3.1 Social work values and legal values
Social work practice is founded on and informed by a value base; however, this value base is uncertain and changing (Shardlow, 1998). It is important that practitioners are able to reflect on their values and prejudices and consider the implications of these for practice. The next activity requires you to think about this before going on to look in more detail at what is meant by social work values.
Activity 3 Values and prejudices
In the list below there are a number of statements. Take a few minutes to think carefully about each one and write down your response.
Children from single-parent families are at a disadvantage compared with children from two-parent families.
Gay couples should not be allowed to adopt children.
Parents should realise that their children don't always want to practise the same cultural traditions as they do.
People with a disability should have the right to determine where they live.
Old people are best looked after at home by their families.
Young people should have the right to refuse to consent to medical treatment.
Social work practitioners must question where they stand on issues such as anti-oppressive practice, sexuality and individual rights to self-determination. When does a commitment to user self-determination, for example, give way to protection against risk or to the rights of another individual? These are issues that must be faced if practitioners are to manage the personal experience of work and be effective rather than inconsistent, defensive and/or dangerous. By continually reflecting on and questioning their own value base, social workers can develop the awareness needed to be able to identify and take action to counter discrimination, inequality and injustice, and practise in a manner that does not stigmatise or disadvantage individuals, groups or communities. Good practice indicates that service users should be involved in exploring options and the decision-making process wherever possible – so, for example, disabled people should at the very least have some say on where they live. The law has a view on these issues, for example the House of Lords decided in the Gillick case that the ‘mature minor’ in certain circumstances had the right to make his or her own decision, including the right to consent to medical treatment.