The Argentinian writer, Jorge Luis Borges (who once described the Falklands conflict as “like two bald-headed men fighting over a comb”) once observed that despite the Koran being set entirely in the Middle East, there is not one reference to a camel within its pages.
In a similar vein, the Children Act 1989, which governs what we do when conducting care proceedings, makes no reference to social workers at all (and the much bandied about word ‘cooperation’ appears only once, in section 27, which relates solely to two Local Authorities co-operating with one another).
In large part of course, that’s because the Children Act addresses itself to Local Authorities, and puts the duties and powers on them as a corporate and administrative body, and occasionally speaks of ‘officers of the Local Authority’
And of course, social workers have not only to answer to the duties and obligations that fall on the Local Authority under the Children Act 1989 but also to their terms of employment, their line manager and their professional code of conduct. They have very firm guidance on Best Practice – there are reams and reams of guidance and strictures and stipulations they have to follow. And the profession is much more introspective and committed to doing the job well than the media would ever give them credit for.
But it did get me musing on whether one could import something like the Hippocratic Oath (or the Brownie Promise) into social work – one fairly short, pithy and clear statement of what society expects of a social worker and the code by which they should live.
[I did not realise until I began looking at this, that around 50% of UK doctors don’t actually ever swear the Hippocratic Oath - which is the common name for what is actually the Declaration of Geneva 1948 . Looking at its terms, I sort of wonder what Doctor would have an issue in swearing it, other than Harold Shipman. And weirdly the major omission in this from the Hippocratic Oath was that under that, the doctors also swore to refrain from seducing their patients or members of the patients household during visits…
AT THE TIME OF BEING ADMITTED AS A MEMBER OF THE MEDICAL PROFESSION:
- I SOLEMNLY PLEDGE to consecrate my life to the service of humanity;
- I WILL GIVE to my teachers the respect and gratitude that is their due;
- I WILL PRACTICE my profession with conscience and dignity;
- THE HEALTH OF MY PATIENT will be my first consideration;
- I WILL RESPECT the secrets that are confided in me, even after the patient has died;
- I WILL MAINTAIN by all the means in my power, the honour and the noble traditions of the medical profession;
- MY COLLEAGUES will be my sisters and brothers;
- I WILL NOT PERMIT considerations of age, disease or disability, creed, ethnic origin, gender, nationality, political affiliation, race, sexual orientation, social standing or any other factor to intervene between my duty and my patient;
- I WILL MAINTAIN the utmost respect for human life;
- I WILL NOT USE my medical knowledge to violate human rights and civil liberties, even under threat;
- I MAKE THESE PROMISES solemnly, freely and upon my honour. ]
Also, in looking at this, I see that some social workers have of their own accord devised a similar Hippocratic Oath for social workers and signed up to it themselves. A quick google search will turn some up. They are, for my tastes, a bit long and wishy-washy (and frankly, do parents and children care that “My colleagues will be my sisters and brothers” ? ), though I admire the spirit of them.
So, if you were writing, from scratch, a Hippocratic Oath for social workers, with what you wanted the professions ideals to be, what would you have in it?
I will pre-empt some of the responses that I might get (ha ha, the Oath should be “I promise to bully, intimidate, lie, cheat and deceive, and be a jackbooted nazi wherever possible” ) – let’s look at what we would want the ideals of the profession to be, and to have something fairly short and simple that would allow the public to know what was expected of social workers.
For my part, I think a starting point would be “I will always be honest and open with families, and my starting point will be to keep families together if I can”
I would also want “I will respect the people I am working with, and respect that I am intruding in their life and may have to say things that are hard to hear. Where they have problems, my starting point will be to try to help them.”
And “I will listen to the child and their welfare will be my paramount concern, and I will always remember that where it is safe to do so, the best place for them is with their family”
Would that be a decent start?
Or, in even snappier form “A social worker should Be nice, be truthful, be fair, be patient, be understanding, be sympathetic, be alert, be there”