Defining the term ‘values’ can be complex but it is widely agreed that they are representative of what are one’s deep-seated beliefs about what is right or wrong and what is important or unimportant. Some even consider them to be principles or qualities that demonstrate what people care about and that our values shape our behaviour. Once some ‘values’ are identified, people also begin to use them as a point of reference to understand, direct and justify decision-making as well as of course, judge the decision-making of others. While there are a number of value categories, the ones relevant to your professional placement and overall practice include Personal (or Individual) Values and Organisational Values. We will now look at each category in more depth.
The first category focusses on personal values, which are deemed to be the guiding principles in our lives. They determine priorities and influence our emotions and behaviours (Arieli et al., 2019; Reeve, 2009). Values develop and change rapidly during childhood and become more consistent and stable in adulthood (Reeve, 2009). They also shape our vocational interests and influence the work we choose to engage in (Schwartz, 1992). In many situations, they also provide us with a source of motivation. When we feel a misalignment between our current situation and a valued situation, we are often motivated to take action and create alignment between our values and the situation (Arieli et al., 2019; Reeve, 2009). The influence of our values is felt across all contexts- including professional placement (Arieli et al., 2019).
As a student, having insight into your own values and how you might articulate them is important as they shape your practice and how you work with clients and colleagues. One way that values shape your practice is that in contributing to your personal practice frameworks. While not widely discussed in Human Services yet, practice frameworks are well-established in related fields such as Social Work and Counselling. Their value is increasingly being recognised within Human Services and you may find that your agency supervisor talks to you about developing your practice framework or may even share their own.
In simple words, practice frameworks refer to the combination of formal knowledge and skills and informal knowledge and skills developed by helping professionals in practice (McGregor, 2019). Starting a practice framework requires one to really think carefully about one’s values and beliefs (Chenoweth & McAuliffe, 2015). These become principles that guide everything that one does. These values are then fused with formal theoretical and substantive knowledge as well as tacit or difficult to articulate knowledge that is built up through experience (Chenoweth & McAuliffe, 2015). Practice frameworks are not static or generalised and usually evolve over time through practice experiences. The framework may also be set of principles that one may adapt depending on the context (Kaplan & Andersen, 2013). For example, you may believe strongly in the value of empowerment and use a strengths-based framework when working with clients. You would however apply your skills and knowledge very differently when working with an at-risk elderly individual than say a disengaged refugee youth (Connolly, 2007).
Activity 3.1.1 – Points to Ponder about values within a placement context
Conversations undertaken with agency supervisors to guide the creation of this resource, revealed that supervisors deem a number of characteristics as core to student learning. These characteristics are linked to widely recognised values and some agency supervisors even suggested that these values and can be the difference between a successful and an unsuccessful placement.
Click on the images below to learn more about what the top five characteristics (and values) identified by the agency supervisors and how they are visible.
Values are essential and significant to everyone; however, they are also vital to organisational functioning (Bourne & Jenkins, 2013). The second category therefore focusses on organisational values. These values may be relevant to your placement agency or even your place of employment as you progress in your career. Usually expressed as a mission and/or vision statement (for example, ‘we believe in equality’), values guide how organisations work in practice. For example, organisational values guide strategic plans and professional practice and may influence all levels of management and the workforce. As with personal values that influence personal practice frameworks, an important area where organisational values play a very BIG role are Organisational Practice Frameworks. While some organisations may have an explicit Practice Framework (we will see one at the end of this section) others may simply have a set of statements around organisational culture and functioning. In either case, values shape organisational practice.
Before we move onto looking at an example of a practice framework in the organisational context, let us spend a few minutes focussing on the organisation itself. As you would have gathered by now, a Human Services student or practitioner (and for that matter any student or practitioner) operates within an organisational context. This context differs depending on the size and structure of the organisation. For example, a large bureaucratic setting will offer a very different placement experience from a small voluntary agency. Given that Human Services students may find themselves in contexts that range from government agencies at the federal, state or local level to non-government organisations, community organisations or church-based organisations to name a few. It is important for you to take time and develop a basic picture of your particular context. Many agencies will get you started on this as part of the orientation, but you are also encouraged to explore the organisation’s functioning and of course the organisation’s implicit or explicit practice framework. These insights will help you gain nuanced and in-depth knowledge about the realities of service delivery and help you adjust your expectations of your placement experience and professional journey.
Some ideas and questions to guide your exploratory activities are given in the image below (you should however always discuss these with your agency supervisor to determine appropriateness and feasibility in your agency’s context). Click on the hotspots in the image below.