1.7 The connection between definitions
You will have seen from these definitions that they are connected in a number of ways. For example, a commitment to working in partnership and to empowering service users also entails a commitment to anti-oppressive practice. It is important to be clear, however, that these values are not necessarily set out in legislation. For example, while you will find legislation preventing discrimination on the basis of race, sex or disability, you will not find similar legislation promoting anti-oppressive practice. None the less the course team felt that it was important to highlight that good social work practice is about more than countering discrimination. Anti-oppressive practice is about positively working to challenge myths and stereotypes and to speak out and act against the way social practices and the law itself discriminate against certain groups of people (Braye and Preston-Shoot, 1997).
The themes running through the course represent an overview of the values that practitioners need to integrate into practice in a clear, consistent and thoughtful way. Many users of social services are vulnerable and disadvantaged in some way, and often they have not been treated as equals because of poverty, racism, assumptions about gender, age or disability (Biehal et al., 1992). Working in partnership and in a way that counters discrimination and demonstrates anti-oppressive practice is essential if service users are to feel that they are participating in decision-making at every level. It is important to understand how disadvantage and inequality can impact upon a person's ability to participate in a meaningful way. The next activity gives you the opportunity to think about a situation from your own experience where you felt disadvantaged in some way and to reflect upon how you felt about this.
Activity 2 Respect
Try to remember an occasion, either in the workplace or elsewhere, when you felt at a disadvantage or powerless in the face of another's actions (this could be another person or an organisation). This could be something you remember from your childhood or an encounter with an unsympathetic doctor or other professional. Write down a few lines describing the incident. Then spend about five minutes making a note of the feelings you had at the time. Then consider what could have been done to improve the situation for you, and write down anything that could have been said or done that you consider would have made a difference to your experience.
You may have recalled a one-off incident or a time when you were experiencing difficulties over a longer period. Perhaps you felt distressed, ignored or demoralised. You may have felt threatened or oppressed by what happened to you. It may have been that no one was listening to what you had to say and you felt frustrated and powerless. A member of the course team recalled an occasion when he was given some disappointing news just before going into the meeting where it was going to be discussed. If he had been told earlier and in private, it would have been easier to handle. Similarly, if he had had a chance to say how he felt about the decision and had an opportunity to express his feelings, it would not have been quite so bad. You may have identified good communication, respect for people's feelings and a recognition of an individual's needs as some of the skills that would have made your own experience a better one.
For those who work in the field of social care and social work it is important to be able to reflect on the impact of intervention in an individual's or family's life. Sometimes, depending on how it is done, intervention may be experienced as a positive development; at other times it may be more negative. In doing this activity you may have also thought about the relevance of some of the themes referred to above, for example empowerment or anti-oppressive practice.
Finally, you are going to consider both the complexity in the nature of the social work task, and the nature of the social work task in a more general way.