A guest post by Carole Adamson, University of Auckland
I’ve just been reflecting about the election and what I know about Jacinda and her new team in the light of my recent visit to Finland. I’ve been having conversations with people about social work’s role in emergency and disaster contexts, being firmly of the belief that the psychosocial response to disasters is what carries people into recovery and wellbeing, and that social work in our country is often under-represented in planning for and responding to disasters.
What I liked about the emergency and social services response in Finland, and what ties it in to the small glow of hope that I have in relation to the change of government in Aotearoa, is that a psychosocial perspective is honoured not only in practice but in policy and legislation.
I was given a presentation at the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health in Helsinki, which taught me that in their national Security Strategy, ‘psychosocial crisis tolerance’ is one of the seven principles. Imagine that, ranking up there with the risks of international terrorism! The permanent secretary for the Ministry has a seat on the Security Committee, with the Finnish Red Cross in an expert role to support the committee.
What’s more, as a result of legislation and the national policy, emergency responders and social services work together. Social work is not the secondary partner here. In an after hour’s situation, when the emergency phone number is rung, the call goes out simultaneously to the emergency responders (their police, fire, ambulance etc.) and at the same time, the notification goes to the emergency social services. Two psychosocial workers – usually a social worker and a psychiatric nurse – respond to all emergency calls involving, for instance, child protection, victims of crime, an apartment fire… They provide pragmatic psychological first aid, network, stay with people until relatives arrive, find accommodation or mental health care – and yes, before you ask, they make sure that the Finnish equivalent of the SPCA comes and takes the companion animals into care.
I visited two emergency social services teams in municipalities around Helsinki. Whilst there are regional differences (resources in Lapland will be far more strained, as you can imagine), everyone accepted the structural equality of our profession of social work alongside the emergency services.
What has this got to do with New Zealand and our election? Well, for me, it’s about the platforms on which we build good outcomes for communities and individuals alike. If we have a government that is committed to the evidence about the social determinants of health, that accepts that neo-liberal philosophies have undermined and corrupted any attempts at a social democratic redistribution of resources, and that our very definitions and understanding of social work were teetering on the edge of being neutered and demolished by a state intent on a free market penalising of the poor, then there is hope.
If we have a government that genuinely listens to the research which says that early intervention and the wise management of moments when bad things happen, then social work has a greater opportunity, in my view, to begin to re-establish itself as a truly socially just profession. Whether our role is in the needs emerging out of disaster, or out of the crisis of poverty and inadequate housing, it is psychosocial interventions by social work and our allies that can make a difference.
In Finland, they can justly celebrate that this is enshrined in law and policy. Isn’t it about time that social work gets the same level of acknowledgement here in Aotearoa?
Photo credit Carole Adamson