In April, I’ll be presenting “Reproductive Justice as a Social Work Value: Using Intersectional Analysis in Maternal and Reproductive Health Advocacy” at the National Association of Social Workers-NYC‘s third annual “Social Work in the City” conference. During this presentation, I’ll be introducing the Reproductive Justice framework to social workers and how it connects to the NASW Code of Ethics; provide strategies in applying intersectional analysis in reproductive health education, counseling, and advocacy; and provide strategies for advocating for Reproductive Justice at the micro, mezzo, and macro levels of social work. The NASW-NYC did an excellent job in choosing some dynamic workshop topics, so if you’ll be in the area, make sure you register.

But today’s post isn’t so much about Reproductive Justice as it is about ethics. In many professions, people work under a code of ethics. It’s the profession or an organization’s way of operating and presents guiding principles on how to handle certain situations. In the NASW Code of Ethics, the first ethical standard involves a social worker’s ethical responsibilities to clients, including the client’s right to self-determination: “Social workers respect and promote the right of clients to self-determination and assist clients in their efforts to identify and clarify their goals…”

Because I’m so immersed in Reproductive Justice,  I can see how the framework falls in line with a client’s right to self-determination. Whether a person chooses birth, adoption, or abortion, it’s my responsibility as a social worker to provide unbiased information and to help a client arrive at a decision based on their goals and their current situation. A choice someone makes may not be a choice you’d make for yourself. It’s a lesson you learn quickly once you enter the social work field or any other field within the helping professions.

Back when I was working for an agency that provided case management services, I worked with people from all walks of life. In general, I had no problems  working with anyone who was different from me. Except men who had a history of physical and sexual violence towards women and girls. Early on in my social work career, I would just ask my supervisor to transfer these client cases to another caseworker and would explain my reason for the transfer request. As I started to build my skills as a social worker, I learned how to focus on delivering the best care possible, in spite of my personal feelings. This may work for some, and for others there may be some counter-transference issues that will prevent them from doing so.

Do your personal values have to align with your professional ethics?

Take a look around, and you’ll notice that many people work with communities they find inferior, or they work with people who make decisions they find unacceptable. There are people who work in settings that provide abortion services, yet have to find a way to set aside their personal values in order to work with someone who wants to consider this reproductive health option. There are people who discriminate based on race, sexual orientation, or religion, yet choose to work in professional settings where they come face to face with their racism, xenophobia, and homophobia.

The most obvious question is “Why?” Why work in a environment where you see people as less than or you have a moral dilemma against a service you’re required to provide? It’s not always black and white.

Sometimes the ethical dilemma isn’t with a person you’re providing services to, but with the organization you work with. When your department requires you to sign customers up for a product or service that, based on customer feedback, isn’t useful. While you can push through working with someone despite personal feelings, when your organization’s ethics are in direct conflict with your personal values, this can lead to burnout and you may need to do some soul searching.

When your organization's ethics impact your personal values, you may need to do some soul searching. Click To Tweet

When your personal values are aligned with your professional ethics, you care more about what you do, and everyone benefits. Challenge yourself to identify the ways to connect your professional ethics to your personal values. Doing so can result in greater engagement in your work and a deeper commitment to values that you and the people you care for. Find a way to create a professional setting that mirrors your personal values back to you.

RAISE YOUR VOICE:  Do your personal values have to align with your professional ethics? Share below in the comments section.



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