Right to Self Determination

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    You are an intake social worker with child welfare and have just received a referral. The file is for Lisa (a pseudonym), a 24 year-old woman. She is the mother of two young children, ages 2 and 4. Lisa is no longer with the biological father of the children, but is now dating an individual named Frank. The referral came in last night from the police as there was a domestic incident at the home of Frank and Lisa. Police responded as a neighbor called to report shouting and other loud sounds in the middle of the night. Police found Frank pushing, shoving, and hitting Lisa when they arrived. The youngest child was asleep but the older child had woken up and witnessed the dispute. Frank was arrested but released the next day. After your initial meeting with Lisa she has stated she feels strongly about staying in a relationship with Frank. She reveals that she and her children have been living in Frank’s home and he is their main source of income. She states that Frank has a temper but they get along most of the time and she does not feel she would be better off if they separated. She said being with Frank allows her to stay home and care for her children while still living comfortably and securely.

    1. What are the ethical issues to consider in this case?

    2. Whose best interest is it important to consider in this situation?

    3. Do you feel it is possible to consider both the best interests of the children and Lisa’s right to self-determination?

    4. What would you say to Lisa regarding her desire to stay with Frank? Would you support Lisa’s wishes?

    5. What are some of the potential risks involved with Lisa and Frank staying together? What are some of the potential benefits? What would your action plan be for this case?


    This case provides a great example of how complex cases can be, in particular reference to those that include intimate partner violence. As future social workers, regardless of one’s specific job title or location, cases that involve domestic violence will unfortunately be part of the job. “Although most social workers will work with clients who have been victims of intimate partner violence, social workers often lack adequate education and training on the issue of domestic violence” (Black, Weisz, Bennett, 2010, p.174). Therefore, this provides a good opportunity to deconstruct this case, and use the questions provided as a basis of that analysis.
    In considering the ethical issues and whose best interest should be considered by the social worker, my initial response would be for the safety and well-fare of the two children. Their safety in the household, both physical with their own safety, and their mental health with witnessing a domestic violence situation should be of paramount importance for the intake social worker with child welfare. Although I have noted that the interest of the children should be of the highest priority for the social worker, Lisa’s well being as the result of being the victim of the domestic violence should be taken into account. And as a result, the social worker needs to implement interventions with both Lisa and Frank individually.
    In exploration of question three and four, whilst linking back to the previous paragraph on the individual interventions needed to be undertaken by the social worker, I don’t believe that a social worker can outright state that for example Lisa should leave the abusive relationship. However, if I were the social worker in this case, I would seek to implement specific domestic violence interventions. “Specific domestic violence interventions (arrest, restraining order, legal advice or advocacy, domestic violence counseling or batterers’ interventions, shelter, or safety planning)” (Black, Weisz, Bennett, 2010, p.179) Although Lisa has expressed a desire to return to the home with Frank and the children, conversations around safety planning and local resources such as shelters are important to cover at this stage. The client may not be aware of the local resources available and the use or importance of a safety plan. Making Lisa aware of the alternate options available to her and her children is an important step. “Few students seemed to have adopted a feminist perspective on domestic violence or placed the cause of violence within traditional power structures of male dominance and female subservience” (Black, Weisz, Bennett, 2010, p.181). In the specific domestic violence intervention, areas around power structures should also be explored as the citation suggests. Therefore, not only looking at the situation on a micro level, but also how domestic violence is exuberated or enhanced within macro level structures on income disparity for example. Given that Lisa explicitly states concerns around leaving Frank and how that would financially impact her and the children, “financial, cultural, legal, social, and emotional factors influence a victim’s ability to leave an abusive relationship” (Fisher & Stylianou, 2016).
    I would also be keen to see other posts on this thread on how the social worker should work with Frank. I earlier stated the need for individual counselling for both Lisa and Frank. I specifically stated individually so as to explore the situation in as safe space s possible, without the potential power dynamics of the relationship affecting the work with myself. I believe that it is not enough for social workers to just work with the victim of domestic violence, but also to work directly with the perpetrator in an effort to modify and change his behaviour and though patterns. I believe that it is just as important to work with Frank directly or to use other resources to help him, such as anger management and domestic violence counselling. The social worker must work with the perpetrator of this domestic violence case.
    Specifically answering question three, although Lisa’s self-determination should be respected, if that were to be in conflict with the well-being of the children, I believe their needs and interests would take precedent. Lisa can’t be made to make decisions that could be in her best interest, however the social worker I believe would need to intervene in this case if those decisions were to conflict with the children’s.
    In answering question five, the potential risks of Lisa and Frank staying together are more incidences of domestic violence, and the risk that poses for not only the victim of those actions but also the two children in question. Potential benefits would include the financial situation for Lisa and the children.

    Reference list
    Black, B., Weisz, A., & Bennett, L. (2010). Graduating Social Work Students’ Perspectives on Domestic Violence. Journal of Women and Social Work, 173-184. Retrieved January 22, 2019, from https://journals-sagepub-com.ezproxy.library.dal.ca/doi/pdf/10.1177/0886109910364824.

    Fisher, E., & Stylianou, A. (2016). To Stay or to Leave: Factors Influencing Victims’ Decisions to Stay or Leave a Domestic Violence Emergency Shelter. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 34(4). Retrieved January 22, 2019, from https://journals-sagepub-com.ezproxy.library.dal.ca/doi/full/10.1177/0886260516645816.

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