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Ethics and emotions: social workers' perceptions and experiences of decision making in care proceedings

Kelly, Anne (2019) Ethics and emotions: social workers' perceptions and experiences of decision making in care proceedings. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent,. (Access to this publication is currently restricted. You may be able to access a copy if URLs are provided)

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Social workers engaged in child care planning and legal proceedings have a significant role in decisions which are not only complex but have far reaching and often permanent consequences for the lives of children and their families. These decisions are inherently ethically charged. However, practitioners' awareness of some of the ethical dimensions may vary from a sharply felt to a limited or tacit level. The emotional aspects of this work may also have a significant impact on the practitioner and on the nature and direction of the decision making process itself. The role practitioners undertake is also inseparable from the embodied nature of their work, their relationships with the children, families and legal professionals, the court processes, and influences of the broader social, legal, economic, policy and organisational context.

Traditionally, ethical decision making has been viewed as a rational analytic process in which emotion plays a negative and distracting role, serving only to 'bias' the decision maker. However, an increasing body of research indicates a much more complex and nuanced interplay between emotions and cognitive processes in decision making. There is a gap in research that brings together an exploration of both emotions and ethics in social work decision making and experience of care proceedings.

This study explores in detail how social workers perceive and experience the emotional and ethical dimensions of decision making in care proceedings. A secondary aim is to understand how they can most effectively be supported in this challenging area of practice. Qualitative analysis was undertaken on data from nineteen individual interviews and two focus groups involving social workers, senior practitioners and team managers.

The study found that ethics and emotions were inseparably connected for practitioners throughout the care proceedings process. There was found to be a complex dialogical relationship between emotions, ethical thinking and judgement, impacting on each other in a range of ways. Emotions could also lead practice to become more ethical through their significant role in empathy, compassion, recognition, relationship building and the ethics of care, and in creating new or deeper understanding. Emotional discomfort and dissonance were also important in leading to questioning and seeking dialogue with others, which would then provide access to different perspectives. The study additionally sheds light on practitioners' experience of the interface between the court world and the social work world. Participants highly valued informal team support and discussion, and the findings also underline the importance of spaces, whether temporal, physical, reflective or interactive, in containing and processing the emotional and ethical dimensions of this work.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
Thesis advisor: Kirton, Derek
Uncontrolled keywords: social work, decision making, ethics, emotions, care proceedings
Divisions: Faculties > Social Sciences > School of Social Policy Sociology and Social Research
SWORD Depositor: System Moodle
Depositing User: System Moodle
Date Deposited: 09 Oct 2019 11:10 UTC
Last Modified: 22 Jan 2020 04:12 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)
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