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.

 

Oranga Tamariki – A Tipping Point?

Like many of us recently, I have watched the ‘baby uplift’ footage story featured in Newsroom and read some of the avalanche of concerned and outraged commentary that has followed. I found the story disturbing on many levels – extremely disturbing but, sadly, not surprising. I think that the practice on display and the media responses from the Oranga Tamariki hierarchy illustrate deep-seated systemic problems within the state child protection system in Aotearoa New Zealand.

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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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Inquiring into institutional abuses

Guest post by Carole Adamson

I am writing this blog post to assist my own comprehension of the current debates over the extension of the inquiry into the abuse of children in state care into the realm of those abused whilst in the care of faith-based organisations.

To all those abused in state care, I acknowledge you and the truth of your experiences

To all those abused in faith-based care, I acknowledge the lifting of the silences that have added to the damage done

To all of us with a history of abuse, may we continue on a journey of healing

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The problem with checklists in child protection work

A guest post by Eileen Joy, PhD candidate, University of Auckland

In the United Kingdom, ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) have been getting a lot of government attention recently – largely due to a government committee announcing, in October 2017, that it was going to “examine the strength of the evidence linking adverse childhood experiences with long-term negative outcomes, he evidence base for related interventions, whether evidence is being used effectively in policy-making, and the support and oversight for research into this area”.  Here in New Zealand the conversation about ACEs has been less official, but has still permeated government departments and local social media, with exhortations to watch Nadine Burke Harris’ ‘Ted Talk’ about them.

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The (likely) inquiry into abuse in state care: An opportunity for discomfort and reflection

This guest blog post by Eileen Joy (Phd Candidate, University of Auckland) outlines the implications for social workers of an inquiry into state violence against children.

Elizabeth Stanley (2016), in her detailed examination of state violence against children in New Zealand, called it a ‘Road to Hell’ .  Her accounts of how children in our country were treated is horrifying, chilling, and makes for unsettling reading.  Stanley, the Human Rights Commission, tangata whenua, the United Nations, and many others have repeatedly made calls for there to be an inquiry into abuse in state care. The previous National led government resolutely stuck to their belief that the Confidential Listening and Assistance Service (CLAS) which, from 2008-2015 listened to those individuals who came forward (however only those with claims prior to 1992), and was able to refer people to the relevant Ministry for claims, was enough, and that an inquiry would “achieve very little”.  Such claims have been debunked by victims and the judge who oversaw CLAS, who have both made strong calls for an independent inquiry.

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Supporting an inquiry into abuse in state care

By Elizabeth Stanley

Over the last few months, the NZ government has faced multiple demands for independent inquiries: to uncover alleged war crimes undertaken by NZ military forces against Afghani civilians, to acknowledge NZ women who were forced to have their new-borns adopted, and to understand the experiences of the thousands who endured abuse within NZ’s state care system. To all these victims, the government’s response has been ‘no’, ‘go away’.

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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?

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Racism and social work in Aotearoa New Zealand: a Pākehā perspective

The following are my thoughts. I am Pākehā. I guess this makes them Pākehā thoughts – my Pākehā thoughts that is. I don’t have a problem acknowledging this and I think it is important to do so. I also think the following things.

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Can we put families back in the frame?

A guest  post by Irene de Haan, lecturer in social work in the Faculty of Education and Social Work at the University of Auckland and a registered social worker. Irene’s previous roles include Senior Advisor at the Office of the Chief Social Worker and Principal Community Engagement Advisor at the Families Commission. Currently Irene is involved in reviews undertaken for the Family Violence Death Review Committee. Her research focuses on the promotion of child and family well-being and the prevention of maltreatment and family violence.

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