The ethical landscape of professional care in everyday practice as perceived by staff: A qualitative content analysis of ethical diaries written by staff in child and adolescent psychiatric in-patient care
Background Although there has been some empirical research on ethics concerning the attitudes and approaches of staff in relation to adult patients, there is very little to be found on child and adolescent psychiatric care. In most cases researchers have defined which issues are important, for instance, coercive care. The aim of this study was to provide a qualitative description of situations and experiences that gave rise to ethical problems and considerations as reported by staff members on child and adolescent psychiatric wards, although they were not provided with a definition of the concept. Methods The study took place in six child and adolescent psychiatric wards in Sweden. All staff members involved with patients on these wards were invited to participate. The staff members were asked to keep an ethical diary over the course of one week, and data collection comprised the diaries handed in by 68 persons. Qualitative content analysis was used in order to analyse the diaries. Results In the analysis three themes emerged; 1) good care 2) loyalty and 3) powerlessness. The theme ‘good care’ contains statements about the ideal of commitment but also about problems living up to the ideal. Staff members emphasized the importance of involving patients and parents in the care, but also of the need for professional distance. Participants seldom perceived decisions about coercive measures as problematic, in contrast to those about pressure and restrictions, especially in the case of patients admitted for voluntary care. The theme ‘loyalty’ contains statements in which staff members perceived contradictory expectations from different interested parties, mainly parents but also their supervisor, doctors, colleagues and the social services. The theme ‘powerlessness’ contains statements about situations that create frustration, in which freedom of action is perceived as limited and can concern inadequacy in relation to patients and violations in the workplace. Conclusions The ethical considerations described by child and adolescent psychiatric care staff are multifaceted and remarkably often concern problems of loyalty and organization. These problems frequently had a considerable influence on the care provided. It seems that staff members lack a language of ethics and require both an ethical education and a forum for discussion of ethical issues.