Heroes or villains, or is social work more complicated?

Over the past few months there have been a few debates on Twitter (where I talk to many people in many countries about all sorts of social work and politics stuff) about our profession and the nature of our public perception. This often-debated issue is inextricably tied up with our representation in ‘the media’. There is a long-standing theme in the literature going back to the 70s that the profession is given a tough time in the media. Like used-car sales people and estate agents we’re rarely in the news for doing good. Which is utterly aggravating (and underlining the contradictions) when we often suffer the disparaging epithet ‘do-gooder’.

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The RSW’s Christmas cracker

Kia ora koutou katoa. Warm season’s greetings to each and all. The RSW collective developed this blog space in April 2015. Time moves. We have aimed to provide a platform for critical dialogue about social work and the political context of our practice. We believe that dissent which troubles the mainstream narrative is vital in an unequal society like our own. We also believe that social workers have something to say about the imperative need for social justice in Aotearoa – and the means to achieve it. The intent has been to give voice to critical, radical, alternative, subversive ideas – big and small. The following brief reflections – differing perspectives and stories – are shared in the communal spirit of hope and solidarity as 2017 draws in.

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Women behind barres: Ballet and the prison system

There is something very compelling about the Radio New Zealand story described in the video below and I congratulate NZ Ballet for taking the initiative to do outreach work with the women incarcerated in Arohata prison: it is an excellent project that recognises the humanity of people in prison (and God knows, the women could do with a distraction at this time of year). However, even more compelling are the facts the presenter drops into the narrative: that the female prisoner population in Aotearoa has quadrupled in the last five years, that three-quarters have mental health issues and many others have histories of domestic violence.

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Poverty and child protection revisited

The correlation between child maltreatment and poverty is no longer a state secret (Davidson, Bunting, Bywaters, Featherstone, & McCartan, 2017; Pelton, 2015), not that it was ever hidden from social workers in the field. However a rich vein of irony lies just below the surface of this statement because the nature of the relationship remains obscured, in policy and practice. As Gillies, Edwards, and Horsley (2017) so powerfully illustrate, blaming inadequate parenting for the reproduction of disadvantage and dysfunction is a time-honoured tradition in capitalist societies.

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Putting the psychosocial stamp on policy

A guest post by Carole Adamson, University of Auckland

I’ve just been reflecting about the election and what I know about Jacinda and her new team in the light of my recent visit to Finland. I’ve been having conversations with people about social work’s role in emergency and disaster contexts, being firmly of the belief that the psychosocial response to disasters is what carries people into recovery and wellbeing, and that social work in our country is often under-represented in planning for and responding to disasters.

What I liked about the emergency and social services response in Finland, and what ties it in to the small glow of hope that I have in relation to the change of government in Aotearoa, is that a psychosocial perspective is honoured not only in practice but in policy and legislation.

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Does disorganised attachment mean a child has been abused? Research update.

Child protection and family support social workers really need to have it all: a strong political analysis, an understanding of organisations and a decent handle on relevant micro theories. In service of the latter, a rather obscure recent announcement was made about attachment theory. This is of interest to the child protection and family support communities due to the dominance of the theory in education and practise, and its usefulness in understanding some aspects of adult-child relationships.[1]

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How can we steer this government towards a more just Aotearoa?

A guest post by John Darroch, PhD Candidate, University of Auckland

Over the past week or so there have been a few blog posts on this site focusing on what the new Labour government means for social work in Aotearoa New Zealand. The general view of the authors seems to be that things are looking up, but that we will have to remain critical, and active, in order to push this government in the right direction.

In this post I intend to look more specifically at how the profession should position itself, and what we can do to maximise our impact. While the new government may have noble intentions there is no guarantee that this will always translate into sound social policy. There will be a range of competing interest groups, holding varying ideological beliefs, which will be working to influence this government when it comes to social policy. In particular this post aims to inspire individuals to think about how they can increase their effectiveness, and make their voice count.

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The (likely) inquiry into abuse in state care: An opportunity for discomfort and reflection

This guest blog post by Eileen Joy (Phd Candidate, University of Auckland) outlines the implications for social workers of an inquiry into state violence against children.

Elizabeth Stanley (2016), in her detailed examination of state violence against children in New Zealand, called it a ‘Road to Hell’ .  Her accounts of how children in our country were treated is horrifying, chilling, and makes for unsettling reading.  Stanley, the Human Rights Commission, tangata whenua, the United Nations, and many others have repeatedly made calls for there to be an inquiry into abuse in state care. The previous National led government resolutely stuck to their belief that the Confidential Listening and Assistance Service (CLAS) which, from 2008-2015 listened to those individuals who came forward (however only those with claims prior to 1992), and was able to refer people to the relevant Ministry for claims, was enough, and that an inquiry would “achieve very little”.  Such claims have been debunked by victims and the judge who oversaw CLAS, who have both made strong calls for an independent inquiry.

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The struggle continues

Today is Labour Day in New Zealand, a day commemorating the struggle of the New Zealand working class for an eight-hour working day. A struggle that began with the resolute action of a single carpenter from Petone, and was achieved by the coordinated action of the entire trade union movement. Labour Day reminds us of the importance of solidarity and the continued need for coordinated action to defend the rights of ordinary people. I want to use my Labour Day to reflect on recent political events and their implications for my fellow social workers, and the workers with whom they work.

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New social work for new times

In the much anticipated speech which revealed the launch of a new Labour-led coalition government, Winston Peters talked about capitalism. This is significant because mainstream politicians in Aotearoa New Zealand very seldom mention the word. They don’t want to frighten the horses. What Peters suggested is that too many of us see capitalism as a foe rather than a friend and that a return to capitalism with a human face is required. This is a clear reference to the failed politics of neoliberalism. As Filipe Duarte has pointed out, the destructive failure of neoliberal capitalism has spawned a right wing populist politics of prejudice and nationalism. This is graphically illustrated in the Trump debacle. However this realisation can also be an engine for progressive change.

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