During my as a social work student, I got chance to get involved in different aspects of people lives, which include their family relations, financial relations, ill health, drug dependency, homelessness, home modification, a crime such as abuse, and how all these aspects are affecting client’s day to day life. The more social worker involved in these aspects, the more they can do best for them, but there is always a risk of causing harm (Bell. J,2018). While I am doing my placement at FCCVI, I feel much clear about the Social worker role and AASW ethics. I faced an approximate ethical dilemma scenario at Workplace, Benetas residential age care. An approximate ethical dilemma is a complex situation in which there is a conflict between laws, values, and policies (Reamer, Frederic. G,2018). Although my scenario does not belong to FCCVI, I have chosen this scenario as it is similar in respect of work that is dealing with elder people.
Scenario discussion- Steve was an old man who came for few weeks to my workplace. I and other care staff found that he was always in a low mood and anxiety. He always behaved in a fearful manner whenever care staff tried to do meaningful touch to fulfill his care needs. Then one day, he disclosed to me while having a conversation that he is being physically assaulted/ abused by his partner, but he did not want to report it and request me to keep it private and confidential because he was afraid of having backlash from his wife. Because he was a family-oriented man, He thought this matter was private and family specified and don’t want political interference in it.
Why it is an ethical dilemma- I found this scenario as an ethical dilemma because there was a conflict between my Social worker ethics that is respect the client’s consent before disclosing the case to a third and maintain the privacy and confidentiality of information provided by the client. Whereas on the other hand, I was abided by organization policies that are Mandatory reporting of abuse (the age care Act 1997). This provision was made by the government to protect elder people from any kind of abuse. According to this law, any person in the service or during work has the responsibility for making compulsory reports to local police and the Australian Department of Health, and reporting abuse are compulsory to provide a safe and secure environment (agedcare.health.gov.au). I am feeling a conflict situation between legal law and social work ethics. I am facing tension to make decisions as a worker of Benetas, I am legally obligated to make reports of elder abuse to prevent further abuse and provide a safe environment whereas as a social work student I am professionally obligated to respect the client’s choices and privacy.
Possible actions and their risks and benefits- In this scenario, I had the option of two actions, one legal and the other is professional. Usually, legal obligations supersede professional ethics. But on the other hand, I am abided by Social work Ethics which entitles respect to the client’s consent.
The first possible action is to respect privacy and confidentiality and do not report abuse as its client‘s choice to choose to whom he wanted to disclose his matter. According to the AASW Code of Ethics (2010), I need to get consent before disclosing his information even if the information is required for the legal process. As a social work student, I need to take into consideration the client before informing a third party (explaining agency or legal requirements). I need to get the written consent of the client or a legal excuse (e.g. statutory requirement) before using his information. But in my case, the client doesn’t want to disclose any information with the agency and doesn’t need any legal action because of fear of his wife. I tried to explain to him, that legal action is important for your protection and better life with respect and dignity, but he express his choice by choosing not to report as he said it is his family matter and he doesn’t want to involve his family in political matters. If I choose this action, it may affect the client’s trust relationship with me as a professional and he doesn’t trust anyone to share his feeling.
The second possible action- is legal action to report elder abuse to the police or the Department of Health (age care act 1997). Benetas is also following mandatory reports of elder abuse. The aim of this policy is to take immediate action to address the issue and make a secure and safe environment for clients (agecare.health.com.au). I can report but this report is without client consent, no doubt this is for making his life better, free from abuse, but client choice superseded by legal obligations. As consequence, maybe reporting can make his life more complex as he may face family tensions as he mentioned that he is not ready to face counteraction from his wife which can be worse than now. By choosing this action I am violating my professional ethics of respecting client privacy and consent before reporting.
Deontological theory- this theory is based on the morality of action regardless of its consequences. According to this theory, an action is inherently right or wrong, bad or good under series of rules. The rightness of action cannot be judged by its consequences (Reamers 2018). In this Scenario where my professional ethics had a conflict with laws, I feel that sharing the client’s information without his consent is morally wrong. Breaching the privacy and confidentiality of the client is a wrong action, it can break the client's trust which can mentally affect him, and maybe he won’t be able to express his feeling anymore because this action can hurt his trust. Likewise, in this case, where Steve doesn’t want to get involved in the political sphere and doesn’t want to report his family matter, it's his choice and he should not be forced to report or get political assistance.
Teleology theory- this theory giving importance to the rightness of consequences. An action is ethically right if it has potential consequences (Reamer 2018). Every action has some consequences, and that action is ethically right which has more positive consequences. Among both actions, reporting abuse may have more positive consequences in which his further life is more safe and secure. The government will take the necessary steps to make his life better. but according to his statement, it can also make his more complex as his preference was not too involved in political interference in his family matter. Moreover, it can lose his trust relationship with me and he doesn’t want to share his feeling with anyone which can affect him psychologically.
Right-based theory- this theory is based on individual fundamental rights, for example- right to life, right to expression, right to choose, right to protection against oppression, unequal treatment. Preference should be given to the rights of a human beings. In my case, there was a clash of right to choose and right to protection against oppression. On one side, I should respect his choice of not disclosing his matter with any agency for legal action whereas, on other hand I should respect his human right that is the right to protection against oppression. This is the actual ethical dilemma I faced, need to choose between two human rights.
Ethical decision-making is an important aspect of social work professions. Ethical behavior comes from the commitment of social workers individual to engage in ethical practice (CASW Code of ethics, 2010). In day-to-day life, social workers faced an ethical dilemma that needs reflection and thinking. An ethical dilemma is a choice between two actions based on conflicting professional values (Linzer,1999). Social workers can use other helpful strategies and resources such as peer consultation, discussion with organization management, review ethical standards, doing research of professional ethics.
Peer discussion -In my case, I also adopted some strategies to support my decision. I discussed this matter with another staff member (Lan), she is also doing Master of Social worker from Deakin University by not disclosing the real identity of the client. I explained all the situations and clashes between client’s fundamental rights, also between my professional ethics and organizational policies. After a brief discussion on ethical complexities, I concluded that I should review code of ethics and do more research on ethical decision -making model which can help me to promote my critical thinking and reflections.
Code of ethics- when I made research on code of ethics, I felt that code of ethics was not clearly solved my dilemma but it helps me to better understand the ethics of privacy and confidentiality of client (AASW code of ethics,2010) and explain about significance of consent of client before taking any action (AASW code of etihics,2010). It is important to obtain informed consent from client before disclosing any information even if this information is required for legal procedures (AASW Code of ethics, 2010, pg. 27).It also states that client have right to choose to whom he/she want to/ don’t want to provide information and in what situation (AASW Code of Ethics,2010,pg.28). It is mandatory for social worker to maintain confidentiality in all cases, should have informed consent before disclosing any information to other party and should also make sure that other party should also maintain client’s privacy (AASW code of ethics,2010). From the above research, I conclude my thoughts that client has right to choose and provide consent before any proceeding.
Discussion with client about dilemma- after considering all the strategies, I thought to have a discussion with my client about my dilemma and I tried to explain him about two possible decisions. I describe to him that how reporting can change his life and provide security. But he again denied for reporting or disclose information to anyone probably because he said reporting can affect his family relations and he don’t want to seek any political interference. So, I thought if he is not ready, I can’t force him to report. I respect his decision but on the other hand I should also take some steps to minimize risk and not compromise my ethical responsibilities. We both agreed for counselling sessions whenever we meet at work (Benetas) so that he can share his feeling and thoughts. I provide him information about contact numbers where he can report abuse against him such as police, organization (Benetas). After this we usually met at my workplace (Benetas), had counselling but after a few months, he got discharge from Benetas and we never met again. I tried to call him, but his family usually respond to phone calls.
Conclusion- after my decision I observed some changes in him, my counselling sessions helps him to share his feeling and he was more relaxed, less frustrated and now he like interact with others. He also enjoyed having conversations with me. He shared his past life with all experience, from this I realize that I got success in building relations with him which is based on trust. I assist him by providing information about support groups and programs in their area for elder abuse. Client enjoyed the time we get to spend together. He stated that counselling session with me helps him to resolve stress in his life.