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.
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.
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.
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).
Re-imagining Social Work is delighted to welcome this guest contribution to our blog by Stephen Crossley who blogs in England about the Troubled Families Programme, looking at how the key workers (or ‘troubleshooters’ as David Cameron has called them) are enacting the troubled families agenda and if/how they are negotiating it and/or resisting it. You can read more about his work here. Stephen is undertaking a PhD in the School of Applied Social Sciences, Durham University and is interested in how some families are constituted as a threat to society.
Nigel Parton’s (2014) recent study of the political context surrounding the ‘reform’ of child protection practice and policy in England contends that the state is pursuing an increasingly authoritarian agenda in relation to a particular section of the population, England’s poorest and most vulnerable families. The neoliberal project involves a shift in responsibility for social outcomes from the state to families.
In my first ‘pictures in our heads’ post, I noted that assumptions about how problems and their solutions are to be understood are implicit in policies of all kinds. These assumptions influence how we frame the key issues. Therefore, the changes proposed by the Vulnerable Children’s Act and Children’s Action Plan contain assumptions that shape the way we think about the causes of, and solutions to, child abuse.
A guest blog post by Kate Morris, Professor of Social Work at the University of Nottingham. Kate is one of the authors of Re-imagining Child Protection: Towards humane social work with families. In this post Kate reflects on her recent visit to Aotearoa New Zealand and the similarities between politically motivated reviews of child protection services in England and NZ.