Monday 23 April 2007

Thinking "Ethically"

We all want to do a good job
at managing and supporting our staff.
Ethical member care involves more than identifying the right ethical guidelines and then simply applying them. Rather it is fundamentally a way of thinking through problems, our practices, and the possible consequences of our actions. It is a mentality. And it is a mentality which develops over time through training, experience, and reviewing various scenarios with others.
Examples for Member Care Workers (MCWs)
Before we send an email response to someone’s question about a child’s misbehavior, a depressed team member, or a conflict with an organizational policy, we do well to “think ethically”. We pause and ask ourselves: who may be seeing our communications, now and in the future; do the communication exchanges need to be encrypted; am I responding informally as a colleague or “officially” on behalf of an organization or as an MCW; do I have enough information to offer input; how accurate is the information I have; should I consult with anyone about the situation; which ethical guidelines are relevant; and what may be the consequences of my response/advice? Remember, there is always an ethical context and an ethical mentality that accompany our member care work!

Many other types of ethical issues get stirred up in mission/aid settings:

  • assessing physical/mental disabilities during selection, including those of children
    (e.g., whether hiring, locating, or promoting staff is based on such disabilities)
  • determining who has access to personnel files
    (e.g., whether team leaders have access to team members personnel files, especially “negative” information)
  • working in stressful settings with limited supervision, contingency plans, and personal debriefing
    (e.g., whether senders can support staff adequately in risky, disaster settings, or in longer-term isolated settings)
  • consulting with people with whom one has many types of social/work relationships
    (e.g., whether to offer conflict mediation to an interagency group that includes people from your own agency)
  • confronting unhealthy practices of leaders and other staff
    (e.g., whether certain lifestyle choices are private affairs, and how to protect staff that point out problems)

    It is important for sending organizations and MCWs to anticipate and discuss such issues together.

We Need Guidelines

Many types of professional ethical guidelines—codes—exist that relate to the practice of member care. Such ethical codes are primarily relevant for the disciplines and countries for which they were intended. Yet many MCWs enter the member care field via a combination of their life experiences and informal training, and are not part of a professional association with a written ethics code. Common sense and one’s sense of morality only go so far. As does appealing to another country’s or discipline’s ethical code, which can result in a rather cumbersome match between the person and the code.

Guidelines exist for four purposes:
· to emphasize quality of services by senders and MCWs
· to encourage ongoing development for MCWs and senders
· to educate those who are using/providing MCW services
· to protect service receivers via safeguards.
Next week we'll list a set of 15 Guidelines to help us think and respond ethically in our work.
Reflection and Discussion
  • Which set of ethical guidelines do you follow in your member care work?
  • Think of one situation in which having an "ethical mentality" (i.e. thinking through the issues and consequences) was crucial for providing quality services.

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