As many others will be doing at this uncertain time, I am hunkering down and wondering about the state of the play in the world as I know it. On a global scale the hypocrisy and ultimate futility of the US project in Afghanistan is gobsmacking. On a bigger scale still, the growing evidence of a planet pushed to breaking point by the extractive profit driven commodification of all things is chilling. Closer to home we have a virus to surround and conquer. It does seem that our politicians and public health specialists are close to being on the same page and we can have some confidence that this outbreak will be isolated and extinguished. We also have winds of change blowing through the bureaucracy of our state child protection system in Aotearoa. In this blog post I want to touch on the indirect connections – the conjuncture – between some of these things.
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 …
Events in the recent past – perhaps over the last ten years – have left me with questions about the future of social work practice and social work education. Events in the more distant past provide some clues about progressive ways forward, or at least some pointers about approaches which are best avoided. As I have argued in this blog space for some time, the origins of child and family social work are linked to late nineteenth century responses to problems inherent to the capitalist mode of development (Ferguson, 2004).
The exemplary work of anti-racist researcher and children’s rights activist Dr Oliver Sutherland and his associates in ACORD (Auckland Committee on Racism and Discrimination) documents a deeply disturbing history of abusive state care in the 1970s and 80s. The following discussion draws on a witness statement, dated October 4th, 2019, which Dr Sutherland presented to the current Royal Commission into Historical Abuse in State Care and the Care of Faith Based Institutions.
The aim of this post is to encourage some reflection on the role of advocacy organisations in bringing hidden injustice and suffering to light. None of this happened very long ago and it happened here in Aotearoa; at the hands, or at least under the noses, of state social workers. There are some lessons in here for us all in my humble opinion.
We have talked about the big picture : small picture stuff on this blog for some time. This is because it is THE question for social work – the key issue that we wrestle with in theory and practice. As suggested, these disturbing times are bringing out the best and worst of the human condition. The mounting social disruption and economic fall-out from the pandemic is severely troubling a world already severely troubled by the cumulative fall-out from global warming. The future as we have understood it in the main-stream Western narrative of progressive development no longer makes sustained sense – unless, perhaps, to the hyper-wealthy.
I have been awaiting the Ombudsman’s Report into policies, practices and procedures for the removal of new-born pēpi by Oranga Tamariki with great anticipation. Earlier reports have provided us with sobering insights into the experiences of parents and whānau in their dealings with the state child protection system.
In my experience former Principal Family Court Judge Peter Boshier is an exceptionally competent individual with a comprehensive grasp of the big and small picture of relevant law and practice. The report is even-handed and constructive. It recognises pockets of exemplary work, but it is crystal clear that Oranga Tamariki has comprehensively failed to meet the required practice standards in terms of ‘fairness or the law’. This conclusion is damning, and the evidence is compelling.
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?
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.
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.
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?