Living on the edge: Social workers’ reasoning about cusp decisions in child protection practice

Recently I had the opportunity to attend the Decision-making, Assessment, Risk and Evidence (DARE) conference in Belfast, Ireland, run by the effervescent Brian Taylor from Ulster University. Our (myself and Ian Hyslop’s) presentation drew on our decision-making variability study that examines how and why child protection social workers make the decisions that they do. Understanding why a social worker might choose to either increase or reduce statutory intervention at key decision points on the decision-making continuum is one element of figuring out the reasons for variability. This is important to understand, as without knowing how or why key decision points function, it’s difficult to get a grip on improving or evaluating them.

Our study is based on the decision-making ecology, which proposes that decisions are not just the result of a single practitioner finding out information then coming to a decision. Instead, decision outcomes are the result of interlocking factors across the whole ecological spectrum, from macro factors such as inequalities, to meso factors such as organisational cultures and processes, and individual factors such as the values and culture of the social worker (Baumann, 2011). In this presentation, we were focussing on one main decision point: to go to a family group conference. Interviewing 24 social workers across three sites of the then Child Youth and Family (now Oranga Tamariki), plus holding six focus groups, allowed us to gather rich qualitative data about this and other fundamental decision points. These slides outline the perceptions of practitioners about what caused them to pursue a family group conference instead of either another intervention or none at all.

Reference

Baumann, D. J., Dalgleish, L., Fluke, J., & Kern, H. (2011). The decision-making ecology. Washington, DC: American Humane Association

Image credit: Thomas Hawk

 

Can a nurse be a teacher?

I wasn’t always pro-registration. Coming from more of an activist background I was suspicious of the role of regulation by a government body when social work is about resisting and ameliorating the harms of the state. There are still tensions for me, but the latest social work registration bill has some significant implications for anyone who wants to practise social work in this country, where the profession, like others, has fought to be recognised as a legitimate one that involves more than just having a cup of tea and telling folks ‘there there, you’ll be ok’. Under the weight of lack of funding for decent wages and constant criticism by the public and in some cases, employers, social workers have several ways to ensure that their working conditions and the quality of the services able to be offered are maintained. Registration is one way to support these aims. It’s not perfect, but it contributes to a strong professional identity that can then be protected from anyone without the right qualifications and comitment to a code of ethics from claiming it. It helps provide the public with some level of confidence in the profession, and a remedy if it’s not up to scratch. It also allows us, in an ideal world, to define social work as the unique combination of social justice and self-determination aspirations it has always professed. In these ways, registration at least has the potential to maintain standards of practise, ensure a strong professional identity and provide people we work with as ‘service users’ (there is no good term) with some protections from unethical practise. The proposed legislation, fresh back from select committee, damages these aims. How? In the section defining what is ‘practising social work’, there are almost directly contradictory elements, both with significant drawbacks (Parliament website)

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Does disorganised attachment mean a child has been abused? Research update.

Child protection and family support social workers really need to have it all: a strong political analysis, an understanding of organisations and a decent handle on relevant micro theories. In service of the latter, a rather obscure recent announcement was made about attachment theory. This is of interest to the child protection and family support communities due to the dominance of the theory in education and practise, and its usefulness in understanding some aspects of adult-child relationships.[1]

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Re-imagining social work conference stream: Call for papers

Kia ora tatou

The Re-imagining Social Work collective is hosting a stream in the Sociological Association of Aotearoa New Zealand 2017 Conference, 6 – 10 December 2017 (Dunedin). The broad theme of the conference is ‘Respect Existence or Expect Resistance‘. It aims to cover a variety of key public debates both nationally and internationally.

Within this broad conference theme, we are managing a stream relating to social work. We welcome abstracts in line with our stream:

Re-imagining resistance: Social work in and against the state.

For more information about the stream and how to submit abstracts, please visit the conference website.

Supporting “hard-working” families?

I had to laugh, in a sort of incredulous and ironic way, at some of Bill English’s latest tweets. What is especially ironic is that Bill and I have several similarities. He’s a Southland farmer; both my parents grew up on farms in Southland and Otago. He’s Pākehā; so am I. He tries to share his household labour with his partner; snap. But I guess our divergent lives have led to very different views on many things. For example, when he made the following tweets…

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Intensive intervention and care services: thoughts on the proposed legislative changes

The latest cabinet papers outlining the legislative proposals in relation to the intensive intervention and care services sections of the Child Youth and Family Review and restructure have now been released. This blog discusses just a few of the many issues raised in these papers: the effects of lack of attention to standard of living; the ‘genericising’ of cultural identity; and the implicit assumptions about foster care.

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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.

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On representation: voice, trauma and evidence in decision-making

Child looking out of a window

The Child Youth and Family reforms announced a week ago are wide-ranging and contain a mixture of potential pros and cons for different populations in contact with the whole child welfare system: by which I mean statutory child protection, the wider domain of NGOs, targeted and universal services, and macro social protections. I offer this post as my first reflections, and (as these reforms provide some hearty discussion topics) look forward to the developing policy debates that will ensue.

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Lies, damned lies and child protection statistics

Lies, damned lies and statistics: so the famous saying goes. The problem is, in the counting of social phenomenon (as opposed to physical entities), the way we choose to count things always reflects underpinning social processes rather than objectively verifiable realities. So, the issue is not so much a matter of calling out ‘lies’, but one of discerning the social priorities and concepts driving the categorisation processes used to sort the things at hand.

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Poverty and child abuse: never the twain shall meet?

The latest child poverty monitor makes for grim reading (Simpson et al., 2015). It shows an increase to 29% of New Zealand children now living in poverty, or nearly a third of all children in this land of milk and honey living below the poverty line. There have been various disclaimers that this measure is inaccurate, that it’s somehow ‘artificial’ as it’s obtained due to the median income and housing costs rising, while the incomes of poorer people remain the same. But that’s the point really – that if median incomes and costs rise, and the incomes of poorer people remain constant, then a greater proportion of those families will be unable to purchase basic necessities. This is poverty.

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