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.

When you are outside of your own country, you have to take quite a bit of time to describe the context that makes your actions intelligible. These are the slides from my talk, emphasising that the context we are working in is increasingly filled with the twinned themes of: the individualisation of social problems, and responsibilisation of citizens and practitioners. Alongside this, the state is effectively retracting in the social sphere (for example, through the hard-nosed and punitive welfare system aimed at getting people off it, the ongoing reductions in the working for families tax credit system, the stagnation of benefit rates, the CYF review aimed at privatising many more aspects of child protection work, the decreasing health funding in some areas, the lack of CPI paid in NGO contracts since 2008). There is not much public debate beyond the media soundbite about the immense range and depth of social policy changes we have been through in the last five years operationalising these themes. Some alternative journalists, unions, public figures, other academics and advocacy groups have of course made important inroads, but we are all struggling to really make  a dent in the public consciousness. Academics are relatively free to try and generate debate about social policy changes compared to others employed in the public service, (or contracted to it) so we are trying to make good use of this privilege (while we still have it). But it is like water on a rock…perhaps having some barely imperceptible effect, or perhaps none at all. So we have to just keep going. And hoping.

2 thoughts on “Like water on a rock

  1. 29 years ago I was suddenly widowed and an expectant Mum in difficult circumstances. At that time, under advisement, I made the difficult choice to place my older son, who was one of the earliest children to be diagnosed with ADHD in foster care and concentrate on my current circumstances. (The foster parents association nic named him ‘the white tornado’) I believe I made the right choice for me and my children at that time.
    Subsequently, after my youngest became independent I volunteered to help an independent community group associated with a Mental Health NGO using the “Fountain House ” system of reintegrating people from MH services into mainstream communities. This is an ongoing and struggling project- no funding apart from the basics, the NZ organization exists in Auckland by being ‘grand parented’ by NGO Arahura Trust ( http://www.arahura.org.nz/ ).
    I attended Ian Hyslop’s recent talk at AK Uni and made a statement expressing my belief that my generation could be the last in NZ for some time where the ordinary family would be able to ‘parent’ in the normal accepted way due to these CYFS reforms. That is unless some intervening social movement arose outside of CYFS sphere of activity. Arahura Trust, if approached expertly in the right way may be a place to open such a pathway.
    What is happening is not historically new but it is made all the more pervasive by the scientific advances of surveillance technology, and behavioral manipulation on a massive scale.
    One thing that I have noticed while attending Clubhouse, and other associated events, is that whilst a proportion of members are parents, they are also people who have endured a huge level of interventionism in their lives.
    Huge unaddressed separated parenting issues exist eg how to manage access supervision, behave towards foster parents, what should be expected from foster parents, etc for which there is no supportive forum for these to be brought out into the open. I have seen sporadic attempts by some motivated but inexpert people to insert programmes about general life management skills , but not about the role of parents in this situation. Once custody is removed parenting is considered ‘over’. (Oddly enough housing issues are becoming viewed in a similar fashion).
    This is particularly punitive for people with young families, who are most likely to get caught up in CYFS procedures. Parents under these circumstances often have their children removed at birth sometimes multiple times, and return too traumatized to be involved in anything, or reengage after being permanently disconnected from the parenting process. Due to the manner in which this process is engaged, it is currently considered ‘too risky’ to introduce any discussion on the matter.
    This is a human rights issue for children and adults alike. Parents’ access to their child is often used as a tool to elicit compliance. I continue to be at a loss to see how this can be dealt with this under the ‘new’ welfare regimes. Unless a new direction is initiated by suitably qualified practitioners, it is a ‘given’ that the ‘new’ policies intend to continue to widen this policy approach to management of (economically) distressed families. I notice that many members of RISW have crossover skills and qualifications which could be legitimately used to start such an initiative.
    I believe that these ‘reformed’ CYFS management models are open to corruption by motivated individauls and NGO contractors which allow practice policies that result in individuals taken into care as children, remain separate from their origins for life. I have seen instances where caseworkers and foster parents are able to engage in unethical demonization of first parents using sophisticated psychological and physical coercion supported by closed psychotherapy programes which have used discredited attachment therapies -for example ‘rebirthing’. Sometimes, as a result of these therapies, the removed child becomes a physical danger to the first parents if either party attempts to be reunited, especially as a teen or adult. This is institutionalized child abuse.
    Creating a system of continued oversight through supporting original parents will be part of a solution which will enforce some form of democratic accountability for individuals being reared under these circumstances. It is also a human rights issue, regarding the rights of the child, enforecable under the NZ UN ratification of the Social, Cultural and Economic Rights directive, administerd by The UN Committee for Social Cultural an Economic Rights. Which was involved in the CPAG campain regarding Child Poverty in NZ.
    Despite this I believe that it is a way forward to persist in supporting people through the “new” (19th century with added enforcement technology) social, cultural, and economic paradigm, of providing care and social support. Often CYFS case workers promote engagement in the MH system as a solution when faced with a distressed parent when the intention is to remove children, as an incentive for them to regain parenting ‘rights’ with the full knowledge that any such engagement with MH services will make separation of the family connections easier. Once engaged the support , and even peer discussion of this subject is rare, and covert. Despite this I think that RISW members would be able to use their expertise on these issues to create and run support groups within community MH organizations. The link to Clubhouse – http://www.arahura.org.nz/crossroads-clubhouse/
    I sincerely hope that you will consider investigating this avenue to further hands on promotion of the RISW ideals. Over time, I have been approached by people caught up in the CYFS protocols who were made aware of my experiences. When this happens I clearly state that I am a layperson, but suggest that in these circumstances it is a way forward for someone to reevaluate their role as a parent in that they are STILL A PARENT, but because of the circumstances, their responsibilities have changed from a hands on role as a parent to preserving the relationship with their child, and to seek help with an aim to absolutely prevent the childcare regime from demonizing their role in their child’s life. Be aware that this pathway requires skilled negotiation and personal strength for the parent and that it is advisable to be aware that serious professional help may have to be sought out. I have witnessed parents who followed this directive regain relationships with their child further on.
    Hope you will consider this approach as a valid pathway to inserting some form of personal and administrative accounability into the current CYF reforms and would welcome further discussion of these options.

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