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Social work practice brings about many different ethical dilemmas on a day to day basis. Doel (2016) recognises that these dilemmas can happen because of a conflict between our personal values and our professional values.
Our values shape our identity and what’s most important to us in our lives. From the very start of our social work career, we are taught how we can become more aware of our values and how they can be different to other people from different cultures and backgrounds. The following assignment will reflect on a few of my personal values that have had a massive impact on my life. I will also be trying to find out how I feel that these values can conflict, or complement, professional values within my social work practice. I also look at why I feel that this could influence my social work practice and what I would need to change when these conflicts arise.
From birth I was bought up in a faith which bought many values into my life and from a very young age I was bought up to live my life according to biblical principles. One of the values I was taught is that marriage is viewed as sacred and you are not to have sexual relations before marriage. I was taught that having this value contributes to a balanced and happy family lifestyle. I was also bought up to believe that homosexuality is wrong and shouldn’t be practiced. This, and having sexual relations before marriage, is classed as a sin. When participating in a particular group session at university it became apparent to me and to others in my group that I was quite uncomfortable when shown pictures of homosexual same sex couples, both male and female. A group member then asked me whether I was homophobic which made me question whether I actually was. This session made me see how much of an impact my beliefs have on me, even now, as I do not consider myself to be homophobic. But still, I was uncomfortable with the pictures shown. It made me realise the conflicts that having a faith can cause due to differences in values. There are many different conflicts to my value of faith that I could consider, but I chose to look at homosexuality because it is one that I was shocked to find that I felt uncomfortable with (the pictures) and I felt that I would come across this often within my social work practice.
One of the frameworks from the BASW readiness for direct practice is for a social worker to “apply anti-discriminatory and anti-oppressive principles in practice.” A social worker has to be able to understand and see the importance of diversity and how this can shape people’s lives and even identity. This was highlighted to us at the very beginning of our social worker careers. But not only are social workers to understand this diversity but they are also to identify and promote it. This leaves important questions such as: how am I to promote a person who practices homosexuality when I have values that say that promoting such practice is wrong? And how will I be able to show service users that I am comfortable with their sexuality? I have a very strong interest in working with children and families, particularly in fostering and adoption. Let’s say, for example, a case arises in which I am asked to place a child with a same sex couple who are hoping to adopt? How would my values conflict with practice? From a young age I was taught that a man is the head of a household and that a wife would be there to help support a husband or father in his role. A same sex couple is total contradictory to what I have been brought up to believe.
As social workers we have to practice and promote equality. Thompson (2019) reminds us that to promote equality means seeking to ensure that individuals are not treated unfairly. Having equality doesn’t mean that we have to believe everything we hear as we aren’t all robots programmed to believe and accept everything we are taught. However, practicing equality is to ensure that individuals or groups of individuals are not treated differently or less favorably on the basis of their specific protected characteristics which include race, gender, disability, religion or belief and sexual orientation. As a social worker we need to take on the values of person-centered care, which means that we have to respect the rights and equality of all individuals and put our own personal beliefs and values to one side.
In my earlier example, when placing a child with a same sex couple, I would need to put my beliefs and faith to one side and focus on what’s most important which is the well-being of the child. As long as there are no safeguarding issues, the fact that they are a same sex couple should have no influence on my decision as a social worker, whether to place a child in that home.
Having a faith and a spiritual life can complement to my working practice. Matthews, I (2009) states that “Spirituality is what we can use to demonstrate our worldview in action. It is shown in how we respond to others, how we develop ties and relationships and how we demonstrate a sense of responsibility to other people and communities.” Spirituality can help us form relationships with other people. Also, for me personally, spirituality allows me to mentally re-connect with myself, my feelings and my hope in life. This then helps me to reinvigorate myself, so to speak, when times are getting hard and I need a moment to breathe. In social work practice we can expect to experience a very heavy workload and have hard cases to deal with on a daily basis. So, having this spirituality will complement my social work practice as it will be useful when I need to take a moment to reconnect with myself and also to self-heal.
The next value that I would like to focus on is personal resilience. In a previous relationship, I was a victim of domestic, emotional and financial abuse. This was an extremely hard time for me. I like to look for the positives in any bad situation and going through that enabled me to build personal resilience which I feel is now an important value in my life. I understand that having this personal resilience is a strength which will complement my social work practice in many ways.
In social work practice, especially when working with children and families, domestic abuse is currently on the rise. A current news report states that in the UK, domestic abuse is at its highest level for 5 years. Domestic abuse also has no boundaries, it doesn’t matter what race, culture, class or where we live, anyone can be affected by it. There is no doubt that I will come across domestic abuse within my social work practice and that as a social worker I will be helping families, women, men and children who have been affected by domestic abuse. Safelives.org.uk, (2019) tells us that social workers have worked with victims of domestic abuse for years. However, even after all this time social workers role in this field is still not well understood. Recent findings have shown that many social workers today are finding this particular field overwhelming and are unable to meet the victim’s needs, which can include housing, child-care, transport and legalities.
Drawing on my own lived experience of domestic abuse, I feel I would be able to be an effective advocate for those who have suffered, or are currently suffering, the same abuse. Building my personal resilience and still continuously valuing it will enable me to be to empower victims, not only survive abuse but to recover from it in whichever way it affects their lives. This experience is one of the main reasons that I wanted to become a social worker, because I believe that social workers are there to empower people. For example, one of the code of ethics for social work, provided by the BASW, is to focus on the strengths of all individuals and to promote their empowerment. This empowerment would be especially important when dealing with victims of domestic abuse. A social worker would need to help them feel empowered to escape and keep away from their abuser. Therefore, having such personal resilience, and experience, is a good complement to social work practice, specifically when dealing with domestic abuse, because you can use your own personal experience and example of resilience to encourage victims to build up their own personal resilience. Drumm M, (2013) has identified that using your own personal story within social work practice can not only be therapeutic to service users, but can also empower, encourage personal growth and build resilience.
Helping victims survive domestic abuse isn’t just a case of helping them to escape the offender. A social worker also has to promote social justice and try to achieve the best outcomes for them, recognising that they are the experts in their own lives. Questions I could ask myself are ‘Would my emotions be affected when a case like this arises in practice?’ and ‘How could my experience create a compliment rather than a conflict to practice?’ It is good to recognise that certain situations within domestic abuse will bring up a mixture of feelings within me and will act as triggers to my own reactions. The years spent building on my value of emotional resilience will give me the strength to reflect on the positive outcomes of my experience and incorporate these positive things into my social work practice.
Social work is rewarding but it can also be emotionally demanding and extremely stressful. Developing personal resilience is not only good for our well-being but also helps us to manage stress effectively. Building on this resilience will help me be able to cope with different situations that arise within social practice. For example, one thing you can do this in, is by practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness is a technique that helps us to wisely relate to our difficult emotions. It helps us to strengthen our resilience by practicing being calm, showing courage and having clarity on our emotions. Therefore, practicing mindfulness can help me to deal with the stresses that come up in practice, it helps me build emotional resilience for dealing with the stress of the work and it can help me keep focused on the rewarding side of social work. It can therefore help me to remain focused on positive outcomes for service users and to basically keep motivated to remain a social worker.
As stated earlier, social work practice will bring about many different ethical dilemmas on a day to day basis and personal values can often conflict with our professional values. Within this assignment I have looked into my faith and how that can conflict with social work practice and I have also looked at my other value of personal resilience and how that can complement my social work practice. What’s important is to continually reflect on my values and how I can use them positively within practice. It’s not going to be easy, as social workers encounter all sorts of difficult situations which will test our values. Looking into our professional frameworks, such as the BASW, constant training and professional development will help enable me to develop my ethical decision making and will help me to see what areas I need to focus on to enhance my practice.
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