How fair is an algorithm? A comment on the Algorithm Assessment Report

The worldwide use of faster, smarter and more complex algorithms have the potential to make many things better but some things worse. The now famous controversies over facial recognition software and the COMPAS criminal recidivism prediction tools that overstated the future risk of African Americans being cases in points. Of course, we have had our own history of controversy over the use of predictive analytics in the field of child welfare – first proposed to deliver preventive services, then trialled in child protection decision making at the intake office of what is now Oranga Tamariki. Neither are currently in use, confirmed in the Algorithmic Assessment report released last week by Stats NZ, a report outlining all the ways that algorithms are currently used in government Algorithm Report.

The report is a great start towards more transparency around the ways algorithmic tools are currently used in Aotearoa, and shows a commitment to increased public transparency around the use of such tools. The report gives some insight into the ways algorithms are used across a range of services – from identifying school leavers at risk of long term unemployment, to identifying dodgy packages arriving at the border for the NZ customs service. But how should we evaluate the ways algorithms impact on rights? Algorithmic tools used in social policy and criminal justice spheres inevitably shape who qualifies for limited resources, and the interactions of the state with those in contact with criminal justice systems. In both areas, there are important ethical implications, and these implications depend on the data used, the type of algorithm, and to what extent to which it is used in actual decision-making.

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Inquiring into institutional abuses

Guest post by Carole Adamson

I am writing this blog post to assist my own comprehension of the current debates over the extension of the inquiry into the abuse of children in state care into the realm of those abused whilst in the care of faith-based organisations.

To all those abused in state care, I acknowledge you and the truth of your experiences

To all those abused in faith-based care, I acknowledge the lifting of the silences that have added to the damage done

To all of us with a history of abuse, may we continue on a journey of healing

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Abortion law reform in Aotearoa New Zealand: In search of human rights, autonomy and empathy

At the end of October this year, the New Zealand Law Commission released a briefing paper: Alternative Approaches to Abortion Law. This paper provides three alternative legal models to existing abortion legislation, all of which recommend that abortion be repealed from the Crimes Act 1961 and the Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion Act 1977, and be treated as a health issue. Liz Beddoe is Associate Professor of Social Work at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. Liz has been deeply and actively interested in the abortion debate for decades, and in this podcast with Deb Stanfield she shares her analysis of the briefing paper and explores problems with the current law – how it contravenes basic human rights for example, and creates unnecessary complexity for women seeking abortions. Dr Beddoe explains in plain language why social workers should care about this issue, what we should know, and how we can prepare ourselves for the coming months of debate.

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Gender pay equity for social workers in Aotearoa New Zealand

Amy Ross is national organiser for Aotearoa New Zealand’s largest union, the Public Service Association (PSA) Te Pūkenga Here Tikanga Mahi. She is also founder and organiser of the Social Work Action Network (SWAN), which is a network within the PSA that aims to unify and advocate for social workers in Aotearoa New Zealand.

In this podcast Amy Ross shares her experience of what she describes as the remarkable strategic victory of bringing about the first step in gender pay equity to social workers in this country. In conversation with Deb Stanfield she celebrates the courage of the original claimants, and the genuine partnership between the union and Oranga Tamariki (Aotearoa New Zealand’s child protection agency). Amy applies a critical lens to this significant historic event for women and for the profession of social work – an event she describes as taking us to a ‘whole new level of discourse.’

Reclaiming social work with soul

A guest blog post by David Kenkel, Senior Lecturer in Social Practice at UNITEC.

We work in a social work environment where our instinct and education tell us that the problems people face are structural, but the push of practice is often towards individualising both problems and solutions. Resolving this contradiction at the practice level is one of the great challenges that social work must engage with over the next few decades if it is to rehabilitate its social justice soul.

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Student welfare at the neoliberal university.

Reblogged from Wellington Socialists.


Victoria University of Wellington has been in the news of late. Firstly, due to a controversial rebranding exercise that will see the University spend thousands of dollars on the removal of Victoria from its name, and secondly for the eviction of a student on her return to the halls of residence following a suicide attempt. I had to read that last point several times myself, the eviction of a student from the halls of residence following a suicide attempt.

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Colonisation + Capitalism = Māori in State Care.

 

I have incorporated some simple arithmetic in the title of this blog post because I want to make the key point clear. As the Children’s Commissioner Andrew Becroft stated in a recent TV1 interview elaborating on his October 2018 State of Care Report, the proportion of children in state care who are Māori has risen to around two-thirds. Although the report itself is mainly concerned with the proposed development of community group homes as an alternative to institutional care, the text does focus on the lost opportunity for whanau, hapu and Iwi empowerment envisaged in the CYP&tF Act, 1989 and argues that we have a chance to reclaim this vision under the provisions of the reconfigured Oranga Tamariki Act. In many ways it is encouraging to see the Commissioner asserting this position, however the full picture is glossed over somewhat.

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Disrupting the narrative

We live in a social system that is configured by relations of class and privilege which are economically produced and reproduced. We need to understand the relationship between this reality and the past, present (and possible future of social work). This involves recognising the context of our practice and engaging with the contest of interests and ideas which surround us: questioning the dominant psychologised discourse and bringing critical social and political voices back into theory and practice.

Last week I had the opportunity to speak at the ANZSWWER symposium in Adelaide on the topic Disrupting the Narrative – Creating a Progressive Future for Social Work. I argued that social workers have historically worked with oppressed people in ways that are either caring or controlling and which often involve elements of both.

Neoliberal capitalism and instrumental science are a powerful combination but they are not the only games in town. The challenge for social work in the face of contemporary systemic inequality is to work alongside those who are constructed as our clients – with people rather than on them. Service users are not products to be developed or projects to be built. The following slides explore and develop this historical imperative and consider progressive strategies relevant to the here and now.

The Sociological Association of Aotearoa New Zealand (SAANZ) Conference – ‘the future is in the past’ – is being held at the Victoria University of Wellington this year: 4-7 December 2018. The following link takes you to a call for papers. Following the very successful incorporation of a Social Work Stream at the 2017 SAANZ Conference in Dunedin, the 2018 Conference will include a social work stream under the broad theme of Disrupting the Narrative. We hope to see you there.

Image credit: Global Justice Now

Social work, capitalism and social justice: Big and small pictures

When thinking about the past, present and future of social work it is instructive to bear in mind that its theory and practice is politically located (Gray & Webb, 2013). More specifically, social work in the Western context is embedded in the historical evolution of capitalism. Capitalism is a dynamic, often mesmerising, means of production and distribution which is both creative and destructive. There are some major difficulties with it as a model of development. As Karl Marx pointed out, it exploits working people, extracting surplus value from their labour (Hollander, 2008). Why do you think manufacturing has shifted to distant sweat-shops over the last forty years or so?

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