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?
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?
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?
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.
A guest post by John Darroch
As we experience growing social and economic harm resulting from the coronavirus outbreak it may seem tempting to put political questions aside. After all, this is a human crisis, and one which requires immediate action. But the scale of this crisis, and the harm we are experiencing, is a result of our economic system. The fear and stress that we are feeling about losing our jobs, about not having sick leave, about paying our rent, are not individual crises. They are not crises caused by our individual actions. Nor are they the inevitable result of a global pandemic. This is a crisis of capitalism.
After the initial wave of confusion and uncertainty, the shape of the coronavirus response and the foreseeable ‘new normal’ is beginning to assume a clearer form. In A-NZ our working worlds and our wider lives are contracting at speed as we enter an indeterminate period of voluntary or enforced isolation. In such exceptional times we are apt to see the best and worst of human nature; in the behaviour of individuals, families, communities and governments. In Italy where the health system is over-run with demand, we see images of people singing in defiant solidarity from their locked-down balconies and doctors sent from far-flung socialist Cuba to help relieve the human tragedy.
Child protection social work involves risk. It always will. The right decisions cannot always be made and sometimes it can be a question of choosing between the least damaging alternatives.
We have had a long list of child abuse tragedies for over thirty years now – in Aotearoa New Zealand and in comparable jurisdictions – and we have had an almost continuous process of crisis-driven review and reform. Child abuse – under or over intervention – is emotive at a very primal level and it is an enticing political football (Warner, 2015).
To varying degrees reforms are always politically motivated and they are then operationalised by management systems obsessed with targets and performance. As far as quality practice is concerned it is a bit like putting the fox in charge of the chook house.
A guest post by Jackie Newton.
Jackie identifies as a feminist and a socialist. In this post she reflects on her social work practice journey over most of forty years (1978-2018) – in and against the state – with DSW, CYPS, Health at all levels, NGOs – in cities, provincial towns and rural settings.
Looking back, she feels that the radical potential of social work has been unhorsed by structural barriers set within the politics and economics of liberal capitalism. This post questions what might have been and asks us to honestly consider where social workers can stand today.
This is a guest post by Bex Amos, social worker.
My name is Bex and I am a social worker. I first noticed my addiction to social working when I started experiencing the common symptoms of irritability, low mood, intrusive thoughts and insomnia. My diagnosis was indisputable when I started using risk-analysis assessments to measure the ability of parents to care for their own tamariki. I now like to call myself a recovering social worker, but the road to sobriety is a long and painful journey.
This is a guest post by Eileen Joy, a doctoral student at the University of Auckland.
Two years ago I wrote this piece about why Social Work Needs Pride . A lot has happened since then. Last year, and rightfully so, a significant portion of the rainbow community challenged the idea that the NZ Police should be able to march in the Auckland Pride Parade in uniform ( Sarah Murphy,The Spinoff, 2018 ). I won’t go into the history of that time here, suffice to say that the police were allowed to march, just not in uniform. They didn’t like this, said that they had to march in uniform. A moot point given events not much later that showed them wearing ‘civvies’ to other important events.
It is however important to note exactly why the Pride Parade – the very one I and my children loved – was problematic. We need to remember that the Rainbow community was hunted and persecuted by the police for many, many years. We also need to note that this concern about police being at Pride parades is definitely not a New Zealand only phenomenon . And whilst we don’t have specific statistics on rainbow incarceration rates (because the NZ Police don’t collect this data – something that is problematic) we can be pretty certain that given the rates of incarceration of tangata whenua (some of whom will also be rainbow whānau), those of the rainbow community would not lag too far behind.
This is where it’s important to remember that, as Audre Lorde said, “there is no such thing as a single issue struggle because we do not lead single issue lives” (p. 138) – a point reiterated by Emilie Rākete in discussing the Auckland Pride Parade. Let’s also not forget that the NZ Police stopped diversity training for rainbow issues years ago, explaining that instead they are focusing on police values and all people in all communities. This sounds a little like saying ‘all lives matter’ – which of course they do, but that’s not the point when your house is burning down and the neighbours is not, but the firefighters insist on pouring water on the neighbour’s house because ‘all houses matter’ .
This is not something that anything like a ‘rainbow tick’ can erase. This persecution especially impacts those whose identities don’t so easily fit into little single category boxes. For our trans whānau, our takātapui, tāhine and tangata ira tāne people, their rainbow journey is complex . Our trans whānau are still waiting for our seemingly progressive government to take action on basic human rights. Something Kendra Cox and I highlighted last year. For those in our community who are tangata whenua it is not so easy (nigh on impossible) for them to lay aside almost two hundred years of colonisation on top of persecution specific to their sexual/gender identities to cater to the police. And nor should they have to. In moments like this, it’s important to reflect on who has power and who does not and ask yourself where social work should stand in that.
I was thinking about all of this as I stood with my family waiting for Our March to kick off the other day. I thought about the horrific statistics for trans and non-binary people in New Zealand from the Counting Ourselves report that came out late last year . I thought about the aforementioned lack of action on basic human rights for trans people in New Zealand. I was thinking, as I often do, about how many social workers are ignorant of all of these things, yet they work with our community whether they know it or not. I thought of the commitment social work educators need to make to throw some rainbow glitter throughout their courses. I thought of how I often fear for the life of my children, both of them fierce and glowing with rainbow pride.
But mostly, mostly I reflected on the joyous beautiful rainbows that were there in front of me. Life, bursting at the seams, wanting to be free, to be celebrated, to colour outside the lines, inside the lines, with no lines. This new march, borne out of the sacrifices of so many people in our community making their stand and not giving an inch, is something to be truly celebrated. Gone are the corporate floats, the businesses parading around seeking cookies saying, look at us we are so diverse, and by the way, we would love to have your ‘pink dollar’. In this march, rather than standing on the sidelines I got to march. I didn’t have to pin my flag to a particular cause or business to participate, I could just be me. My kids could be who they are, and WE, the community, were the centre of attention – not capitalism.
With special thanks to Kendra Cox for helping with some of the information I needed for this piece.
Lorde, A. (2007). Sister outsider: Essays and speeches by Audre Lorde. New York, United States: Crossing Press.