Social Workers have a wide variety of values. Values are defined as “the implicit and explicit ideas about what we cherish as ideal or preferable” (DuBois, 1999, p119). This is stating that values provide a guideline for preferred behavior. The fundamental values underlying the social work profession include: (1) service to others, (2) social justice, (3) dignity and worth of the person, (5) importance of human relationships, (6) integrity, and (7) competence. What follows are some descriptions of two of these values, dignity and worth of the person and social justice, as well as examples of these (DuBois, 1999).
People have unconditional value and are inherently worthy of respect. The idea that there is a general quality behind all differences in ability, value, and circumstance, that qualifies people as having worth and value, is the foundation for the concepts of human rights. The United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) states that, “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights,” and may claim “equality of opportunity” and “equality before the law.” As social workers, the belief that all people have unconditional value is the basis for other social work values. Because people regardless of their situations have a right to self-determination and equal justice, and they deserve basic respect. Social workers may not approve of their clients’ behavior, may believe a client is an inadequate or selfish parent or spouse, or even a dysfunctional person. Still, the social worker must value the client and show basic respect.
To respect the dignity and worth of each individual means that social workers recognize the humanity within each person regardless of how that person may be judged by others. Social workers are reminded that there are times and circumstances when one individual, or a group of individuals have been judged to be less than fully humans. Social workers must resist accepting such judgments, and must insist that individual clients be treated with dignity and respect in recognition of our common humanity.
An example of social workers need for allocating dignity and worth of every person is if a social worker has opposing views of their clients. If a woman chooses to stay in an abusive relationship and has no children, regardless of the social worker wanting her to leave the situation, then the social worker has to respect the ideas and beliefs of the client about what she thinks is best for herself. The social worker may want to encourage the woman to leave, but the social worker needs to make her aware of the pro?s and con?s of staying in that relationship and allow her to make her own decision. Once the woman has decided what she wants to do, then the social worker should respect her choice.
Dignity and worth of a person is necessary in order to establish social justice. Justice refers to fairness. It is often misconstrued to mean simply equality or humane generosity. However, the concept of justice is much more complicated. The universal recognized symbol for justice, a blindfolded woman holding a balancing scale, symbolizes justice as an objective and fair balancing of competing interests. Social justice aims for the good of the whole community. It requires people to inspire, work with, and organize with others to accomplish together a work of justice.
Friedrich Hayek, who believed that social justice is either a virtue or it is not, coined the term “social justice.” If it is, it can be ascribed only to the reflective and deliberate acts of individual person. However, the term is not ascribed to the individuals, but to the social systems. The term ?social justice? is used to denote a regulative principle of order (Novak, 2000).
Social workers often work with people whose rights have been violated or threatened, whose privacy has been invaded, or whose basic needs are not being met. The most common issues that arise in social work practice include: racism, elitism, sexism, heterosexism, ageism, and handicapism. All of these populations have been discriminated against, are those perceived as less productive, and hence disruptors of the economic order. So they unquestionably need social workers to speak for them in the political realm.
Social justice takes many forms. An example of social worker advocating for social justice is social workers addressing issues such as: poverty and the needs of the poor and working poor within a specific community. The poor, and the working poor, deserve special attention, as poverty cuts across all boundaries and defies any attempt we may make to categorize the poor. People are poor because they lack economic resources needed to meet their basic needs, and they are invisible to many citizens. Advancing social justice means being involved at a variety of levels to create awareness for individuals to move out of poverty and to increase their access to needed economic resources. Since it can be agreed that an underlying bias against the poor exist within our society, advancing social justice also means advocating for the poor in each arena of social work practice.
In conclusion, social workers will need to pay close attention to their values with the advancing of the profession. There has been a decline in social workers in the pubic social services. Such shift suggests important questions about the mission of social work and its value base. To what extent should social work place primary emphasis on the poor and oppressed as opposed to social action, such as advocacy on behalf of the least advantage?
Certain value issues will continue to permeate the future of social work. Although some of these issues will change in response to new trends and developments, the fundamental issues related to social workers’ values will persist, such as the worth and dignity of people and social justice. Therefore, it will always be essential for social workers to examine these issues, which in the end form the very foundation of the profession.
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