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How to balance the rights and needs of older people is a complex and important issue as it is an occurrence that will inevitably affects us all at some stage of our lives. It is fundamental to ensure a balance of the rights and needs of the individuals by remaining aware of the current Anti-Discriminatory and Anti-Oppressive Practices especially in residential care environments. In order to protect and respect elderly people it is imperative to look at these units, ensure their effectiveness; encourage accountability and most importantly, their provision of safety. This paper explores the nature of the discipline of social work and to illustrate that perhaps its central and unique characteristic is the way theory and practice are closely interrelated in reference to an article written in The Guardian dated 22nd January 2005, They didn’t have long anyway.
Society has moved from the traditional family set-up where grandparents usually lived with their family in the nineteen and twentieth centuries to where families are more divided, private and elderly people often live on their own or eventually move into residential units or nursing homes. For the relative making this decision, it can be a distressing time evoking feelings of guilt or worry that they may be letting their parent down at a time of their life when they particularly need them. It can be especially complex if the elderly person resists the move. This is where the help of the social sector can be needed, both for support and information. It is helpful to have an open discussion with the elderly person, reassure them that any decision is made with their best interests being the main concern and that they are also involved in the decision-making process, wherever possible. (Rudd 1967, pp.13-15; Banks 1984, pp. 85-8).
Social work’s context of care has changed significantly over the last few decades according to Ife (1997) and Banks (1995). As result of changes in politics, economic and ideologies, some gaps may exist until the social work sector has time to adapt, particularly as social work is not a single entity, rather it is made up of many components. Social work is at times ambiguous, complex and uncertain such that its major strengths are in terms of its ability to improve dialogue, understanding and interpretation, rather than simply be concerned with legislating and acting with authority. (Ife 1997, pp.1-5; Hugman, R 1995, pp 1-12).
In the article, They didn’t have long anyway published in the Guardian 22nd January 2005, many vital issues are highlighted, namely the concerning deaths of thirteen elderly persons at the former Maypole that seemed to result in a low-key reaction by society. The article outlines that other sectors of society such as children at risk are protected by laws and rightfully so, yet the same does not adequately seem to apply to elderly people who may also be at risk in institutions. The main concern is that many nursing homes are sub-standard, the food is badly cooked, and hygiene standards questionable and often staff are not providing adequate care and safety for the residents. It is a difficult area of care to decipher definite statistics proving negligence as according to the article there is a lack of meaningful, national data that could provide reliable information. The situation is further complicated by the fact that there can be conflicts of interests with parties such as care providers, pharmacists and doctors and this may add to the concern regarding standards. Plus, the age-old dilemma of funding and lack of resources. The most concerning issue the article raises is that it is the staff member’s responsibility to report the death to a coroner, this could lead to those acting honourably to do so and conversely those that do not, will not report the death. (Muir, H & Taylor, D 2005).
There has been a long history of research into living conditions and potential abuse in institutional settings by theorists such as Goffman (1961) and Townsend (1962) culminating into a more significant scale in the 1970s and 1980s. Twenty years of campaigning resulted in the launch of two codes of conduct for the social care sector in 2002 in Britain. One code aims to identify social care workers’ conduct making them more accountable for the care they provide as well as informing service users of the standards they can expect. They are responsible for ensuring that they adhere to such standards and they protect the well-being of service users which in this case are elderly people in institutions. They work to a code of ethics including the concern for the well-being of others, respect for the autonomy of others, trustworthiness and honesty, willing compliance with the law (with the exception of civil disobedience), basic justice, refusing to take unfair advantage, duty of care, confidentiality, commitment to professional responsibilities and preventing harm. The second code for employers of social care workers, ensuring their regulation in order to safeguard and promote the interests of both service users and carers. The code is part of the wider component of existing legislation, requirements and guidance relating to staff employment. (Excellence in caring, 2002).
So this leads us to the question of what is going wrong? It is clear that elderly people are particularly at risk as they have are generally voiceless and marginalised as the move from their homes into an institution is usually fast and their families may have no idea of the potential dangers in the system. Often homes do not have regular legislative inspections, thus they can deteriorate with less questions being asked. A continued commitment to safeguarding this sector of our community needs to occur to prevent neglect and abuse. As the article They didn’t have long anyway concludes, it is often those with the loudest voices who are heard. Elderly people do not fit this description, thus it is important that a combination of steps are taken to ensure a balance of the rights and needs of the individuals by remaining aware of the current Anti-Discriminatory and Anti-Oppressive Practices especially in residential care environments.
- Banks, G 1984. Options. A handbook for the elderly and those who care for them. Dove Communications, Victoria.
- Goffman, E 1961. Asylums. Essays on the social situation of mental patients and other inmates. Penguin Books, Great Britain.
- Hugman, R 1995. Ethical Issues in Social Work. Routledge, Great Britain.
- Ife, J 1997. Rethinking Social Work. Towards critical practice. Longman, Australia.
- Rudd, T.N 1967. Human Relations in Old Age. Faber and Faber, London.
- Townsend (1962) The Last Refuge, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London.
- Colero, L A Framework For Universal Principles of Ethics, Crossroads Programs Inc, retrieved 5th May 2006, from: http://www.ethics.ubc.ca/papers/invited/colero.html
- Excellence in caring, 2002 Guardian Unlimited, retrieved 5th May 2006, from: http://society.guardian.co.uk/scperformance/story/0,11025,629574,00.html.
- Ethics Update, 2006 University of San Diego, retrieved 5th May 2006, from: http://ethics.sandiego.edu/index.asp#PageCite.
- Muir, H & Taylor, D, 22nd January, 2005, They didn’t have long anyway, viewed 6th April 2006: http://www.guardian.co.uk/
- No secrets: guidance on developing and implementing multi-agency policies and procedures to protect vulnerable adults from abuse, 2000 Department of Health and Home Office, retrieved 5th May 2006, from: http://www.dh.gov.uk/PublicationsAndStatistics/Publications/PublicationsPolicyAndGuidance/PublicationsPolicyAndGuidanceArticle/fs/en?CONTENT_ID=4008486&chk=7Wogjo
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