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Ethical dilemmas in social work and theories

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This essay will address the ethical dilemmas faced by social workers and how they address these ethical dilemmas when working with service users and carers. It will be illustrated that codes of practice and codes of ethics are of paramount importance when dealing with these dilemmas as they are ones that guide social workers as to how they should try and solve these dilemmas. Social workers encounter ethical dilemmas every day during their work. Banks, in her explanations says these are occurrences whereby a social worker encounters two unwelcoming situations and there is a conflict of moral values, and there is no clear choice as to which decision to make.(Banks, 2006).To elaborate on this , Banks implies social workers are always in positions where they have to solve personal and at times difficult and painful issues as well as ethical judgements about welfare of service users.

This is a huge challenge to social workers as these decisions may be life changing to service users, hence decisions taken have to be justified with valid reasons. Facts alone cannot determine decisions to be taken, hence ‘it would be impossible to make choices without values’(Beckett, Maynard 2005:7).Social workers need to have a strong value base when practising. It is , however possible for personal values of a social worker to clash with those of her professional ones, and in this case problems may arise. Banks refers to this occurrence as ‘conflict of moral values’ (Banks, 2006:13).Although it is essential for social workers to always follow professional values when personal values clash with them, personal values cannot be erased completely but these need to be kept under scrutiny and ‘kept under review, and be open to other arguments and other ideas’ (Beckett, Maynard 2005; 17).

On the other hand social workers use different theories to inform practice. Deontology, also referred to as Kantism is a theory derived from ideas of Kant(1724-1804), a philosopher .His belief was people ‘should be treated as an end and not as a means to an end(REF……)He meant people deserve respect and have to be valued a individuals, not to be used so others benefit. He believed everybody should be treated equally. His ideology was to let go of people s religious views and consider rationality as paramount. Rationality, he believed, make people aware and have a deeper understanding of their duties and how their duties enlighten what they do to the world (Parrot, 2010).One of the most important principle of social work, self-determination, is part of deontological view. Self-determination is a right, and part of what it means to be human, and hence we have the basic moral duty to respect and promote (Beckett, Maynard, 2005).

In Lola s case if the student social worker were to use deontological perspective to make a decision she will have to value Rajiv as a person .The theory s main contents is respect for people (Beckett , Maynard, 2005).This point of respect is in agreement with the British association of Social Workers (BASW) code of ethics, which points that social workers should have respect for human dignity, value for every human being their beliefs, goals, preferences and needs and respect for human rights and self-determination (BASW 2010).Also the Human Rights Act (1998)is in direct line with the idea of deontology as well. The social worker s role is to advocate for people like Rajiv by trying to obtain the respect due to them as persons rather than just seen as problems (Beckett, Maynard, 2005).

Kant criticised the utilitarian ideology since it allows people to sacrifice a person for the sake of the majority, if there was proof the benefit of the majority would profit the sacrifice done to that one individual (Beckett, Maynard, 2005). One other theory social workers use is consequentialism, and these a group of theories whose idea is ‘what determines the rightness or otherwise of an action is whether the consequences of an action are favourable or unfavourable (Beckett, Maynard, 2005).The idea is to make sure the good results outweigh the bad. Utilitarianism is one common one used, whose idea is based on the idea that ‘the greatest is good for the greatest number’ (Beckett, Maynard, 2005).This theory was formulated by Jeremy Bentham (1748-1882), Bentham s principle of happiness was to always do what will result in happiness of the majority (Clark, 2000).

Postmodernists think there is no single truth therefore ethics are not at all relevant in modern society.as they do not replicate modern society and tend to ignore individualism, and ignore cultural diversity but reinforce the oppressive and dominant voices of those in power (Bowles, 2006)Bowles argues they are rarely used so they are not relevant at all Ethical theories are however debatable and usually mean different things to different people. It is therefore essential for social workers not to base their decisions solely on these theories, but make use of Codes of practice when faced with ethical dilemmas. Codes of practise are there so service users and carers are informed and know what to expect from social workers and hence there will always be trust between service user and client. According to Banks, values are regarded as those beliefs people regard as worthy or valuable (Banks, 2012).

Some values are personal, yet some are culturally/ societally shared. Our personal values form during personal and social development; also past and present experiences influence them. Ethics is that which society considers as right, yet values are that which is considered as good by society(Dubois, Miley, 1996).ln the UK code of ethics have been produced by the British Association of Social Workers(BASW) .On the other hand the GSCC has produced two codes of conduct .BASW came up with five basic values and these include social workers to promote respect for human dignity, pursue justice, through service and humanity,intergrity and competency(Beckett, Maynard, 2010 :77)Under the GCSS there are six points to note and these include protection of right, promotion of independence, respect of rights upholding of public trust, as well as accountability , and all these are to apply to service users and their carer. Social workers have a duty to follow the GSCC codes of practise, and these are ethic frameworks for them.

These codes enable social workers to make judgement to their practise against an unethical standard and service users, because they are informed are able to understand what to expect from their social worker. A social worker who breaches these codes is likely to be removed from social care register and cannot practise thereafter. Professional social workers are responsible of their commissions and omissions as they hold a position of power and trust vested upon them by the state, thus making ethics an important factor in accountability. (Hugman, 2008).Parrot(2010) says values are important because they give a common set of principles to social workers, and this enhances social workers development in their practice.

He goes on to say they give guidance to professional behaviour, give social work an identity and protect service users from abuse (Hugman, 2010) Values cannot be separated from power(Beckett, Maynard, 2005).Foucault mention that power has the ability to define what constitutes truth, and Marx argues that the ruling class in any given society a, always determines society s values , and these are usually those that promote their own interests((Beckett, Maynard, 2005)Social workers work with the vulnerable , who are less powerful, yet they are often employed by the state which is a major centre of power in society(Beckett, Maynard, 2005).it is there for clear that social work cannot ignore the concept of power and empowerment, as well as the ides of anti-oppressive practice(Beckett, Maynard, 2005).

The big question is how can social workers work for the state, which is responsible for poor housing, unemployment, low benefits, low minimum wages and overcrowded schools(Beckett, Maynard, 2005).It is really difficult for social workers to implement government policies and on the other hand be a force for social change, hence social workers find themselves in ethical dilemmas. Social workers do have power in their own right, e.g. when they have to intervene in family under child protection policy. Beckett, Maynard, (2005) says the fact that social workers do at times remove children from their families means families at times give them that power where parents feel obliged to fallow the wishes of social workers (Beckett, Maynard, 2005).Other powers social workers have involve the fact that they are working with vulnerable people, as well as the fact that they control access to services and resources to service users.

The fact that social work is a profession makes social workers be considered to have certain powers from the belief that they have certain knowledge and skills.(whether or not they do have these) Misuse of power is something every social worker will find themselves in unless if they are really careful. Examples are when a social worker find themselves in a temptation to excessively claim they know the truth, yet they do not have evidence for it, e.g. when a social worker claims they are sure a child has been abused when there is no tangent evidence for it, but they are just using their gut feeling (Beckett, Maynard, 2005).when a social worker uses their professional position to impose their views of things over views of service users, e.g. when a social worker is defending herself against a complaint from a service user , they might use their status and skills to win the argument(Beckett, Maynard, 2005) There is an issue of care and control in social work.

While these two are conflicting responsibilities in real life, in social work they are not necessarily in conflict at all. An example is where people are at risk due to their lack of power social workers with a duty of care may have to exercise control in order to protect them(Beckett, Maynard, 2005). Beckett, Maynard,( 2005) argue that control is not the opposite of care when appropriately used, e.g. if authorities had removed Victoria climbe from her auntie , that would not have been oppressive act(Lamming, 2003.) As a social worker it is important for me to be aware of my personal values and how they influence my decision making in a professional setting for future practice. In order to practice professionally, l must be conscious of my responsibilities in following the professional codes of practice.

My own values come from my upbringing, especially the society l grew up in grew up in Africa, in a small community where everybody was a Christian. When growing up values instilled in every child were mostly from the bible. One verse every child was taught at Sunday school is Ephesians 6 verse 1 which states that children should obey their parents as this is right .The teachings were that we should honour our father and mother , as this is the first commandment with God and your days will be added on earth. Parents were feared, and it was unheard of to argue with any grown up, whether it was your parents or just a neighbour.

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