- Recognize and maintain ethical practices when interacting with children
- Examine confidentiality and ethical practices regarding hiring and supervising employees
- Provide professional development for staff that includes information about responsible and ethical practices as outlined in the NAEYC Code of Ethical Conduct and/or the National After School Association Code of Ethics
- Establish and uphold policies and practices that maintain a climate of trust among children, families, and staff members
"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
T & Cs and program managers working in child-care and after-school-care settings may encounter ethical situations. Being a reflective professional who lives your core values is a critical trait for a leader of those who work with our country's young children. Protecting the privacy of children, families, and staff members should always be foremost in the minds of staff members, T & Cs, and program managers. Written procedures for addressing complex situations must be known and followed, as ethical dilemmas can occur in classrooms, on the playground, and out in the community.
To better understand ethics and codes of professional conduct, we turn to Stephanie Feeney, one of the authors of the NAEYC Code of Ethical Conduct. Feeney, in Ethics Today in Early Care and Education, describes terms that are often used in discussion 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 persons with disabilities) with a framework for addressing problems that may arise in daily interactions. In this lesson, we address a few of the common ethical dilemmas that may arise in daily interactions among program staff, T&Cs, program managers, and families.
Maintaining Confidentiality: Children and Families
Lani, a teacher 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 Maria (the program director) what is going on with 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.
Maria responds to Lani, "I can see you are concerned about Millie. We are working with Millie's teacher and her parents to address her behavior." Maria is very careful not to discuss confidential information about any individual child or family with Lani or any program staff who are not directly teaching that child. Maria is surprised at Lani's question and writes a note to herself to once again review 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.
Program leaders must ensure that all staff members respect and protect the privacy of the children and families who attend the program. This includes custodial staff, cooks, and clerical staff, as well as teachers and assistant teachers. When staff work so closely together on behalf of children and families, they may become friends. They may also encounter friends and relatives of children enrolled in the center when they are in the community. When staff socialize and attend events outside the center, they may be asked confidential information about a child by someone who is not a staff member directly working with a child. Staff members must understand that they may only share confidential information about a child with the child's parents and those professionals for whom the parents have signed a release of information form, such as a school district special educator or a social worker.
In the above example, it would be a breach of confidentiality for Maria to tell Lani about Nia's plans for addressing Millie's challenging behaviors. As the program manager, Maria 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. Maria knows she must model this professional behavior at all times.
T&Cs and program managers 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. Program leaders 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.
Program leaders need to know and uphold all regulations that address confidentiality. You will want to become familiar with your program's requirements for confidentiality as it pertains to children and families. You will want to review your program's Code of Conduct. Explicit written policies about confidentiality must be included in staff and family handbooks and made available on the program's website. Depending upon your program's requirements, new staff members may have to sign a confidentiality agreement, indicating they have read and understand the program's policies.
Upholding laws regarding confidentiality includes in-service training for new and experienced staff members. Program directors will 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.
Confidentiality: Personnel matters
T & Cs and program managers also have an obligation to keep personnel matters confidential. In your role, you have access to personnel files, evaluations, professional development plans, and other important personnel documents. Staff may also confide personal information to you that should not be shared with others. As a program leader, you must be conscious of what you say about staff members leaving work early, being away for illnesses, and other potentially personal topics. Training for dealing with difficult personnel matters is available through books, online modules, and conferences for youth and child care administrators.
If you are new to managing confidential personnel matters you may want to seek advice and support from more experienced T & Cs or managers. You may also want to check in with your supervisor as you work with staff evaluations and performance reviews. Legal ramifications are possible, so being knowledgeable about employment policies and carefully upholding confidentiality about personnel matters is critical to your effectiveness as a T & C or program manager.
Another aspect of professionalism is reviewing the child abuse and neglect policies. Program managers are responsible for putting policies in writing in the staff handbook. All new staff must receive information on child abuse and neglect identification and reporting procedures (see your specific program and State requirements). You will make sure that these procedures are reviewed with all staff as part of the hiring process. Some child care programs may require staff members to sign a form each year that they have reviewed the child abuse and neglect warning signs and procedures for reporting.
Training Staff in Responsible and Ethical Practices
T & Cs and program managers are responsible for planning professional development opportunities to ensure that all staff members are aware of responsible and ethical practices in their work with families and children. Staff meetings can include opportunities to review case studies or role play situations that address ethical dilemmas. Staff members should always feel comfortable speaking to you about any situations in which they are unsure about how to proceed. Your willingness to intentionally listen to staff who seek your guidance will create an atmosphere in the program that builds trust and communication. Staff will observe and learn from your example about what to do in difficult situations.
Creating a relationship-based program provides a supportive environment to staff as they become familiar with ethical decision-making. If the program leaders build relationships and maintain a positive, nurturing environment, then when difficult situations arise, staff will ask themselves, "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 staff will need training to learn how to work in collaboration with families who may have different beliefs and child-rearing practices from their own.
Professional Ethics Lived Day by Day: Building a Climate of Trust
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 welcoming new staff members to the center, and in participating in community partnerships. As a T & C or program manager, your leadership as a model of professionalism is critical for staff and families. By nature of your title, you are the person others will look to for guidance on difficult decisions. For those working with children birth to age eight, you can always refer to the NAEYC Professional Code of Ethical Conduct and Statement of Commitment to guide you and your staff in decision-making. For those working with older children and youth, the National After School Association Code of Ethics can serve as a guide. As noted above, you may also want to review your program's code of conduct. Your core values and philosophy will guide professional behavior.
Program leaders have an especially important role in communicating information to the correct individuals and maintaining confidentiality about children, youth, families, and staff members. Follow the link to review the NAEYC Code of Ethical Conduct. How might you use this resource when you are confronted with daily situations involving children, families, and staff members? How might this document be used as a discussion topic in a community of practice made up of program directors?
One of the ways you may help staff members engage in problem solving is to use a professional code of ethics to review dilemmas and discuss possible solutions based on either the NAEYC Code of Ethical Conduct or the National After School Association Code of Ethics. There may not be one "right" solution, so the dilemmas can help staff members brainstorm different ways of looking at an issue. For some examples, read the dilemmas attached below and respond to the questions. This document focuses on school-age children and staff.
Next, follow the link https://www.naeyc.org/resources/pubs/yc/sep2015/difficult-working-relationship-response to examine child-care dilemmas and staff who work with young children.
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., & Moravcik, E. (2016). Teaching the NAEYC Code of Ethical Conduct: A resource guide. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.
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 https://www.naeyc.org/resources/position-statements/ethical-conduct