Sunday, July 3, 2011


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In accordance with the five qualifying professional attributes, Social Work is rapidly gaining acceptance as a recognized profession. One such attribute is the profession?s adoption of a Code of Ethics. Similar to others, the National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics outlines the moral and ethical obligations of those professionals working in a social work setting. When an individual joins the social work profession and begins to practice therein, they are bound to the values of the NASW ethical code and expected to act within its boundaries. The guidelines are designed to assist individuals in making choices protecting themselves as professionals while guarding the integrity of the social work profession.

While no clear-cut definition of a good social worker exists, there are values and traits that are commonly shared by many in the profession. Personality characteristics such as compassion, empathy, the ability to listen, and open-mindedness assist an individual in relating to their clients in a productive manner. Many social workers also embrace a more liberal perspective regarding social welfare issues. This perspective places more emphasis on environmental and social factors in assessing an individual?s struggles. The liberal perspective also embraces heavy governmental influence in social welfare programs. While this is a prominent view in the social work profession, one does not have to fit this exact mold in order to be successful. Many conservatives also work in social work and make a positive difference.

The NASW supports two main values in regards to working with clients. A social worker should advocate for equal opportunity and client self-determination at all costs. These principles are at the core of all social welfare programs. When entering the social work profession, an individual must evaluate their commitment to these standards. In a situation where the professional fails to support client autonomy or provide information or means to an equal opportunity, he or she has broken the Code of Ethics and acted in an unethical manner according to her profession. Therefore, prior evaluation of oneself and one?s values is necessary when looking at social work as a career.

The most vital asset and social worker possesses is the ability to accurately know themselves. This skill allows one to assess a situation and perceive their own limitations in responding. In accordance to the Code of Ethics, the social worker must advocate for the rights of their clients. If one?s own belief system prevents the proper treatment of a client, it is their responsibility to recognize this conflict of interest and refer the individual to another professional who can fulfill their ethical obligations. This self-knowledge does not suggest insufficiency, as every human has the right to define his or her value system. However, self-awareness is necessary in order to properly serve the surrounding community.

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In congruence with basic awareness is the necessity to recognize one?s internal prejudices. If any, the individuals who are void of any bias are few and far between. Therefore, as in any other situation, the social worker must be aware of possible conflicts of interest and act in such a way as to honor the NASW Code of Ethics. However, even while recognizing this, it is vital that a professional respect all other humans, including differing belief systems and ideas. Realizing value in human diversity is crucial to serving the public in a manner that brings about positive change. Diversity is not limited in scope to skin color, as some tend to characterize it. Although the spectrum of color in the human race is a visible difference, many other variances exist within people?s religions, value systems, customs, and ways of interrelating. As well as having racial and cultural sensitivity, a social worker must respect all kinds of variance equally and restrain from judgmental attitudes. If allowed to occur unchallenged, these attitudes will eventually cloud the ability to effectively assist clients.

Personally, I come from a very conservative background, where core values often would conflict with the choices of clients. Growing up as a preacher?s kid, I have a lot of strong religious beliefs. Many of my acquaintances in this same environment have a very closed-minded approach to dealing with the ?world? and their ?sin.? Despite my personal beliefs on human shortcomings, my commitment in social work is not to fanatically attempt to convert my clients. My main desire is to serve those around me. If they see Christ in me and desire to find the source of my passion, I will respond to inquiries. However, as afore mentioned, I am not entering the social work profession in order to force others into my value system.

I also believe one does not need to possess liberal values in order to help the needy. I have a strong sense of human fallibility. Therefore, I do not see particular human shortcomings as any worse than others. This allows me to place my shortcomings and myself in the same category as those I attempt to assist. In some ways, this is very similar to the ideals of the early Settlement House movement, where activists moved to the place where the needy were, in order to serve them better. The ability to commit to bettering the lives of others, even while disagreeing with their choices, also serves to underline the guarantee of patient autonomy.

In addition to my commitment to racial and cultural equality, I feel that these values allow me to live up to my commitment to providing equal opportunity to all clients. One of the benefits of my religious background, even with the difficulties it brings, is the belief that all men are created in the image of God. Therefore, racism is not simply a violation of another human, but a violation of God?s artwork in creating a beautiful, creative world for us to enjoy. This belief allows me to love fairly free of the prejudice and ignorance that plagues the United States. It would be false of me to claim that I am free of prejudice. Everyone possesses ideas of superiority at some point in their lives. However, due to my upbringing and beliefs, I feel confident with my distance from egotism due to my skin color.

I believe that a wrong world-view can only change if challenged. To give an example of my own struggle with a common prejudice, I recently dealt very intimately with my stereotypical views of homosexual males. Our society is more tolerant of lesbian couples, and being from a liberal area, I was exposed to this lifestyle choice often and had time to come to peace with it. However, last fall I spent the semester in San Francisco working on the street with male prostitutes. Even as I was assisting them, I had this nagging disgust in the back of my mind. It wasn?t their profession, because we also worked with female prostitutes and my feelings weren?t the same. It took three months of contact with these men, coupled with prayers to ask for eyes to see God?s heart for these men, before I was able to walk away without the same attitudes I brought on my arrival.

I am sure that other issues will challenge me in my profession. Other sensitive topics will be raised that I have a high level of discomfort with. However, I am committed, just as in San Francisco, to put my personal beliefs aside in a quest to better the lives of others. This commitment will be stronger than beliefs and values, which can change with ease. Due to this commitment, I have a high level of confidence in my ability to provide positive change to the world around me.

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