Nine months ago I wrote a reflection on my first few months as a social worker, and the disillusionment I faced in realising social work practice was not necessarily social justice practice. Read it here! The following post is a down-the-track reflection on my thoughts from that time, and on my first year as a social worker in a child and family-focused NGO.
The following reflections from each and all of us at the RSW Collective are offered at the turn of a challenging and energising year for social work in Aotearoa New Zealand. We don’t pretend to speak for anyone else, but we do encourage critical imagination and action – together we can help shape a progressive future.
The social profession seeks to do more than bandage the victims of an unequal society; it needs to be a voice for social change. Critical social workers need to have a powerful voice in practice development, policy analysis and in wider politics. We have something to say about the genesis of social suffering and this involves more than administering evidence-based treatment to the poor.
At the end of October this year, the New Zealand Law Commission released a briefing paper: Alternative Approaches to Abortion Law. This paper provides three alternative legal models to existing abortion legislation, all of which recommend that abortion be repealed from the Crimes Act 1961 and the Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion Act 1977, and be treated as a health issue. Liz Beddoe is Associate Professor of Social Work at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. Liz has been deeply and actively interested in the abortion debate for decades, and in this podcast with Deb Stanfield she shares her analysis of the briefing paper and explores problems with the current law – how it contravenes basic human rights for example, and creates unnecessary complexity for women seeking abortions. Dr Beddoe explains in plain language why social workers should care about this issue, what we should know, and how we can prepare ourselves for the coming months of debate.
Amy Ross is national organiser for Aotearoa New Zealand’s largest union, the Public Service Association (PSA) Te Pūkenga Here Tikanga Mahi. She is also founder and organiser of the Social Work Action Network (SWAN), which is a network within the PSA that aims to unify and advocate for social workers in Aotearoa New Zealand.
In this podcast Amy Ross shares her experience of what she describes as the remarkable strategic victory of bringing about the first step in gender pay equity to social workers in this country. In conversation with Deb Stanfield she celebrates the courage of the original claimants, and the genuine partnership between the union and Oranga Tamariki (Aotearoa New Zealand’s child protection agency). Amy applies a critical lens to this significant historic event for women and for the profession of social work – an event she describes as taking us to a ‘whole new level of discourse.’
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.