Ethics are very important and should be at the heart of everyday practice when working in children’s services. It involves thinking about your actions and decisions and responding in a respectful way, taking into account the individuals needs and requirements. People working in a childcare setting should have the child’s best interest at heart at all times. You may experience ethical dilemmas in your work which will require careful thought and consideration in order to achieve the best outcome. The ethical nature of working with children and young people is recognised by organisations and workplaces adopting a professional code of ethics for staff to follow. A code of ethics should be used as a guidance document for professionals working with children to help them cope with any difficult situations or issues that may arise in childcare settings. The core values that underpin a code of ethics are usually:
Modified from source: http://ncac.acecqa.gov.au/educator-resources/pcf-articles/Ethics_a_part%20_of_everyday_practice_Mar09.pdf. Accessed on 20/10/2016.
Professional boundaries are essential for developing and maintaining safe and appropriate relationships with children and young people in care settings. A caregiver can have a positive impact on the child’s future and provide them with good experiences growing up. However, the professional boundary can be breached if the carer misuses their power and takes advantage of the child’s trust, which could affect the child’s safety and welfare. Therefore, when interacting with children, professionals should be careful of engaging in certain behaviours with them and consider the implications and consequences of their actions at all times. The needs of the child should always be at the forefront of your mind and should influence the decisions you make in your role.
Professional boundaries can sometimes be broken without you being aware and this can have a detrimental effect on the relationship, the child and can also result in disciplinary action. Professionals working with children should be provided with guidelines, such as the code of ethics, to inform and guide them about managing professional boundaries. This will help them to understand the importance of boundaries, minimise the risk of any boundary violations occurring and encourage them to use their own judgement positively in situations.
Examples of professional boundary violations:
- Treating a child different to others and favouring them
- Being more of a friend or counsellor to the child than your actual role
- Meeting the child or young person outside of the workplace
- Using power or authority to harm them
- Offering money to a child or young person
- Buying them new clothing or gifts
- Talking to them inappropriately or about personal matters
- Using social media to interact with them outside of the workplace
- Asking them inappropriate and personal questions
- Offering them advice beyond your job role.
If you are considering helping a child or young person who is mistreated or disadvantaged, or offering them your advice because they have come to you wanting to talk, you should discuss this with your supervisor first. Be open and honest with your supervisor about your intentions to find out what their thoughts are and whether you would be violating any professional boundaries by doing this. It is important to do this before acting on anything as it could have serious consequences for yourself and the child or young person.
Modified from sources: http://www.trb.nt.gov.au/data/assets/pdf_file/0019/40915/Managing-Professional-Boundaries-Guidelines-for-Teachers-.pdf, http://www.childwise.org.au/page/28/professional-boundaries. Accessed on 20/10/2016.
Ethical decision-making model
The Australian Public Service Commission developed a decision-making model using the acronyms REFLECT. This was designed to help a professional working with children evaluate and deal with any conducts that are concerning them and help them to make an ethical decision.
- R and E stands for recognising a potential issue or problem and examining the situation
- F stands for finding relevant information, such as gathering facts and evidence using the Code of Conduct
- L stands for liaising and consulting with peers and supervisors to get help and advice with the situation
- E stands for evaluating the options, figuring out what the best thing to do is based on the information gathered and what the risks could be
- C stands for coming to a decision, considering whether you would need to get permission to do this and recording your actions
- T stands for taking time to reflect, considering whether you are happy with your decisions and whether you would do the same thing next time.
Source: http://www.trb.nt.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0019/40915/Managing-Professional-Boundaries-Guidelines-for-Teachers-.pdf. Accessed on 20/10/2016.
As long as you follow your organisations code of ethics and work within the parameters of your role, maintaining boundaries with children and young people should come naturally and you should be able to tell if something isn’t right before you take action.
How you can manage professional boundaries:
- Follow work policies and procedures and legislation
- Be aware of your role and work within these parameters
- Be professional, open and honest at work
- Treat all children equally and with respect
- Report any issues or concerns you have about a child or young person
- Provide a safe and secure environment for children
- Understand when something needs to be kept confidential
- Build a trusting relationship with every child in your care
- Supporting and encouraging children’s relationships with their parents
- Ask your supervisor for advice if you’re unsure about whether to do something.