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Values and Ethics
The Value base of Social Work and the Development of my own Values
This essay will firstly discuss what values are and the value base of Social Work. It will then proceed to analyse the origin and evolution of my own values. Followed by reflection on them and how they relate to the value base of social work. I will summarise by identifying areas of my personal values that I think require further development.
It makes sense to start off by exploring what is meant by the word ‘value'. It is a somewhat vague term, most people would claim to have values but struggle to elaborate when asked what their values are. Banks makes a good analysis, ‘ ‘values' is often used to refer to one or all of religious, moral, political or ideological principles, beliefs or attitudes.' (cited in Thompson 2005, p108) Values can vary greatly from one culture to another, from family to family and differ between each individual. Values and what they mean to each person in my opinion are unique for everyone. As Thompson suggests ‘….a value is something we hold dear, something we see as important and worthy of safeguarding.' (2005, p109)
The British Association of Social Workers, (BASW), promote a Code of Ethics, that they expect each and every social worker to adhere to. The key principles of these are human dignity and worth, social justice, service to humanity, integrity and competence (1999). Each of these principles contains core values that are imperative for good social work practice. Examples of such values are ‘Respect for human dignity and for individual and cultural diversity', ‘Value for every human being, their beliefs, goals, preferences and needs', also ‘Respect for human rights and self-determination'. When I first read the code of ethics, at the very beginning of studying social work, it appeared very simple. I asked myself “Surely it can't be complicated to follow these basic values?”. Nevertheless, through the teaching I've had so far and the questions it has raised, I realise that social workers must keep a constant check on themselves, reflecting regularly so as their service users receive a consistent quality of service.
Biestek (1961 cited in Dominelli 2004) put together seven points that he felt formed the traditional social work values. These are, Individualisation of the client, treating each service user as an individual. Purposeful expression of feelings, allowing service users to talk about and express the feeling they have. Controlled emotional environment, obtaining the right balance of emotions. Unconditional acceptance, accepting that person for who they are. Non-judgemental attitude, not judging a person on the way they choose to live their life or the decisions they have made. Client self-determination, similar to empowerment, playing a part in helping a service user realise their goals. Lastly, Confidentiality, respecting that everything discussed with a client is personal to them and they may not want others to know their private business. Although Biestek defined these values as important nearly fifty years ago, they still remain significant and can be applied to social work today.
With this is in mind a common traditional value to explore would be respect. This is a value held by many different cultures and religions, mostly seen as respect towards elders and also towards people in authority. In the General Social Care Council's Codes of practice, respect is referred to throughout, one instance being ‘Respecting and maintaining the dignity and privacy of service users' (2002).
This value although stemming from good intentions is open to exploitation, for instance when the older individual or person in authority abuses the power that respect gives them. It is widely agreed that one should have unquestionable respect for anyone older than them or toward a person in a position of authority, whether that respect is deserved is often not open for discussion.
So how do values apply to social work? Values are something people make use of in their lives everyday, probably without even realising so. However values also form a significant part of social work practice, as Trevithick points out, ‘Social work is not unique in its values perspective, but other professions may not have given this issue the same importance…' (2005, p4). For instance, if a social worker cannot empathise with a service user it is going to be very difficult to understand how best to assist that person. As Thompson suggests ‘(empathy)…is a very skilful activity, as it involves having a degree of control over our own feelings while remaining open and sensitive to the other person's feelings.' (2005, p119). This is an area of my values I can detect require improvement. I will need to ensure I achieve the appropriate balance of caring without becoming so emotionally involved that I find myself in a position where I am unable to support the individual.
My own values stem from my upbringing. We hold very strong family values, encouraging each other completely in whatever we are undertaking. If a member of the family has a decision to make, we will share our views and opinions, but ultimately always support and respect the final choice made. I benefited from this support immensely when I became a mother at just eighteen years old, I received an incredible amount of assistance and encouragement from my family. I am in no doubt this made a huge difference to how confident I was as a mother.
However, I was unable understand my partner's family values. Within their family they lead much more separate, independent lives. At eighteen I couldn't fathom this way of thinking, I thought, naively, that all families shared my family's values. My Mother-in-law expressed her disappointment that her son was becoming a young father. I perceived this as a rejection. I deliberated for a long time as to why we didn't share the same outlook, identifying it as a disapproval of her son's choice of partner. After many years, and several heated confrontations, I came to realise that it wasn't a personal attack against me. It is simply that my in-laws hold different family values to myself and I can now appreciate and understand this.
It was growing more mature that enabled me to distinguish that other peoples' values are different to my own. It was not my place to judge my mother-in-law and I can now recognise my over-sensitivity. I believe this was all part of a process that inspired me to form a non-judgemental attitude. I accept others for who they are and do not judge them on how they choose to live their life and the decisions they make. This is a quality that, I hope, will contribute positively towards my social work career.
Another value I was raised with is respect; I mentioned this nearer the beginning of my essay and feel that it is an area of my values that has developed. As a child I was expected to show total courtesy to all adults, it was inconceivable that I could question an adult. Although secure that I was completely loved, I was a child and couldn't possibly argue with an elder. An adult would certainly not say sorry to a child, fundamentally this was not a reciprocal value. One occasion I can recall is my mother thinking I had stolen a cake from the kitchen cupboard, my brother had in fact taken it. Even though she was made aware of the truth, I was never apologised to.
The concept was that adults, and more so parents, were never wrong. I like to think that now, as an adult myself, I still strongly hold this value of respect and encourage my children to show regard and consideration toward others. Although, for me personally, the value has evolved. I foster the belief that respect should be shown toward all persons, young and old. I aim to show equal respect to children and adults alike and I feel with my own children that, if I have made a mistake in any way, I should always apologise to them.
It is vital when interacting with a service user I am aware of the values I hold, as Dominelli points out, ‘…. the social and knowledge contexts within which values are embedded impact upon their use,….' (2004, p65). For example, I am against abortion once the pregnancy has gone past the twelve week stage, but I am fully aware that if a service user was in this situation, it would be totally unprofessional for me to allow the client become aware of my personal opinion. It is certainly not my position to impact upon any decision the service user may make.
I am also attentive to the fact that there are other areas of my personal values that require further development. One aspect that I am conscious I will need to work on is showing respect to persons that have committed certain offences, for example, a paedophile that has molested or murdered children. Having young children myself I find this sensitive issue quite upsetting. Still, I am aware that even though an individual has chosen to carry out this act it doesn't mean that they are not entitled to services. It would be my job to offer that person the services they hold a right to receive and, as before with my views on abortion, I must exercise the non-judgemental area of my values to effectively provide this.
To conclude this essay I believe that I am able to recognise the values that I possess and I aspire to remain attentive to these and the areas that require further strengthening. I also feel the values I hold relate to social work practice and I hope they will contribute toward my career, in a positive manner, for many years to come.