The Expert Witness as cultural oppressor

This blog is a guest blog by Peter W Choate, PhD (Associate Professor, Social Work, Mount Royal University, Calgary, Canada – pchoate@mtroyal.ca)

Peter’s work involves sustained critical discussions of the roles of parental capacity assessments and expert witnesses in the machinations that result in the disproportionate representation of Indigenous Canadian children in the Canadian child welfare system. Here, he discusses the powerful role of the ‘expert witness’ in court proceedings.

 

Today I made an appearance downtown

I am an expert witness because I say I am

And I said, ‘Gentleman..and I use the word loosely…

I will testify for you

I’m a gun for hire, I’m a saint, I’m a liar

Because there are no facts, there is no truth

Just a data to be manipulated

I can get any result you like

What’s it worth to ya?

The Garden of Allah Lyrics – Don Henly. Glenn Frey, Eagles

These words from the America band, The Eagles, is a stark reminder of the power of expert witnesses in courts. In the realm of child protection, mental health experts perform a variety of assessments that influence decisions about the future of children. This work can be in the area of addictions, mental health, domestic violence often wrapped up in the Parenting Capacity Assessment (PCA). A wander through the decisions and research literature in many Euro-centric countries shows that the PCA is a frequently used tool to guide courts in determining the best interests of the child (Choate, 2009).

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Why I support “School Strike 4 Climate”

A guest blog post by Ai Sumihira. Ai is a registered social worker who works in the health sector. She is also a life long climate activist.

I support School Strike 4 Climate because fighting against climate change is the right thing to do. We all know that climate change is not only an issue of the planet heating up, but also a social justice issue. This is the time to act to change and repair the damage we have caused, at least we should stop making it worse for the generations to come.  I can imagine that the future may look dooms and glooms from where young people stand, and this may be anxiety provoking.  Young people are right. We have to make a radical move for climate now before the earth becomes uninhabitable. Climate is changing, and so should we.

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Hōkai Rangi: Cultural solutions to material problems.

This guest blog post is by Kendra Cox (Te Ure o Uenukukōpako, Te Whakatōhea, Tūhoe, Ngāti Porou), National Advocacy Co-Coordinator for People Against Prisons Aotearoa and BSW (Hons) student at the University of Auckland.

A fortnight ago, the Department of Corrections proudly released their new Māori strategy, Hōkai Rangi. The strategy was created with the aspiration to reduce the proportion of Māori in prison from the current 52% to 16%, reflecting the make-up of the general population. Corrections aims to do this by focusing on six key domains outlined in the report: partnership between the Crown and Māori; humanising and healing; involvement of whānau; incorporating te ao Māori; supporting whakapapa and relational identity; and participation in society on release. With Hōkai Rangi, Corrections rightly identifies that the current prison system is failing in its supposedly rehabilitative and reintegrative aims. The strategy notes that reimprisonment rates are unacceptably high: 35% of tauiwi people return to prison within two years of release, and this is much higher for Māori at around 50%. However, the plans presented by this strategy, which centre largely around supporting whānau connection and tikanga Māori-based rehabilitation, are totally incapable of achieving the desired outcome.

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Caring for the ‘highest university’: a commentary on the Whanau Ora Māori Inquiry hui

 

By Kerri Cleaver (Ngai Tahu, PhD candidate University of Otago, Social Worker).

Sitting in the Whanau Ora Māori Inquiry hui there was a lot to take in. I had never before been in a room with so many of our diverse Māori leaders; activists, MPs, academics, doctors, Iwi and community leaders. All there for one purpose, to work together in unity, with all our multiple lived experiences.  The clear focus of the day was to look forward and to plan what the Inquiry might look like, to think about our Māori aspirations and dreams for solving the complex situation of child and whanau safety.  Important and unanimous korero was given by the panel of Dames and Knights as they clearly articulated a shared vision of a Māori owned, led and delivered future system, challenging the current system and repeatedly highlighting Puao-te-ata-tu, the dawn that never came.

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Ihumātao

This guest blog post is by John Darroch, PhD student at the University of Auckland. All of the images, above and below, were taken by John.

As Pākehā it is incumbent upon us to work to right the harms of colonisation. This means dismantling the structures which continue to harm Māori and engaging in efforts to promote redress. These obligations are also part of social work ethics and our commitment to biculturalism. Our professions commitment to upholding the Treaty of Waitangi, and to bicultural practice, goes beyond behaviour. It means fundamentally redistributing power and resources so that Māori have rangatiratanga over land and people.

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Time to fess up

A guest post from David Kenkel :

Alongside the story of social work as a force for social good is a more terrible history of social work as a force for controlling populations in service to the interests of political regimes and dominant cultural groups. For instance, the 20th century saw social work actively complicit in the social control function of right-wing and fascist governments. It is perhaps past time for us to be open about these histories if we do not wish to repeat them.

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Kotahitanga

A Guest post by Zoe Holly – Ngāti Pikiao and Ngāti Pākehā – Final year Bachelor of Social Practice student – Unitec.

I have read through the comments left underneath several recent news articles with a heavy heart – particularly in relation to Anjum Rahman’s call for inclusivity of Muslim communities in Aotearoa, Oranga Tamariki listing Māori children on TRADEME/Seek for foster care and the Christchurch gunman pleading not guilty to the murder of 51 innocent people.

The overwhelming sentiment held by a majority of those commenting on these articles is that the people who are targeted need to ‘get over it’, ‘blend in’, ‘assimilate’ and change themselves to fit “New Zealand’s culture”. You’d think they’d never thought for themselves. Does the word colonisation mean anything to them? You think when British settlers came to New Zealand they ‘assimilated’? You think settlers tried to ‘blend in’ even remotely? You think New Zealand Pākehā have more of a right to be here than any other immigrant?

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The Royal Commission into abuse in state care: where is the survivor voice?

This is a guest blog by Kerri Cleaver (Kāi Tahu, Kāti Mamoe), Social worker, PhD candidate.

Is the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Historical Abuse in State Care and in the care of Faith-based Institutions (RC) a safe place for Māori and survivors to talk about their experiences and what should we be doing to support them as social workers? It is a question that’s been rolling around my head for quite some time now. I am a survivor.

My story of abuse in the foster system isn’t long, it didn’t go on for years and the traumatic effects for me are now mostly healed and now somewhat subtle in their visibility so it is not something that I put out there. It has been difficult enough through my adult life batting off all the judgements and consequences of being a foster system survivor so I’ve kept the paedophile foster parent experience a secret. It was a tough decision deciding I would engage with the RC, somewhat influenced and inspired by the work of many survivors who have laid bare their experiences for the sole purpose of getting a Royal Commission. Because I want children and young people to be safe, nurtured and have their mana enhanced when they interface with our child protection system, I felt an obligation, to myself, my profession and to my iwi to engage. In the words of Mahatma Gandhi “be the change you want to see in the world”. But lately I have been reflecting on the question “is this process safe for me as a Māori woman?” and what is our role as social workers to support our whanau going through the RC process?

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“Watch what you say”: Radicalism in community development?

This guest blog is by: Dr Lynda Shevellar, (Lecturer in Community Development, The University of Queensland), Peter Westoby, (Associate Professor of Social Science and Community Development, Queensland University of Technology), and Dr Athena Lathouras, (Senior Lecturer in Social Work, University of Sunshine Coast).

“I said, watch what you say or they’ll be calling you a radical
Liberal, oh fanatical, criminal”

– Supertramp “The Logical Song”, 1979

“Watch what you say or they’ll be calling you a radical’” sang the English progressive rock band Supertramp in the late 1970s, echoing the way that the word “radical” is so often used to arouse ideas of extremism and instability. And given the recent tragic events in New Zealand – and in so many places around the globe – some might question the timing of this reflection. We could all be forgiven for shying away from a call for more radicalism and inviting a gentler framing for our activities. However, a closer interrogation of a radical agenda, and its place in community development, suggests that more rather than less radicalism may be just what social work in the Antipodes needs, and most particularly in these heartbreaking times.

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Broken hearted

To our comrades and friends in Aotearoa and abroad. Our hearts are broken. We stand with, and grieve with, our Muslim brothers and sisters. There is a lot to say about what happened in our community this weekend. But not today. Today, we have no words, only tears.