When thinking about my own personal values, I think of the customs and beliefs that I have developed through experience and education. Although these values have changed over time, I believe that they are pretty consistent with the NASW code of ethics and values of the social work profession as a whole. The preamble of code of ethics states that “The primary mission of the social work profession is to enhance human well-being and help meet the basic needs of all people (NASW, 2006-2009, p.401),” and that is exactly what I strive to do.
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
While I consider myself currently in a middle class American family, this has not always been the case. Growing up my family instilled in me the importance of working hard to achieve your goals, but despite their hard work my family too faced difficult financial times. I can remember times when my parents couldn’t pay their bills, had to work multiple jobs, and struggled to put food on the table. Having gone through these rough financial times, my family instilled in me the importance of giving to other people in need and to this day I consider my father one of the most generous people I know. He would give everything he had to help someone in need, whether he knew them or not. A common bias is that people in need are lazy or incompetent, but this is far from the truth. I have witnessed several families, including my own work very hard to raise their family, yet still struggle to make it.
One childhood experience that stands out in my mind is going into the grocery store with one of my best friend’s mother who was unemployed after losing her job of 12 years due to the store that she worked for closing. My friend’s mother had told us that she was going to get groceries and that we needed to distract the grocery stores doorman when we were leaving, because she had no money to pay for the groceries. Although I was aware that what she was doing was wrong, I knew she needed to feed her family. My friend’s mom did not steal lavish items as one would expect if you were stealing, she only took the items she needed to feed her family. During the car ride home, my friend’s mother apologized to us and explained that she is just too embarrassed to apply for Welfare or go on unemployment and that all of the savings she had prior to being unemployed is now gone. This has been a memory that I have carried with me since that day. Although I felt that there was little I could do at that time, I believe that it is not only my duty to help people in need, but societies as a whole.
I believe that government and society have an obligation to intervene and help families that are in need. I do not believe that any mother should have to steal food to feed her family. I consider it my duty to “promote national standards and policies for the delivery of benefits and programs that serve as a safety net for all people during times of poverty (NASW, 2006-2009, p. 364).” I agree with the NASW Code of Ethics that all people are entitled to the basic needs to survive. As a social work student, I feel responsibility to advocate for families in need and to develop programs that educate people on the need for welfare reform.
Schneider (1999) spoke of the need to reform welfare and for a shift in policy to focus on establishing universal benefits. I am in agreement with this as well as the need to “reject the perspective that views failure to develop wealth as a personal failure without reference to structural inequalities (NASW, 2006-2009, p.363).” I believe that it is important to promote education and fight the stereotypes associated with people in need. As a social worker I will provide services and counseling to families struggling to survive and I anticipate facing many challenges due to the regulations and policies that are currently in place.
Rights of Legal and Illegal Immigrants
Immigrants in the United States have faced a great deal of discrimination, inequality, and poverty throughout history. It is hard for me to understand how people can be treated so poorly just because they were not born an “American.” When I consider the United States, I believe it is a melting pot nation and that all people deserve the right to have their basic needs met despite their legal status in this country. I agree with the code of ethics that social workers need to be sensitive to cultural and ethnic diversity and strive to end discrimination, oppression, poverty, and other forms of social injustice (NASW, 2006-2009, p. 401).
Whether immigrants are legal or illegal, they are people too and should be treated with dignity and respect. Legal immigrants have to go through a difficult and extensive process to become a citizen, which I believe is one reason why there are several illegal immigrants living in the United States. I think that instead of developing harsher immigration laws, this country needs to assist illegal immigrants in the process of gaining citizenship, an education, and work. I agree with Padilla (2008) in that immigrant legislation must treat people equally, promote social justice consistently, and recognize the significance of human relationships.
NASW (2006-2009) recognizes that policies should promote social justice and avoid racism and discrimination or profiling on the basis of race, religion, country of origin, gender, etc. (p. 227). My views are consistent with NASW and I believe that the recent push for harsher immigration laws is a terrifying setback for this country. It makes me absolutely horrified that the state of Arizona would even try to instill a law that would call for police officers to check for immigration status and require immigrants to provide proof that they are authorized to be in this country. This law directly conflicts with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that “recognizes the right to leave one’s country as a basic human right (NASW, 2006-2009, p.226).
As a social worker I think it is vital to advocate for people who have little or no political voice and who have faced such harsh discrimination throughout history. Being that I am considered a white middle class American, I will need to always be thinking about cultural diversity with my clients. Although I would be obligated to report undocumented citizens, I also feel that it is my ethical responsibility to provide all people with the information and services they need to fulfill their basic survival needs.
Emotional Expression of the Client and the Worker
I entered this profession because of my compassion to help others. For as long as I can remember, I always wanted to help people in need. During high school, my urge to help grew as I witnessed my fellow students being bullied for how they dressed or what type of house they lived in. Although I was considered a “popular” girl, I did not like that some people were considered “unpopular.” I did not think that classifying and judging people to be better then someone else was fair or justified. I was friends with everyone in high school and refused to get involved in the bullying that was happening all around me.
It was during my junior year of High School that I took action. I spoke with my high school guidance department and expressed my concern with the targeting of the underprivileged or “unpopular” students in the school. I told them that I wanted to do something about the problem and begged for their support. I was granted permission to start an Anti-harassment Group, which I successfully did with the assistance of some other recruited students. Together we went out of our way to provide all students with friendships and support. We revised the school’s policy on bullying, created anti-bullying contracts, gave presentations to all classes (high school, middle school, and elementary), and spent time with fellow students who were often targeted by others. We as “popular” students discouraged bullying and worked hard to change the reputation of bullying being “cool.”
I carry this compassion to help others with me in practice and think that it is important for social workers to show emotional expression when working with clients. I feel that it is absolutely appropriate to express ones emotions and show compassion and affection when working in this field. Although I maintain that emotional expression is important, I believe that maintaining therapeutic boundaries with clients is equally important. I also agree with The Code of Ethics that social workers should not engage in any physical contact with clients if there is a possibility that the contact may cause psychological harm (NASW, 2006-2009, p. 407).
As the Assistant Program Manager of an Adolescent Community Residence, I ran into issues surrounding therapeutic boundaries and emotional expression of client and workers on multiple occasions. Adolescents remained in the group home for approximately 1 ?-2 years. Many of the residents in the group home sought out affection from the staff. When a resident was having a rough time, I felt that it was appropriate to give them a hug and reassure them that staff was there to support them and help them get through their difficult times. I felt that by using the emotional expression of myself helped to develop a trusting and therapeutic relationship.
As it is my desire to work with children and adolescents, I imagine that I will have to confront issues of emotional expression of self and therapeutic boundaries in the future. I think that in practice, I will have to be conscious and use my discretion about the amount of emotional support used while working with clients. I also think that it will be important for me to consider a clients race, culture, gender, past experiences, etc. on how comfortable the client may or may not be with emotional expression and physical contact.
Growing up I had very little exposure to religion; however, I was able to recognize the impact religion and spirituality has on other people’s lives. Religion and spirituality became a reality to me when I studied abroad in Thailand. Religion and spirituality was at the center of their culture, and guided their decisions and attitudes on a daily basis. Although I have limited knowledge in this area, enmeshing myself in Thai culture made me recognize the power spirituality and religion can have on people and society as a whole.
I also have witnessed the therapeutic effect religion and spirituality can have people. The NASW Code of Ethics (2006-2009) states that, “Social workers should obtain education about and seek to understand the nature of social diversity and oppression with respect to race, ethnicity, national origin, color, sex, sexual orientation, age, marital status, political belief, religion, and mental or physical disability. Although I do not consider myself a religious person, I think that it is crucial for social workers to understand the religious and spiritual beliefs of their clients. I am in agreement with Dale et al. (2006) that understanding the importance of spirituality, the nature of organized religion, and secular uses of religion is key in understanding the development of human character and social institutions. Without gaining this insight, a social worker may offend or disrespect their client simply because they are not aware of lifestyles and customs based in their spirituality or religion.
As a social worker I will encourage my clients to discuss their spiritual and religious beliefs and how it affects their lives. Based on my limited knowledge about this area, I will have to be extra cautious not to judge or stereotype people because of their religious or spiritual choice. If clients want to discuss religion and spirituality, I will be straight forward with them and let them know that I have limited knowledge in that area but that I am open to listening and learning about their beliefs and experiences with religion and spirituality.
Provision and Utilization of Social Services
I believe that the concept of social services and providing assistance to people in need is very important to the field of social work. I understand that the goal of social services is to help people financially, provide food assistance, disaster relief, medical services, and employment; however, I believe that the process to obtain these services needs to be streamlined. The lengthy and humiliating process that people/families in need have to endure can cause further emotional distress on the individual and family.
Growing up I have witnessed people too embarrassed or humiliated to utilize social services due to the stigma associated with it. I experienced this first hand while helping families at the Community Residence I worked at try to obtain the services they needed. Often times, I would wait in lengthy lines with the families I worked with trying to help them obtain assistance and then be denied do to the paperwork or documentation not being enough for what is needed, or the families to be ineligible for services. I believe that many people/families are being turned down for services based on the many provisions and specific requirements. Although some people/families that are denied services can establish other means to survive, not all can do so. I understand that there needs to be regulations on services; however, I do not believe that anyone should be denied help obtaining the services they need for survival (i.e. food, shelter, medical care, etc.).
The NASW Code of Ethics (2006-2009) maintains that “Social workers should advocate for living conditions conducive to the fulfillment of basic human needs and should promote social, economic, political, and cultural values and institutions that are compatible with the realization of social justice.” As social worker, I believe that it is their ethical responsibility to advocate for people in need and promote a person’s right to self-determination. I think that given a chance and the tools needed; people can make positive changes in their lives. Belcher et al. (2004) examined faith-based interventions and the liberal social welfare state and came to the conclusion that although faith-based interventions could provide some basic supports, the driving force for social change should remain with the state. Although I agree that the state should be taking responsibility, I do respect faith-based interventions trying to step-up the plate and fill some gaps.
As a social worker I believe that I will often find myself advocating for my clients need for social services. I believe that at times this process can become stressful and draining, as the current social service system is not meeting the needs of the people it is designed to serve. For example, if a family is denied for services because they make a couple dollars above the cutoff for services, I think that the system is being too simplistic and not considering the entirety of the situation. It is my belief that the social services system needs to take a more holistic approach instead of having extensive provisions, requirements, and cutoffs for the services.
Pro-life Versus Pro-choice
Ever since I can remember, my family instilled in me the belief that abortions were wrong and even considered them “murder.” As I approached the age of sexual activity, my family was very vocal about practicing safe sex and their views against abortion. My mother informed me that I was not a planned pregnancy and that although she was a teen mother and unprepared for the responsibility; she would have never made the choice to have an abortion. Despite my families strict beliefs regarding abortion, my values are different from my families. I believe that there are situations when abortions should occur or at least be the choice of the mother.
The NASW Code of Ethics maintains that it is the social workers responsibility to “promote the right of the client’s to self-determination (p. 404)” and defines that as being “without government interference, people can make their own decisions about sexuality and reproduction (p. 147).” Although I would not consider an abortion as an option for myself, I understand that to others, it might be the best option for them. Abramovitz (1996) pointed out that throughout history there have been policies and conditions that have forced women to make childbearing decisions based on the conditions of aid or public assistance, and I believe that is an infringement on their constitutional right of reproductive choice.
As a social worker, I believe that it is my ethical responsibility to support and provide information so clients can make informed decisions when considering an abortion. I would find myself conflicted if working with a patient who has had multiple abortions, because despite considering myself pro-choice, I also have great value for life and giving life. I believe that all people should have reproductive choice, but should not abuse the decision to abort or use abortion as a form of birth control.
Rights of Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals, and Transgendered People
Growing up, one of my best friend’s had “two mothers,” as she would say. Throughout elementary school and middle school, I witnessed how my friend and her family were treated and I quickly understood why she did not want people to know about her mother’s sexual orientation. We grew up in a small rural community and were not exposed to people of different sexual orientations or preferences very often. This friend was bullied and ridiculed in school by peers because of her mother’s sexual orientation. I myself did not understand why two women would be together or in love; however, after getting to know my friends family, I came to realize that one could not control their feelings or who they fell in love with.
Seeing the discrimination and prejudice that my friend and her family went through was very frustrating because after getting to know the family and understanding that it is okay to have different sexual orientations or preferences, I didn’t consider them any different from my family or anyone else’s. I had a similar experience in high school with one of my friend’s father being transgender and again witnessed a great deal of discrimination against this family.
I don’t think a person should be denied the right to love someone else based on sexual identity, preference, or orientation. I do not understand how people can be denied the right of marriage, a union between two people, because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. I agree with the NASW Code of Ethics that same gender and transgender individuals should be afforded the same rights and respect as all people (NASW, 2006-2009, p. 247).
I feel that a challenging circumstance that I could face as a social worker will be to address families that have children or other relatives who are LGBT and do not approve of them. As a social worker it would be my ethical responsibility to educate on the right of self-determination and nondiscrimination.