WHAT IS HAPPENING IN THE USA? – AND WHY IT MATTERS TO US

Like many observers I have been increasingly gobsmacked by the slow train-wreck of the Trump presidency, asking myself, “Is this guy for real? – Can this get any worse?’. And the answer is perpetually yes, “yes it can get much worse”. In this post I begin to unpick some of the madness and explore some further questions: Why should this matter to us and what can be done?

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Say ‘no!’ to Armed Response Teams

Last year the  police announced a trial of Armed Response Teams (ARTs) to support police on the streets.  Patrols have been trialed in Counties Manukau, Waikato, and Canterbury over the last six months. These squads comprise groups of police officers armed with guns patrolling the trial communities in SUVs. They were meant to be focused on organised crime that posed significant community risk, according to the Commissioner at the time.

These armed units don’t make communities feel safer. Institutional racism in the police raised fears that the squads would be more likely to target Māori and Pasifika. Just Speak reports research shows that “when first encountering police, Māori who have had no prior contact with the justice system have a greater risk of a police proceeding and are more likely to be charged by Police, than Europeans. When someone is charged they are more likely to end up trapped in the justice system”. Restorative justice coordinator Kainee Simone at the Manukau Urban Māori Authority has expressed concern on Te Ao Māori news that “by imitating American policing New Zealand could end up with the same issues America is now dealing with”.  

Police are nearly eight times more likely to use violence against Māori than Pākehā, and three times more likely to use violence against Pasifika people than Pākehā. 66% of the people police have fired guns at in the last 10 years were Māori or Pasifika. And in 2016 research reported young Africans have told AUT researcher Dr Camille Nakhid that police have stopped and abused them on the streets or in cars, for no apparent reason except their colour.

So what happened in the trial? According to NewsHub, documents obtained showed that the trial ‘saw [the units] used most often for traffic stops instead of armed offenders or serious crime’. The data shows armed police were used 339 times for bail checks, 224 times for basic enquiries, 223 times for suspicious activity and 43 times for burglar alarms.

Most of all, on 1406 occasions, armed police were used for turnovers – the force’s code for a simple traffic stop.

They were also sent to callouts in mental health crises. How can armed police help when their presence is likely to cause more fear and trauma? Mental health callouts need expert mental health responses and care, not guns. We don’t want a militarised police force in Aotearoa. The events of the last few days since the death of George Floyd  in the US has brought the police abuse of power and brutality into sharp relief.  There are clear calls to stop these armed units in Aotearoa. The police have said they want to hear from people as part of the evaluation. Let’s tell them we don’t want ARTs. Act quickly, as they have said the results of the evaluation will be released at the end of June.

Have your say: social workers must speak out about these units. There are a number of ways you can do this. The #ArmsDownNZ hashtag on Twitter is a good source of information and the Arms Down website has more.

From ArmsDownNZ Callin you can access information to help you express your opinion. You can choose to leave feedback with the police directly, or contact your local MP to advocate for your community. A petition is open on Action Station.

Photo credit Justine @kvetchings

Hey you! – A call for blog posts on RSW

This blog site has been up and running for a little over five years now. Time passes rapidly. The object of our collective has been to provide viewpoints on a broad range of issues relevant to social work in contemporary society and to provide a platform for information and analysis that troubles the status quo. In some ways it seems that social workers are more reluctant to publicly critique the practice and policy frameworks which surround them than ever. Politics and management are often all about controlling the narrative: mandating what can be said and by whom. Increasingly social workers have taken on the message that they can only be active citizens within strict ideological parameters.

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Imagining a world where we needed fewer social workers

A guest post by David Kenkel

One of the strange ironies of our profession is that the social and economic conditions that create the need for our existence are also what we all seek to change. Reading between the lines of budget 2020, it seems likely there will be more jobs for social workers and better resourced social services. The tragic part though is that little will happen to change the economic circumstances of those we work with. It is admirable that this government recognises the need for expanded social services at this time. It is not admirable that they seem unwilling to truly address the underlying structural issues which create this need.

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An (interrupted) social work project in Vanuatu: A podcast with Julie Peake

Julie Peake is a social worker whose career spans many roles primarily within the field of child protection in Aotearoa. Most recently she was appointed as child protection technical assistant in Vanuatu, a role developed collaboratively by Volunteer Services Abroad (VSA) and UNICEF, and which saw Julie working alongside a local team to develop their child protection systems. She arrived in Vanuatu in February 2020 after many months of preparation and consultation, only to return to Aotearoa when the pandemic necessitated closing of international borders. In this podcast Julie reflects on the task she was invited to undertake, and her learning from this post, albeit brief, about what it meant to be a New Zealand social worker in Vanuatu, how she carried her child protection experience into this small Pacific nation, and some initial thoughts about what the global Covid crisis might mean for social work.

Resources referred to by Julie in the podcast

Family Violence Death Review Committee. (2020). Sixth report: Men who use violence | Te Pūrongo tuaono: Ngā tāne ka whakamahi i te whakarekereke.  Wellington, NZ.

Ravulo, J., Mafile’o, T., & Yates, D. B. (Eds.). (2019). Pacific Social Work: Navigating Practice, Policy and Research: Routledge.

Photo credit: Bruce Tuten

Vulnerability: What are we talking about?

Words matter. Maybe social workers know this better than most. They are often the tools of our trade after all. How we describe the world – how we communicate our analysis of ‘the social’ – helps to construct our belief systems in subtle and important ways. Language use is influenced by changing political, economic and social systems, although much of this is only obvious looking backwards.

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The tyranny of distance

Humans adapt. You don’t have to be a dedicated evolutionist to see that when social conditions change, humans change too. Our adaptations may not be uniform, but we are shaped by the social condiitons and rules we are embedded in. How have the social distancing rules affected our social lives? Are we affected equally? And will we want to go back when it’s over?

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The ‘New Normal’?

A guest post by Mike O’Brien

The focus for the last few weeks has been on health (containing/eliminating the virus) and the economy – getting business going again. These priorities are what are seen to matter, even to the extent that last weekend one commentator argued that “the very basis of our society is business” (Sunday Start Times, April 12). Health matters, the economy matters, but is that all that matters?

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We know there’s something happening here, but we don’t know what it is …

It is hard to know where to begin – with the burdens carried by social workers in the present – or with the possibilities facing the planet in the longer run. There are numerous uncertainties surrounding the time of Covid-19 in Aoteraoa-New Zealand and across the globe. Social suffering is the stock-in-trade of social work and as suggested in previous posts such crises impact unevenly in structurally unequal societies such as ours. What might this mean now and into the future?

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The social work home office: Behind the screens

A social work colleague posted on social media a photo of her new home office.  Her table and chair, laptop, a cat, some flowers and picture on the wall. I loved seeing this – especially in contrast to what I imagined to be her usual office – a vast grey room full of computers, generic desks and big unopenable windows. This portrait of her new space reflected who I know her to be, a woman committed to respectful, creative work with whānau.

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