Our starting point here may appear somewhat distant from the immediate and pressing challenges of putting principles into practice on a daily basis. However, it is precisely because of this foreshortening effect that it is important to provide a sense of perspective, and to locate what might be thought of simply as ‘practice values’ in their wider context. Statements of professional principles, for example, cannot be divorced from broader social and political perspectives on what is or is not acceptable conduct. Despite this, the prescription of desirable values for those working in social care has sometimes foundered in the mire of abstract, but well-meaning aspirations. This is one of the challenges involved in operationalising a series of generalised statements of desirable aims which are not always entirely compatible, and which do not always appear well-grounded in their social and ideological context. The notion of ‘empowerment’, for example, is well-established, and rightly so, as a central principle of social work intervention with children and families. However, it has limited purchase so long as at least two key questions are not addressed. The first is the nature of the power relations, say of race or gender, which establish the context for the specific working relationship between provider and recipient of services; and the second, is the possibility of conflict with other core values, such as ‘protection’. For example, the Code of Practice issued by the General Social Care Council for social care practitioners (GSCC, 2002b) simply presents this tension as a challenge for workers. The means to resolve it are not provided by the code itself.
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