This article is a reflective piece of writing on social work values. Therefore, it combines my academic and theoretical study with my practical experience. This article was written for an MA module on Social Work at the University of Salford.

What are Values?

Thompson states that values are what we hold dear. Our value base is that set of principles which underlines what we think, what we do, what we refuse to do (Thompson and Thompson 2008). During lectures, online research and practice based learning I have been able to consider the key values of social work according to the BASW.  It is important to distinguish between values and ethics here.  Values are what is important, or worth, whereas ethics are rules, principles or guidelines for behaviour – essentially what you view to be right and wrong.

Values and Ethics in Social Work
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The Core Values of Social Work

The five core values of social work are dignity, social justice, service to humanity, promoting equality and challenging injustice (BASW, 2003). Human dignity and worth includes respect for human dignity, and for individual and cultural diversity.  It includes value for every human being, their beliefs, goals, preferences and needs and respect for human rights and self-determination. 

Also, it may involve partnership and empowerment with users of services and ensuring protection for vulnerable people.  Social justice includes promoting fair access to resources and equal treatment without prejudice or discrimination.  It also includes educing disadvantage and exclusion and challenging the abuse of power.  Service involves helping with personal and social needs, enabling people to develop their potential and contributing to creating a fairer society.  Integrity means that you demonstrate honesty, reliability and confidentiality.  Finally, challenging injustice links into best practice - maintaining and expanding competence to provide a quality service (BASW, 2003). 

Values and Ethics in Social Work: An Introduction
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Non-Judgemental Social Work

This links into ensuring that as a social worker, you approach a situation non-judgementally.  I gained excellent experience regarding this through the Youth Offending team through meeting boys who had been arrested for assaults, TWOC and sex offences. I realised that although I may have been subconsciously apprehensive to meet people with these kinds of convictions initially, they were human beings who needed to be treated as respectfully as anyone else.  This links in with the first value according to the BASW, dignity and respect (BASW, 2003). 

The boys that I worked with on victim awareness and restorative justice spoke respectfully to me and engaged well in the questions about the DVD on bullying and traffic offences.  I feel that my experiences as a secondary school teacher were very valuable in this learning curve.  As I taught Religious Studies to teenaged boys for seven years, I was able to understand how to deal with their mindset when they were forced into a situation, and I am experienced in deflecting conflict.  I utilised some of these skills by redirecting one of the boys in a joking way rather than authoritative, and he responded well by completing the task in hand.

Tensions in Social Work

In my analysis of social work values, I have come across several tensions and dilemmas within social work that should be discussed.  Two central regarding this are working ethically in an organisation and our responsibility towards service users versus the responsibility towards others.   The first is working effectively within an organisation.  As a statutory social worker, it is essential that you work within government policy and legislation, which you may disagree with.  In the voluntary sector, you have to work effectively in an organisation according to their policies.  Another tension to be identified is doing what is right for the family versus what is right for society.  

There are times within social work when you need to utilise an assertive approach and tell a family something that they disagree with.  In some cases in child protection teams, neglect or abuse is so bad that it may lead to a section 47 child protection order.  The long-term team may continue to take proceedings to remove a child from a family situation for their safeguarding. 

Social Work: An Introduction to Contemporary Practice
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An Introduction to Contemporary Practice is the recommended course text for most BA and MA Social Work courses. It is understandable and well set out, with excellent references. This book is a must for anyone studying or writing an essay in this field.