Some notes on science and the social world

There is a troubled relationship between social work and science. Although western social work is not separate from the historical development of Enlightenment science and what has come to be understood as the project of modernity, it has always sat uncomfortably within this schema of knowledge. Since the time of Descartes (1596-1650) science has advanced a claim to objective truth – that the tool of scientific reason is a mechanism for naming, understanding, and controlling the world (Hyslop, 2012). There are more than a few problems with this belief system.

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Residential Abuse and Child Protection Reform

Given the extensive and harrowing testimony presented to the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in State and Faith-Based Care we should not be surprised by the recent whistle-blower evidence of physical abuse in a Care and Protection residence. I have read copious case records of young people placed in institutional care settings in the 2000s which document incidents of violent and coercive behaviour by residential staff during this period. Not all staff were guilty of this sort of practice and it didn’t happen all the time.

Any such behaviour is unacceptable and indefensible, but we don’t really need our politicians to repeat these platitudes to us – we already know that. What we need is a plan to abolish the residential incarceration for children in need of care. Andrew Becroft is right to point out that secure residential regimes are not fit for purpose. They are challenging workplaces. Staffing gaps tend to be filled by casual contracted workers. High needs young people grouped together in rule saturated behaviour management systems form hierarchies and actively push back against the system. They are gold-fish bowls – small prisons for kids – and they don’t work. All too often staff end up controlling children with bullying and  intimidating practices of their own.

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On any given day

When we kicked off this blog site we envisaged a creative space that challenged complacent doxa – that rattled a few cages and imagined a different social work in a world made both more equal and more free. We have chipped away at this all the way along – exploring the boundaries of what might be done. Recently we have experimented with podcast interviews – changing up from the usual run of opinion and commentary pieces. Today I though I’d provide another angle: woke up this morning with a prose poem in my head and needed to let it go …

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He Pāharakeke, He Rito Whakakīkinga Whāruarua

I have read the pre-publication Report of the Waitangi Tribunal (Wai 2915) – Oranga Tamariki Urgent Inquiry – with great interest. It is, at least potentially, a ground-breaking report. It signals the possibility of significant systemic change to the child protection system in Aotearoa – especially for Māori. The report should, I think, be read by everyone with an interest in this future. The core recommendation for a transformational transition authority is, I believe, a challenge and an opportunity which must be grasped by the state.

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The Prevention Project – a conversation with Emily Keddell

In this episode, Deb Stanfield interviews Emily Keddell (University of Otago, Aotearoa New Zealand) for the RSW collective. Emily speaks to The Prevention Project: Supporting Whānau and Reducing Baby Removals, a project undertaken with colleagues Luke Fitzmaurice and Kerri Cleaver. 
Emily explains the background to the project and shares its key findings, which include the important mediating role of community social workers and other professionals, the value of a poverty-informed perspective, and the role of community building initiatives to improve social networks of whānau. Improving the pathways into, and availability of, early, intensive, culturally responsive services and enabling a whole of whānau orientation to practice are key promoters of preventing entry to care. 

Devolving power and resources to build the availability of such services, particularly by Māori, for Māori services, was suggested as a way to help build the capacity of these kinds of services. Whānau involved with Oranga Tamariki around the time of birth reported the trusting, non-judgemental and supportive relationships with community-based workers, and focussing on intrinsic motivating factors such as love for children, helped them navigate Oranga Tamariki intervention, and their own personal struggles, to retain care.

Dissenting Social Work – a conversation with Paul Michael Garrett

In this podcast episode, Ian Hyslop interviews Paul Garrett of NUI (National University of Ireland, Galway) for the RSW Collective. Paul is a much read and respected theorist and writer in relation to the political context of social work and its implications for education and practice futures. Dr Garrett discusses his recent response to the provocative ‘end of social work’ critique offered by Chris Maylea.

While acknowledging the difficulties associated with critical practice he suggests that social work does not sit outside of the tensions facing the liberal capitalist system globally. Referring to Gramsci’s notion of ‘conjunctures’ he points to climate change, uneven social suffering, the geopolitical unrest which is fuelling a refugee and migrant crisis, and the effects of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Add to this the political resurgence of the populist right (and unprecedented potential for state surveillance) and we indeed are living at a challenging cross roads. Garrett argues that we can not choose to live apart from these structuring realities – but that where there is power and reaction there is resistance and solidarity. As workers and social citizens there is, as there always has been, a different world to be won. Dissent is a necessity.

 

 

What is social policy?

This is an RSW experiment in providing resources for the educational commons that are freely available to all using creative commons licensing.

In this case we are releasing a podcast interview. Neil Ballantyne (Open Polytechnic of New Zealand) interviews Liz Beddoe (University of Auckland) about the social policy text she edited with Jane Maidment (Maidment & Beddoe, 2016). Neil asks Liz three questions:

  • What is social policy?
  • What is unique about social policy in Aotearoa?
  • Why do social work students need to study social policy?

Post a comment to let us know what you think and tell us if we should create more resources like this one.

This podcast is copyright RSW Collective and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You are free to download it and embed it in your own teaching and learning resources, so long as you attribute it to “RSW Collective (2021, January) https://www.reimaginingsocialwork.nz/2021/01/what-is-social-policy/”

Reference

Maidment, J. & Beddoe, L. (Eds.) (2016). Social Policy for social work and human services in Aotearoa New Zealand: Diverse perspectives. University of Canterbury Press.

Photo by ConvertKit on Unsplash

Podcast music: cello pizz 01 by Morusque (c) copyright 2019 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.