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Social workers’ moral dilemmas working with outreached clients: international qualitative research


A couple of years ago several European universities formed a network aimed at enhancing cooperation in international research. The first research focused on the outreach approach in social work. The term "outreach" is meant to describe certain methods which a social worker uses in order to reach the most excluded clients (such as lonely elderly people, street children, etc.). The aim of the research: to investigate what moral dilemmas social workers encounter while using outreach method in their work. Researchers of 4 European universities (Utrecht, Berlin, Tartu, Vilnius) conducted 10 half-structured interviews with social workers who use outreach taking as a base the same research questions; content analysis was applied for the data processing. Few moral dilemmas in using outreach were identified: to obey a rule or to break it (on behalf of a relationship with a client); to justify a client or to condemn; can help be compulsory; closeness or distance: should we "live the same life"; the interests of an institution or the ones of a client; to administer help or to really help? All dilemmas articulated by social workers manifest an "inner contradiction" between their personalities and professional requirements. This inner contradiction is either enhanced or softened by the policy of the institution in which a social worker works. The difference between Western and Eastern European countries have manifested mostly in this aspect: Western social workers feel more supported by their agencies. When solving moral dilemmas social workers of all countries tend to reserve personal values and professional ethics in a personal relationship, to be a representative of a client - not of the institution. The results testify that social work practice is a moral practice and a social worker must be prepared that his/her own moral standard will constantly be challenged.


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