Professionals against prisons Aotearoa

A guest blog post by Kendra Cox (BSW student, University of Auckland and organiser with People Against Prisons Aotearoa. Iwi affiliations Te Ure o Uenukukōpako, Te Whakatōhea, Ngāi Tuhoe and Ngāti Porou)

A few weeks ago the recently elected Labour-led government announced that they are considering taking up the torch for the proposed Waikeria prison expansion floated under the National party in 2016 (Department of Corrections, 2016). The prospective expansion to the Waikato facility, just south of Te Awamutu, has ballooned from an extra capacity of 1500 to 3000 in the last eighteen months (Fisher, 2018a; Otorohanga District Council, 2017). The newest figures would raise the capacity of Waikeria Prison from 778 to nearly 3800, a higher number than our three largest correctional facilities combined. This ‘mega-prison’ has been celebrated by some, who are keen to see the influx of cash and jobs to the rural Waikato (Biddle, 2017). But the rapidly increasing prison population, which exceeded 10,000 last year and is now nearly 10,700 (Fisher, 2018a), has to be measured in more than just economic stimulation for the regions. Mass incarceration in Aotearoa should be measured instead by the human cost of families and communities ripped apart, of lives destroyed, and of social problems that continue to find a foothold and flourish in an increasingly unequal society.

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The problem with checklists in child protection work

A guest post by Eileen Joy, PhD candidate, University of Auckland

In the United Kingdom, ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) have been getting a lot of government attention recently – largely due to a government committee announcing, in October 2017, that it was going to “examine the strength of the evidence linking adverse childhood experiences with long-term negative outcomes, he evidence base for related interventions, whether evidence is being used effectively in policy-making, and the support and oversight for research into this area”.  Here in New Zealand the conversation about ACEs has been less official, but has still permeated government departments and local social media, with exhortations to watch Nadine Burke Harris’ ‘Ted Talk’ about them.

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Social Workers – What and who are we here for?

As we know, social work is a broad church with many different fields of practice. As a teacher in a social work programme I often tell students that this depth and variety is one of the beauties of the profession. In this sense, unifying definitions are always something of a challenge. For example, some earlier blog posts have questioned the supposed professional commitment to social justice when social workers generally help people to adapt to our exploitative social and economic system, rather than working to radically change it.

More disturbingly, social workers can potentially entrench social injustice by working in systems that discriminate against certain sections of the population in structurally unequal societies. Social work can therefore be understood as a complex and contradictory undertaking. However, in this short post I would like to keep things simple. I think it is important to cut to the chase a little and get one or two things straight.

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Why social work needs pride

A guest post by Eileen Joy, PhD candidate, University of Auckland

This weekend just past, I took both my children, and one of their friends, to the Auckland Pride parade. They had an absolute blast. They loved the colours, the energy, the vibe. They adored collecting stickers and ‘high-fives’ and cheering loudly as Jacinda Ardern passed.  We even had the privilege of a number of hugs from people we knew in the parade who ran over to share their excitement with us. And, thanks have to go to the lovely group of men beside us, whom I assume were not altogether straight, who laughed alongside us, made room for the three children, and gave their rainbow flags to us. I have to say it was, hands down, the best Pride parade I’ve been to yet.


We still get asked why we need the Pride parade. We still get told there are bigger issues. We still get told, you have marriage equality, why do you need more? We even get these questions from fellow social workers.

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Social workers call for the release of child political prisoners

This is a speech made by Shannon Pakura on 3rd February 2018 to a rally organised by Wellington Palestine protesting the arrest of Ahed Tamimi and all Palestinian child political prisoners

Kia ora, I’m Shannon Pakura, President of the Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Workers and I’m here to protest the arrest and detention of Ahed Tamimi and all Palestinian child political prisoners.

The facts are appalling: the Israeli state detains between 500 and 700 children (aged between 12 and 17) each year. They are tried in military courts with a prosecution rate of almost one hundred percent. The vast majority are tried for the crime of throwing stones at heavily armed Israeli Occupation Forces and their military vehicles: a crime that is punishable, depending on circumstances, by up to ten or twenty years in prison.  A UNICEF report found that around two thirds of children detained by the Israeli military testified to being violently abused during their arrest and detention, some said they were threatened with sexual assault. Since the year 2000 more than 12,000 children have been detained, and the problem is becoming more acute. The Palestinian child prisoner population has doubled in the last three years.

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A new paradigm for child protection practice

Across the English-speaking world social work in child protection has taken an authoritarian turn. Child protection social work will never foster social revolution, but it does not have to be the soul-less practice that it has developed into. The rationale for child welfare intervention in family life and the appropriate form of such intervention is contested (Fox-Harding, 1997; Grey & Webb, 2013). We have a choice about the shape of future practice and to make an informed choice we need to examine the wider political and economic context of current practice. Our child protection paradigm does not exist in a vacuum. It is tangled with the failed political ideology of neoliberalism – and it needs to be untangled!

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Promote the empowerment and liberation of people: Boycott Israel!

Context is everything. All social workers know this: that to make sense of a situation, to assess it, we need to put events into context. Put another way, private troubles are often connected to public issues, but we only see this when we make an effort to join the dots, to locate the micro in the macro. This connection, between the personal and the political, is at the heart of what it is to do social work. As the International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) states:

Social work is a practice-based profession and an academic discipline that promotes social change and development, social cohesion, and the empowerment and liberation of people. Principles of social justice, human rights, collective responsibility and respect for diversities are central to social work.  Underpinned by theories of social work, social sciences, humanities and indigenous knowledges, social work engages people and structures to address life challenges and enhance wellbeing (IFSW, 2014)

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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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