The publication of the enquiry into the social work role in adoption will invite frontline professionals to engage with thinking about ethics, human rights and moral issues in the profession.
At least, that is the hope of Ruth Allen, chief executive of the British Association of Social Workers (BASW), who spoke to Community Care after the enquiry’s publication on Thursday.
The enquiry found that social workers were not currently using ethics to inform practice, and concluded a “human-rights discourse in social work in relation to adoption is under-developed”.
Allen believes one of the first actions social workers should therefore take is to revisit the BASW Code of Ethics, because it gives social workers a “language” around ethics to use in day-to-day practice.
“If you read it through it’s a good document and it reminds you of a lot of the basis of social work, and I think it also gives people strength to feel that they can come together to maybe have their voices heard.”
Allen says one of the things to come out of the adoption enquiry was the idea that social workers “don’t have enough time to make sense of what they are doing sometimes”, which is where a better relationship between children’s social work, human rights and ethics could support frontline professionals.
“If social workers feel they are being put in almost impossible situations, having to take decisions that they don’t fully support, how do they get the strength and the solidarity with each other and find the platform to speak?”
Application of human rights and ethics could be developed in adoption to be more like other areas of social work practice where it is strong, such as mental health and physical learning disabilities, Allen says.
“It is a lot stronger and it drives the way in which social workers [in those fields] go about their practice.”
‘Connected with base ethics’
A consideration of ethics, morals and values would mean social workers remain “connected with their base ethics” in daily practice, Allen says. She adds it would be a step towards “not performing things in a procedural or technocratic way or because it’s part of [a] managerialist approach”.
“We’re seeing some improvements in those kinds of areas and the fact we’re doing this in a context where there’s lots of optimism about how social work can be recognised again for what it needs to practice with autonomy, with professional judgement, underpinned by explicit use of ethics as other professions do,” Allen adds.
Allen is “hopeful” that can be the norm, and the enquiry contributes to that.
“There is a lot of contention and criticism in the adoption arena, social work needs to be self-reflective about its part in that. We should celebrate successes, [but also] just hold up a mirror, look at it really hard and say ‘what can I do better or differently?’”