My very favorite thing about writing this blog is that it forces me to think about questions and issues that matter a great deal to me–how nonprofit organizations can be powerful voices for social change, how weaving grassroots principles into organizational development helps us to practice what we preach, how social work education can be part of a movement for justice–that I might not sit down to ponder if not for the imperative to write at least a few posts a week. And the fact that some of my favorite people, in both the online and offline worlds, regularly engage in these questions with me, adding a great deal to my undertanding and challenging me in ways that my “regular” life does not, is nothing short of awesome.
And one of the greatest delights in this whole endeavor has been finding so many others, including quite a few social workers, who blog for many of the same reasons, and whose insights I value tremendously. One of the best resources I’ve found is Fighting Monsters, a blog written by a social worker in the United Kingdom whom I’m sure I’d like a ton in person, and whose approach to the profession, despite different areas of practice and obviously different contexts, dovetails with mine in some significant ways. Several months ago, Fighting Monsters had a post about ethical practice amidst budget cuts that I’ve been thinking about a lot, particularly in recent weeks as we deal in this country with the reality of a constricted federal budget and ongoing state cutbacks.
The post is written from a direct practice perspective, and it raises critical questions about how social workers should respond when budget cuts force us into patterns of practice that fly in the face of practice wisdom and even our Code of Ethics–when we have to terminate too soon, or deny services to those who should be eligible, or ration programs that we know could make a real difference in people’s lives. Those of you who are direct practitioners, in this national economic context, how are you dealing with the same vexing “no good alternatives” situations that the social work blogger grapples with in the UK?
And there’s a macro practice dimension to that quandry, too, when administrators make decisions to cut programs that abandon certain populations or problems, or when organizations aren’t paying their employees a truly fair wage, or when costs are passed onto consumers in ways that practically limit access to services. For policy practitioners, there are ethical questions involved in agreeing to some cuts in order to salvage investments in other areas, or being party to negotiations that pit different populations in need against each other.
The Fighting Monsters post focuses on the age-old dilemma in social work: Can we simultaneously be part of the system AND part of the solution? Can we ethically defend our participation in decisions that harm? Can the advocacy from within in which we engage serve as a salve for the wounds that we unwillingly, but undeniably, inflict?
Those are questions that should plague us whether we’re working in direct service or organizational administration or policy practice.
They are questions that cross sectors and obviously cross continents.
They are questions that should keep us up at night, and questions that should be foremost in our minds when we read news coverage of federal budget cuts or proposed state tax cuts or agency closures.
How do you answer those questions, for yourself, in this budget context? How does the Code of Ethics guide you? And how should our profession respond, as individual practitioners and as a collective voice, to the anguish of a social worker forced to make impossible decisions every day?