Friday 8 May 2009

Member Care: Pearls and Perils, Lecture 3

Ethics and Human Rights in Member Care:
Developing Guidelines for Good Practice
This third lecture at Fuller School of Psychology (February 2009) explored ethical principles for member care workers and sending groups as well as how human rights commitments are foundational for member care work. The goal was to move towards a trans-cultural/conceptual framework for ethics as a way to upgrade the work we do in member care and mission/aid. The emphasis on human rights is a new contribution to the development of the member care field. The lectures are available on line for free in written, audio, and video formats. We have included a few excerpts below from the third lecture to encourage you to download and watch the video.

Shining light on good practice. © 2008 MCA/KOD

Perspectives on Ethics
Member care is a broad field with a wide range of practitioners. As this field continues to grow, it is important to offer guidelines to further clarify and shape good practice. Any guidelines must carefully consider the fact of the field’s international diversity, and blend together the best interests of both service receivers and service providers. They also need to be applicable to member care workers (MCWs) with different types of training and experience. This is a challenging task to undertake, and it is one that must be done in consultation with many others and on an ongoing basis. Trying to differentiate between codes, guidelines, frameworks, and suggestions is just one important aspect of this challenging task.

Many types of professional ethical codes exist that can relate to the practice of member care. For some practitioners, these codes are essential and are a good “fit.” But one size does not fit all! For example, as a psychologist and as an international affiliate of the American Psychological Association (APA), I abide by the APA’s Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct (2002). But a skilled Nigerian pastor providing trauma training/care in Sudan may not find this code so helpful. 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 moral convictions only go so far. Further, appealing to another country or discipline’s ethical code can result in a rather cumbersome mismatch between the person and the code.
Guidelines for Good Practice
Stone one reflects the need for a generic set of guidelines for all types MCWs. The specific example given offers 15 basic guidelines for MCWs in the form of commitments. It focuses on the personal characteristics, backgrounds, and relationships needed to practice member care ethically. The underlying commitment is for MCWs to provide the best services possible in the best interests of the people whom they serve. Like all the stones, stone one is intended to be referred to regularly, to be discussed with colleagues, and to be applied in light of the variations in our backgrounds. Further, it requires serious reflection and a serious consideration of the implications for one’s life and work—these are not just “suggestions” but commitments. The “look before you leap” warning in Proverbs 20:25 is instructive here: ‘It is a snare for a person to say rashly, ‘It is holy!’ and after the vows to make inquiry.”
Stone two focuses on the crucial role of sending groups to responsibly support and manage their staff well, including their international staff, local/national staff, home office staff, and family members of their staff. It also considers the big picture of member care from recruitment through retirement and the commitment to nurture both organizational and staff health. The international model of member care in Doing Member Care Well (2002) refers to sending groups as the “sustainers” of member care. “They demonstrate [their] commitment by the way they invest themselves and their resources, including finances, into staff care. Sending groups aspire to have a comprehensive, culturally relevant, and sustainable approach to member care, including a commitment to organizational development.” (p. 18). Sending groups do well to offer quality services for staff and to expect quality services from staff.
Foundations for Good Practice--Human Rights Principles
This fifth stone is based on doing what we “know” is morally right to do. It shines light on our inner sense of duty. I believe that it must especially take into account human rights in a way which hitherto has received minimal consideration in the member care field. This includes understanding and protecting the rights of mission/aid staff and the people with whom they work, as described for example in international human rights documents (discussed below).
However, the primary focus of this stone is not just mission/aid staff. It is rather on the ethical responsibility—ethical imperative—for personal and group duty (often sacrificial duty) on behalf of humanity. It is about the duty and choice to risk one’s own rights and well-being in order to extend member care, broadly speaking, to vulnerable populations. More specifically, it is a principled commitment to improve the quality of life and seek justice for those whose human rights, including religious liberties and freedom of conscience as well as physical safety and economic livelihood, are habitually threatened through neglect, disasters, poverty, discrimination, fear, and persecution.
Reflection and Discussion
Here is one of the five "Ethics Sensitizers" from the article.
When is it ethical to deploy workers into risky areas?
Workers who serve in cross-cultural settings are often subject to a variety of extreme stressors. Natural disasters, wars, sudden relocation, imprisonment, sickness, and protracted relationship conflicts are but a few of the examples. The general consensus seems to be that sending groups that deploy their people into potentially adverse situations have an ethical responsibility to do all they can to prepare and support them. This thinking is in line with Principle 7 from the People in Aid Code of Good Practice (2003) which states, "The security, good health and safety of our staff are a prime responsibility of our organization." There are so many locations where the social/political situation is very unstable, where there is the possibility of death or serious physical/emotional injury in the course of helping others, and/or more isolated places where there are few supportive member care resources available. The very places that are the neediest are also often the riskiest.
Risk can also be understood as being part of one’s job description, and continuous with the reality that there are always risks in life regardless of one’s location or job. But to what extent should mission/aid workers take risks? Does one help victims of car accidents without having protective barriers that can prevent the transmission of HIV through the victims’ blood? Does one obey an organizational requirement to evacuate from a war zone knowing that there may be far more dire consequences to the nationals/locals that remain without the protective presence of international peacekeepers and providers? How much information about risk does one need to know in advance of an assignment?

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