Part A: The issue
The concept “problematization” is used in describing the processes of investigations of social phenomena that are taken for granted to get to the real meaning and its implications. According to Paulo Freire, problematization is a “strategy for developing a critical consciousness” (Montero and Sonn, 2009: 80). Bacchi built on the problematization concept and came up with a series of questions called “what’s the problem represented to be?” (WPR) (Bacchi, 2009). Using this approach, one can dissect a policy or any written text to get to the initial problem that gave rise to it. In this section one applies the WPR approach in the analysis of the Code of Ethics of Australia Association of Social workers (AASW, 2010).
The situation I encountered in the field involved an issue of scarce resources compared to the needs of the people on the ground. The money allocated could only cater to the needs of one household yet both households were needy. There is an unstated expectation judging from the way the Code of Ethics is written that the social worker will have all the necessary resources to perform his or her duties in the field, but once there, I came face-to-face with the reality that there is a severe shortage of resources compared to the needs of the community. Such a situation where a social worker is supposed to choose between to needy situations leaves him or her feeling bad irrespective of the decision made. The ethical tension between what the social worker would ethically want to do and what he or she able to accomplish is in stark contrast to the expressed value that ‘Social workers will maintain the best interests of clients as a priority, with due regard to the respective interests of others’ (AASW, 2010, Section 5.2.1, p.25).
Personal moral/ethical principles
I believe in serving the people, especially the underprivileged members in the society. One of the reasons that I chose social work as a career is that I saw the career path that would enable me to be in service to humanity throughout my life. My family struggled a lot when I was little, and I feel for the children being raised up in similar or worse backgrounds. My family background gave me a unique insight into the social inequalities in the societies and the predicament of the faced by people at the lower end of the economic spectrum. As a social worker, I am determined to ensure that as much as possible, I alleviate the suffering of the people under my charge, even if it means using my finances to do so. It was, therefore, disconcerting when I experienced the ethical tension resulting from the discrepancy between the resources available for the social worker and the immensity of the needs on the ground is a kind of silence as it is not acknowledged in the Code of Ethics (AASW, 2010).
In the code of ethics, the student graduating and heading to the practice of social work is expected to accomplish a lot serving the underprivileged in the society. In practice, however, the social worker finds that the conditions in the field are different from the ones he or she learned in the classroom or the one codified in the Code of Ethics.
The main assumption in the scenario is the unstated expectation that the government (both local and regional) have provided most of the resources and that the main work for the social worker is to coordinate the distribution of the resources effectively. Also, they ensure equitable allocation devoid of any form of discriminations as iterated in the Code of Ethics ‘Social workers will promote policies, practices and social conditions that uphold human rights and that seek to ensure access, equity, participation and legal protection for all (AASW, 2010, Section 5.1.3, p.19). The assumptions about the government’s ability to provide for all the needs of all its citizen are politicized statements to lull the larger population into electing their leaders. The gullible student will walk out of the classroom to a supposedly rosy field work only to realize that he or she will be forced to make hard decisions which will leave him or her morally and ethically offended. The discourse on the government’s immense powers to provide for all the citizen's basics remains a theoretical discussion with little practical approaches.
The problem associated with the assumption that there are enough resources in the field and that the social worker will have an easier time overseeing the equitable distribution of the same all started with political rhetoric. There are many voters, both well-educated and illiterates who hang to on to every word that exit from the politician’s mouths. It does not matter that the campaign promises are mere words on paper, with the politician’s intent being elected and throwing the rosy promises to the nearest dustbins. The well-to-do believe that the promises are being fulfilled while the people bearing the brunt of poverty suffer in silence as they lack the voice to push their agenda. The policies assumptions, therefore, go unchallenged and become part of the assumptions transmitted to the populace including the social workers.
The social worker who has to deal with the ethical tension resulting from a discrepancy between the expectations and the reality on the ground where he or she is forced to choose between various extremely needy situations. The choices that the social worker makes leaves him or her feeling guilty for not helping enough, yet there is nothing better he or she could do in the situation. Another missing element in the above scenario is proper explanation and clarification of what the problem faced by the social worker in the field which is completely different from the one he or she was prepared to confront.
Discursive effects: the social worker faces undue pressure to live up to the lofty expectation of the organizations in the performance of his or her duties. In all this, he or she has to do it in fairly difficult circumstances as everyone expects the social worker to be a miracle worker making the few resources available stretches and cover all the needy cases and at the same time live according to stipulations of the Code of Ethics. Subjective Effects: The situation undermines the perception of the social worker as a moral being as he or she is forced to neglect a needy case in a bid to serve using the scarce resources. The social worker feels inadequate in the performance of his or her duties, and he or she rarely has someone to turn to and share his or her disappointment and stress over the severe inadequacy of the resources. At the same time, he or she is unable to live up to the expectation of the members of the community further piling pressure on his or her work. Lived expectations: the pressure from not being able to live up to the expectation of the stakeholder results in stress which undermines the social worker's ability to perform at his or her best capacity and may lead to depression. Who benefits from the problematization? The agencies benefit the most as they offload their inadequacies on the social worker who has to deal with the sharing of the scarce resources.
The continued application of the Code of ethics, the status quo remains. The only way we can change the situation is through critiquing the provisions of the code for amending the same. During the formulation of the code, there was provision for its amendment on a need basis (AASW, 2010, Section 2.1, p.10).
The code of ethics mainly deals with the interrelation between the social worker and the client and problematizes the ethical issues faced by the two disregarding the crucial role played by institutions and government.
Part B: The Effects
The social worker works in a paradoxical situation and cannot avoid being involved in social processes full of conflicts. On the one hand, social work is conceptualized as a helping profession which involves the application of principled behavior with the express aim of liberating the service use (Goodwin, 2011). On the other hand, social workers belong to institutional regimes, with concomitant moral regulation elements. In this case, the social worker has to balance between the interests of the institutions that granted them the expert title and the people in the community where they are authorized to help. The social worker is duty bound to support the government in its policies and at the same time help the people in the community (Fraser & Moore, 2011). For instance, a social worker helping families might be obligated by the government to take the children away from their parents whether he or she thinks it is the right thing to do or not. It is therefore clear that the problematization of the conflicting roles of the social worker affects the government, the agencies, the social worker and the people he or she serves (Berman-Bieler, 2010).
In the exploration of the issue of ethics in the social work practice, it is important to take into consideration the effects of structural dimensions coupled with resource limitation. In most cases, a social scientist in ethical decision-making processes for social workers utilizes the one-to-one relationship model involving the practitioner and the client (Saari, 2011). The principles are laid down in the code of ethics which stipulate the ideals in the social work practice in the form of ideas which are abstract and universally applicable. The assumption is that if a social worker strictly followed the principles in the code of ethics and combining it with good decision making coupled with a technique for ensuring there are no harms, that the process will prevent the occurrence of ethical breaches. In other words, the code of ethics mainly deals with the relationships between the social worker and the client and any ethical conflicts outside this relationship is seen as outside the scope of the ethics. Fighting against restraining structures in an agency which the social worker does not agree with is seen as being outside the purview of the social worker, and it is not covered by the code of ethics.
In most cases, the practitioners and the agencies alike believe that most conflicts which are beyond the interpersonal relationship between social worker and the client are ascribed to political causes absolving the practitioner from blame of not working to find a solution for the same (Gordon, 2011). Following closely on this school of thought is the assumption that the situation in the society is equitable and that instead of finding means to overhaul the system all that is needed is tinkering with it (Powell & Murray 2008). It can be argued that the faulty fallacy of the society as currently constituted being equitable is an attempt at the agencies to maintain the status quo in which the interest of the agencies is to comfort the victims rather than finding a lasting solution for the social ills through encouraging fundamental changes in the society (Mulligan, 2010). Agencies and social workers have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo in the society, as it ensures they have a sustained source of donor funding. The practitioners and their agencies are, therefore, less inclined to deal with the broader issues of inequality in the society.
Scholars have argued that when a certain problem persists in the society, for instance, poverty, indicates a possibility of the situation conferring advantages to some individuals or a group of people (Hugman, 2005, p14). The concept of “problems” turns out to be a thinly veiled attempt at characterizing how the deplorable conditions such as poverty provide beneficial opportunities to some groups of people. Problematizing social issues enables the groups with vested interests a chance to work towards promoting the maintenance of the current conditions so they can continue milking the benefits from the situation (Murray & Powell, 2009). In perpetuating the problematization, of issues, the social workers frame them regarding individual rather than social or political concerns so that the practitioners can continue to gain the benefits from the same including financial, prestige and even authority (Bacchi, 2008). Framing the issues as a social or political concern at the macro level would in effect remove the power of the individual practitioner to solve them, and it means, therefore, that the social workers have little motivation to consider ethics in macro or politicized lens (Rönnblom, 2009).
The Code of Ethics encourages the narrow conceptualization of the social issues in the society as an individual rather that than based on the macro level by focusing on the social worker as accountable, culpable, and autonomous as far as the practice is concerned (Doeszema, 2010). The social worker has autonomy in all the decisions, and he or she is expected to apply cognitive processes in a bid to avoid breaches in ethics (Lister, 2010).
The agencies and social work practitioners problematize the issues of social ills in the society not so that they can find ways of causing radical transformations in the society to solve the problem, but so that they can retain the status quo and continue enjoying the benefits. At the same time, the practitioners frame the social problems regarding individual rather than on social or political concerns so that they can retain power and authority about providing solutions for the problems.
The presumption in the profession of social work that the practitioner should have autonomy while working in the field based on the premise that they have the requisite knowledge on what do to do and can choose to do the right things. The assumption harms both the service user and the practitioners (Bacchi & Eveline, 2010) It is important for the social worker to have a broader perspective of his or her work and acknowledge his or her weak points and also realize that he or she can make judgment errors and thus is not infallible (Bacchi, 2004).
part C: Addressing the Issue
The way a problem is framed determines the effectiveness of the policies instituted to deal with the problem. The starting point in solving social problems and the ethical problems inherent in the paradoxical environment that social worker's practice in need to first deal with the thorny issue of problematization. It would also be beneficial for the social work practitioners to move the fixation of the one-to-one connection with the client in constructing their ethical responsibilities.
There are various steps that social workers can deal with the issue of ethical dilemmas inherent in their practice. First, it behooves the practitioner to acknowledge and deal effectively with the paradoxical and structural factors that affect the work of the social worker and determine whether they are supportive or they restrict the practice (Bacchi & Rönnblom, 2011). Second, the practitioner is duty-bound to continuously engage constructively in questioning the framing of the processes that led to the development of the structures (Widding, 2011). Third, it is about time that the social worker moved beyond the dualism of structure and agency and realize that in as much as the structures affect the individual practice, the individuals also participate in the construction of the social structures affecting practice (Weinberg, 2008).
Since they assume on the liability of deciding how regulating conduct is characterized, social specialists constantly add to the development of how, as a general public, individuals should live with specific people who are restrained for generally living (Beasley & Bacchi, 2000). No accentuation on rectify basic leadership can turn away from the repercussions of this social commitment (Bacchi & Bonham, 2011). Also, what obliges that obligation is the potential mischief that may take after, not out of expectation but rather because one can never anticipate the whole impacts of one's activities, particularly in a calling in which different people are affected by those choices (Carson & Edwards, 2011). Whom does a specialist bolster—the over-focused on grown-up girl of a man with indications of dementia who fears for her father's wellbeing and along these lines needs him in a nursing home, or the man himself, who detests the possibility of losing his home and sees, conceivably precisely, that he is as yet fit for caring for himself?
Text to be Added to the Code of Ethics
The proposed text should be an addition to the Code of Ethics which tries to deal with the silent problem of dealing with issues beyond the duality relationship between the practitioner and the people he or she is serving. Also, the proposition provides the social worker with tools to try to solve ethical tension in the field.
Professional Life (6.0)
- a) Social worker will ensure that he acknowledges and deals effectively with the paradoxical and structural factors that impinge on the practice
- b) A social worker will continuously engage effectively and constructively questioning the framing of the processes that lead to the development of the structures.
- c) The social worker will endeavor to move beyond the dualism of structure and agency and realize that in as much as the structures affect the individual practice, the individuals also participate in the construction of the social structures affecting practice.
- d) A social worker will endeavor to familiarize self with the political and social issues affecting the practice and to learn ways of dealing with the issues so that they can comfortably navigate the world of social work.
Bacchi’s WPR approach is one of the most effective tools which provides a framework of for questioning policies to Bacchi (2009, p. 25) posits that ‘We are governed through problematizations’ and not necessarily through government policies. Bacchi came up with the approach referred to as WPR to help in the analysis of the problematizations (Bletsas & Beasley, 2015). In social work, the 'WPR' approach is an asset, or a device, planned to encourage basic cross-examination of open strategies (Grech, 2009). It begins from the premise that what one proposes to do about something uncovers what one supposes is the problem (needs to change). Following this reasoning, strategy recommendations contain understood portrayals of what is thought to be the 'issue' ('issue portrayals'). For instance, if types of preparing are prescribed to move forward ladies' status and advancement openings, the suggestion is that their absence of preparing is the 'issue,' in charge of 'keeping them down.
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