- Tarryn: A social work graduate who works in the agency providing coordination, training and professional development for disability support workers. His job description also includes research and record keeping for the agency.
- Chris: Service manager, Tarryn’s line manager.
- Julie: Head of the Management Committee which auspices the service.
- Liz: Community Funding Officer from the government authority which provides grant money to the service.
Rows of numbers. Columns of numbers. Spreadsheets, workbooks, and notepads full of numbers. Tarryn could see them dancing in his head when he closed his eyes. Four years of social work education, focusing on human behaviour and emotions, honing his relationship skills and avoiding (at all costs) any of the equations, calculations, formulae and graphs which had driven him mad at school.
But the numbers had caught up with him.
Tarryn loved his job. He enjoyed meeting with the clients, listening to their stories, and coming to understand their specific strengths and personalities. He loved being able to invest something meaningful and tangible back into their lives- whether it was employing someone for a few hours each week to do their shopping, or providing a comprehensive round-the-clock support program.
He also loved the people he worked with- a mix of paraprofessionals and volunteers, of different ages and persuasions, who were united by their absolute commitment to supporting their clients wholeheartedly. He enjoyed coordinating their activities, training and encouraging them, and, most of all, he enjoyed watching them learn and grow and become confident and capable workers.
Most of all, he loved his boss, Chris. Chris was a compassionate, dedicated professional who helped Tarryn to believe in his own abilities through his gentle encouragement. When necessary, Chris also confronted and challenged him in a way which pushed him to be his best. Chris was always willing to listen and it was clear to Tarryn that Chris poured his life into his work.
The fact that Chris had cerebral palsy was almost irrelevant. At first, Tarryn had not known where to look or how to speak when he was with Chris, and he was sure that he had come across as a complete jackass during his job interview. However he soon learnt that Chris was as sharp as a knife and could cut through other people’s imposed limitations with ease. This was brought home on his very first day in the job, when he and Chris attended a meeting with an inept cleaning contractor who insisted on referring every question to Tarryn. The man spoke so loudly and slowly to Chris that Tarryn cringed. Eventually, with a twinkle in his eye, Chris glared at the contractor across the table and drawled “You can talk as slow as you want and as loud as you want, but I’m the one who signs your checks. Do your job properly or we’ll find someone who can.”
Chris had started as a client of the agency at a time in his life when he was working through uni and needed a lot of support. Eventually, he graduated and started work in the service, eventually becoming the manager. He was well regarded and widely respected.
Tarryn would do pretty much anything for Chris. He was a good boss and a committed practitioner. Tarryn knew that Chris’ disability added credibility to his role, but he had come to learn that Chris had the competence and dedication to back it up.
Tarryn was pulling together a detailed annual summary of the agency’s services and activities for the preceding year. The service’s triennial funding was due for renegotiation, and this report would be the crucial document which demonstrated their effectiveness and guaranteed a further three years of funding.
Things were not looking good. By some measures, the agency had been thriving- with a growing client base who depended on the agency as a central, consistent source of support. Client feedback had been gathered by an independent consultant, who had encountered almost universal praise from the people he had interviewed. On the other hand- during the past few years, the funding models and requirements had changed significantly and Tarryn found himself repeatedly confronted by the fact that many of their activities just didn’t “fit” with the new output-based unit costing accountability-driven service standards he was trying to apply.
For example, many of the agency’s services involved, in real terms, employing support staff to spend quality time with clients who were unable to get out and about in the community- playing board games, reading to them, in some cases, simply sitting and watching TV with them. Tarryn knew that some of these social relationships were absolutely crucial to people who had very little positive contact with the outside world. However all services needed to fit into criteria like “assisting in developing employment skills and finding work” or “delivery of direct care services” or “transport to and from medical or therapeutic appointments”.
It was also evident that they simply did not have enough clients (or “incidents of service”) to satisfy the current funding requirements.
Tarryn had alerted Chris to this fact and had been told to “make it fit”. Tarryn had gone through the stats again with Chris to show him that they had a problem, and Chris had been more direct- record the number of clients that were needed, show the service delivery as whatever the hell was required, be “creative” and “descriptive” and do it convincingly.
Together they had then gone to the monthly meeting of the Management Committee and discussed the current review and renegotiation of their service agreement. Chris had glossed over the problems and assured the board that further funding was certain. The Management Committee had accepted the report and praised both Chris and Tarryn for their hard work. Afterwards, Julie, the head of the Management Committee had met with them privately and reassured Tarryn. “Chris has told me that you have been a bit stressed about this process, knowing that sometimes we have to massage the stats a bit. Let me put you at ease- this is the same crap we go through every few years and it really isn’t a problem. If it makes you feel any better, remember that the Management Committee is the legal auspice of the agency- at the end of the day, we are the ones who are accountable for the money we get and I am personally telling you to chill out.”
Chill out. Tarryn felt decidedly un-chilled out, especially as he now had another layer to his dilemma. Whilst cross-referencing the figures from the service logs, he had tracked an odd discrepancy and come to realise that Chris was also receiving support as a client of the service. Chris was receiving about 15 hours of in-home support each week, which took care of his cleaning, washing, shopping, and even pet grooming and walking. Tarryn knew that Chris worked long hours and really gave of himself. However, he also knew that Chris did not meet the eligibility criteria for direct services- his income was way over the limit and he did not receive any Centrelink disability assistance.
Tarryn looked again at the lists of numbers, and he scrolled through the draft report he had prepared (in line with Chris and Julie’s expectations). He had an hour until his appointment with Liz, during which he would need to provide the report and look over the methods he had used to collect and collate the stats.
Maybe numbers were easier than people…
Students are to choose one person/character in the case study and write this assignment from the professional position of that person. Students are then to use ONE ethical decision-making model from the literature provided to identify how they would determine the competing ethical dimensions or principles inherent in the case, what professional positions and values are demonstrated by key stakeholders, what resources would be required to assist a decision-making process, what alternative courses of action are available, and what decision should ultimately be made about what to do. Justification should be provided for the final decision. The assignment should conclude with a personal reflection on the dynamics of interdisciplinary professional ethics. NB: This assignment should be written in first person.