In my previous post I asked what the social work profession might look like if achieving social change was a key priority of the profession. While the response was positive I’ve had several people ask me about how it is that social workers could be a force for social justice given the substantial barriers which the profession faces. This is a considerable question and one which I don’t think enough attention has been devoted to. My understanding is that most social work literature which talks about social change is either utopian, completely neglecting the practicalities of social work practice, or proposes methods of practices which at their heart are still focused at the micro level.
One of the core tenets of the social work profession is a commitment to social justice. It is widely argued that this commitment to social justice is what differentiates the profession from other professions like psychology or counselling (Marsh, 2005; Wakefield, 1998). This commitment to social justice features prominently in western social work codes of ethics, most of which place an obligation on each and every social worker to be actively combatting injustice and taking positions on matters of government policy (Kleppe, Heggen, & Engebretsen, 2015).
In Aotearoa’s sister nation of Canada, there is a government appointed body called The Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It was set up in 2008 to document the experiences of children who lived in residential schools in Canada between 1883 and 1996. Its mandate was to fully report the truth of what happened to the 150,000 First Nations, Metis and Inuit children who attended these schools – to tell of the abuse inflicted upon many of them at the hands of the state and the church.
If we are serious about developing new visions for social work – rethinking how we can work in ways that change the oppressive relationships that structure the lives of people – we need to find strategies that do more than alter the behaviour of individuals. However, social work is not a free-floating activity which we can shape at will.
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…
I have had to be brutally honest about what I was raised with, both the good and the bad because it’s not until we understand where our racism begins can we start to unpick it, and it’s a slow often painful process not unlike grief.
The RSW’s Ian Hyslop has appeared on a 95bFM podcast:
Ian discusses the dominant narrative and some alternatives: social workers can advocate for political solutions and practice development that combats structural disadvantage and supports child and whānau centred practice. Have a listen – tell us what you think!
Image credit: Seb Lee-Delisle
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.
It is useful – I think – to reflect on the busy year that is now drawing in and to focus on the hopes and dreams that lie ahead of us. In various ways the aim of our RSW Collective has been to contribute to a re-thinking of the aims and aspirations of social work in turbulent times. Above all it is critical to recognise that social work is influenced by a broader context of economic and political relations.
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