NUMBER 804 11 AUGUST ETHICAL PRACTICE
Personal relationships as the ethical context of practice has been previously identified within the field of child and youth care by students who studied ethical dilemmas within practicum settings (Ricks, 1997). These students concluded from an analysis of their dilemmas that ethical practice was less about the lofty determination of right from wrong and more about the common experience of endeavoring to be personal while engaging in a process of ethical reasoning, moral thinking, and personal determination of what matters. Most importantly, they concluded that ethical endeavor requires being able to act on that determination. The following examples illustrate how these students had the common experience of not being able to act on doing the right thing for reasons of personal fear. These examples clearly exemplify how the contextual factors influence how child and youth practitioners respond, even when knowing the right thing to do.
Helen was a student in a practicum setting that involved the care of young children. After observing a drunken father pick up his daughter a number of times she reported this to the owner/director. The director said she would take care of it. The situation worsened and the student said nothing more as she feared for her practicum and potential job opportunity.
A female employee in a center for emotionally disturbed children was putting up with sexual overtures from an immediate supervisor. She was a single mother who needed the employment. The supervisor suggested one day that he could help her get a supervisory position, and this was the last straw. She went to the director of the agency who refused to believe that his supervisor would be inappropriate and dismissed her allegations. Further he suggested that she needed a change in attitude. She let it drop and began looking for a new position.
A group of workers in a social services agency were sitting around at lunch engaged in serious gossip about other workers not present. The nature of the discussion took the form of unsubstantiated accusations of unprofessional and unethical behavior. It was agreed that such behavior should not be tolerated. One member of the group said that these accusations were not substantiated and that the group was perpetrating unprofessional and unethical behavior by participating in this discussion. This was followed by silence and soon the group broke up. The outspoken worker stopped going to the lunchroom.
Being able to take a personal stance and act on that stance in ethical practice raises questions as to the relevance of rules that are embedded in codes of ethics or standards of practice. We argued earlier that codified rules of what to do in particular cases, and cases of like kind, gets us off the hook of moral endeavor (Finn, 1994). Adherence to codified rules does not necessarily require self-awareness or accountability for taking a moral stance. It simply requires learning the rules and following them, whereupon we may fall prey to being lulled to sleep as we methodically attempt to capture similarities across cases and avoid the unique complexities of the situation at hand. In the earlier stories it is apparent that all three people could have spoken out or done something, and they did not.
Frances Ricks and Gerrard Bellefeuille
Ricks, F. and Bellefeuille, G. (2003) Knowing: The Critical Error of Ethics in Family Work. Co-published simultaneously in Child & Youth Services (The Haworth Press, Inc.) Vol. 25, No. 1/2,2003, pp. 117-130; and: Garfat, T. (Ed) A Child and Youth Care Approach to Working with Families. Binghamton: The Haworth Press, Inc., pp. 120-121.