It was just a passing comment that struck me, from a Māori woman, stating what her mother had told her when she became a mother. She was talking about what is now Oranga Tamariki (OT). “Don’t give them a reason – don’t given them any reason to start looking at your parenting. Make sure everything appears perfect and don’t, whatever you do, give them any cause to start in on your family”. What is the level of cultural penetration of a child protection agency in the lives of families when the generational advice, along with feeding and sleeping and nappy -changing, includes how to protect yourself from state intervention? But this level of penetration does not apply to all families, everywhere. Our research shows that if you live in the most deprived 10% of neighborhoods in this country, your chance of having a family group conference held about your family is 35 times greater than if you live in the least deprived, and you have ten times the chance of having your child placed in fostercare (Keddell, Davie & Barson, 2019).
Lesley Max’s book ‘Children: An endangered species’ in 1990 opened the eyes of many in Aotearoa NZ to the horror of child abuse. And in a recent story on Newsroom Max expressed her feelings about how little has changed. In this post I’m not saying that we can’t do so much better because we have to! Social workers must apologise when we do wrong and take responsibility for poor practice in our name and work to fix the systems that hamper good work. We have to stand up for a human rights-based social work against the orders of risk averse managers. As a social work educator and researcher I want our students and graduates to go into systems that support the best practice. We can’t let overwork and scarce resources become an excuse for not treating whānau with respect and kindness. We have to fight for much better support for families. We have to ensure that practice is principled, honest and can stand the spotlight. It is time for child protection in Aotearoa to be more transparent, see for example the UK based Transparency Project.
With that said, I’ve been thinking over the last few days about the massive outpouring of anger over the ‘baby uplift’ video ‘New Zealand’s own taken generation’ . What is it about this story that has caught public attention now when these issues are not new? Criticism of child removals is certainly not new. What I see in so many of the comments from people who aren’t social workers, health professionals or lawyers is that the video has forced them to look deeply into the reality of what ‘taking children into care’ means. Most people luckily haven’t a clue. They haven’t seen it. And regardless of how it’s done it is brutal, even when many children are placed with kin, it’s still a traumatic rupture. Because child abuse is brutal. Neglect and deprivation are horrible.
So, when there is a child death it’s easy for commentators on every story to call ‘take their children, sterilise them, lock them up’ and so forth. They don’t see a traumatised young mother. They don’t see how imperfect ‘care’ is. And, as in the current situation, it is easy to talk about social workers ‘stealing’ babies if you’ve never seen babies with head injuries. Because child abuse and the ‘uplift’ process may be abstract if you’ve never seen it. Never seen the pain.
Child removal is something terrible that you know happens, but off to one side, not in the centre of your gaze. Something raw and searing that you don’t want to think about as you cuddle your own children.
Lesley Max’s book shocked the middle classes in the 1990s. It foregrounded the incredible work being done on implementing the 1989 legislation that was meant to guarantee and centre whānau decision- making (see Miriama Scott for a review) after the challenges about institutional racism in the DSW. And now Max is asking what went wrong? Thinking about the way child abuse stories flare up and die down may help us to understand why so many people are so very angry about the Newsroom video that sparked this current outpouring of distress, and why the story is not going away.
It’s awful for social work as an entire profession to face this rage but we forget sometimes how insulated so many people are from seeing poverty, inadequate housing, terrible health inequalities and the sheer brutalising of P and alcohol addiction. So it’s easy for the sheltered people to be devastated by child removals because their own experience is so different. And they haven’t been hearing the bad news about the disproportionate impact on Māori whānau.
Māori commentators have been trying to get wider awareness for a long time. Why weren’t you listening when Māori have been talking about this for years? (Parahi, 2019). When Māori have been so vocal about the ongoing nature of abuse in state care? (Cleaver, 2019) Why weren’t you listening when so many people with expertise were warning about the direction of Anne Tolley’s (non) expert panel in 2015? Many social workers also think what took you all so long to notice? Why weren’t all the journalists, with the award-winning horror shows and stories, noticing then that child protection was being redesigned over 2015-16 to fit a right wing child rescue agenda?
So, this last week the scales have been lifted off the eyes of many of those sheltered from the painful reality of child protection. Maybe one good thing that can come of this bonfire of justifiable outrage is a really good case to fund alternatives to children going ‘into care’. An inquiry has been announced today. First, let’s apologise properly for harm done. Let’s listen to Māori about what resources they need to stop this ongoing tragic loss, and act on what they say. Let’s massively expand support services for families, not just run a few pilots. Spend the millions on prevention, not growing foster care services / ‘trauma informed ‘care to ‘fix’ people our own systems have screwed up. Let’s drop the individualising and toxic obsession with neuroscience and resource social workers to support whānau, work closely with aunties and nanas, ensure families have food and a washing machine in their dry, safe affordable house. Let’s look wider and work together to stop the punitive, intrusive and downright aggressive processes in WINZ, that trample on people’s dignity.
It might cost twice as much but if it keeps babies with their mamas it’s worth it. So much more use than us banging on about trauma and ACEs checklists when we’re part of systems manufacturing trauma. I’m sorry we’re in this place. Let’s work now to make this the moment everything changed.
Like many of us recently, I have watched the ‘baby uplift’ footage story featured in Newsroom and read some of the avalanche of concerned and outraged commentary that has followed. I found the story disturbing on many levels – extremely disturbing but, sadly, not surprising. I think that the practice on display and the media responses from the Oranga Tamariki hierarchy illustrate deep-seated systemic problems within the state child protection system in Aotearoa New Zealand.
In 2017, Paul Hart, a family law barrister, wrote an article for the Family Law website entitled ‘Disguised compliance or undisguised nonsense?’ It was an article which led to a huge debate on Twitter which Jadwiga Leigh captured by turning into a storify [sadly unavailable now due to the closure of storify] . It took two years (!) but we have finally managed to turn that storify into an article (Leigh, Beddoe, & Keddell, 2019) which has just been published with Families, Relationships and Societies. For those who want the shortened version of the article, here is the blog that accompanies it:
When Hart published his online piece, it was clear he was troubled by two things. First, although the term disguised compliance was being applied to the concept of parental resistance, it was ineffectively describing that which was being implied. Therefore, although the term was being used by social workers to express concerns about non-compliance or resistance, when broken down into two distinct separate words, ‘disguised’ ‘compliance’, it actually meant ‘concealed’ ‘agreement’. Hart realized that it was highly unlikely that parents would hide their agreement with a social care plan but much more likely that parents would try and hide their disagreement with a plan. Therefore, disguised compliance is a term that more effectively describes parental agreement rather than disagreement or resistance…….
In child protection work, expectations of compliance almost always emerge in the context of a contract-like agreement between the professional and service user that establishes roles and responsibilities. However, without collaboration from parents, lack of parental investment is a likely outcome. The parent then becomes the problem rather than the professional…. or the forensic, risk-laden context in which the professional is situated in. And, sadly, these kind of cultural contexts are primed to interpret the behaviour of parents who do not keep appointments but do tidy the house as exhibiting ‘disguised compliance’.
To read more visit the blog here
Leigh, J., Beddoe , L., & Keddell, E. (2019). Disguised compliance or undisguised nonsense? A critical discourse analysis of compliance and resistance in social work practice. Families, Relationships and Societies. Online first. Free until 30 June.
Leigh, J. Beddoe, L., & Keddell, E. (May 30 2019). Disguised compliance or undisguised nonsense? Two years on from the original Twitter debate, are there still issues with disguised compliance? [Blog post] Retrieved from https://www.newbeginningsgm.com/single-post/2019/05/30/Disguised-compliance-or-undisguised-nonsense-Do-we-still-have-issues-two-years-on-from-the-original-Twitter-debate
Leigh, J. (30 April, 2017) ‘Disguised compliance’ – innocent shorthand term or jargon hiding a powerful discourse? [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.reimaginingsocialwork.nz/2017/04/disguised-compliance-innocent-shorthand-term-or-jargon-hiding-a-powerful-discourse/
Looking at the budget announcement of a new specialist support service delivered from 5 Oranga Tamariki sites “employing family/whanau support workers to support children and young people who are at risk of harm to be safe in their home”, I am pleased to see that at least some form of initiative has come to pass, albeit 3.5 years out from the Expert Panel recommendation for an intensive intervention programme. Having said that, this response remains seriously underwhelming. It reflects the inability of Oranga Tamariki and the current Government to get its priorities right in relation to child protection social work. In this post I will consider some of the challenges in moving child protection practice from a statutory care focus to a social work support focus. I will also explore some of the tensions arising from the conflicted legislative mandate within which this particular specialist support service will operate.
Examination of basic trends in child protection statistics provide insight into the overall functioning of the child protection system. Statistical trends are the ‘canaries down the mine’ of child protection systems, showing how policy changes, practice changes and social conditions are playing out in the child protection domain. This blog presents statistics obtained through the Official Information Act process, as well as publicly available data, to describe patterns in contact with the child protection system. It also provides some speculative commentary as to the causes of emerging trends. As these statistics are gathered from several sources, time periods differ and in places direct comparisons may not be possible. Nevertheless, the clear pattern is one of a care system hard to get into, but even harder to get out of, and increasing inequities for Māori children and whānau.
This is a guest blog by Kerri Cleaver (Kāi Tahu, Kāti Mamoe), Social worker, PhD candidate.
Is the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Historical Abuse in State Care and in the care of Faith-based Institutions (RC) a safe place for Māori and survivors to talk about their experiences and what should we be doing to support them as social workers? It is a question that’s been rolling around my head for quite some time now. I am a survivor.
My story of abuse in the foster system isn’t long, it didn’t go on for years and the traumatic effects for me are now mostly healed and now somewhat subtle in their visibility so it is not something that I put out there. It has been difficult enough through my adult life batting off all the judgements and consequences of being a foster system survivor so I’ve kept the paedophile foster parent experience a secret. It was a tough decision deciding I would engage with the RC, somewhat influenced and inspired by the work of many survivors who have laid bare their experiences for the sole purpose of getting a Royal Commission. Because I want children and young people to be safe, nurtured and have their mana enhanced when they interface with our child protection system, I felt an obligation, to myself, my profession and to my iwi to engage. In the words of Mahatma Gandhi “be the change you want to see in the world”. But lately I have been reflecting on the question “is this process safe for me as a Māori woman?” and what is our role as social workers to support our whanau going through the RC process?
When seeking to understand the performance of Oranga Tamariki (OT) it is important to be mindful of the context. Statutory child protection practice is challenging (and sometimes very rewarding) work that is often carried out by hard working and highly skilled social workers. Currently the work occurs within a risk-averse hierarchical bureaucracy which often tends not to provide the required level of support for good decision making in complex situations. Support for careful whānau and tamariki-centred social work is found in well supervised and resourced practice teams where uncertainty is recognised, responsibility is shared and where capable social workers are nurtured.
This guest blog is by: Dr Lynda Shevellar, (Lecturer in Community Development, The University of Queensland), Peter Westoby, (Associate Professor of Social Science and Community Development, Queensland University of Technology), and Dr Athena Lathouras, (Senior Lecturer in Social Work, University of Sunshine Coast).
“I said, watch what you say or they’ll be calling you a radical
Liberal, oh fanatical, criminal”
– Supertramp “The Logical Song”, 1979
“Watch what you say or they’ll be calling you a radical’” sang the English progressive rock band Supertramp in the late 1970s, echoing the way that the word “radical” is so often used to arouse ideas of extremism and instability. And given the recent tragic events in New Zealand – and in so many places around the globe – some might question the timing of this reflection. We could all be forgiven for shying away from a call for more radicalism and inviting a gentler framing for our activities. However, a closer interrogation of a radical agenda, and its place in community development, suggests that more rather than less radicalism may be just what social work in the Antipodes needs, and most particularly in these heartbreaking times.
The following is a personal reflection on the week that has passed. It is – of course – so very difficult to comprehend the bloody horror that erupted in Christchurch on March 15. Waves of shock, disbelief, anger, sadness are rolling through our communities as we all struggle to make sense of this event. Those of us at the edge can only imagine the unfolding grief of those at the centre who have lost friends and kin. There are no adequate words still. Perhaps there never will be. Aroha mai.