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Stephen A. Webb
Glasgow Caledonian University, Scotland
Mayeroff proposed that distinctions should be made
between caring for a person and caring for an idea. While
each may comb...
Concepts of "care" and "caring" make naturalistic
assumptions about the nature of social relationships. The
idea is that h...
Critical question
Is caring a generalisable disposition? Or, are
some people more able to care or be more
caring than othe...
The value of the caring relationship lies in its potential for
compassionate ethical reciprocity. It generates an understa...
In Britain one of the most prominent and persistent
research findings across the last four decades is that
clients really ...
Smith (2001) recognizes the important link
between ethics of care, inter-personal relations
and trust. She says that in so...
An important relationship exists between care and trust
Social workers frame relationships of trust by mutual proximity an...
The importance of trust in marking out reciprocity is indicative of
why people wish to be involved in decision-making. For...
I think it is inevitable that some relationships
between client and social worker rest on what
Richard Sennett (1980) call...
Gilligan (1982) identifies two frames as “the ethic of
justice” and “the ethic of care” that results in the division
of th...
An ethic of care, contradicts the Kantian rule and
duty bound ethics of BASW and the GSCC Code of
Conduct. (Webb & McBeath...
As Marilyn Friedman (1991) argues this involves a
fundamental commitment to persons [individually], often
at the expense o...
We’ve seen how these form part of regulatory regimes that
normalise and exclude marginal populations. Few would be
naïve e...
For Fiona Williams the source of ethics of care rests on
meaningful and valued reciprocity. She points out “the
care relat...
It through the constitution of caring relations and
not caring actions that ethical commitment
becomes significant in fron...
Sevenhuijsen (2000) contends that care should be
conceived as an inclusive democratic practice that
should be more central...
If there was more caring and
deeper forms of caring
relationships would there be more
democracy and deeper democratic
form...
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Care and social work

Care and Social Work - Lecture on the nature and role of care and caring relations in social work.

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Care and social work

  1. 1. Stephen A. Webb Glasgow Caledonian University, Scotland
  2. 2. Mayeroff proposed that distinctions should be made between caring for a person and caring for an idea. While each may combine aspects of personal action and intellectual and emotional attachment, there is a difference of balance between the two which renders it necessary to make a distinction. There are common links insofar as the quality of 'caring' is to be found in a commitment towards the protection, growth and development or achievement of potential of the other person. For Mayeroff, caring is also to be found in the personal characteristics (intellectural and emotional) of the person who cares: in the possession and use of knowledge; in moral values (such as honesty); or in personal traits. (such as patience and sensitivity) (Mayeroff, On Caring, 1972, p.2-13)
  3. 3. Concepts of "care" and "caring" make naturalistic assumptions about the nature of social relationships. The idea is that human beings lead their lives and assess themsleves in light of broadly ethical standards. This is derived from existential phenomenology, which holds to the view that human beings are essentially embodied agents. This means that human experience is not merely a representation of an objective world or a disinterested contemplation of things, but entails an active encounter with things that concern us. Caring persons are not merely particular entities, located in a causally closed universe and obeying its laws, but they have an engaged internal relation to their world and others.
  4. 4. Critical question Is caring a generalisable disposition? Or, are some people more able to care or be more caring than others? That is, do some people have intrinsic dispositions that permit the act of caring, in a way that other people don't have? If so, how can we tell who has predispositions to care and who does not?
  5. 5. The value of the caring relationship lies in its potential for compassionate ethical reciprocity. It generates an understanding of the value of ‘the other’, and ultimately, a structure of concern and understanding between recipient and carer. This kind of relationship occupies the central ground in social work ethics and is a primary commitment. The primary sense of care is found in the phrase “taking care”. Care should not be equated with protection, as negative freedom, nor should care and protection be coupled together – e.g. as in “need of care and protection” - in a regulatory framework. Rather, the activity of caring “as concern” and taking care occupies a definite ethical link between self and Other. As Sevenhuijsen (2000) points out “care is a social activity in itself and … caring activities and caring moral orientations are crucial for the provision of basic needs. (2000, p.14)
  6. 6. In Britain one of the most prominent and persistent research findings across the last four decades is that clients really value the caring relationship of social work. Practitioners frequently comment on how clients often need a few gentle words of encouragement, reassurance and someone to share their problems with. Personal qualities of warmth, trust and support are crucial in this respect. Bleach and Ryan (1995) point out that it is the human interpersonal qualities, rather than technical skills and competence that influence the degree of trust and satisfaction between clients and social workers. Similarly,
  7. 7. Smith (2001) recognizes the important link between ethics of care, inter-personal relations and trust. She says that in social work “material services will be accompanied by the need for interpersonal help in the form of emotional support, reassurance, understanding, comfort and guidance. These situations call for people to give something of themselves, to increase their vulnerability and to risk a dismissive, insensitive, and judgemental or ... uncaring response. In other words, these situations create the conditions for trust” (2001, p.300)
  8. 8. An important relationship exists between care and trust Social workers frame relationships of trust by mutual proximity and listening; finding answers and solutions to troublesome situations, encouraging participation and responding to grievances through supportive advocacy. This amounts to what Giddens calls a situation of “active trust”. That is, trust that has to be energetically developed handled and sustained. In the context of the caring relationship active trust is geared towards evaluating the integrity of the social worker. Integrity cannot be taken as given, it has to be worked at; this is perhaps why clients value stability and reliability in their relations with social workers.
  9. 9. The importance of trust in marking out reciprocity is indicative of why people wish to be involved in decision-making. For Giddens, this kind of trust helps initiate new forms of voluntary solidarity in risk society. (1994, p.186) Recurring face-to-face interaction that rests on trust is the basis for the voluntary supporting insight to the human likeness of the other. It has also been suggested that effective responses to fateful moments is deeply embedded in an interpersonal face-to-face context. To develop a caring relationship is to achieve a reciprocal understanding and thus validation of the care that is done. It is this recognition or understanding that consolidates sympathy between carer and client and thereby moves beyond the rule- based prescriptions of impersonal regulation, duties and obligations. Caring is valued, as an important ethical practice in it own right. (Harris, 2002)
  10. 10. I think it is inevitable that some relationships between client and social worker rest on what Richard Sennett (1980) calls "false love". That is, an authority of paternalism which operates a parade of benevolence existing only insofar as it's in the interest of selfish motivations and dominant vested interests, requiring passive acquiescence on the part of clients as the price for being cared for. Such a tendency, however, is not representative of the majority of front-line practice.
  11. 11. Gilligan (1982) identifies two frames as “the ethic of justice” and “the ethic of care” that results in the division of the moral field into the masculine and the feminine. Her observation reads the masculine ethic according to a deep “justice” orientation, and the feminine ethic according to a deep “care” orientation. Gilligan’s ethics of care emphasizes notions of attachment over equality, relatedness over individuality, and commitment over autonomy thus representing an important shift in the language of morality, while remaining concerned with the kinds of reciprocal relations featured significantly in social work.
  12. 12. An ethic of care, contradicts the Kantian rule and duty bound ethics of BASW and the GSCC Code of Conduct. (Webb & McBeath, 1989) 'You can do your duty, because you must do it' is how Kant formulated the categorical imperative. The usual negative corollary of this formula found in codified social work morality is 'You cannot, because you should not.' An ethics of care is quite different.
  13. 13. As Marilyn Friedman (1991) argues this involves a fundamental commitment to persons [individually], often at the expense of strict obedience to moral rules. ... the so-called ‘ethic of care’ stresses an ongoing responsiveness. The ethic of care is about the nature of relationships to particular persons grasped as such. The key issue is the sensitivity and responsiveness to another person’s emotional states, individuating differences, specific uniqueness, and whole particularity. The ‘care’ orientation focuses on whole persons and de-emphasizes adherence to moral rules. (1991, p.106)
  14. 14. We’ve seen how these form part of regulatory regimes that normalise and exclude marginal populations. Few would be naïve enough to deny that social work is inevitably caught up in relations of power in such circumstances. Social workers are given the capacity to act, as well as actually acting as social workers due to several legitimating powers. They are also involved in influencing, persuading and cajoling their clients and colleagues of the validity of their judgement or opinion. Thus, it’s important to recognise the centrality of power relations in social work. The point is that an ethics of care works against the grain of those modernist preoccupations of legitimising unequal power relations and normative moral rules.
  15. 15. For Fiona Williams the source of ethics of care rests on meaningful and valued reciprocity. She points out “the care relationship is often but not always an intimate one; the intimate relationship is usually, but not always, a relationship of care.” She goes on to say that the intimate sphere covers relationships based upon family ties, friendship, sexual relationships, as well as paid care relationships. A number of significant changes occur in the context of caring relationships in late modernity. To paraphrase Williams they are less about duty and more about mutually agreed commitment; they are less about achieving status and more about negotiating an identity; less about authority and more about consent;
  16. 16. It through the constitution of caring relations and not caring actions that ethical commitment becomes significant in front-line practice. The former is synonymous with reciprocity by entailing inter-subjective concern. Care implicitly arises out of the same logic as a concern for things and for other human beings. In caring relations people reveal themselves, in their unfolding and their becoming with others. (See Parton, 2003)
  17. 17. Sevenhuijsen (2000) contends that care should be conceived as an inclusive democratic practice that should be more centrally discussed in Third Way politics. (pp.27-28). She concludes that “when caring is acknowledged as a valuable social activity in its own right, we can further our sensitivity towards everyday forms of mutual responsibility and their failures and successes.” (ibid. p.30) This begs the question what is the relation of ethics to experience in social work? Could the latter, in some way, produce the former?
  18. 18. If there was more caring and deeper forms of caring relationships would there be more democracy and deeper democratic forms?

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