Why do we need another book on social work theory?

In this post Phil Musson, University of Lincoln, explains the rationale behind his new book Making sense of theory and its application to social work practice.

I look forward to reading the practice portfolios of social work students in which they describe their experiences, analyse their practice and showcase their skills. For many, these placements will leave career long impressions on the fledgling practitioners as they grapple with the complexity of social work practice for the first and second time.

More often than not I am reassured that they are developing their craft with appropriate reference to values, interpersonal communication skills, service user involvement, and legislation. However, I am generally left feeling underwhelmed by the quality of application of theory to practice in so far as it is used to explain circumstances and inform a plan of intervention in them.

OK, reference to Maslow or Bronfenbrenner may feature in a perfunctory sense and claims may be made that strengths based ideas or systems theory had been used but rarely am I left with the impression that the student had a real grasp of how a theory offers an explanation of what they see and how its corresponding method of intervention provides a cogent, structured way of trying to do something about it.

In my experience students tend to address the requirement to ‘apply theory’ with such statements as ‘I applied systems theory with service user A’ but without going on to explain how the work they did with A was an application of systems theory. Alternatively, they might bullet point a list:

On my placement the theories used included

  • Attachment
  • Strengths
  • Bereavement

Both expressions fail to reveal the student’s depth of understanding of theory and its application as an explanation of how what they did was an application of the theory claimed is avoided. Whilst I do not expect to see a confident application of theory to practice (especially in the first placement) I do expect to see a tentative exploration into this area so important to assessment, analysis and intervention.

Am I alone in this having this perspective? I do hope not as, in an attempt to address this and encourage students to embrace theoretical frameworks and to try road testing their application, I have written a book titled Making sense of theory and its application to social work practice.

It is written with a particular student in mind. This student wants to get the most they can out of their course, as they want to become the best social worker they can be and to be ‘tooled up’ to do the best they can for the people they will work with. Accordingly, they need to know about theory and well enough to try applying it in their practice. However, they would not describe themselves as an instinctive theoretician so they expect to find acquiring a working knowledge of this area of practice a challenge. The book sets out to minimise the ‘challenge’ and maximise the degree of ‘sense’ that can be made in this quest. It seeks to achieve this through its structure; four ‘theories of explanation’ are introduced with their respective methods of intervention and four approaches to social work practice are introduced also with their methods of intervention. One generic case study is used so the reader can see how each method of intervention can be applied in practice.

I hope it fulfils its promise.

Phil Musson June 2017

Details of Phil’s new book, Making sense of theory and its application to social work practice can be found on our website www.criticalpublishing.com

The Write Stuff: Personal narratives in mental health social work group practice

Today we have our first blog post of 2017 from our newly qualified social worker, Daniel! In this post Daniel explores using personal identity as a tool in social care practice. Make sure to read, comment and most importantly, enjoy! 

As a social worker and community mental health practitioner, I co-facilitate and co-lead (Benson, 2010:29) a weekly two-hour creative writing group for people recovering from schizophrenia alongside two of our team’s support time recovery workers in a board room facility owned by a registered charity in Plymouth, United Kingdom. Bamberg (2007 cited in Quinn et al, 2011:207) acknowledged that personal narratives are often used in mental health practice within both therapy and research contexts. Quinn et al (2011:207) define a personal narrative as ‘a story told by someone about his or her own life’. Therefore, I decided to apply this approach to plan, form and run a creative writing group which fits alongside the others offered by our service namely cooking, cinema, conservation, women’s, and allotment groups.  The creative writing group is underpinned using personal narratives in mental health practice with the goal of challenging the fluid nature of the four participants’ identities as only users of our service. Maclean (2016:28-29) asks what are my goals and others in this practice. My goals are to provide a group in which participants can explore other aspects of their identities such as loving sons, parents and creative writers by the nature and purpose of the group (Quinn et al, 2011:213).

Participating in the group four male service users are provided with the opportunities of personal growth, imparting hope and opportunity to live a meaningful life with a positive sense of self (Quinn et al, 2011:214; Andresen et al, 2003 cited in Fox, 2013:60). Pioneering this group, the first in our service’s history, it was my aim to provide a time and space within the group for the narrators to develop the multiple and fluid nature of their individual identities. For example, aside from each group member being a service user of our Assertive Outreach Service (AOS), through the process of their own creative writing in the forms of poetry, novel and short story participants explore other aspects of their identities such as loving son, parents, and creative writers. Within the three sessions run to date, we have seen the group grow in number of participants from two to four. Furthermore, the group develops participants’ confidence and skills in creative writing through the written word, ‘re-membering conversations’ (Megele, 2015:128) and discussions within the group facilitated by the support time recovery workers and I in a relaxed but purposeful atmosphere. Such an approach, intervention and style of leadership has resulted in one group member wanting to engage with and in the group in all three sessions run to date. Two participants have engaged in two of four sessions. Therefore, it can be seen how I and we have effectively built the use of narratives into my social work role (Quinn et al, 2011:214).

Lastly, as service users’ confidence in their own writing ability grows I am confident one if not all will feel comfortable enough to consent for an excerpt of writing to be published in this blog in the future.

References

Benson, J. F. (2010) Working More Creatively with Groups. (3rd edn). Oxon: Routledge.

Fox, J. (2013) ‘The Recovery Concept: The Importance of the Recovery Story’, in Walker, S. (ed.) Modern Mental Health: Critical Perspectives on Psychiatric Practice. St Albans: Critical Publishing, pp. 110-133.

Maclean, S. (2016) ‘Whatever the weather’, Professional Social Work (March), pp. 28-29.

Megele, C. (2015) Psychosocial and Relationship-based Practice. Northwich: Critical Publishing.

Quinn, N., Knifton, L. and Donald, J. (2011) ‘The Role of Personal Narratives in Addressing Stigma in Mental Health’, in Taylor, R. Hill, M. and McNeill, F. (eds.) Early Professional Development for Social Workers. Birmingham: Venture Press, pp. 207-218.

If you have any questions, you can reach me at keisha@criticalpublishing.com – as always, we would love to hear from you!

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GREAT EXPECTATIONS – WHAT DO MENTEES WANT FROM THEIR MENTORS AND THEIR SCHOOL?

Today we have a new blog post from one of our fantastic authors, Jonathan Gravells, author of Mentoring: Getting it Right in a Week. Here he explores what exactly mentees want from their mentors and their schools.

Agreeing clear expectations, at both and individual and school level, is one of the proven ingredients of successful mentoring. Here are some expectations that would come at the top of our list.

6 things you should expect from your mentor

  1. Credibility & competence – There are skills and knowledge associated with being a good mentor and you should expect your mentor to have taken the trouble to acquire these. Do they have to have more experience than you as a teacher? Well not necessarily, as plenty of successful peer mentoring partnerships can demonstrate. However, mentoring partnerships often benefit from mentors having different experience, as this enriches the learning.
  2. Willingness to learn – Competence does not mean your mentor knows it all. We can all get better at what we do and your mentor should role model this. Furthermore, in the best mentoring partnerships the mentor learns from exploring their mentee’s experiences too.
  3. Attention – Good listening is important of course, but great mentors do so much more than this. They give their full attention to their mentee, in an effort to really understand what motivates, frustrates or frightens them, and to find ways forward that will really suit them, rather than simply conform to some established formula or standard.
  4. Empathy – Because they have taken the trouble to really understand what makes you tick, great mentors will be able to put themselves in your shoes and realise why you respond to situations and events in a particular way. But they will also remain objective enough to help you question these responses.
  5. Challenge – So, empathy and supportiveness are key to good mentoring, but we also learn from having our assumptions and preconceptions challenged. The best mentors help us to tackle things we might not otherwise have had the confidence to address.
  6. Freedom to be your best self – Great mentors do not impose their strategies or recipes on you. They acknowledge that good teachers are not all stamped from the same mould, and the most successful ideas and improvements will be those that suit your personality and strengths.

6 things you should expect from your school

  1. Clear purpose for the mentoring – Unless your school is clear about what it wants to achieve from mentoring as an institution, then what kind of message is it sending mentors and mentees?
  2. Proper evaluation and improvement – Demonstrating the impact of mentoring, justifying the continued investment of time and money on this aspect of continuing professional development, and finding ways of making it work even better will reinforce everyone’s commitment to the process.
  3. Proper training and ongoing support – As the recent National Standards for ITT mentors rightly point out, mentors (and I would argue mentees) need not just adequate initial training in the skills and techniques of mentoring, but processes to ensure continued improvements in practice.
  4. Time – Unless schools find ways of allocating sufficient time to mentoring as part of staff development, the evidence suggests mentors and mentees will struggle to maintain commitment to the process.
  5. A positive environment – Another crucial observation from the National Standards is that mentoring can only thrive in the right environment. This means a sensible separation from performance assessment and monitoring , demonstrable support from the top, and respecting the need for mentoring to take place within a safe space.
  6. Agreed definition and ground rules – This positive environment will benefit significantly from clarity around mentoring roles and responsibilities and the basic ground rules governing these learning conversations.

Jonathan Gravells, Director of Fargo Associates, January 2017

If this blog post interests you, why not look a bit further? Details of Jonathan’s Mentoring: Getting it Right in a Week can be found on the Critical Publishing website. In addition, why not have a look at the other titles in the In a Week series; Lesson Planning: Getting it Right in a Week by Keith and Nancy Appleyard and Behaviour Management: Getting it Right in a Week by Susan Wallace.

If you have any questions, you can reach me at keisha@criticalpublishing.com – as always, we would love to hear from you!

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Invisible Educators or Connecting Professionals?

Today we have a new blog post from one of our lovely authors, Jim Crawley of Bath Spa University! Here he discusses teacher education in PCE.

Here are a few interesting things about Post Compulsory Education (PCE) you may not know.

There are 773,000 16– 18- year- olds who study in colleges, compared with 442,000 in schools. A further 71,000 16- to 18- year- olds undertake apprenticeships through colleges and two million adults study or train in English colleges (AoC, 2015 ).

Even with the impact of austerity measures and budget cuts, over 30,000 PCE teachers still gained teaching qualifications in 2012/ 13 (ETF, 2015 ).

In the three decades up to the 2015 election there had been 61 Secretaries of State responsible for skills policy in Britain. Between them they produced 13 major Acts of Parliament and skills policy had flipped between government departments or been shared between departments on ten different occasions (City and Guilds, 2014, p 1).

All of these feature in a new book, the first of its kind, about Teacher Education in PCE.

The third of these ‘interesting things’ really emphasises the volatility and change (an almost incredible amount in the case of this example) which the PCE sector experiences. You would be forgiven for wondering how the first two were ever achieved. The ‘Cinderella sector’ is rightly proud of its achievements, but in a sector which is often almost invisible to governments and many of the public at large, finds it difficult to get its voice heard. Within this professional invisibility, one group of professionals is even more invisible than many of the others, and that is Post Compulsory Teacher Educators (TEds), despite the volume of teachers trained in the sector.

The UK Post Compulsory Education (PCE) sector and its community of TEds has experienced particularly difficult times over the recent period of austerity, even though the mainly workplace-based partnership model of PCE teacher education resonates well with key thinking and current developments in the broader field of teacher education.

The new book, ‘Post Compulsory Teacher Educators – Connecting professionals’ is about PCE teacher education and written by PCE TEds, and it aims to demonstrate that this particular group have much to be proud of, and that their work is one of the key connecting aspects of the development and improvement of teachers in this much under-rated sector.

The book’s authors, Jim Crawley (the editor), Carol Azumah Dennis, Vicky Duckworth, Rebecca Eliahoo, Lynn Machin, Kevin Orr, Denise Robinson and Nena Skrbic are all well-known and well-respected practitioners in PCE. They have produced eight lively, accessible and engaging chapters using their research, ideas and stories from their own work at the front line of training teachers for PCE.  The result is a book which is book is authoritative, critical, rooted in experience and thought provoking, making use of current research and newly-developing thinking. The book will appeal to and be enjoyed by academics and teaching professionals at all levels.

The chapters include an introduction to this group of ‘invisible educators’; how the work they do can be described as having an ‘even more’ quality; what the PCE sector is now, how it has arrived there and where it may go next; the history and development of PCE teacher education; enacting teacher education values; showing how PCE Teacher educators are ‘connecting professionals’; learning lessons from teacher education globally and looking at growing connections as the future for PCE teacher education.

This timely book calls together all those with an interest in PCE teacher education and encourages them to work together for a brighter future.

 

Dr Jim Crawley – Bath Spa University – November 2016

References: 

Association of Colleges, College Key Facts 2015/16. Available at: https://www.aoc.co.uk/sites/default/files/AoC%20College%20Key%20Facts%202015-16%20WEB.pdf 

Zaidi, A., Howat, C. et al., Initial Teacher Education (Provision in FE and Skills). Available at: https://www.aoc.co.uk/sites/default/files/AoC%20College%20Key%20Facts%202015-16%20WEB.pdf

City & Guilds – Sense & Instability: Three decades of skills and employment policy. Available at: http://www.cityandguilds.com/~/media/Documents/news-insight/oct-14/CGSkillsReport2014%20pdf.ashx

If this blog post interests you, why not look a little further? Details of Post Compulsory Teacher Educators: Connecting Professionals can be found at www.criticalpublishing.com.

If you have any questions, you can reach me at keisha@criticalpublishing.com – as always, we would love to hear from you!

Keep up to date by subscribing to our newsletters, following us on Twitter, Facebook and on Instagram.

 

Preceptorship as a viable alternative to the Assessed and Supported Year in Employment

Introducing our new social work blogger! Today we have a great post from our new social work blogger, Daniel Wilding. If you are a student or newly qualified social worker, this blog post is a great read for you!

Have a read and see why.

I am a newly qualified social worker employed as a community mental health practitioner in an assertive outreach service.  I am currently undertaking a preceptorship with the support of my preceptor and practice supervisor (Lalonde and McGillis Hall, 2016) because my employer does not support the optional Assessed and Supported Year in Employment (ASYE) (Kent, 2015).  The weather model of critical reflection (Maclean, 2016: 28-29) is useful for reflection. This model shall now be utilised in an exploration of how a social work preceptorship can be a useful alternative choice of employment and early professional development for student social workers on the cusp of qualification.

Maclean (2016) asserts that relationships are critical on which to reflect in practice. I have enjoyed the opportunities to build relationships with colleagues in my multi-disciplinary team of community psychiatric nurses, psychiatrists, an occupational therapist, art therapist and psychotherapist, a clinical psychologist, assistant practitioners and several support time recovery workers. We work with adults of working age who are recovering from schizophrenia in the community. I feel the relationships I have built with service users have impacted my practice in the following ways. I have seen how my support is valued and complimented by service users through significant life changes such as moving home and through a mental health crisis triggered by the stress of this transition. Elsewhere, I have seen how delivering support with activities of daily living is valued by a service user with chronic pain and schizoaffective disorder. Lastly, I have seen and heard how my knowledge and skills pertaining to section 42(1)(b)(c) enquiry by local authority of the Care Act 2014 has been sought from me by colleagues in psychiatry and the allied health professions in their work safeguarding clients.

Maclean (2016) encourages critical reflection upon organisation. In my view, there is a crucial organisational issue that impacts on my and our practice. My employer is an organisation that delivers health and social care from a primarily medical model. At a recent away day, our clinical psychologist delivered a presentation on the Recovery Star (Triangle Consulting Social Enterprise, 2015). Prior, she and I discussed the UnRecovery Star (Recovery in the Bin, 2015) as a counterpoint to the former because it is underpinned by the social model of disability. It was striking how my knowledge was shared within the team and the positive feedback this generated from colleagues. Reflecting this back to the organisation, I believe the recruitment of more student social workers and newly qualified social workers could benefit my organisation and improve the service because of our particular set of skills can help aid mental health recovery of service users.

In conclusion, it has been seen how a newly qualified social worker’s skills, experience and expertise can be a valuable addition to an organisation consisting of mainly nursing, medical and allied health professionals. A preceptorship programme can offer a stimulating and interesting career alternative worthy of consideration by student social workers seeking an alternative employment option to the ASYE.

References

Care Act 2014, c. 23. Available at: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2014/23/section/42/enacted (Accessed: 26 October 2016).

Kent, S. (2015) Assessed and Supported Year of Employment – questions and answers. Available at: http://cdn.basw.co.uk/upload/basw_122527-3.pdf (Accessed: 30 October 2016).

Lalonde, M. and McGillis Hall, L. (2016) Preceptor characteristics and the socialization outcomes of new graduate nurses during a preceptorship programme. Nursing Open. doi:10.1002/nop2.58.

Maclean, S. (2016) ‘Whatever the weather’, Professional Social Work (March), pp. 28-29.

Recovery in the Bin (2015) ‘UnRecovery Star’, Recovery in the Bin, (no date). Available at: https://recoveryinthebin.org/unrecovery-star-2/ (Accessed: 26 October 2016).

Triangle Consulting Social Enterprise (2015) The Recovery Star. Available at: https://www.staronline.org.uk/star_mock_homepage.asp?section=152 (Accessed: 26 October 2016).

If this blog post is of interest to you, why not dig a little deeper? Positive Social Work – The Essential Toolkit for NQSWs by Julie Adams and Angie Sheard and Modern Mental Health – Critical Perspectives on Psychiatric Practice by Steven Walker et al. provide interesting and varied perspectives and opinions on the making of a newly qualified social worker. Further details of both books can be found on www.criticalpublishing.com.

If you have any questions, you can reach me at admin@criticalpublishing.com – as always, we would love to hear from you!

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Learning to be a Primary Teacher

The Carter Review for initial teacher training (DFE, 2015) identified the importance of core curriculum content for all teacher training programmes. The review highlighted the importance of all programmes embedding core content on aspects such as: subject-specific pedagogy, assessment, behaviour management, special educational needs and disability, planning, differentiation, child and adolescent development and professionalism. Carter also highlighted the critical role of the school-based mentor in ITE programmes and the need to improve the quality of mentoring.

My new book, entitled Learning to be a Primary Teacher: core knowledge and understanding, published by Critical Publishing in 2016, addresses much of the core content that Carter specified. It also provides a chapter on evidence-based teaching and provides ideas to trainees on how to access educational research. The theme of evidence-based teaching also runs throughout each chapter and trainees are introduced to some of the latest educational research which points to ‘what works’ in schools and classrooms.

Initial teacher training is currently experiencing a phase of transition. In addition to provider-led programmes, providers have in recent years accredited school-led models of training in collaboration with their partnerships, through the introduction of School Direct. Various models of School Direct exist and there is no one blueprint for how School Direct should operate. Postgraduate trainees now have more choice than ever before in relation to how they wish to train as a teacher. They might choose traditional university routes or School Direct routes. Some might choose to train through School-Centred Initial Teacher Training programmes (SCITT) and others might choose assessment-only routes. There is a highly prestigious Troops to Teachers programme as well as other routes such as Teach First.

The diversity of routes into teaching can cause confusion for potential trainees. They need clear, impartial advice on which route is best for them and trainees need to research what is available before they make an application. However, once they are on the programme trainees need similar core content, regardless of the route they have chosen. My book will provide them with the background knowledge that they need to start a career in teaching and it will raise questions for critical debate. The text is accessible and current and directly relevant to classroom practice.

Teaching is a challenging choice of profession.  Many teachers choose to exit the profession each year due to the demands of the role. Trainees will certainly experience stress and exhaustion during their training and may feel like they want to quit. However, it is important in times of stress to recall the reasons for entering the profession in the first place. Teacher make a real difference to the lives of children that they educate. Everyone remembers a good teacher. The best teachers motivate and inspire their learners. They change lives. This book will hopefully give you a step up into a deeply rewarding and interesting profession.

Is this acceptable?

Dr Jonathan Glazzard, EdD, MSc, MEd, MA, PGCert(HE), BEd(Hons)

Head of Academic Development

National Teaching Fellow. Leeds Trinity University

Personal Value System vs Professional Value System

This is the winning Social Work entry in the 2016 Critical Prize for Writing. It was written by Brendan McDaid, a final year student at Ulster University. Brendan was nominated by his lecturer Denise MacDermott.

Brendan McDaid.png

Critically evaluate possible tensions, conflicts and collusions within and between your personal and professional value system as related to social work practice

This assignment shall critically discuss how personal and professional values can come into conflict in modern day social work practice. In order to do this, the difference between personal and professional values will be considered, as well as relevant theories in order to gain a better understanding of how these values can often conflict. Once this has been established, two examples will be used to demonstrate varying ways in which a practitioner’s values can be challenged, with appropriate links also being made to critical reflection and emotional intelligence.

Values can be somewhat problematic to define as it is a term that can be used vaguely and can also have a variety of different meanings. In fact Timms (1983:107), in his study of social work values, quotes 180 different definitions of the term. Perhaps this is indicative of the very nature of values, particularly personal values; they can be comprised of ideologies, attitudes, preferences, beliefs, desires, opinions and therefore differ for every individual. It has been accepted that a value describes what an individual considers worthy (Barndard, Horner & Wild, 2008:29) and it is something we give high priority or importance to when making choices (Beckett & Maynard, 2005: 7). Particularly relevant regarding social work practice, values often signify the moral imperative in the decision making process as they ‘determine what a person thinks he ought to do’ while also representing ‘the general standards and ideals by which we judge our own and others’ conduct’ (CCETSW, 1976:14). What is unique about personal values in comparison to professional values is that they can often change and alter as the individual develops, through life experience, societal influences, political awareness and as their understanding of people develops. Professional values, on the other hand, are not personal to the individual; they are a formal guide social workers must adhere to which aim to create a professional culture that improves practice and attempts to draw boundaries around what is deemed acceptable conduct (Dominelli, 2004:63). Embodied in codes of ethics, these professional values and principles compel the social worker to commit to practice in a manner that safeguards the service users’ rights to privacy, self-determination and to be treated with dignity and respect (Conmartin & Gonzales-Prendes, 2011). The British Association for Social Workers (BASW) code of ethics comprises of five core basic values to which social workers must be committed. These are human dignity and worth, social justice, service to humanity, integrity and competence (BASW, 2002:2). More specific to Northern Ireland, the NISCC code of ethics consists of six professional values which guide social work practice and detail the standards of conduct practitioners and students alike are expected to meet (NISCC, 2003). The NISCC code of ethics importantly encourages social workers to examine their own practice by placing a responsibility on social workers to be accountable for the quality of their work and ensure they continually improve their skills and knowledge base (NISCC, 2003:6).

It is generally accepted that the traditional values of social work were greatly influenced by the legacy of Biesteck (1961) (Dominelli, 2004:63). Therefore, when discussing values in social work practice and potential conflicts that arise, it is important to consider Biesteck’s principles and how theories on values and ethics have developed as a result. Biesteck’s 7 casework principles were individualisation, purposeful expression of feelings, controlled emotional involvement, acceptance, non-judgemental attitude, service user self-determination and confidentiality. These principles are still very much pertinent in modern social work practice, however in terms of theory, possibly the more significant Biesteck principles are individualisation and service user self-determination (Banks, 2006:32).

Having briefly outlined Biesteck’s influence, the two oppositional theorists regarding values and ethics shall now be detailed for the purposes of this discussion. Kantian or deontological ethics, also known as the duty based approach, focuses on the fundamental dignity each and every person possesses as a rational human being, who should be treated “never solely as a means but always also as an end.” (Kant, 1964:96) Kant felt that the individual person is worthy of respect simply because he or she is a person, and this has been intrinsically linked to the principle that is credited as being the foundation of social work ethics and moral thinking (Plant, 1970); ‘respect for persons’. The Kantian theory focuses on the rights and self-determination of each individual service user and promotes carrying out ones duty to that service user regardless of the outcome (Banks, 2006:35) or consequences for society as a whole. By contrast, the utilitarian theory, also known as the consequence based approach, advocates promoting the public good or the well-being of the society in general over the needs of any particular individual; in other words, ‘the greatest good to the greatest number.’ (Beckett & Maynard, 2005:39) According to Banks (2006), ‘the basic idea of utilitarianism is that the right action is that which produces the greatest balance of good over evil’ (Banks, 2006:35). Advocates of the utilitarian approach feel that it is more realistic in terms of modern practitioners; they are employed by agencies, work within procedural constraints and consider the consequences of their decisions. As the relevant theories regarding values have been detailed, this piece shall now consider the application of both personal and professional values in terms of modern day social work practice.

Cormier, Nurius and Osborn state that “when personal values of helpers are consistent with professional standards of conduct, helpers are more likely to interact genuinely and credibly with clients and other professionals” (Cormier, Nurius & Osborn, 2009:32). Therefore, in theory, personal and professional values will ideally complement each other in social work. However, in practice, the reality is that personal and professional values often conflict. Going back to the idea of values representing the moral imperative, the difficulty and conflict that often comes with being a social worker is that what you think you ought to do may not be the same as what you want to do, what is in your interest to do or what in fact you actually do. (CCETSW, 1976:14) Therefore, social workers are regularly confronted with decisions that represent an ethical dilemma, which is said to exist when “acting on one moral conviction means behaving contrary to another or when adhering to one value means abandoning another.” (Blumenfield & Lowe, 1987:48) Such is the nature of social work, these conflicts and dilemmas are not limited to practitioners and have also become apparent to me as a student during lectures and interactions with service users, which shall now be critically discussed.

During our ethics and values lecture, I identified respect of persons as a core value of mine, and my reason for this is you never know what an individual’s story is or what they may have been through. The right to self-determination for a service-user is also a value that I attribute worth to on a personal level; it was one of the fundamental principles that made me want to become a social worker. Therefore, my personal values are more in line with the Kantian approach to ethics in that they are concerned with the individual circumstances and decisions of the service user.  However, when listening to a service user (hereafter X) speak about his experience of living in a care home, I identified a potential conflict in my personal and professional values regarding looked after children. According to current policy and procedure for looked after children, regardless of the history, individual circumstances or indeed the wishes of the service user they are required to leave the care home at the age of 18 and live independently. For many social workers, this policy may be acceptable on a professional level as it is in keeping with the NISCC code of ethics for ‘promoting independence of service user while protecting them from harm.’ (NISCC, 2003:3) X also detailed how, many years previously, he had been sent to live with a foster family against his wishes and seemingly without being consulted on the matter. Again, in a strictly professional sense this may be correct in keeping with the ‘right to respect for private and family life’ under article 8 of the Human Rights Act (1998), which is considered one of the core areas of social work practice (White, 2004:29). However, I believe this policy regarding looked after children is framed in a way that is very much utilitarian and is in contrast to my personal values and ‘occupational self-concept’ (Payne, 2006) of social work practice.

I am aware that being a practitioner brings with it a function regarding social control, resource rationing and issues relating to fair distribution of welfare (Banks, 2006:35), meaning there are procedures a practitioner must adhere to. However, one of the key roles I will have to fulfil as a practitioner is to support individuals to represent their needs, views and circumstances to achieve greater independence (DHSSPS, 2003). In order to do this, a practitioner must advocate on behalf of the service user. X explained that in his own personal experience and the experience of many of his peers, their needs and views were not represented as they were not mentally prepared for independent living. He elaborated that they did not wish to leave the care home and as a result he was faced with an overwhelming sense of vulnerability and anxiety. My immediate response when listening to his experiences was to question whether, in following this procedure, practitioners are indeed promoting independence or in fact negligent in their duty to advocate for and protect the service user from harm? Furthermore, it raises doubts as to whether self-determination within the current welfare system regarding looked after children actually exists, or whether it is simply defined persuasively to justify decisions against service user’s real interests that may go against their will. (McDermott, 1975).

Having considered what X had said, my initial feeling was that in order to effectively fulfil the key role of supporting looked after children and representing their needs, a more Kantian approach is necessary. Listening to X, it could be claimed looked after children are being categorised, stigmatised and treated as such, as opposed to being judged as a visible human being whose autonomy is respected. (Beckett & Maynard, 2005:38) Therefore, my immediate response as a practitioner would be to identify with Banks’ (2001) view proposing social workers have a responsibility to strive to change policy that supports what they feel to be a form of oppression (Conmartin & Gonzales-Prendes, 2011).

X’s input has been extremely beneficial to me in terms of my social work education as it gave me a valuable insight into the conflicting and challenging nature of social work. Regardless of personal values, I fully appreciate the need for professionalism in social work as practitioners are required to follow policy that is in place and are bound by the NISCC code of ethics, which is the framework or screen through which…personal world views must be drawn to determine the acceptability in social work practice” (Spano & Koenig, 2007:3). To be considered a competent practitioner, it is imperative I am aware of my emotions and am capable of managing them in a setting where my personal and professional values conflict. Emotional intelligence is particularly important in these circumstances as it enables the practitioner to “…(be) able to motivate oneself and persist in the face of frustrations” (Goleman, 1996:34). As child protection is the area of social work practice I am most likely to be employed in (Crossing Borders, 2001:14), it is important that when tuning in to the thoughts and feelings of future service users (Shulman, 2009) I am able to critically reflect on what I learned from X’s emotions regarding his experience and my own emotions having empathised with what he went through. This enables me to “(return) to the experience, attending to feelings connected to the experience and also re-evaluate the experience by recognising potential implications and outcomes.” (Boud & Knights, 1996:26)

X’s experience has made me aware of the use of authority in terms of social work and how it can be perceived by the service user. This will be extremely important in terms of my future practice as I am now conscious of the power dynamic that can exist from the service user’s perspective, meaning I can attempt to negate it. This demonstrates moral sensitivity, and I believe my views and concerns expressed above regarding X’s experience also illustrate elements of moral judgement and motivation. Although in practice it may become challenging, I feel my personality traits and values indicate that I also possess the moral character to stand by my convictions, meaning I now feel capable of moral behaviour (Banks, 2006:158) when practicing.  Being aware of this power vacuum should also help ensure that my future practice is anti-oppressive, as it is “based on an understanding of how concepts of power, oppression and inequality determine personal and structural relations.” (Dalrymple & Burke, 2003:48) Furthermore, X’s experience has enabled me to explore, resolve and reflect upon conflicts between my personal and professional values before I had to face this dilemma in a professional capacity. This forced me to consider my future practice, and in doing so I concluded that I may perhaps be a professional practitioner, however I aim to maintain some elements of the committed/radical approach.  Although my initial thought regarding current policy for looked after children was that it needed to be challenged, through the discussion that followed X’s experience and reflecting on how my feelings have evolved regarding the matter, I now appreciate that as a practitioner I am bound by the NISCC codes of ethics and policy and procedure that is in place.  However, I continue to identify with Bank’s view that it is important to hold on to your personal values in order to challenge laws, policies and practices regarded as unjust or oppressive (Banks, 2006:133).

The second issue that shall now be considered involved working with a service user, as opposed to listening to their experiences in a learning environment. I currently work as a support worker in a hostel for homeless men. My role requires me to work with and provide support for individuals who have a history of alcohol abuse and who have experienced a breakdown in family relationships. As part of my role I was also required to work with an individual (hereafter Y) who has a history of committing sexual offences, and it immediately became apparent to me that this was going to conflict with my personal values and beliefs regarding forms of abuse. Rightly or wrongly, at that time I felt that sexual abuse was a particularly despicable crime and that I may find it difficult to engage with and provide effective support to a perpetrator of this type of act. I was also concerned that my feelings regarding sexual abuse would be an obstacle in terms of my ability to empathise with Y. Therefore, I was faced with the ethical dilemma of whether to help Y, thus going against my views regarding abuse and oppression, or choosing not to work with Y, which in itself is a form of oppression as I would be devaluing the service user as a member of a group socially configured as inferior. (Gray & Wedd, 2010:160)

As a student social worker, I was aware that in choosing not to work with Y, my decision would conflict with the NISCC code of ethics requiring social workers to protect the rights and promote the interests of service users while striving to establish and maintain the trust and confidence of service users (NISCC, 2003:1-2). Therefore, if I was unable to manage my personal values and beliefs regarding this matter it would raise questions regarding my competence for practice. Furthermore, one of the key roles for social work practice is having to prepare for and work with individuals, families, carers, groups and communities to assess their needs and circumstances (DHSSPS, 2003). In keeping with this key role, I chose to accept Y for who he was and show him the respect and dignity of every human being (Banks, 2006: 33) as all individuals, regardless of their behaviours, are worthy of the profession’s skills and knowledge in order to improve their social functioning and quality of life (Conmartin & Gonzales-Prendes, 2011). In order to do this, however, I would need to demonstrate emotional intelligence and self-awareness, which is what we already know about ourselves, what we learn when encountering new experiences and what we learn through contact with others (Trevithick, 2005:43), in order to effectively manage my feelings and ensure I remained anti-oppressive by avoiding ‘othering’ (Gray, M. & Wedd, S, 2010: 161) Y in our interactions.

According to Butler, Knott and Scragg, “understanding feelings and emotions is essential, if we are to understand the complicated, often messy, emotionally charged situations which social workers are faced with.” (Butler, G. Ch.3 in Knott, C., Scraff, T, 2007). This is imperative as “failure to manage feelings compromises the balance between thought, feeling and action….what is required, instead, is the ability to harness all emotion as sources of information and to seek to promote a positive climate within which best decisions are likely to be made.” (Morrisson, 2007:5) By becoming emotionally aware of and critically reflecting on my emotions regarding sexual abuse, I now appreciate that perhaps my initial views regarding working with sex offenders were influenced by societal influences, the media, a negative perception and the stigma that is attached to perpetrators of sexual abuse. This enabled me to view the service user holistically and understand that he too may have encountered a history of victimisation himself (Conmartin & Gonzales-Prendes, 2011)

I feel this experience will have a positive impact on my future practice as it enabled me to develop my emotional intelligence and become more self-aware regarding my own emotions in this value conflict, meaning I am able to manage my feelings, understand them and also understand how they may potentially influence my future behaviour and practice (Bruce, 2013). Banks feels that practitioners only begin to realise the limitations of their self-awareness when presented with problems that trigger reactions inappropriate to the situation (Banks, 2006:157) and before I encountered Y, I was unaware of what my emotions were regarding sex offenders. However, as a result of this process I feel I have an increased self-awareness in terms of biases and attitudes that may have been previously went undiscovered (Conmartin & Gonzales-Prendes, 2011:1). This is beneficial in terms of my self-development and enabled me to successfully manage and reflect on this complex ethical dilemma, which is a practice foci for one of the key social work roles; demonstrate and be responsible for professional competence in social work practice. (DHSSPS, 2003) In terms of future practice, if I were faced with a similar situation I would refer to the previously mentioned Biesteck principles, with particular consideration given to controlled emotional involvement, acceptance and adopting a non-judgemental attitude, to ensure I am able to empathise effectively, while also providing the support that the service user needs.

In conclusion, when considering the points and literature above, it is pertinently clear that maintaining congruence between personal and professional values can be quite challenging, even for the more experienced practitioner. As modern social work practice moves away from the Kantian approach to a more bureaucratic or utilitarian approach, this will no doubt lead to further ethical dilemmas for practitioners to manage. Therefore, it is essential that practitioners develop and maintain practice that is critically reflective, emotionally intelligent and self-aware. Although practitioners are bound by professional values and codes of ethics, it is as equally important to possess a ‘moral impulse’ (Bauman, 1993) and maintain your personal values in order to challenge laws, policies and practices regarded as unjust or oppressive (Banks, 2006:133). By maintaining one’s own values, as well as the changing ethical priorities of the profession, it enables the practitioner to have a healthy anticipation of incongruence between personal and professional values. The result of this will be a social worker who is able to manage their own values, as well as understanding and applying the ethics and values of social work, which should be the benchmark for any capable practitioner.

References

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Bauman, Z. (1993) Postmodern Ethics, Oxford, Blackwell.

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Spano, R., & Koenig, T. (2007). What is sacred when personal and professional values collide? Journal of Social Work Values and Ethics, 4(3).

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Trevithick, P. (2005). Social Work Skills a practice handbook (Second Edition), Berkshire: McGraw-Hill Education

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If you have any questions you can reach me at hannah@criticalpublishing.com – as always we’d love to hear from you.

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