Nine months ago I wrote a reflection on my first few months as a social worker, and the disillusionment I faced in realising social work practice was not necessarily social justice practice. Read it here! The following post is a down-the-track reflection on my thoughts from that time, and on my first year as a social worker in a child and family-focused NGO.
The following reflections from each and all of us at the RSW Collective are offered at the turn of a challenging and energising year for social work in Aotearoa New Zealand. We don’t pretend to speak for anyone else, but we do encourage critical imagination and action – together we can help shape a progressive future.
The social profession seeks to do more than bandage the victims of an unequal society; it needs to be a voice for social change. Critical social workers need to have a powerful voice in practice development, policy analysis and in wider politics. We have something to say about the genesis of social suffering and this involves more than administering evidence-based treatment to the poor.
The Government promised us capitalism with a human face. To be fair, serious political attention is being directed at the social consequences of capitalism for the first time in decades. However, the soothing language of wellbeing can be deceptive. I think it is important to understand that this public policy initiative has serious limitations which are disguised in the current political context. Aotearoa New Zealand (ANZ) is a small liberal capitalist society. This model of economic, social and political arrangements sets the possibilities for reform and limits our perceptions of alternatives. I will argue here that we need to think outside of the liberal capitalist box if we are to imagine (and make) real distributive change.
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.
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
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.
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.’
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.
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.