An important thing to recognise regarding values in social work practice, according to the Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work (CCETSW) is that "values are integral to rather than separate from competent practice. Therefore there can be no such thing as value free social work practice. Such is the influence of values in social work practice that CCETSW set out six core values, that the student must demonstrate competence in, before she/he can be awarded the Diploma in Social Work. The first of these values is: "to identify and question their own values and prejudices, and there implications for practice".
It is not easy to recognise your own values, as often they are unconscious ideas or views, which can only be challenged or changed, when brought to the conscious level. Personal, societal, political and cultural experiences influence the values that an individual develops, so it is important to become aware of these influences. The values people hold affect the way they act and treat other people, without an awareness of this people can unconsciously act in what may be perceived as an oppressive and discriminatory way.
Another of the core value requirements of CCETSW 1995, and one, which highlights one of the dilemmas faced by Social Workers, is: "Promote people's rights to choice, privacy, confidentiality and protection, while recognising and addressing the complexities of competing rights and demands". (CCETSW 1995). To illustrate this difficulty what follows is a description of a challenging practice I have experienced, during a counselling session I had with a women whom I shall call Jane. Jane came for counselling because she was in a violent relationship. She described how her husband both physically and mentally abused her, and that she had a history of abuse from controlling men. She had returned to Wales from Australia where she and her husband lived, after he had once again abused her and she was is the process of deciding whether to stay in Wales or return to her husband in Australia. Her husband has two children from a previous relationship, for which he has custody, although this was not a particular concern for Jane, for me there could be a conflict of competing rights. Jane had a right to privacy and confidentiality, but the children had a right to protection. Confidentiality in instances such as this "...may be breached, where it is demonstrably in the client's interest or where there is an overriding concern for the rights of other people, when for example the behaviour of the client may endanger others". (Social Care Association 1988). Had my role in this been that of a Child and Family Social Worker the rights of the Children would have been paramount. As I worked with Jane I became aware of my own paternalistic values which were urging me to protect her, and wanting to encourage her to remain in Wales. Only by reflecting on my practice did I become aware, I could have become another controlling male figure and missed the opportunity to enable her to take control for herself.
Jane made her decision to return to her husband in Australia, I did not hear from her again for eighteen months, after which time she made another appointment to see me - this time with her husband who I shall call...