The slideshow below is of my address to the PSA Social Work Action Network conference on 1st and 2nd of September 2016 at Auckland University of Technology (AUT), New Zealand. I talked about the way in which social services are applying an increasingly punitive approach to the most disadvantaged people in our society.
On a recent trip to the UK, I was asked to talk about the work of the RSW collective at Salford University. I didn’t really want to, I wanted to talk about one of my other areas of research interest, but peeps insisted! As I was soon to learn, this was fuelled by the synchronicities between ANZ and the UK in many areas: neoliberal economic and social policies, punitive welfare reform, an increasing emphasis in child protection policy on removal of children earlier to permanency (with little attention to structural or family conditions), and criticism of social work and education. So people were keen to hear about our little project of resistance.
This is the third and final blog post in response to the New Zealand Social Workers Registration Board’s (SWRB) current review of their standards for recognising programmes of social work professional education. In the first blog post I discussed the question of whether required curriculum inputs should be specified in the standards and argued that an emphasis on inputs and content specification in other jurisdictions stifled innovation, overloaded the curriculum and led to students feeling pressured by the sheer amount of content to be covered. I went on to argue that, if we want to improve social work education programmes in Aotearoa New Zealand, then we must focus on the outcomes of qualifying programmes, not curriculum inputs. The second blog post responded to the question of the adequacy of the graduate attributes specified in the standards and argued that, instead of having a set of 14 graduate outcomes, in addition to a set of 10 core competence standards, we ought to articulate a single set of clear, unambiguous and realistic statements of intended graduate outcomes, competencies or capabilities. Furthermore, I argued that we could obtain clarity about the correct level of achievement for new graduates if we adopted a whole of career approach and specify the outcomes we expect at different points in the career journey of a social worker. I also pointed out that the enhance R2P project is national research project funded by Ako Aotearoa to address precisely this issue.
In a previous blog post I discussed the current review by the New Zealand Social Workers Registration Board (SWRB) of its programme recognition standards. Since the programme recognition standards are what the SWRB use to recognise and (every five years) re-recognise a social work qualifying programme, any changes introduced as a result of the review would, in effect, reform social work education in Aotearoa New Zealand. A consultant has circulated a survey amongst stakeholders to invite comment on the existing standards (SWRB, 2013) including: the graduate profile, the curriculum, requirements for fieldwork placement, admission criteria, modes of delivery, and staffing requirements. In my last post I discussed curriculum content and argued that specifying required curriculum content would hinder rather than help curriculum improvement. Instead, I argued that the focus of our attention ought not to be on curriculum inputs but on clarifying the outcomes of qualifying education. In this post I want to continue with that argument, reflect on the survey questions about the graduate profile, and consider what an effective, outcomes-based social work education might look like.
As a distance educator and someone who has been involved with learning technology for over twenty years I am a great fan of the Canadian educational researcher George Siemens. It was George who, along with Stephen Downes, developed the first Massive Open Online Course (or MOOC). However, the original MOOC designed by Siemens and Downes could not be less like the content driven MOOCs offered by the plethora of institutions who now occupy that space, theirs was founded on a connectivist pedagogy driven by the activity of learners and the networks they form, not by a pre-determined content driven structure.
With the first ‘tranche’ of proposed legislative changes associated with the Child Youth and Family review comes the opportunity to make submissions to the Social Services Committee. We have made one in regards to the final proposed change – to delegate fairly substantial powers beyond the state organisation (name as yet unknown) to third party professionals/organisations. They don’t have to be social workers (in fact the point is exactly to extend certain powers beyond social workers to other professionals) and the organisations remain unknown. If passed, this Bill will have two main results we should be concerned about. Firstly, it is a direct challenge to the expertise of social workers – specifically – to be able to receive notifications and make the most intrusive types of orders – without leave. Even more concerning is the move to enable those outside the state (whoever it is) to be able to perform all the functions currently held by the CE of CYF. This includes every coercive power of the state you can think of, and with a direct reference to requiring the appropriate ‘contracting’ to be in place, seems clearly to set the scene for the privatisation not only of less contentious services such as foster care or preventive services (already contracted to a number of NGOS), but of direct front-line decision-making and practice such as taking notifications of concern, applying for declarations, and applying for custody orders. We think it’s a bad idea, for reasons given below.
More rooms – more elephants! There are numerous references in the posts on this site to poverty, inequality and social justice in relation to child protection. These relationships are complex. The urban poor are, for example, subject to a higher level of professional surveillance than the residents of our gated and ‘leafy’ suburbs. However it is clear that the incidence and prevalence of child abuse is higher in relatively impoverished communities (Pelton, 2015). This should not come as any great surprise – the rates of crime, imprisonment, educational under-achievement and poor health outcomes are also higher. Why wouldn’t they be? The more important question in the current climate is “what does this mean for the ‘every-day’ practice of child protection social work?”
In 2001 Amy Rossiter asked the critical question: ‘do we educate for or against social work‘. She wrote about being
exhausted and beleaguered by a lifetime of being positioned as a “professional helper” by a state that organizes the people’s problems as individual pathologies that are best administered by professionals who are trained not to notice the state. (p.1, emphasis added)
I suspect many social work educators feel the same. And in Aotearoa New Zealand we are being asked to ‘not notice’ the erosion of the welfare state, and ‘not notice’ poverty, homelessness, health inequalities and the institutional racism which pervades Māori experience of state institutions. We are being asked to ‘not notice’ the erosion of political commentary and debates in news media saturated by sport and inane clickbait sensationalism. In this culture it becomes more vital for social work educators to teach students to notice, and to question (Beddoe & Keddell, 2016), and to resist the encroachment of politicians into social work education.
By guest writer Mike O’Brien
Mike is an Associate Professor at the School of Counselling, Human Services and Social Work at the University of Auckland. In this post he raises concerns about the current rewrite of the Social Security Act . He is a Board member at Te Waipuna Puawai and of the Auckland City Mission and is a member of the Impacts of Poverty and Exclusion policy group for the New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services. He is also the social security spokesperson for the Child Poverty Action Working Group.
Ideas are never neutral. As Marx and Engels observed, those who define the dominant ideas control the world:
The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. (Marx & Engels, 1964)
The following is a brief historical exploration of how the seductive and insidious ideology of neoliberalism has come not only to dominate the social policy landscape in Aotearoa – New Zealand but also to colonise our common sense and rob us of our political imaginations.