A guest post by John Darroch, PhD Candidate, University of Auckland
Over the past week or so there have been a few blog posts on this site focusing on what the new Labour government means for social work in Aotearoa New Zealand. The general view of the authors seems to be that things are looking up, but that we will have to remain critical, and active, in order to push this government in the right direction.
In this post I intend to look more specifically at how the profession should position itself, and what we can do to maximise our impact. While the new government may have noble intentions there is no guarantee that this will always translate into sound social policy. There will be a range of competing interest groups, holding varying ideological beliefs, which will be working to influence this government when it comes to social policy. In particular this post aims to inspire individuals to think about how they can increase their effectiveness, and make their voice count.
Our profession may be cognisant of the limitations of policy which is rooted in individualistic understandings of crime, or poverty, but there is no guarantee that new ministers will share this understanding. This is where professional bodies, academics, and motivated social workers need to step up. As a profession we need to be talking to the new government. This means going beyond policy submissions (though these are very important). It means building the kinds of relationships where you can email an MP about some new research, or with a social work informed opinion about a breaking story. We need to actively position ourselves so that our expertise and insight is utilised. As individuals, and organisations, there are many things we can do to ensure this happens.
Practically this may mean reaching out to MPs when they comment on an issue that you have expertise or interest in. The next step is to deliberately attend meetings or events in order to meet individual MPs or Ministers. Twitter and email provide a solid means to communicate with politicians and should not be underestimated. It will obviously be harder to build connections with new ministers because of their new responsibilities and need to maintain message control. That said Aotearoa New Zealand is a small country and my experience is that our politicians are very open to pragmatic communication.
As a profession we simultaneously need to be able to clearly and decisively respond when the government goes astray. This does not necessarily mean being antagonistic. But it does mean clearly pointing out when the government has got it wrong, and what it should be doing instead. This means learning how to use the media. It also means being able to respond quickly, and having the ability to frame our message in a way which is palatable to politicians and to the public.
We can also use this new government’s commitment to building a better Aotearoa New Zealand to highlight the cases where the systems are failing. Rather than papering over the cracks we can draw attention to these chasms with the hope (and expectation) that changes will be made. Drawing attention to broken systems could provide them with the impetus and public support needed to bring about substantial and lasting changes. If the government doesn’t take action to rectify the failings we are aware of then we can demand action be taken. We can aspire to be a force which actively guides the government in the right direction.
There are going to be many voices pulling this government in different directions. The social work voice needs to come through clearly. We cannot wait until this government makes mistakes to speak out, we must act proactively. We need to work to make sure that as individuals, and as a profession, we maximise the impact we can have.
Image credit: John Darroch