Podcast on poverty, child protection and the state

The RSW’s Ian Hyslop has appeared on a 95bFM podcast:

Poverty child, protection and the state: What needs to change?

Ian discusses the dominant narrative and some alternatives: social workers can advocate for political solutions and practice development that combats structural disadvantage and supports child and whānau centred practice. Have a listen – tell us what you think!

Image credit: Seb Lee-Delisle

Brains, biology, and tests for future ‘burdenhood’ –misguided blind faith in science?

Who hasn’t seen the brains? The luridly coloured images of two children’s brains, side by side. Presented as cast iron evidence of the impact of child neglect.  I remember exactly where I was when I first saw that image. The venue was a lecture theatre at my university (at least 10 years ago) and the presenter was a professional I knew and (still do) held in high regard. The emotional impact of seeing the two brains was considerable- the ‘normal’ brain of a child of a particular age contrasted with the apparently shrunken brain of a child who had suffered abuse and neglect.

Continue reading Brains, biology, and tests for future ‘burdenhood’ –misguided blind faith in science?

Hope for change at close of year

It is useful – I think – to reflect on the busy year that is now drawing in and to focus on the hopes and dreams that lie ahead of us. In various ways the aim of our RSW Collective has been to contribute to a re-thinking of the aims and aspirations of social work in turbulent times. Above all it is critical to recognise that social work is influenced by a broader context of economic and political relations.

Continue reading Hope for change at close of year

New child protection laws a regressive move

In the NZ Herald today an oped article by Ian Hyslop

The Government’s proposed reforms to our child protection laws are regressive, myopic and likely to have unfortunate outcomes for children who have been ill-treated in stressed families.They have been narrowly conceived and signal a return to rescue-based fostercare. This, in my opinion, is a huge step backwards for child protection in New Zealand, particularly for Māori.

Read more here 


Hands off our tamariki: An open letter

An Open Letter to Whānau, Hapū, Iwi, Iwi Leaders Forum, Māori Members of Parliament, Māori National and Iwi Organisations

from Te Wharepora Hou

E ngā Pou Whirinaki o tēnā iwi, o tēnā iwi e whiri i ngā nuku, e whiri i ngā rangi tēnā koutou katoa. He whakaaraara tēnei mō te ture hou o te Kawanatanga e pā ana ki a tātou tamariki mokopuna. E kii ana te Kawana he ture tiaki mokopuna. Ehara! He ture huti rito, he ture pare awhi rito, he ture e kato rau tipu, rau rangatira i te pā harakeke a ka tuku ki ngā hau waho ki reira marara haere ai. Inā tipu pā harakeke kore a tātou tamariki mokopuna, ka tipu pēhea rātou otirā tātou. Ka mato, ka mate rānei?

Over the past months a number of Māori women have worked collaboratively across Aotearoa to raise issues regarding the documents released by the Crown related to the restructuring of the current Child, Youth and Family Services (CYFS) to the Ministry of Vulnerable Children. We have advocated strongly against the development of a Ministry that is based upon deficit approaches to tamariki in this country, and in particular to tamariki Māori and whānau. We have not been alone in such a position, which has been advocated by a range of organisations including both the previous and current Commissioner for Children.

The recent announcement that the government will remove the requirement to prioritise the placement of tamariki with whānau is alarming to us all.

Read more here

The Political Context of CYF Reforms

7425048066_49d664d3ef_z  Ian Hyslop

The proposed changes to our child protection legislation take us back in time. They bury the vision of Püao-te-Āta-tü and signal a return to rescue-mentality foster care. The Children, Young Persons and their Families Act, 1989 set out to combat the effects of institutional racism by ensuring that children are understood in the context of whanau, the primary unit of Māori society. This emphasis is radically undermined by the proposed law changes. Securing safe and loving homes at the earliest opportunity is the new driving purpose. The outcomes will be discriminatory for Māori – not for middle class whanau mind, but for those at the bottom of the social and economic pile. This, according to the language of accountants, is where the unacceptable fiscal cost associated with benefits and prisons is generated. The most effective way to fix this is earlier removal, permanency and de-traumatisation. Cultural links can be maintained as part of individual identity but failing whanau can be written off. When it is stripped to the bone, this is the racist, classist and eugenic thinking we are up against. How have we come to this?

Continue reading The Political Context of CYF Reforms

Intensive intervention and care services: thoughts on the proposed legislative changes

The latest cabinet papers outlining the legislative proposals in relation to the intensive intervention and care services sections of the Child Youth and Family Review and restructure have now been released. This blog discusses just a few of the many issues raised in these papers: the effects of lack of attention to standard of living; the ‘genericising’ of cultural identity; and the implicit assumptions about foster care.

One interesting fact is that there are numerous sections in the cabinet papers redacted (removed). One section that has 3 of the 7 points redacted is the human rights implications section, and one can only guess at what those sections relate to. Perhaps they relate to the fact that the point in the Iwi leader’s covenant to ensure that every child has ‘an adequate standard of living’ is exempted from the revised purposes of the CYP&tF Act, while all other points are included. The connections between living conditions and contact with the child protection system are widely accepted in the international poverty and inequalities literature, yet the continuing excision of social conditions from the scope of child protection policy here continues to ignore this (Bywaters et al., 2016; Pelton, 2015). Just this week, in response to a judge’s speech relating to the immense and overwhelming increase in care applications before the courts in England, UK academics have reiterated their conceptualisation of a social model of child protection. A social model includes recognition of material factors in the ability to meet children’s needs, given the persistent relationships between deprivation, ethnicity and contact with the child protection system. We are heading in this direction, with the introduction of concurrent care planning (planning for care while also working with family on their issues), and the increased focus on removal at the ‘earliest opportunity’, with little attention to family context. https://policypress.wordpress.com/2016/09/23/the-crisis-in-the-family-courts-should-mean-we-re-think-and-change-our-approach-to-child-protection/

Maybe the absent human rights implications are related to the removal of the existing requirement for Maori children to be placed if possible with Iwi or Hapuu, and children from other ethnic groups to be placed where possible with people from their own ethnic group. This removal can be seen as a threat to the right to cultural identity expressed in the UNCROC. There are a number of references to retaining cultural identity that remain in the new proposals, but this is portrayed as an individual, generic type identification that has essentially been downgraded from very important to just one in a whole list of factors to consider. This highlights ongoing debates about the relative importance of cultural identities as an aspect of wellbeing. Aside from that, cultural identity generally requires connection to specific kinship networks and for Maori, whakapapa, to be maintained. The view of cultural identity is instead conceptualised in the new legislation as something relating to personal expression, rather than bound up with relationships with specific individuals and collectives (in this case, Hapuu and Iwi). The attempt to balance cultural identity needs with ongoing stability of placement is evident in the new legislation. It’s true that stability and attachment are important, yet the old sections of the Act were put in there for a reason: to stop the tide of Maori children into care arrangements that completely severed them from kinship connections, in recognition of the long arm of colonisation and its associated harms for people reaching adulthood with no anchor into a Maori identity (Ministerial Committee, 1988).

Perhaps the removed human rights implications relate to the ‘bespoke information sharing framework’ mentioned but not fleshed out in the proposals, which undoubtedly has some implications for rights to privacy. One can only guess.

The proposed changes generally encourage earlier removal to permanency. Implicit in this is the assumption that foster care, if done well, is harm free. Improving care is certainly important, and the many efforts to improve the permanent care system in these changes by way of increased support and standards for carers, increased stability and participation for children, and more resources for children transitioning out of care are warmly welcomed. But even a perfect care system is not as good as remaining in one’s own family in a safe environment. Foster care, even when adequately resourced, is not without its harms. As Morton (2016) provocatively argues:

“Removing a child to foster care violates the most basic trust existing in a child’s life that, whatever else may happen, the caregiver will be physically constant… Once the child is removed, the child remains suspicious about the permanence of the caregiver even if returned home. If it happened once, it can happen again. I am not arguing that removal is never necessary, rather that it must be balanced against the certain harm created by removal”

The fact that removal carries known harms means that the decision to do so can never be considered a comparison of the family situation with a uniformly positive alternative, although removal may be the better option in some instances based on a weighing up of harms.

Numerous studies have also shown that the length of time in care predicts family reunification – the longer in care, the less likely a return home is. This leads us to consider the aims of the system, as most studies assume reunification is the aim. For example, a recent study found that “Reunification was most likely during the first 2.5 years of the foster placement. Findings highlighted the importance of timely reunification efforts” (Goemans, Vanderfaeillie, Damen, Pijnenburg, & Van Holen, 2016, p.1). Is the purpose of the system to support families to retain the care of their children where possible, or to remove as soon as problems become apparent? We are moving towards the latter, which tends to result in large numbers of children coming into care, overwhelmingly from families at the margins of high deprivation and multiple complex problems (as is happening in the UK). Is this fair, without first offering the resources that might assist with those problems? Does it adequately balance adult’s right to parent their own children with children’s right to be protected from harm? This simplified dichotomy  leaves out a third right: children also have a right to where possible, family life. The felt loss of this, even in strained family circumstances, is a feature of research into the perceptions of care-leavers. This is why the focus should not be on creating immediate permanency in care arrangements, (apart from in a few extreme cases) but first on return home if possible, as soon as possible. The change in focus to early permanency underpinning these legislative changes is therefore a contested one. It’s also likely to result in a greater proportion of the finite resources available to go into fostercare, while supportive family services get less, a point well made in this article : https://www.thenation.com/article/has-child-protective-services-gone-too-far/

Implicit assumptions in these proposals are not only that removal carries no harm, and that early permanency is an out and out good, but also that early removal will result in better long term outcomes. This is unknown. How those outcomes are chosen as valid ones also bears scrutiny. The stated aim assumes that the future outcomes of cost to the welfare and criminal justice systems are valid signs of the success of the social investment approach. As noted, that early removal leads to this is not known, but even if it was, how do we consider the balance between reducing future costs and the current welfare of the child and their family? On the one hand, avoiding future harm seems like a no-brainer. Yet contact with welfare and even the criminal justice system can’t be considered uncomplicated evidence of ‘harm’, or of harm that is within parent’s control (justifying removal). In the child protection context, future costs must be balanced with rights to family life and the undoubtedly disproportionate effects for Maori. Many children in poor families will grow up to be poor. Should we remove them all to reduce the forward liability? Or address the causes of poverty and marginalisation underpinning them? For these ethical reasons, most countries focus on reunification first, while balancing the need to act within children’s time-frames.  We are heading in a different direction, where reunification may no longer be considered a valuable aim. This raises a number of ethical issues and the need for ongoing debates, as well as good evidence regarding the effects of the changes as they unfold.

Bywaters, P., Bunting, L., Davidson, G., Hanratty, J., Mason, W., McCartan, C., & Steils, N. (2016). The relationship between poverty, child abuse and neglect: An evidence review. Coventry: Joseph Rountree Foundation.

Goemans, A., Vanderfaeillie, J., Damen, H., Pijnenburg, H., & Van Holen, F. (2016). Reunification of foster children: Factors associated with reunification outcomes in Flanders and the Netherlands. Children and Youth Services Review. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.childyouth.2016.09.023

Ministerial Advisory Committee. (1988). Puao-te-ata-tu (day break): The report of the Ministerial Advisory Committee on a Maori perspective for the Department of Social Welfare.  Wellington, New Zealand: Retrieved from http://www.msd.govt.nz/documents/about-msd-and-our-work/publications-resources/archive/1988-puaoteatatu.pdf.

Pelton, L. H. (2015). The continuing role of material factors in child maltreatment and placement. Child Abuse & Neglect, 41(0), 30-39. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.chiabu.2014.08.001

Like water on a rock

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.

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Enhancing fieldwork education: A strategic approach?

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.

Continue reading Enhancing fieldwork education: A strategic approach?