Do you answer personal questions to build relationships with youth? Do you give money to a young person in a hard situation? Do you accept a request from a former program participant to friend them on Facebook or add them on Instagram? Do you address it if you suspect a participant is high during the program?
Youth workers face ethical dilemmas like these every day. These are just a few that I heard about at a recent training on ethics and boundaries in youth work. Participants were asked to consider where they stand, and dig into why.
To examine the ethical principles and values that guide how one responds to dilemmas like these, we shared the Ethical conduct in youth work: A statement of values and principles from the National Youth Agency, in the United Kingdom. It outlines the basic principles underpinning the work, with the aim of guiding the conduct of youth workers and managers, and to focus debate about ethical issues in practice.
It is not a rulebook for every situation. Rather, it is a starting point for outlining the broad principles of ethical conduct, raising awareness of the multiple responsibilities (and potential conflicts) of youth workers and their managers, and encouraging and stimulating ethical reflection and debate.
The first part of the statement covers ethical principles. It states that youth workers have a commitment to:
- Treat young people with respect, valuing each individual and avoiding negative discrimination.
- Respect and promote young people's rights to make their own decisions and choices, unless the welfare or legitimate interests of themselves or others are seriously threatened.
- Promote and ensure the welfare and safety of young people, while permitting them to learn through undertaking challenging educational activities.
- Contribute towards the promotion of social justice for young people and in society generally, through encouraging respect for difference and diversity and challenging discrimination.
The second part of the statement covers professional principles. It states that youth workers have commitment to:
- Recognise the boundaries between personal and professional life and be aware of the need to balance a caring and supportive relationship with young people with appropriate professional distance.
- Recognise the need to be accountable to young people, their parents or guardians, colleagues, funders, wider society and others with a relevant interest in the work, and that these accountabilities may be in conflict.
- Develop and maintain the required skills and competence to do the job.
- Work for conditions in employing agencies where these principles are discussed, evaluated and upheld.
Using this statement as inspiration, participants wrote their own personal codes of ethics. We then revisited their dilemmas and explored how participants might apply their codes to them.
Which commitments most align with your own ethical principles, beliefs, and values? What is missing from this statement for you? How could an ethical statement like this help or hinder good youth work practice?
-- Kate Walker, research associate
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