The spotlight is on us- an apology is due

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.

 

Disguised compliance revisited

In a recent new blogpost Jadwiga Leigh asks, do we still have issues with this term two years on from her first blog on RSW (Leigh, 2017).

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

Reference

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/

Reproductive rights are a social work issue

Over the last few months I’ve been closely following the Repeal the 8th campaign in Ireland. The 8th Amendment in the Irish Constitution means that abortion is illegal in Ireland even where the pregnancy places a woman’s health at serious risk, in cases of rape or incest, or where the foetus is likely to die before or shortly after birth. See background to why the Irish Association of Social Workers supported the Together for Yes campaign. They said:

“Social workers come into daily contact with the most vulnerable and marginalised individuals and communities in our society and witness the ways that many of the people we work with are disproportionately and adversely affected by the 8th Amendment. In effect, the Constitution as it stands specifically discriminates against them –  the 13th Amendment gives permission for people who need a termination of pregnancy to travel to another jurisdiction, but if you’re poor, homeless, experiencing domestic violence, living with a disability, seeking asylum, are undocumented or a victim of trafficking, you do not have the same rights as others who, for a wide variety of reasons, may choose to terminate a pregnancy”.

Today people in Ireland are cheering a significant victory for the Yes vote which means that work can be done to change the constitution so that abortion can be legalised, according to an exit poll conducted for The Irish Times.

Continue reading Reproductive rights are a social work issue

Heroes or villains, or is social work more complicated?

Over the past few months there have been a few debates on Twitter (where I talk to many people in many countries about all sorts of social work and politics stuff) about our profession and the nature of our public perception. This often-debated issue is inextricably tied up with our representation in ‘the media’. There is a long-standing theme in the literature going back to the 70s that the profession is given a tough time in the media. Like used-car sales people and estate agents we’re rarely in the news for doing good. Which is utterly aggravating (and underlining the contradictions) when we often suffer the disparaging epithet ‘do-gooder’.

Continue reading Heroes or villains, or is social work more complicated?

Brains, biology, and tests for future ‘burdenhood’ –misguided blind faith in science?

Who hasn’t seen the brains? The luridly coloured images of two children’s brains, side by side. Presented as cast iron evidence of the impact of child neglect.  I remember exactly where I was when I first saw that image. The venue was a lecture theatre at my university (at least 10 years ago) and the presenter was a professional I knew and (still do) held in high regard. The emotional impact of seeing the two brains was considerable- the ‘normal’ brain of a child of a particular age contrasted with the apparently shrunken brain of a child who had suffered abuse and neglect.

Continue reading Brains, biology, and tests for future ‘burdenhood’ –misguided blind faith in science?

New child protection laws a regressive move

In the NZ Herald today an oped article by Ian Hyslop

The Government’s proposed reforms to our child protection laws are regressive, myopic and likely to have unfortunate outcomes for children who have been ill-treated in stressed families.They have been narrowly conceived and signal a return to rescue-based fostercare. This, in my opinion, is a huge step backwards for child protection in New Zealand, particularly for Māori.

Read more here 

 

Hands off our tamariki: An open letter

An Open Letter to Whānau, Hapū, Iwi, Iwi Leaders Forum, Māori Members of Parliament, Māori National and Iwi Organisations

from Te Wharepora Hou

E ngā Pou Whirinaki o tēnā iwi, o tēnā iwi e whiri i ngā nuku, e whiri i ngā rangi tēnā koutou katoa. He whakaaraara tēnei mō te ture hou o te Kawanatanga e pā ana ki a tātou tamariki mokopuna. E kii ana te Kawana he ture tiaki mokopuna. Ehara! He ture huti rito, he ture pare awhi rito, he ture e kato rau tipu, rau rangatira i te pā harakeke a ka tuku ki ngā hau waho ki reira marara haere ai. Inā tipu pā harakeke kore a tātou tamariki mokopuna, ka tipu pēhea rātou otirā tātou. Ka mato, ka mate rānei?

Over the past months a number of Māori women have worked collaboratively across Aotearoa to raise issues regarding the documents released by the Crown related to the restructuring of the current Child, Youth and Family Services (CYFS) to the Ministry of Vulnerable Children. We have advocated strongly against the development of a Ministry that is based upon deficit approaches to tamariki in this country, and in particular to tamariki Māori and whānau. We have not been alone in such a position, which has been advocated by a range of organisations including both the previous and current Commissioner for Children.

The recent announcement that the government will remove the requirement to prioritise the placement of tamariki with whānau is alarming to us all.

Read more here

The Political Context of CYF Reforms

7425048066_49d664d3ef_z  Ian Hyslop

The proposed changes to our child protection legislation take us back in time. They bury the vision of Püao-te-Āta-tü and signal a return to rescue-mentality foster care. The Children, Young Persons and their Families Act, 1989 set out to combat the effects of institutional racism by ensuring that children are understood in the context of whanau, the primary unit of Māori society. This emphasis is radically undermined by the proposed law changes. Securing safe and loving homes at the earliest opportunity is the new driving purpose. The outcomes will be discriminatory for Māori – not for middle class whanau mind, but for those at the bottom of the social and economic pile. This, according to the language of accountants, is where the unacceptable fiscal cost associated with benefits and prisons is generated. The most effective way to fix this is earlier removal, permanency and de-traumatisation. Cultural links can be maintained as part of individual identity but failing whanau can be written off. When it is stripped to the bone, this is the racist, classist and eugenic thinking we are up against. How have we come to this?

Continue reading The Political Context of CYF Reforms