Values: Moral will, practical wisdom and ‘doing the right thing’ in human services

Posted: 13/05/2016

We all have the right to be listened to, respected, treated fairly and, at all possible times,  involved in the important decisions made about us.

The world in which we live appears  beset with an ever-increasing range of social problems-high unemployment, substance abuse, family violence, childhood trauma and an increasing gap between those who ‘have’ and those who don’t. Networks of services including local government, not-for-profit and church-based organisations, are there to help the people they support live independent, meaningful lives that contribute to community wellbeing. The framework around these services becomes ever more complicated with both federal and state-based programs providing services within a local area like Bendigo where services have experienced significant changes over the last 12 months.

Workers who have the responsibility to operate in this complex environment do so with a range of stakeholders—the organisation for which they work, funding bodies, government departments, partner agencies, their fellow team members and, most importantly, the people they work with, known variously as ‘clients’, ‘consumers’ or, in some programs, ‘customers’.

Those of us who are employed to work in this setting can accordingly feel pushed and pulled in all directions. Achieving targets, maintaining records, focussing on quality improvement, managing tighter and tighter budgets, supporting staff and keeping hold of a job for the sake of our own families can cause stress, confusion, burnout and, in the end may result in poorer services delivered to the community. Common responses to this complexity usually involve an ever-increasing range of safety measures—policies, procedures and protocols that are designed to ensure duty of care is maintained, that risk is minimised, and that our clients stay safe. While these measures are important common casualties are confidence, diminishing skills and an over reliance on decision-making devices outside of the worker’s own control.

Great work still happens.

Yet somehow, in spite of all of this, great work still happens. Staff at services like St Luke’s in Bendigo manage to navigate their way through this complexity and stay focussed squarely on the most important stakeholder; the people they work with. How do they do it? How does anyone do it these days? Is it because we have magically found the right mix of services? Not really. This mix is evolving and just as confusing as ever. Is it because we have found the best procedures? Perhaps not. St Luke’s, like so many services, is always trying to minimise bureaucratic procedures and it remains, at least, a work in progress.

Perhaps it is because the workers who have greatest success in supporting their clients have found ways of articulating and exercising their ‘moral will’. This ‘practical wisdom’ as Aristotle would put it, allows people to make decisions based on what can be considered as ‘doing the right thing’. If workers can make decisions according to values that uphold the client’s right to dignity, self-worth and self-determination, the correct procedure will follow. These workers have recognised that the line between being employed by an organisation like ours and receiving its services is very thin, and that we all have the right to be listened to, respected, treated fairly and, at all possible times,  involved in the important decisions made about us.Shirres_A Black & White

Author: Andrew Shirres
Practice Development Coach



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