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.

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Like water on a rock

On a recent trip to the UK, I was asked to talk about the work of the RSW collective at Salford University. I didn’t really want to, I wanted to talk about one of my other areas of research interest, but peeps insisted! As I was soon to learn, this was fuelled by the synchronicities between ANZ and the UK in many areas: neoliberal economic and social policies, punitive welfare reform, an increasing emphasis in child protection policy on removal of children earlier to permanency (with little attention to structural or family conditions), and criticism of social work and education. So people were keen to hear about our little project of resistance.

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Social work and social justice: A relationship at a cross-roads?

In a recently published article in the Guardian newspaper a U.K social worker ‘called out’ the platitude (often found in the umbrella pronouncements of social work organisations and in the rhetoric of social work academics) that social work is ‘about’ social justice.  The following excerpt from the article makes the central point.

The role of the child protection social worker in today’s world is not to strive to redress the imbalance of our society. And if the reality of what social workers do differs so radically from the ideology, then surely it’s time to look again at what we mean by social work and what the government and society expects of social workers?

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Elephant outing

I would like to invite some elephants to reveal themselves and vacate the child protection room.  This might give us some more space to breathe and think. In other words let’s name some of the uncomfortable realities.  Let’s be frank: child protection social work in Aotearoa New Zealand is enmeshed with social inequality.  Pelton’s (2015) summary of recent research studies presents compelling evidence of the link between poverty, child maltreatment and entry into state care.  It does not take a rocket scientist (luckily) to work out that a range of negative outcomes for children – including a greater risk of maltreatment – result from inadequate incomes, second rate education, deprived neighbourhoods, inadequate housing and poor health.  Social workers are aware of this.

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The Non-Linear War on Social Work in the UK: Extremism, Radicalisation, Troubled Families and the recasting of “safeguarding”

A guest post by  Jo Finch and David McKendrick

Social work has always occupied a difficult place in the UK;  its history dominated by Victorian moralised discourse, with lady almoners, later Charity Organisation Service volunteers, making decisions about who was deserving or non-deserving.  Social work thus straddles an uncomfortable place, being an agent of the state on one hand, on the other, holding ideals and values that places human dignity and self worth, empowerment and social justice at its heart.  The care versus control function, inherent in social work in many countries, continues to be challenging.

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Tolley- Social services shakeup could introduce privatisation


From Q&A this morning- Interview with Anne Tolley 

Corin  Dann ….could we see the likes of a company that runs a private prison, Serco, which in the UK is looking at child services, involved in an area like that?

Anne Tolley If they can deliver good results for people, why not? I mean, I’m very involved in the development of the Wiri contract. That’s a service-based contract. It’s not just running a facility; that’s delivering 10% better than the public service in rehabilitation. That’s going to make an enormous difference to the families of those prisoners. So if private enterprise can deliver those sorts of results, I wouldn’t hesitate to use them. But there will still be in communities the desire and the people who want to be involved at the NGO level, many in the volunteer sector, because we’re good people, and they want to contribute.

Predictive risk modelling: on rights, data and politics.

One of the items included in the scope of the current New Zealand government’s review of the Child, Youth and Family services (CYFS) is this one: ‘The potential role of data analytics, including predictive risk modelling, to identify children and young people in need of care and protection’.

Predictive risk modelling (PRM) is a simple and seductive idea. If we can predict with accuracy who is likely to abuse children before they have done so, then we can target services to those families, fulfilling the dual objectives of preventing harm before it occurs, and being uber efficient with taxpayer dollars. Such seductive ideas, especially in an age where access to the ‘big data’ required to attempt such a proposition is viable, are often worth investigating. Enormous datasets can be mined, a large number of variables can be included, and patterns of particular combinations of risk factors for certain populations can be identified. In the case of the proposed Ministry for Social Development (MSD) PRM tool, however, there a number of issues. In particular, the level of accuracy of the PRM tool is overstated, the data it relies on has serious problems, its use as a practice decision-making tool is minimal, it has significant rights implications, and using it to decide who should be offered preventive services may not be any more effective than the current state of affairs (although to be fair this is difficult to ascertain – but needs to be).

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