As human beings, we all have our own values, beliefs and attitudes that we have developed throughout the course of our lives. Our family, friends, community and the experiences we have had all contribute to our sense of who we are and how we view the world. As community services workers, we are often working with people who are vulnerable and/or who may live a lifestyle that mainstream society views as being different or unacceptable. If, as community services workers, we are to provide a service that meets the needs of our target groups and helps them to feel empowered, we need to be aware of our own personal values, beliefs and attitudes and be prepared to adopt the professional values of our industry—and not impose our own ideas on our clients.
Values are principles, standards or qualities that an individual or group of people hold in high regard. These values guide the way we live our lives and the decisions we make. A value may be defined as something that we hold dear, those things/qualities which we consider to be of worth.
A ‘value’ is commonly formed by a particular belief that is related to the worth of an idea or type of behaviour. Some people may see great value in saving the world’s rainforests. However a person who relies on the logging of a forest for their job may not place the same value on the forest as a person who wants to save it.
Values can influence many of the judgments we make as well as have an impact on the support we give clients. It is important that we do not influence client’s decisions based on our values. We should always work from the basis of supporting the client’s values.
Activity: What are some of my values?
Our values come from a variety of sources. Some of these include:
Dominant values are those that are widely shared amongst a group, community or culture. They are passed on through sources such as the media, institutions, religious organisations or family, but remember what is considered dominant in one culture or society will vary to the next.
Using the sources listed above, some of your values could be:
It is important that you develop an awareness of what you value, as these values will be important in informing your relationships with clients, co–workers and employers.
The following is a list of common dominant values in Australian society. Tick the values that apply to you and then select the ten most important values you ticked and rank them.
(1 = most important, 10 = least important)
Click here for the list (.doc 12 KB)
Did you learn something about yourself that you didn’t expect? What is important here is your ability to be able to identify the values that are important to you.
It is important to be conscious of our values. This knowledge helps us to:
It is important to not only have a knowledge of your value system, but to understand that your values underpin your beliefs and beliefs underpin behaviour. How we behave is a reflection of our beliefs and our beliefs are a reflection of our values.
We are all influenced in varying degrees by the values of our family, culture, religion, education and social group. Knowing your own values can help you work effectively with clients, resolve conflicts and support the organisation’s philosophy of care appropriately. Wherever our values come from they make us the unique person we are today!
Answer the following and then think about what it tells you about yourself, where your values have come from and how people with different backgrounds and life experiences would answer these questions. There are no right or wrong answers—just answer honestly and be willing to explore and reflect upon your own values.
Reflect on your answers about where your values have come from.
The aim of this activity is to make you aware of issues that could arise in the workplace and the differing values workers can have. There are no right or wrong answers, so when completing this activity try to be as honest as you can.
Read the following scenarios and rate your reactions by ticking the box which best defines your reaction.
Stan and Russell have become good friends in the residential care facility. They enjoy each other’s company and like to read pornographic magazines together. Stan usually buys the magazines, but one month Stan did not come into the hostel for care as he usually did. Russell wanted some new pornos to read so he asked Penny the care worker to buy him some magazines. She agreed and brought some for him.
What do you think about Penny doing this for Russell?
Wayne is a 49 year old volunteer at an aged care home. He is an Anglo-Australian, with a disability. He works with Anh, the recreation officer. She Vietnamese and is 20 years old. Wayne and Anh have been going out together and Wayne has told Anh that he loves her. How do you feel about Anh and Wayne being partners?
Rate your feeling according to their ages:
Rate your feeling according to their cultural backgrounds:
Rate your feeling according to the fact they work together:
Dawn is a 50 year old woman with Downs Syndrome, and is a resident at a residential aged care facility. She masturbates in the common lounge area at the facility. She needs to be shown a private place to do this and it is your role to take her to a private room, next time she is masturbating. How do you feel about this?
Rate your response according to the factor of Dawn masturbating:
Rate your response according to the factor of your role as a worker assisting her in this situation.
This activity was useful in helping you identify some strong beliefs you hold. It is good for you to be able to reflect on these and think how they might impact on your role as a care worker. For example, if you think that all older people and people with disabilities have a right to express their sexuality, regardless of the way they choose do that, you will want to ensure their privacy and dignity is respected. Remember, clients have a right to receive a professional service regardless of the attitudes, beliefs and values they hold.
After answering the questions, you might find it useful to revisit your answers and identify where your attitudes have come from. This will help in preventing your personal attitudes from impacting on the way you work with clients.
Beliefs come from real experiences but often we forget that the original experience is not the same as what is happening in life now. Our values and beliefs affect the quality of our work and all our relationships because what you believe is what you experience. We tend to think that our beliefs are based on reality, but it is our beliefs that govern our experiences.
The beliefs that we hold are an important part of our identity. They may be religious, cultural or moral. Beliefs are precious because they reflect who we are and how we live our lives.
As a care worker in the community services industry, the pre-existing beliefs you may have could be related to stereotypes that have developed for you around issues like sexuality, alcohol and other drugs, ageing and disabilities, independence, health, the rights of people, your idea of health and what it’s like to be older and/or disabled.
These stereotypes could affect the way you interact and work with clients. This is because you have assumptions about what your clients can and can’t do for themselves, the way they should think about issues and what is best for them. If you make assumptions as a worker then you are denying clients their rights, respect and dignity. As a worker this would be regarded as a breach in your duty of care towards clients.
The need for older people and people with disabilities to express their sexuality does not necessarily diminish over time. The desire for intimacy can in fact intensify. The development of new relationships may occur as a result of living in a residential care setting or as people’s social networks change over time. The right to express sexuality is a quality of life issue and is part of one’s self-identity. The way people choose to express their sexuality may change over time in a variety of ways. Intimate relationships enhance a person’s quality of life and contribute to their feelings of well being. As a care worker it is important to respect a person’s right to express their sexuality in a way which is appropriate for them.
The word ‘attitude’ can refer to a lasting group of feelings, beliefs and behaviour tendencies directed towards specific people, groups, ideas or objects.
An attitude is a belief about something. It usually describes what we think is the ‘proper’ way of doing something. The attitudes that we feel very strongly about are usually called values. Other attitudes are not so important and are more like opinions. Sometimes our own attitudes can make us blind to other people’s values, opinions and needs. Attitudes will always have a positive and negative element and when you hold an attitude you will have a tendency to behave in a certain way toward that person or object.
You will need to be aware of your own personal values, beliefs and attitudes and how they might impact on your work.
It is important to consider the mapping of your own life – what have been some significant events that have shaped you, what qualities you admire in yourself and others, what beliefs are important to you, what you value and so on. Some examples of these may be personal features such as strength of character, helping people, respect, honesty, wealth, success, health etc.
What we believe are important qualities, or what qualities we admire in ourselves and others, generally reflect our life experiences and the values which we established in our early years through the influence of family, teachers, friends, religion, our culture, our education.
Given that all of us have differences which have been shaped by our life experiences, we can understand that we will all have different sets of values and beliefs. We do not all think about issues in the same way!
To work effectively it is critical to understand your own values and beliefs and to understand the importance of not allowing them to affect the way in which you work with clients. Remember they are your values and may be quite different to the values held by your clients.
In order to remain professional it is necessary to leave your personal values out of the client/worker relationship. This means that it is important that you allow clients to make decisions based on their own values and beliefs rather than decisions that reflect what you think they should do.
When we are carrying out our daily duties at work we rarely think about our attitudes, we are immersed in work itself and often remain unaware of just how different our attitudes could be to others around us.
As previously defined an attitude is simply a belief, and describes what we think is the proper way of doing or thinking about something. Attitudes vary in intensity.
When we feel strongly about something attitudes are called values. Attitudes that are less important to us are called opinions. For example we may feel strongly that older people should give up their jobs when they reach a certain age, so that younger people can get work. Strong attitudes are often very emotional and can cloud our judgement in meeting other people’s needs. This means that some people or clients may be denied their rights to be allowed to make their own choices and decisions about their life.
Our attitudes develop over time and not only reflect where we have come from i.e. the influence family, friends and experiences have had on our attitudes, but also how we will proceed with our life in the future. Attitudes are therefore a powerful element in our life, are long enduring and hard to change—but not impossible!
One of the problems with our attitudes is we often ignore any information which is not consistent with them—we become selective in the way we perceive and respond to events and issues—and lose our ‘objectivity’ about the world. By developing insights about our attitudes we reduce the risk of making decisions at work based on our unconscious, pre-existing perceptions, allowing us work more professionally with clients.
It is good practice to think about your attitudes and beliefs: it helps you to understand yourself better. It is beneficial to reflect on your life, identify some of the significant events that have shaped you, consider what qualities you admire in yourself and others and be mindful of what values and are important to you.
Your identity has shaped the person you are today!
Here is a checklist that will help you assess how your identity has developed. (.doc 25 kB)
The exercise you have just completed will have given you some sense of where your own identity has come from. Think about this as you answer the following questions.
One of the responsibilities of workers is that we do not impose our own values and beliefs on the people we work with. That is, that we don’t provide options and services based on what we feel is right, but that we work with people in relation to what is right for them. We should always remember that it is their life and only they should make decisions about how they should live their life.
If you try to impose your own moral values on clients, you are likely to make them feel judged and to damage their self-worth. Moreover, they are likely to reject you and to reject your values too. If you are able to accept your clients, with whatever values they have, you may well find that as time passes they move closer to you in their beliefs. This is inevitable because we are, whether we like it or not, models for our clients and we have a responsibility to be good models.
Regardless of who the client is, and regardless of his or her behaviour, he or she deserves to be treated as a human being of worth. If you respect your clients, they will, through feeling valued, be given the optimum conditions in which to maximise their potential as individuals.
It is essential that you are aware of your own values and beliefs so that you do not impose them (deliberately or unintentionally) on the people you are working with.
In order to leave your personal values out of the client/worker relationship, you need to aware of the impact they may have when you come across clients that do not behave in ways that you agree with—that is, clients who have different values and beliefs to you. You may find that with such clients you become judgemental or notice that you are encouraging clients to make a decision that reflects what you think they should do (based on your values and beliefs) rather than working with the client to come up with their own ideas about how to resolve the issue.
That is why it is so important to have ethical standards, so that we are operating by a professional set of guidelines, not what we personally think is right or wrong.
Activity: Professional values
Everyone is entitled to their own values, attitudes and beliefs. It is important to accept and respect that other people may well have different attitudes, values and beliefs than you. We do not have the right to expect that others change their values, attitudes and beliefs just because they are different to ours.
It is quite possible that you may face situations at work that either challenge or compromise your own values, attitudes or beliefs when working to support people with a disability.
It is not always easy to avoid communicating your beliefs and values to clients, but it is something you need to be very aware of. It can be very easy to influence clients in subtle ways. Simple things like body language, gestures, the way you say something, or even actions, can give a client the impression you agree or disagree with their values or beliefs.
A disability support worker, Sally, was assisting Harry, a client, to decide what movie he was going to see on the weekend. Harry loved horror films. Sally hated them. During the conversation Sally shook her head every time Harry pointed to a horror film in the paper. In the end Harry decided to go and see a comedy. Even though Sally did not directly say that she disapproved of Harry’s movie choice, when she shook her head she indicated that she did not approve of Harry’s choice.
The support you give to clients should be, as much as possible, in line with their values, attitudes and beliefs, while also in line with your community services organisation and the law.
The way that the above values and philosophies are acted upon in services affects the quality of the service provided to clients. The more these values are promoted and reflected in the way the service operates, the more positive the experience for the client.
Activity: Identifying the impact of values and philosophies on service provision
Phong is a 29 year old Vietnamese man who was injured in a serious car accident eight months ago and sustained a brain injury. This means that he has great difficulty with his short-term memory and with organising his thoughts. He also needs to use a wheelchair because of a neck injury. Phong is now living back at home with his family. Most of his friends don’t come around anymore and Phong hardly gets out. He is unable to return to work as a mechanic. Phong has been referred to a community access program, designed to help him deal with his brain injury and integrate back into the community.