Human Rights and Social Justice

Human Rights and Social Justice Integrated Paper Vicki MacWhinnie-Ilundain Fordham University Viewpoint and Concepts that Best Clarify the Dilemmas in Hugo’s Case Hugo’s story highlights the value conflicts that social workers face in every-day practice. The policies that dictate the funding, the scope of services, and the eligibility for the services that Hugo may need in order to actualize his basic human rights were developed within a system that continues to practice within the Rawlsian theory of social justice frame work.
Therefore, these government policies tend to support the concept that people are only entitled to their “fair and due share” of services and/or access to resources if they are working to enhance the good of the over all society (Banerjee, 2005, p. 13). In Hugo’s case, there are psychological, cultural and physical factors that may impact his ability to maintain gainful employment. These individual aspects of Hugo’s life situation are not taken into consideration in determining how long he can receive supports, or what types of supports he receives.
The state-funded financial benefits that Hugo requires in order to have his very, basic needs met; such as food, clothing and shelter, have a five-year limit. Because there is no consideration to human rights behind the 5-year limit, Hugo has unmet human rights. This creates a value conflict for Hugo’s social worker, who is working within a system that has Rawlsian infused policies; yet, is mandated by the National Social Work Code of Ethics to promote social justice in a manner that respects the unique strengths and dignity of the individual (NASW, 2008).

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The social worker working from a human rights-based perspective; where according to Ife (2008) “there is a obligation on every member of society to respect and support people’s rights”, will address Hugo’s unmet needs that stem from this 5-year limit policy as unfulfilled rights rather than assessing them as needs for which Hugo may or may not qualify to receive services (p. 113). Adding to the complexity and value conflict of the social worker’s role is the need for the social worker to partner with Hugo to identify not only his assets; but to also identify the barriers he faces.
The social worker can develop a more in-depth understanding of Hugo’s barriers by exploring the levels of oppression Hugo experiences and his positionalty vis-a-vis all the systems and individuals he interacts with in society. Hugo is experiencing oppression at a structural level as a result of his position as an immigrant from Haiti who has experience trauma. Hugo has psychological and physical impairments as the result of past trauma, he is of an ethic background that is not part of the privileged class in the United States, and he was born outside the United States.
These characteristics, which Hugo inherited through birth and via traumatic life experiences, tend to lead to discrimination in the United States. As a result of systematic discrimination, Hugo belongs to a subordinate group in the society and is oppressed by the dominant group. Mullaly (2010) explains that this “web of oppression …occurs for the most part because of the sanctioned ways that social institutions, laws, social policies, and social practices all work together to benefit the dominant group at the expense of subordinate groups” (p. 197). Challenges in Social Work Practice as a Result of a Paradigm Shift
In this process of identifying assets and barriers, the social worker may face further value conflicts that impact their ability to empower Hugo to claim his human rights: The social worker has a moral and professional obligation to help Hugo advocate for his human rights. This will include supporting Hugo’s desire to participate in a lawsuit against the US government, who created the 5-year limit on public financial support. In Hugo’s circumstance, the legal mandate that limits the total amount of years he can access funding is impeding Hugo’s right to food, shelter, substance abuse treatment, psychological care, and safety.
As an employee of a state funded program, the social worker is not allowed to ignore this mandate or seek to undermine it in any way. The social worker is faced with the challenge of partnering with Hugo to support his quest to actualize his human rights while working within a legal mandate that restricts Hugo’s access to the resources he requires in order to claim his human rights. The social worker is also challenged to reframe the way they conceptualize their interventions with Hugo. By choosing a rights-based approach, the ocial worker’s dialogue regarding Hugo’s rights will not only have a more global tone, but it will require the social worker to use additional skills to engage Hugo in a discussion that empowers Hugo to define his rights. Ife (2008) asserts that this type of social work practice has the potential to do more than just address an individual’s minimum needs but allows for social work to be transformative by building a society “held together by mutual respect for human rights of all citizens and based on notions of interdependence, mutual support and collective well-being” (p. 13). The challenge for the social worker is to elevate discussions and practice beyond working just with the individual case by engaging in dialogues and actions that “link their profession to economic, political and social aims of society as a whole” (Riechert, 2007, p. 31). The social worker faces many challenges when making a paradigm shift from a needs-based approach of social work to an elevated practice that focuses on human rights.
The needs-based approach, where the provider identifies or diagnoses the “client’s” needs into narrow categories, and then provides a focused “intervention”, is deeply ingrained in the traditional models of practice. For example, the medical model is still widely accepted as best practice and is often used in social service programs and agencies. When taking the human rights approach, the social worker will reframe Hugo’s experience so that his rights are identified first, then used to re-conceptualize the needs that have to be met in order to actualize his rights.
The social worker also faces the challenge of advocating for Hugo to receive services that support his right-based needs in systems with competing values. The rights-based approach conflicts with agency practices at a mezzo level, such as the use a medical treatment model that may not be culturally sensitive or focused on Hugo’s rights. The social worker may also experience conflicts of values on a macro level when advocating for funding for Hugo’s services.
The state and/or federal government, who provide funding for the social services, may place a value on providing the least amount of services for minimum cost to tax payers rather than on Hugo’s unmet rights. On a micro level, the social worker may experience difficulties building rapport with Hugo because of their differences in gender, ethic background, power, education, and socio-economic status. Level’s and Dimensions of Hugo’s Well Being
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights established global principles of human rights that set the precedence that all people have the right to an “a standard of living adequate for their health and well being; including food, clothing, housing, and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability… or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control” (United Nations, 1994). Hugo’s social worker can discuss Hugo’s well being in a human rights framework by exploring the domains of wellbeing that impact Hugo’s daily life.
The social worker and Hugo may need to establish a language to use as they talk about Hugo’s life experiences, if they are going to successfully switch from a needs-based paradigm to a rights-based paradigm. The social worker can use the seven domains of wellbeing to help deconstruct the needs-based thinking and language that has been the context for the “interventions” Hugo has received from social services in the past. Discussions using the domains of wellbeing may include: education, mental health, physical health, political and legal, cultural, and spiritual.
After reaching the 5-year limit for public financial benefits, Hugo does not have access the resources required to provide food, shelter and clothing. Hugo’s metal and physical functioning has been impacted after experiencing a series of traumas, limiting Hugo’s access to education and employment. Hugo experiences multiple levels of oppression and discrimination which he may have internalized making it difficult for him “to recognize his abilities, cope with normal stresses of life, work productively and make a contribution to his community” (World Health Organization, 1999).
Hugo has experienced physical traumas that have impacted his physical capabilities. As an immigrant in the United States Hugo does not have fair or equal access to legal support or protection by laws. The discrimination that Hugo experiences also impacts Hugo’s ability to be seen as a valued member of the society his is living in. The social worker can support Hugo by exploring all aspects of Hugo’s well being so he can discover how to start to advocate for his rights that are encompassed by each of these life domains Plan of Engagement, Empowerment and Participation
After further exploring various aspects of Hugo’s well being, that would also include Hugo’s assets or strengths, the social worker and Hugo may want to develop a plan of action to guide their work together. Hugo identified immediately that he wanted to access to the group who is collecting data for a lawsuit against the US government. Although it may be considered a conflict of interest for the agency that employs the social worker to be involved with the lawsuit against the state, the social worker can connect Hugo to the group so that he can work directly with them.
The social worker could also met with her supervisor and/or agency director to discuss what networks or committees the agency attends in the community. Often these groups hold more power than a single social worker or agency and work directly with governmental agencies to make recommendations or to advocate for policy changes that best serve the interest in their communities. By using these approaches, the social worker is assessing her own positionality in her agency and community so that she can best support the requests of Hugo, without disrupting the relationship she has with her employer.
The social worker can also start researching what resources are available in the community that can address the barriers that Hugo is experiencing while trying to claim all of his human rights. Once a comprehensive list of services and or resources is developed, the social worker and discuss each of these resources with Hugo to get his feedback about what he thinks might be useful to him. The social worker would provide information about the advantages and risks and/or disadvantages to using any of the resources so that Hugo could make an informed decision.
If there is a resource that Hugo is interested in utilizing but does not quite meet the criteria or does not have the funds to access, the social worker can work with the agency and funding sources to see if there are alternative ways for him to access the resource. Even if Hugo does not get immediate access to the resource, the social worker has left a path of documentation and advocacy that can be used to work towards access to these types of resources in the future. Over time, the social worker can build a strong relationship built from trust and mutual respect with Hugo.
In order to do that the social worker will need to understand how her positionality relates to Hugo’s and how that impacts Hugo interactions with the social worker and visa versa. It appears as though Hugo has used multiple community services in the past, yet he still has not actualized his rights. The social-worker can explore with Hugo what services were helpful to him in the past and what aspects of the services became barriers to him changing his over-all well being.
If the social worker finds with the services in their community are; for example, not compatible with Hugo’s cultural beliefs, then the social worker can work in the community to advocate for changes how services are provided. Other agencies may be open to expanding how they provide services to include all members in their community. The social worker can accomplish these strategies by adopting the capability approach. Nussbaum (2007) describes the capability approach as “a species of a human rights approach.
It makes clear, how- ever, that the pertinent goal is to make people able to function in a variety of areas of central importance. ”(p. 21) By empowering Hugo to further develop his cognitive, physical and social skills, the social worker can provide opportunities for Hugo to attain his identified rights-based needs. The social worker encourages capability building by advocating that Hugo receive services that will build specific skills, not just treat a diagnosis. Over time, Hugo can learn to identify and articulate his rights, reframe them into needs and demand services that allow him to claim his rights.
In doing so, Hugo will request services that have the components that he recognizes as necessary for his well-being. References Banerjee, M. M. (2005). Social Work, Rawlsian Social Justice, and Social Development. Social Development issues, 27(1), 7-24 Ife, J. (2008). Human Rights and Social Work Towards Rights-Based Practice (2nd ed. ). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press. Mullaly, B. (2010). Challenging Oppression and Confronting Privilege (2nd ed. ) New York, NY: Oxford University Press. NASW. (2008). Code of Ethics of the National Association of Social Work.
Retrieved from http://www. socialworkers. org/pubs/code/code. asp Nussbaum, M. (2007). Human Rights and Human Capabilities. Harvard Human Rights Journal, 20(1) 21-24 Reichert, E. (2007). Challenges in Human Rights A Social Work Perspective. New York, NY: Columbia University Press. United Nations. (1994). Human rights and social work: A manual for schools of social work and social work profession. Geneva: United Nations Center for Human Rights. Retrieved from http://www. ohchr. org/Documents/Publications/training1en. pdf.

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