Secrets and Lies: The Ethical Implications of Family Estrangement
This chapter differs from some of the others in that it does not deal with a particular field of practice, like mental health or child protection. Social workers encounter and work with families in all fields of practice and the issue of family estrangement is far more common than we realise. Perhaps it is most often encountered in work with the elderly when people tend to rely more on their family for support. Social workers are all too familiar with cases where the isolated elderly person has lost all contact with their family. When they dig deeper, they all too often find that relationships deteriorated over a long period of time before contact was completely severed and often the estrangement began in a bitter feud, domestic violence, abuse, or a painful divorce. This chapter provides an overview of the nature of family estrangement, which often begins with ‘secrets and lies’ as our title suggests. More specifically, it examines value issues and ethical dilemmas associated with intergenerational family estrangement in later life, from an ethical perspective.