This is a guest blog post by Lauren Bartley: a recent graduate and practising social worker.
I’ve spent the last four years at university banging on about social justice while doing the BSW at the University of Auckland. This was the very reason I began a career in social work, because I had deep sense of the injustice in the world and wanted to do something about it. I prided myself on being an activist, a radical. It became my passion, my defining feature. Early into the degree, I realised that there was a major incongruence between what I thought social work was, or should be, and what it actually seemed to be. By the end of my second year, most of my assignments had the same running theme: that as much as social workers espouse the value of social justice, social workers aren’t actually doing it. I deeply connected with Ferguson and Woodward’s (2009) criticism that social workers tend to “play down the structural factors and to focus on individual and personal issues.” (p.8). I was constantly frustrated and dismayed by how little attention seemed to be paid to the wider factors of colonisation, capitalism and neoliberalism, both in the degree and in the profession, and how little those structural inequalities and oppressions seemed to matter to everyone else. I challenged visiting social workers who presented in class, and was intensely critical of them when they said they had “no time” to address structural issues. Putting plasters on people was all social workers seemed to be doing, and this made me angry. A placement at Auckland Action Against Poverty served to fuel this cynicism, and I came to the point of having a crisis of faith, seriously reconsidering social work as a career.
Continue reading Where has my radicalism gone?
It is not difficult to be pessimistic about the future of social work in Aotearoa New Zealand at the present point in time. However I want to convey a sense of genuine optimism. Read on and I’ll explain why.
Social work has always been a challenging and conflicted job – that is the beauty of doing it well. It is important to have a critical understanding of the relationship between our practice and its wider context, historically, and in the now. According to Featherstone, White, and Morris (2014, p.36), social work needs…
Continue reading Practice Futures (we shall overcome)
By Amy Ross (Trade Union Organiser, PSA)
Tuesday’s post by John Darroch explored unionisation as a critical component of social workers being able to realise social change in a practical sense. As a union organiser, social worker and the convenor of the Social Worker Action Network (SWAN) within the Public Service Association (PSA) union this presents a useful opportunity to explore this idea further as well as to elaborate on what the PSA is doing with social workers across Aotearoa.
Continue reading Sisters in the struggle: Unions and social work
In my previous post I asked what the social work profession might look like if achieving social change was a key priority of the profession. While the response was positive I’ve had several people ask me about how it is that social workers could be a force for social justice given the substantial barriers which the profession faces. This is a considerable question and one which I don’t think enough attention has been devoted to. My understanding is that most social work literature which talks about social change is either utopian, completely neglecting the practicalities of social work practice, or proposes methods of practices which at their heart are still focused at the micro level.
Continue reading Could unions save the social work profession?
One of the core tenets of the social work profession is a commitment to social justice. It is widely argued that this commitment to social justice is what differentiates the profession from other professions like psychology or counselling (Marsh, 2005; Wakefield, 1998). This commitment to social justice features prominently in western social work codes of ethics, most of which place an obligation on each and every social worker to be actively combatting injustice and taking positions on matters of government policy (Kleppe, Heggen, & Engebretsen, 2015).
Continue reading What would a profession which was committed to fighting injustice look like?
The slideshow below is of my address to the PSA Social Work Action Network conference on 1st and 2nd of September 2016 at Auckland University of Technology (AUT), New Zealand. I talked about the way in which social services are applying an increasingly punitive approach to the most disadvantaged people in our society.
Continue reading Neoliberalism and social work: Truth, lies and power
In 2001 Amy Rossiter asked the critical question: ‘do we educate for or against social work‘. She wrote about being
exhausted and beleaguered by a lifetime of being positioned as a “professional helper” by a state that organizes the people’s problems as individual pathologies that are best administered by professionals who are trained not to notice the state. (p.1, emphasis added)
I suspect many social work educators feel the same. And in Aotearoa New Zealand we are being asked to ‘not notice’ the erosion of the welfare state, and ‘not notice’ poverty, homelessness, health inequalities and the institutional racism which pervades Māori experience of state institutions. We are being asked to ‘not notice’ the erosion of political commentary and debates in news media saturated by sport and inane clickbait sensationalism. In this culture it becomes more vital for social work educators to teach students to notice, and to question (Beddoe & Keddell, 2016), and to resist the encroachment of politicians into social work education.
Continue reading Social work education and registration: Educating for social justice or learning to ‘not notice’
The Modernising Child, Youth and Family ‘Expert’ Panel’s Interim Report is rhetorically powerful at times. The form of the report expands and contracts like a concertina and is replete with what Noam Chomsky (1989) refers to as necessary illusions and emotionally potent over-simplifications. In order to consider the ideological underpinnings of this document it is necessary to dig beneath the surface façade.
Continue reading Repetitive “One … two … three … Blinkers Off!” (Looking at the Interim Report)
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.
Continue reading ‘Feral families’ or a ‘filthy civilization’?
I listened with interest to Lyndal Greenslade’s podcast and read the related paper with a mix of excitement and concern (Greenslade, McAuliffe, & Chenoweth, 2014; Podsocs, 2014). Both of these items were kindly posted on this website by Liz Beddoe. The podcast and paper described radical ways in which social workers in Australia work covertly to the advantage of their clients. For example, turning a blind eye to behaviour that was contrary to care plans, in order to avoid a more arbitrary use of power by other professionals. This covert activism must be considered in the context of the social workers’ ‘deep critical reflection’ on their practice, and an organisational climate experienced as being increasingly hostile to the professional values held by social workers.
Continue reading Closet activism, covert workplace activity, and the social work voice?