CYC-Online 58 NOVEMBER 2003
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Ethical dilemmas in Child and Youth Care practice: Our code of ethics reflects our cultural values

Frances Ricks writing in a long-ago issue of the Newsletter of the Child and Youth Care Association of British Columbia

Personal/professional awareness of conflict of values in child and youth care practice becomes painfully present when we encounter situations which contradict how we think things should be. Until these priceless moments jar us and sometimes awaken our thinking, we continue to mindlessly sit within our values which are thankfully congruent with our cultural values.

Because our personal/professional values are nested in and draw heavily on cultural values, we remain oblivious and unaware of how present our values really are and the extent to which they affect our child and youth care practice.

Values are those tenets or set of tenets that we hold as important; they are those statements about people, objects, or ideas that indicate more than or less than, better than or worse than, bigger than or smaller than, and so on. Values result from our judgements about beliefs, which are those tenets we hold as true. In child and youth care practice, values include tenets like (to mention a few):

The profession
Values, like these, are generally shared by the professional group, and they reflect values that are inherent in the culture of the professional group. You may not agree with all of the values, but you agree with most of them, otherwise you would not be in child and youth care! You would not be in child and youth care because you would not be able to act in accordance with the values held as important by your professional colleagues. In other words the rules (code of ethics or standards of practice) for how to act as child and youth care workers reflect beliefs and values of the professional group and its culture.

Different values
Recently, here in Canada, I was involved in an evaluation of a native tribe’s child and welfare project. This particular tribe had taken on the responsibility for child protection for the tribe and for government services. The government had contracted with the tribe to provide the service, and to allow for an external evaluation of whether the objectives of the project were being met. From an evaluation point of view it seemed fairly straight forward: simply find out if children were being protected! As it turned out it was not simple. It was not simple because of conflict in values between what the native culture thinks important versus what the dominant or normative culture thinks important. For the tribe, to protect the child means to protect the family. Put another way, child and family are one and the same. It follows that to take the child out of the family means not protecting; the objective of child protection is family protection. This value means that native workers do not remove children as quickly as non-native workers. They wait longer and work with the family in order to alter the circumstances.

Only when change is impossible do they remove the child. In terms of statistics, they look terrific! They have fewer removals, not because they are necessarily more effective in creating change, but because they have different criteria (values) for removal while creating change.

Acceptance, approval
An attendant value which serves the one mentioned above is that the native workers are accepting of what is. This does not mean that they agree with or approve of what is “they simply accept what is and begin their work in terms of what is. Non-native workers are outraged when certain conditions are accepted because they assume that acceptance means approval, or at the very least the absence of disapproval. For the native worker acceptance is just acceptance and it is important.

Clearly a difference in beliefs and values!

What to do
The obvious question is “Who is right?” The obvious answer is “No one!” The code or standard of practice which is right comes out of what is valued, and sometimes what is valued differs between cultures. This puts child and youth care workers in a dilemma. When the professional group and its culture dictates what to do, and this “what-to-do” is culture bound, what should child and youth care workers do? Worse yet, do child and youth care workers even know that what they do is culture bound? Are they aware of value conflicts that come out of value differences?

The first step” for child and youth care workers facing these dilemmas is to become aware of the contradictions between what is and what they think should be.

The second step” is to figure out what accounts for the difference. The differences might be that the rules are not known, or that the rules are known and not being followed. Alternately, the difference might be the rules are different and the rules are different because the beliefs and values are different.

This feature: Ricks, F. (1994). Ethical dilemmas in Child and Youth Care Practice: Our code of ethics reflects our cultural values. The Child Care Worker. Vol.12 No.10 p.8

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