individuals and groups viewed as different in terms of their backgrounds and experiences. Adopting an anti-oppressive approach by admitting and reflecting on personal biases, stereotypes, and prejudices is the starting point of developing cultural competence, the next stage is to be sensitive to cultural norms, attitudes, and beliefs; in fact valuing the diversity of cultural difference. Other important ways in which you may become more culturally competent and avoid potential pitfalls would be in learning verbal and nonverbal cues of other cultures, becoming more comfortable in cross-cultural situations by assessing what works and what does not. By assessing how the beliefs and behaviours of the cultural group affect the service user, their interaction with services offered, learning to negotiate between the person's beliefs and practices and the culture of your profession, cultural competence can be achieved. I am valuing the opportunities this course is affording me in developing my cultural awareness by learning from and with people from a variety of different cultural and social backgrounds. (214)
Day 5: Social workers' use of power and authority
My concerns about using professional authority are about finding myself in situations that require careful judgement due to the consequences for both service user and myself because of my own actions or non-actions. I can ensure that I acquire up-to-date knowledge of the values and principles of the British Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics for Social Work and work by them at all times. Other sources of help in verifying that I was not using the powers and authority invested in me appropriately would be talking to line managers, referring to the General Social Care Council codes of practice and referring to the National Occupational Standards for Social Work. Other ways of seeking assistance would be to discuss dilemmas and reflect upon similar case studies weighing up the consequences of certain courses of action. Seeking help from other professionals and agencies may give a fresh perspective, however, it is a case of balancing personal and professional judgement in the context of codes and guidelines of the profession and treading the thin line between safe holding and violation. (178)
The personal impact of the learning that took place on the topic of cultural competence was that it gave me greater understanding of how everybody differed in their own individual perceptions of their culture, background and religion. This realisation has increased my self-awareness of my own cultural identity and how that has shaped my own values and opinions.
I am aware that in society we often group people according to their cultural background, based on appearance or religion, when what really matters is the influence of culture on the individual. This I felt was clearly demonstrated when, on the module, one visiting lecturer came across as very dominant towards our group, and asserted his authority several times during the teaching sessions. During the lectures on cultural awareness the same lecturer explained his cultural background and revealed that in Africa, where he was brought up, all male older adults would be highly revered and respected as the wiser elders of the community. Once I knew this it helped in my understanding of how the influence of his culture had shaped his attitudes. As Boyd Franklin (1989) illustrates, individual family members will pick and choose which family values, traditions, behaviours, and culture they want to maintain and which they will discard or replace. The task for the social worker is to understand which pieces of the culture the family has maintained and which pieces are stereotypically insensitive to the family. Only then is the worker considered to be culturally sensitive and practicing from a culturally specific perspective. (Cited in Wodarski & Thyer 1998:256).
This has influenced me in the way in which I see myself as a professional social worker by highlighting the responsibility of obtaining relevant information in the assessment stage. As a social worker this initial assessment can only be done competently and effectively by practicing in an anti-discriminatory way; and by acknowledging that we can only understand other people by respecting and gaining awareness of how they understand themselves (Davies 2002:306). I see this can only be achieved via a person centred approach, focusing on the needs of the individual, which would avoid assumptions being made towards a monolithic culture for ethnic minorities. Davies (2002) explains this further when he suggests that a preoccupation with skin tone, ethnicity or culture may result in a misinterpretation of the needs of the client and the provision of inappropriate services to them. Conversely, social workers whose methods ignore or minimizing cultural issues may result in erroneous conclusion (Schinke, S.P & Cole, K 1998:369)
This experience enabled me to see how cultural assumptions and ignorance influence perception and become a barrier towards working in partnership with a carer or service user. These barriers need to be overcome in order to preserve the principles of partnership. This relates to my professional values and principles, which are embodied in a way that fulfils the legal and policy requirements of the service users, and carers as outlined in the National Occupational Standards for Social Work and the General Social Care Council. Included in their policies are a set of values and ethics produced following the detailed consultations that took place with those who use services, their carers and their organisations. For example, as a social worker we are ethically required to listen actively to what users and carers have to say, talk to those requiring and using services, and their carers, with due respect for their age, ethnicity, culture, understanding and needs and challenge discriminatory images and practices affecting users. The policies also state it is good practice to involve users and carers in decision making, offer users and carers choices and options, build honest relationships based on clear communication and assess needs properly: An example of this is considering the needs of the carer and their legal right to an assessment of need under the Carers Equal Opportunity Act 2004.
The reason that codes of ethics and standards of practice are required is that the social worker/user relationship is a fiduciary one based on trust. Social Work can be regarded as a ‘human services' profession along with medicine and the law. The social worker has special knowledge and expertise and must be trusted by the user to act in his/her best interests. The relationship between social worker and user is an unequal one, in that the social worker is more powerful. Social work, therefore, along with law, medicine, nursing, counselling, and other similar professions has a code of ethics that is designed among other things to protect the user from exploitation or misconduct (Banks, S 1995). The British Association of Social Workers is one of the largest professional organisations allied to social work practice in the United Kingdom. Part of the role of BASW is to ensure that its members ‘discharge their ethical obligations and are afforded the professional rights which are necessary for the safeguarding and promotion of the rights of service users'(www.basw.co.uk). The BASW code of ethics says, “ Social work practice should both promote respect for human dignity and pursue social justice, through service to humanity, integrity and competence”. It is our ability to practice in a way that is grounded in this strong, ethical value based framework, which will be crucial to our development as a good social worker.
Adams, R, Domenelli, L & Payne, M, (1998) SOCIAL WORK THEMES ISSUES AND CRITICAL DEBATES, London, Macmillan Press Ltd
Banks, S (1995) ETHICS AND VALUES IN SOCIAL WORK, London, Macmillan Press Ltd.
Bolton, J (2003) BASW, CODE OF ETHICS FOR SOCIAL WORK, <http://www.basw.co.uk/articles.php?articleId=2&page=15 > (accessed 30th November 2006)
Davies, M (2002) The Blackwell Companion to Social Work. Cornwall, Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
Wodarski, J S & Thyer, B A (Schinke, S.P & Cole, K) (1998) HANDBOOK OF EMPIRICAL SOCIAL WORK PRACTICE, VOL 2, New Jersey, John Wiley & Sons.
Culture within this context is defined as the main social structural influences we were born into and which had an impact on the way that we perceive and react to the world around us. These influences are dictated by: race, colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, class and accent. In the Western world we believe that we are liberally minded and therefore relatively free of prejudice, but in reality this is not so. We have all inherited our parents, siblings and peers bigotries and some of these are deeply imbedded in our subconscious and are therefore not easily identified.
Cultural differences are usually highlighted when an individual culture is threatened; an example of this is the atrocities of 9/11 and the backlash of discrimination and abuse levelled at anyone from a Muslim or Middle Eastern background. This abuse showed how easily a group of people could be attacked just for the colour of their skin, their religious beliefs and for having a Middle Eastern surname. It also shows how labelling people can lead to mass discrimination and in extreme cases can be used to extremists use i.e. ‘ethnic cleansing'.
Labelling on the whole takes away the identity of the individual and dehumanises them; they are seen as a group with a tag and can be easily targeted by those who fear them. Our preconceptions of the ‘label' can prevent us from getting to know and understand an individual for who they really are.
On the other side of the argument identifying cultural differences can educate an individual to a group's religious belief, cultural needs and differences therefore allowing for greater understanding and provision and adaptation to that groups requirement.
Biographical Information Indicating Own Awareness of Cultural Heritage and Potential Impact This May Have On Relationship with Client
My own cultural heritage is a ‘mixed bag'. I was brought up in a white middle class military background, with parents who had no strong religious beliefs, but who believed very strongly in their children being independent and ‘strong' emotionally wise. I was extremely lucky in that I went to a military school, outside of England, where a number of different races mixed and discrimination of any kind was not tolerated. The first time I encountered any racial abuse and discrimination was when I returned to England and went to a School in the west of London. During the eighties England encountered major race riots and feelings of fear against ethnic minorities were running high. Children picked up on their parents fear and transformed it into abuse on minority groups at School. I was shocked to witness such abuse and could not involve myself, as I had been targeted as an outsider and different when I had first joined the school. This experience made me rebel against my father's political beliefs and I became very left of centre in my political opinions, joining the anti apartheid movement and campaigning for minority rights. In my twenties I ‘outed' myself as a gay woman and campaigned for Lesbian and Gay Rights, worked within a Women's Centre and sat on the Council's Equal Opportunities Board. This experience helped me to expand my knowledge base of issues surrounding women, disability, mental health issues and race issues.
This ‘mixed bag' of cultural heritage has allowed me to understand and experience issues surrounding equality and discrimination to a greater degree than if I had reminded within the status quo of my parents beliefs. I believe to a greater part this will enable me to connect with my clients in understanding their feelings of being ‘different' and as someone who has suffered abuse for being gay I believe I will have greater empathy with those that have been abused. On the negative side I believe that I will need to be more disciplined in being non judgemental when talking and listening to clients who have strong prejudices and views on issues which I believe are fundamental wrong. However identifying where the prejudice stems from and what the fear is should be an interesting challenge.
Interaction with Client Scenario
For my interaction with a client scenario I have chosen a client who is male, black, working class, a Jehovah's Witness and is eighteen years old. His name is ‘A'.
‘A' has voluntarily asked for counselling through the College Counselling Service and is suffering from depression. ‘A' states that he believes he is depressed as a result of:
- Living in society which is not adhering to God's will
- The deterioration of the moral state due to liberal views on sex, homosexuality and women as equals
- Feeling apart from Society as a result of his belief's
- Feeling under pressure from his peers in the Jehovah's Witness Church to convert more non believers
- Not really being sure about his belief's
- Feeling guilty about discussing his concerns with a non believer
A's initial observations and concerns of me as his Counsellor were that:
- I wasn't a Jehovah's Witness so may judge him on his religious belief's
- I was a women and therefore may not understand him as a man
- I was white so could not understand the pressures on a young black male
- I was a lot older than him and therefore could not relate to young people's issues
- I might persuade him to stop believing in God and become a non believer.
For our first session ‘A' was very outspoken of his religious views, almost daring me to argue with him. He mentioned all the things he thought were the most extreme and would therefore get a reaction from me. ‘A' tried to get me to express what my beliefs were and what I really thought of his; after a while the ‘baiting' stopped as I refused to bite and provide a judgement. ‘A' began to calm down and began to talk about why he felt so angry and why he felt so down and his guilt for admitting he wasn't sure of all his beliefs. Over the next five sessions ‘A' began to feel comfortable in being able to discuss his fears and doubts and to be able to express his anger at being judged by others as being different and therefore not ‘normal'
By providing a non judgmental environment for ‘A' to discuss his inner most fears and feelings in, ‘A' felt able to trust me to listen and guide him through his issues. ‘A's initial anger and defensive stance abated and he felt safe to open up. ‘A' displayed admirable courage in dealing with his prejudices and preconceptions of me and overcame these in order to explore his own core issues.
‘A' provided a challenge to my own views, which on the whole are liberal and non extremist. However using the core conditions of the PC Approach and using my experience of working with ‘A' as a opportunity to look at my own beliefs and prejudices enabled a ‘win, win' situation to occur for both Client and Counsellor.
Inherent Power Differences and Steps to Limit Inequality
The inherent power differences which exist between the client and the counsellor will always exist due to the nature of the relationship. The client often approaches the relationship feeling very vulnerable and looks towards to the Counsellor for advice and reassurance. The Counsellor does ‘hold some actual power: she controls the boundaries of time, setting, fee and will establish, even in negotiation boundaries about contact outside the session' (*1). In being able to reduce this imbalance the client needs to feel respected and ‘loved' by the Counsellor. Using the PCA in working with a Client enables them to feel:
- Empathised With
Using skills such as active listening, paraphrasing, reflecting and good body language makes the client feel comfortable and empowered. As a Counsellor being aware of the client's preconceptions provides opportunities to reduce some of the power imbalances by:
- Asking the Client to address you by your first name and not by a formal title
- Dressing in a smart casual way not in a suit
- By (if at all possible) laying out the room in a non confrontational manner, with pictures or flowers in the room
- By meeting your client's needs, in physical terms, for example ensuring that there are tissues and a glass of water available.
A combination of providing for psychological and physical needs helps to restore the power balance to a more even keel.
There are it should be noted some advantages in having a difference in power; someone in the relationship has to set boundaries and the Counsellor is able to this. The Counsellor is present to facilitate a Client in resolving their own issues; the client's recognition of the Counsellor as someone who is there to help and know what they are doing helps this process.
Safety Needs for Self and Client, Individual and Organisational Responsibilities
It is necessary to ensure that the environment you are working from is both safe and secure for your client and yourself. You, as an individual have a responsibility under Health and Safety Legislation to ensure that you do nothing to endanger yourself or another and should you do so you may be liable for prosecution or pursued for civil damages.
In any area of work there are health and safety concerns and requirements; these are especially relevant to lone workers and people who work with the public. As an individual Counsellor working for one's self it is important that you have carried out a Risk Assessment of the premises you intend to work from; this should include reviewing escape routes, fire evacuation procedures, layout of the room, furniture, fixtures and fittings and potential hiding spots both within the building (if its open to the public) or in car park areas. The Risk Assessment also must address issues such potential threats and outcomes of a violent attack and what can be done to minimise this from occurring and should it occur what methods there are of alerting others for help. Additional personal training in conflict management and anger management may be required; this would benefit not only the Counsellor but the Client as well. Also as an individual it is important to ensure you have obtained the correct insurance cover; Public Liability etc.
Working with an organisation it is important to have read and understood any risk assessments pertaining to your activity and ensure that you are familiar with protocols and procedures to deal with incidents. Making sure you are aware of location, layout, alarm points and escape routes is also good practice.
Clients require a safe environment to be in when they are talking about feelings as sometimes these may pour out as extreme anger, which is not premeditated, and can sometimes leads to violent behaviour. Having minimised potential hazards in the room and organised procedures for dealing with such behaviour limits risk to both parties. It is important to note though that overt measures such as using a desk as a physical barrier between you and the client will have an opposite reaction; leaving the client feeling vulnerable and not trusted; so measures taken need to address this factor.
Having a safe environment to work in provides the platform for the relationship that is necessary for an effective therapeutic relationship to exist in.
- CSCT/AEB Theory Guide 1997
- Research - BACP Information Sheet G5 - Personal Safety for Practitioners
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