- Reflect on what it means to be an ethical staff member.
- Identify ethical practices when it comes to interacting with children and families.
- Identify examples of what it means to act responsibly and ethically as a staff member.
"Your beliefs become your thoughts. Your thoughts become your words. Your words become your actions. Your actions become your habits. Your habits become your values. Your values become your destiny." - Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948), Indian political and spiritual leader
As a staff member working in child-care and after-school care settings you may be faced with ethical situations. Being a reflective staff member who lives your core values is a critical trait, because you work with our country's most precious citizens: Young children. Protecting the privacy of children and their families should always be foremost in your mind. Your program should have written procedures for addressing complex situations, as ethical dilemmas can occur in your classroom, on the playground, and out in the community.
The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), the largest professional organization in the field of early care and education has developed The Code of Ethical Conduct to guide professional behavior. The National After School Association (NAA) has developed a Code of Ethics to guide professional behavior for those working with school-age children and youth.
To better understand what we mean by ethics and codes of professional conduct we turn to Stephanie Feeney, one of the authors of the National Association for the Education of Young Children Code of Ethical Conduct. Feeney, in Ethics Today in Early Care and Education (2010), describes terms that are often used in discussions of personal and professional ethics (p. 73):
Ethics is the study of right and wrong, duties, and obligations. It involves critical reflection on morality, and the ability to make choices between values and to examine the moral dimensions of relationships.
Professional ethics involves reflection on professional responsibility that is carried out collectively and systematically by the membership of a profession... They are a guide to what we ought to do and not do as professionals.
A code of ethics is a document that maps the profession's responsibility to society. It conveys a sense of the mission of a field and acknowledges the obligations its members share in meeting their responsibilities... It supports practitioners in their work, so they base their decisions not on their individual values and morality but rather on the core values of the profession.
A professional code of ethics can be used for assistance when making professional decisions. It provides those who work with vulnerable populations (including children, youth, and individuals with disabilities) with a framework for addressing problems that may arise in daily interactions.
The Importance of Being an Ethical Staff Member
Responsible and Ethical Practices
As staff members, participating in professional development opportunities helps ensure that you are aware of responsible and ethical practices in your work with families and children. Staff meetings can include opportunities to review case studies or role-play situations that address ethical dilemmas. You should always feel comfortable speaking to your trainer or coach about any situations in which you are unsure about how to proceed. Seeking this guidance will help foster an atmosphere in the program that builds trust and communication. Other staff members can also learn from your example about what to do in difficult situations.
Being part of a program that fosters these types of exchanges and communication between direct- care staff, trainers, and managers, provides a supportive environment as you become familiar with ethical decision-making. If the program leaders (managers and coaches) build relationships and maintain a positive, nurturing environment, then when difficult situations arise, you will ask yourself, "What is the most positive way I can address this situation and maintain relationships with all who are involved?"
In your work with families you will encounter different parenting practices and cultural beliefs. Situations may arise where you will need the guidance of your trainer or coach to learn how to work in collaboration with families who may have different beliefs and child-rearing practices from your own.
Professional Ethics Lived Day by Day
Professional ethics are not something to review and then place in a drawer; they are lived every day in discussions with children, in supporting families from diverse cultures, in collaborating with fellow staff members, and in participating in community partnerships. As a direct-care staff member, adhering to high-quality professional standards is critical for children, youth, and families in your care. You have an obligation to act responsibly and ethically at all times. You are accountable for your actions and maintaining high professional standards should be your priority at all times. You should look to your Service's code of conduct to guide you in decision-making and remember that you should always refer to your coach or trainer for guidance on difficult decisions or when you are unsure about something. The following two examples of Codes of ethical conduct can be valuable resources for you. The first one is the NAEYC Professional Code of Ethical Conduct and Statement of Commitment (https://www.naeyc.org/files/naeyc/file/positions/Supplement%20PS2011.pdf), and the second one is the National After School Association Code of Ethics (https://naaweb.org/images/NAA-Code-of-Ethics-for-AferSchool-Professionals.pdf). Your core values and philosophy will guide professional behavior.
As a direct-care staff member, it is important to get to know the standards that apply to your program. You should take the time to find out about competencies, standards, or position statements that serve as guides for expectations when working with children, youth, and their families. Knowing this information should be of particular importance to you and your work. Your program may already be in the process of accreditation or re-accreditation through a professional organization and you can learn a lot by being involved in this process.
Maintaining Confidentiality: Children and Families
Lani, a caregiver in the toddler room is curious about the way Nia, a teacher in the after-school program is coping with 6-year old Millie's challenging behaviors. During lunch in the staff lounge Lani asks Nia what is going on with little Millie that is causing her to "act up" and what is Nia doing about it. Lani is a friend of Millie's aunt and she wants to reassure her that Millie's challenging behavior is being addressed by Nia.
Nia responds to Lani, "We are working with Millie to address her behavior." Nia is very careful not to discuss confidential information about any individual child or family with Lani or any program staff who are not directly interacting with that child. Nia is surprised at Lani's question and writes a note to herself to ask her coach or program manager about the importance of maintaining confidentiality at the next staff meeting. Reviewing principles of the code of professional conduct needs to occur on a regular basis during staff meetings.
Maintaining confidentiality is a crucial part of professionalism. State and federal laws (e.g., the Privacy Act of 1974) ensure and protect individuals' right to privacy. As a direct-care staff member, you should respect and protect the privacy of all children and families. When you work so closely together on behalf of children and families, you may become friends with one another. You may also encounter friends and relatives of children enrolled in the center when you are out in the community. When you socialize and attend events outside of the center, you may be asked confidential information about a child by someone who is not a staff member directly working with a child. You may only share confidential information about a child only with the child's family members and those professionals for whom the family members have signed a release of information form, such as a school district special educator, a social worker, etc. Always check with your trainer or program director if you are unsure about how to handle any situation that involves information sharing.
In the above example it would be a breach of confidentiality for Nia to tell Lani about her plans for addressing Millie's challenging behaviors. As a direct-care staff member, Nia knows she must uphold the rules of confidentiality and not share personal information about a child with someone who is not directly involved with that child. Nia knows she must model this professional behavior at all times and ask her coach or trainer questions when unsure about something.
You should also be very careful about how you handle social networking. Photographs or information about children and families in your program should never be shared on social media. You should always think about how new technologies can affect children and families and maintain confidentiality at all times. You should also consider how information you share about yourself may affect you and be careful about what you post on social media.
The coaches and program managers in your program have a special obligation to uphold children's privacy and to only share confidential information with those staff members who are directly involved with a child, youth, or their family members. Coaches and program managers observe and have knowledge about all of the children and youth so it is especially important for them to only speak about an individual child's behavior or family situation with those staff members who directly teach the child.
It is your responsibility to familiarize yourself with your program or service's requirements for confidentiality as they pertain to children and families. Check with your trainer or director about where and how you can access written policies about confidentiality. They may be included in staff and family handbooks, or made available on your program's website. Depending upon your service's requirements, as a new staff member you may have to sign a confidentiality agreement, indicating that you have read and understand the program's policies.
Upholding laws regarding confidentiality may involve in-service training for new and experienced staff members. Your program managers will very likely want to revisit confidentiality rules during staff meetings throughout the year. It is helpful to review these policies during staff meetings and in-services specially dedicated to professional practices.
Another aspect of professionalism is reviewing your program's child abuse and neglect policies. As a new staff member you must complete training on child abuse and neglect identification and reporting procedures. Your program manager will make sure that these procedures are reviewed with all staff members as part of the hiring process. Some programs may require staff to sign a form each year stating that they have reviewed the child abuse and neglect warning signs and procedures for reporting.
Acting responsibly and ethically should be at the core of your practice as a direct-care staff member. In your daily interactions with children, families, colleagues and supervisors, engage in the following:
- Keep information about children and their families confidential. This refers to reviewing child and family records, having conversations with other staff members at school or in the community, or engaging in conversations with other people you know in the community.
- When you know confidential information about a child, family, or fellow staff member, use that information to help them and not judge them.
- If individuals ask you for confidential information about children or families in your program, refer them to your program trainer or director.
- Treat each child, youth, and family member with respect, and acknowledge and honor individual differences in terms of gender, cultural background, family income, abilities, or family composition. Get to know the children and families in your care and incorporate those interests or practices in your daily work as a direct-care staff member. Plan for bias-free experiences and materials.
- Recognize and celebrate the contributions of fellow staff members in your program.
- Act in a responsible, reliable, and dependable manner. Be at work on time, be prepared, and communicate clearly with children, families, colleagues, and supervisors.
- Support practices that are ethical, responsible, and developmentally appropriate and speak out when they are not. Familiarize yourself with your service's regulations, standards, and expectations for professional behavior. Remember to always look to your coach or trainer for guidance on difficult situations.
- Develop and cultivate a collaborative spirit as you work with colleagues on a daily basis. Ask a more experienced fellow staff member questions about her practice or offer ideas to a staff member who may be newer than you and may need assistance.
Note: The contents of this Do list are also available in the Learn section attachments section. You may want to print out this information and refer to it in your daily work.
Ethical dilemmas occur from time to time when working with children, youth, and families. You need to be prepared to address these issues. Take a few minutes to respond to the questions in the Case Study Dilemma. Then, share and discuss your responses with a trainer, coach, or administrator.
Use the Professionalism and Ethics Resources activity in this section to learn more about this important aspect of your work as a professional.
Bruno, H.E., & Copeland, T. (2012). Managing Legal Risks in Early Childhood Programs. New York: Teachers College Press.
Feeney, S. (2010). Ethics Today in Early Care and Education: Review, reflection, and the future. Young Children, 65(2), 72-77.
Feeney, S., Freeman, N.K., & Pizzolongo, P. (2012). Ethics and the Early Childhood Educator: Using
The NAEYC code (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.
National After School Association (2009). National After School Association Code of Ethics. Retrieved from https://naaweb.org/resources/code-of-ethics
National Association for the Education of Young Children (2011). Code of Ethical Conduct and Statement of Commitment. Retrieved from http://www.naeyc.org/files/naeyc/image/public_policy/Ethics%20Position%20Statement2011_09202013update.pdf