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ONLINE JOURNAL OF THE INTERNATIONAL CHILD AND YOUTH CARE NETWORK (CYC-Net) – ISSN 1605-7406

ISSUE 60 JANUARY 2004 •  CONTENTS •  HOME PAGE

the profession

Taking care of our professional Code of Ethics

Jackie Winfield

A rusty car filled with holes spews dark smoke from its exhaust pipe as it splutters slowly down the road. Perhaps the car is very old, but even so, it is likely that regular maintenance would have kept it in better condition. Gardens too need maintenance — the weeds need to be pulled up, soil needs to be fertilized and the grass needs to be cut. Without maintenance, our cars, bikes, homes, gardens, tools, roads, clothes – and even our own bodies– deteriorate and fall into states of disrepair. When we fail to take care of things properly, they become less effective in doing what they are supposed to be doing.

On the other hand, when we value something, we invest in it. We give our effort, time and sometimes money to maintain it in optimal condition. There is a cost involved.

The child and youth care code of ethics contains the clause: “I have the right and obligation to share in the maintenance of the ethics of my profession.” As child and youth care workers, how can we maintain our code of ethics and keep it functional and effective? What are the signs that maintenance is needed? What costs are involved? Are we prepared to pay the price?

Our right and obligation
As professionals, each one of us has the authority and is entitled to be part of ensuring the continuation of ethical practice and contributing to its implementation. Effective maintenance of the code of ethics raises standards of child and youth care work, increases the quality of our profession and contributes to the positive development and healing of children and youth at risk. We are required to support ethical practice, to contribute to discussions about professional ethics, to challenge others who violate the code, to ensure that this tool remains sharp and relevant and effective, so that our practice does not endanger young people, and the way in which we work does not become something ugly, leaking, full of weeds and sluggish.

“Been there, done that, got the ‘I’m ethical’ t-shirt?
In her paper about developing professional ethics for child and youth care work, Mattingly (1992) mentions some sessions on ethics which she conducted at professional meetings. Participants expressed some strong views including the following: “Since we are already concerned practitioners and largely benevolent persons perhaps ethics discussions are a very useful concern. Those who are serious practitioners are already ethical. Those who ‘don’t care’ won’t be influenced very much.”

The suggestion being made here is that once we’ve got something right, there’s no need to give it any further attention. An attitude of “been there, done that”, results in a type of complacency whereby people stop questioning and challenging themselves. And what about those who don’t care? What should we be doing about them? Do they have a part to play in the field of child and youth care? If so, what is that role and how can we help them to care, for what is child and youth care without care?

Effective maintenance of our code of ethics means that we need to give conscious attention to ethical issues and not take things for granted. Societies change, laws and policies change, child and youth care workers change, young people change … perhaps, sometimes, code of ethics need to change too!

When was the last time you read and thought about our code of ethics? Do you ever analyse incidents in relation to ethics? Does the team at your organization engage in debates about ethical issues? Our commitment to ethical practice should be an ongoing and dynamic process. Codes of ethics do not provide simple answers to the complex questions we face in dealing with human beings. Often, there is a myriad of possibilities, and one of the advantages of strong teams is that they provide opportunities for people to give input from diverse viewpoints, to discuss and to disagree!

Back to gardening…
Maintaining your garden can be a very messy business. Often, once you start working on it, it looks a whole lot worse for a while before it starts looking better. Effective maintenance of our professional code might be a little messy too. Perhaps, some of us need to be shifted out of our comfort zones and start thinking more critically about what we do as individuals and organizations. Perhaps, we need to debate some of the thorny issues we face in our child and youth care work and be prepared to disagree.

Let us take proper care of our code of ethics. Professional ethics are more important than “nice manners”. They are one of the central keys to effective work with troubled young people and families.

 
This feature: Winfield, J. (2003) Taking Care of our Professional Code of Ethics. Child & Youth Care 21 (10) p.23