Decision-Making and Ethical Dilemmas of Child and Family Social Workers

Teresa Bertotti
1 Child protection services are characterized by the task of constantly balancing the need of protecting the child and the need to help parents, with the mission in order to achieve a better standard of living for children of evaluating the situations where problems of family life and parental behaviour create risks for children's lives. In their daily work, social workers have to make decisions taking into account different levels of judgement and evaluation, in situations where there is a
more » ... ctural ambivalence and no clear evidence of the 'right way' to act. Viewed from an ethical perspective, this uncertainty raises perennial questions about 'what is right" and "what is good" and professional and organizational cultures should contribute to help practitioners in dealing with these dilemmas. In Italy, the child protection 'system' was developed during the 90's, more thanks to a professional movement from the bottom, than to a wide and systematic national child welfare policy. The way to protect children in danger was based on a sort of 'patchwork of rules' that works due to a coherent and collaborative interaction between the Juvenile court and the Welfare system, social and health services; those principles allowed Italy to developed it's child protection system somehow akin to that of other western European countries. In this field, professional decisions about what is in the 'best interest' of the child are influenced to what happens in two macro areas, the organization of Welfare and the legal system which have being characterized by deep changes in the first years of 2000's. The former with cuts in spending, managerialism, subsidiarity, and separation between social and health services, localization. The latter with the demand of 'new' role of Justice related to a liberal view and guaranties for the people involved. The research proposal follows the hypothesis that those macro changes result in an incongruity between the explicit mission and the real context of child and family work, and that this increases the complexity of the 'normal' dilemmas faced by children and family services, and gives rise to some ethical implications. Following the structure of similar research conducted by S. Banks (2003) the objective of the research is to explore: • the impact of macro changes of Welfare and Legal system on the practice of social workers involved in child protection services • how social workers deal with the 'normal' or 'new' dilemmas arising from those changes.