Blog: Three common pitfalls when properly considering human rights
The QCOSS Human Rights, Housing and Homelessness project spent 2021 training front line workers all over Queensland to understand and give proper consideration to human rights (in line with the Human Rights Act 2019 (Qld)), which provided a unique opportunity to see how people are applying human rights considerations to their decision making.
It also afforded the opportunity to view some of the common missteps people make as they begin to incorporate human rights considerations into their established service delivery practices.
Identify decisions that require consideration
It sounds so easy, right? ‘Identify decision points’ – but there are a few things that commonly make this step more difficult than it sounds.
Situations are complex, and our decision points are often wrapped up in information overload (not all of which is relevant). This can make it hard to identify the numerous decision points that occur in complex situations.
Be sure to slow down and examine the situation you’re working with to identify where circumstances interact with your service provision; there is likely to be a decision that requires proper consideration.
It can help to identify and separate your decisions from those of others. It is often easier to see the decisions of other service providers and those of the participant (service user or client). This mental separation of ‘whose decision is this?’ can help you clearly see your decision responsibilities.
Decision points are often buried in processes, best practice and past experience – it’s natural to replicate past decisions as it’s quick, efficient and provides certainty. Even when you are following a procedure, you need to identify decision-making points and consider the human rights engaged in each individual situation. Processes you were taught not to question now require some individualised implementation, so look at your processes with an inquisitive mind to find decision-making points.
And remember, you only need to give proper consideration to your decisions, so it is worth taking the time to accurately identify them so as not to miss any, or waste time.
Consider everyone involved
Frontline workers are extremely competent at working with the person in front of them – the participant seeking a service; a neighbour making a complaint; or colleagues from another service agency. However, proper consideration asks workers to consider all people involved in a situation, like children, partners, older family members or the broader community who all may be impacted by your decision. It is important to cast your net wide and take the time to consider these people, as their human rights impacts may look significantly different in comparison to the person you are speaking to.
Considering all individuals will ensure their human rights are considered when decisions are made. Sometimes there can be a level of abstraction, especially when considering the rights of large groups of people such as ‘those on the social housing register of need’, or ‘all hospital patients’.
But it is sometimes necessary and practical to group people in such a way, and to consider human rights collectively. Keep in mind that you often need to be wary of stereotypes and bias when grouping people for consideration purposes
Considering the human rights of all people involved in a situation will help you weigh up competing rights when determining what is fair and balanced.
Transparently justify your decision
Making decisions involves weighing up factors that do or do not support a course of action. i.e., factors for and against.
Frontline staff are very good at documenting decisions and outlining all of the factors that support their decision making – however many of us hesitate when we are asked to document the factors that do not support the decision (usually in case notes).
It is important to acknowledge all of the factors or rights that are limited when a decision is made. This transparency tells an important story about resource limitations, competing priorities, restrictions, etc. Transparently justifying our decisions helps us to learn, teach and incrementally change our practices and work culture.
Transparent decision making will also clearly and accurately reveal the human rights consideration that was afforded in a given situation. This will be important if you ever need to provide information for a complaint or conciliation process.
Finally – remember to be kind to yourself! Proper consideration is given at a point-in-time using the available information. New information often comes to light afterwards – you can only do the best with the information you have at hand. You’re reading this blog, so you’re definitely on the right path to giving proper consideration to human rights!
For further information about giving consideration you can also consider this four-step process guide.
This blog is informed by the work of the QCOSS Human Rights, Housing and Homelessness project. To find out more visit the QCOSS website.