This one is about the politics of dispossession, poverty and incarceration in neoliberal New Zealand. It is no secret that Māori, Pasifika and working-class families generally carry a disproportionate burden of social suffering in our society. Look around you if you don’t believe me. We need to dismantle the structures that perpetuate social inequality.
A guest post from David Kenkel :
Alongside the story of social work as a force for social good is a more terrible history of social work as a force for controlling populations in service to the interests of political regimes and dominant cultural groups. For instance, the 20th century saw social work actively complicit in the social control function of right-wing and fascist governments. It is perhaps past time for us to be open about these histories if we do not wish to repeat them.
Kia ora koutou katoa
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.
Oranga Tamariki has its challenges, as does every statutory child protection social work system across the English-speaking world. Something needs to change. I’d like to begin to talk about what a better system might involve. The one that we have risks being part of the problem as opposed to part of the solution. We need to accept that the work is complex and that it is not an exact science. We have become over-organised by risk. Statutory child protection does not have to be associated with policing the risk-sodden poor and it can be reconstructed as an anti-oppressive activity (Featherstone, Gupta, Morris & Warner, 2016). I think that greater awareness of how the effects of material inequality are played out in the lives of children and their families is critical to the development of more effective child protection social work.
The correlation between child maltreatment and poverty is no longer a state secret (Davidson, Bunting, Bywaters, Featherstone, & McCartan, 2017; Pelton, 2015), not that it was ever hidden from social workers in the field. However a rich vein of irony lies just below the surface of this statement because the nature of the relationship remains obscured, in policy and practice. As Gillies, Edwards, and Horsley (2017) so powerfully illustrate, blaming inadequate parenting for the reproduction of disadvantage and dysfunction is a time-honoured tradition in capitalist societies.
Child protection and family support social workers really need to have it all: a strong political analysis, an understanding of organisations and a decent handle on relevant micro theories. In service of the latter, a rather obscure recent announcement was made about attachment theory. This is of interest to the child protection and family support communities due to the dominance of the theory in education and practise, and its usefulness in understanding some aspects of adult-child relationships.
A guest post by John Darroch, PhD Candidate, University of Auckland
Over the past week or so there have been a few blog posts on this site focusing on what the new Labour government means for social work in Aotearoa New Zealand. The general view of the authors seems to be that things are looking up, but that we will have to remain critical, and active, in order to push this government in the right direction.
In this post I intend to look more specifically at how the profession should position itself, and what we can do to maximise our impact. While the new government may have noble intentions there is no guarantee that this will always translate into sound social policy. There will be a range of competing interest groups, holding varying ideological beliefs, which will be working to influence this government when it comes to social policy. In particular this post aims to inspire individuals to think about how they can increase their effectiveness, and make their voice count.
I recently had the privilege of attending the 13th Conference of the European Sociological Association in Athens, Greece. At the end of this trip, as we waited for a ride to the airport and the journey home, a rag-tag group of homeless families were sleeping rough in a dusty park behind the bus stop. A frail little girl, maybe four or five, in a torn dress, with matted hair, skin sores and blackened teeth stretched out her tiny arm for some loose change – a studied look of hopelessness in her empty eyes. I have seen this look before – in the intense gaze, both vacant and pleading, of malnourished street children in East Africa and in the teeming cities of India.
The so-called social investment strategy being implemented by the current Government is based on a narrow individualised analysis of the causes of poor social outcomes. The intent is to spend some money on problem people now in order to reduce social costs in the future. The specific focus is on reducing the long term cost of benefits and prisons.
Like much ideologically loaded social policy there is a strong superficial appeal. Social service workers are familiar with the idea that social deficits can be inter-generationally reproduced and that the traumatic effects of violence and abuse can echo down the generations. It is a short step from this insight to accepting the idea that we need to fix these people – efficiently and effectively, once and for all.
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.