Away from the daily grind of social work practice, in the lofty land of international definitions and professional bodies, social work is nominally aligned with the struggle against oppression and the pursuit of social justice. This identity claim is contradictory on at least two fronts. First, it is ideologically fudged in the sense that the nature of social justice and the conditions for establishing it are politically contested. Unsurprisingly, such umbrella definitions reflect a compromise position. International social work organisations have not – and they are not about to – condemn the injustices inherent to globalised capitalism (Gray & Webb, 2013).
In their analysis of the contemporary linkages between sociology and biological science – and the practical realisation of this project in recent social policy and service design – Gillies, Edwards & Horsley (2016) pose some critical questions for social work. The epigenetic argument is that care and love generate a healthy brain, a well-adjusted child, and a successful adult (see also Beddoe, 2017). It follows that parenting – the provision of stability, love and care – is the key to social development. Accordingly, targeted resources should be directed to ensuring that parents who are not doing this job adequately are enabled (or forced) to do so. Further, it is appropriate to terminate the rights of parents if they are incapable of delivering on this responsibility. Such parents are, of course, found amongst the urban poor in western capitalist societies. The way out of poverty is, it seems, ‘love’. And we have the data-base capacity to detect love-less children, and those parents who are unable or unwilling to provide it.
It is a cliché, of course, to point out that we inevitably repeat the mistakes of the past if we do not understand and learn from them. However, this does not make the sentiment any less true. The story of the abuse of children in the care of the New Zealand state is a case in point. It is a deeply disturbing and still largely hidden history (Stanley, 2015; 2017). There are currently over 700 people with unresolved claims on the books of the Wellington law firm Cooper Law. It is very likely that this figure represents the tip of the iceberg.
A guest blog post by Alan Johnson.
The Government does not acknowledge that there is a housing crisis. This denial is most likely for reasons of framing – once it admits the frame of a crisis it will then need to accept the blame for it.
But for the people on the right side of the ownership divide, the housing market is not a crisis but a bonanza. These people have seen the value of the residential property assets rise by more than 60% during the term of this Government and if they own property in Auckland it has almost doubled.
Another reason why the Government won’t acknowledge the housing crisis is because its supporters – the property investors, speculators, landlords, developers as well middle class baby boomers – have benefited hugely. Furthermore, these gains have more or less been tax free.
Kia ora tatou
The Re-imagining Social Work collective is hosting a stream in the Sociological Association of Aotearoa New Zealand 2017 Conference, 6 – 10 December 2017 (Dunedin). The broad theme of the conference is ‘Respect Existence or Expect Resistance‘. It aims to cover a variety of key public debates both nationally and internationally.
Within this broad conference theme, we are managing a stream relating to social work. We welcome abstracts in line with our stream:
Re-imagining resistance: Social work in and against the state.
For more information about the stream and how to submit abstracts, please visit the conference website.
A guest post by David Kenkel
Like many social workers, I’ve been following the debate about forcible data collection and the design of what look likely to be very interventionist approaches by the new Ministry for Vulnerable Children/Oranga Tamariki. I’ve wondered why a large proportion of New Zealand citizens apparently approve of strategies being applied to others they would hate to have applied to themselves? In thinking about this I’m drawn to the whakataukī: There, but for the grace of God, go I. I like this saying because it captures a vision of solidarity and community. It reminds me that the differences between my life and the lives of others are mostly to do with accidents of history. It’s a way of acknowledging that the good or bad fortune of ourselves and our neighbours are as much to do with the lottery of social circumstances, as our own individual efforts. In the aftermath of the Great Depression, I suspect it was a similar vision, that drove Michael Joseph Savage and the first Labour Government of New Zealand, to introduce the Social Security Act 1938, establishing the first social security system in the world (Silloway-Smith, 2010). The economic circumstances of the time made it clear that the wellbeing of each was inextricably linked to the wellbeing of all.
It is not difficult to be pessimistic about the future of social work in Aotearoa New Zealand at the present point in time. However I want to convey a sense of genuine optimism. Read on and I’ll explain why.
Social work has always been a challenging and conflicted job – that is the beauty of doing it well. It is important to have a critical understanding of the relationship between our practice and its wider context, historically, and in the now. According to Featherstone, White, and Morris (2014, p.36), social work needs…
The following is the response of the Re-Imagining Social Work Collective to the call for comments and suggestions by the New Zealand Social Workers Registration Board on their definition of ‘social work’ and proposed scope of practice.
In a recent twitter storm (or perhaps more accurately, a surge) there was a great exchange of ideas between Aotearoa and UK social workers, lawyers and service user advocates on the topic of the term ‘disguised compliance’ in child protection. We say ‘surge’ because it was a powerful and constructive exchange rather than the sometimes personal, incoherent and bitter fights that can erupt in that forum.
The so-called social investment strategy being implemented by the current Government is based on a narrow individualised analysis of the causes of poor social outcomes. The intent is to spend some money on problem people now in order to reduce social costs in the future. The specific focus is on reducing the long term cost of benefits and prisons.
Like much ideologically loaded social policy there is a strong superficial appeal. Social service workers are familiar with the idea that social deficits can be inter-generationally reproduced and that the traumatic effects of violence and abuse can echo down the generations. It is a short step from this insight to accepting the idea that we need to fix these people – efficiently and effectively, once and for all.