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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
You can access a free copy of Lyndal’s recent paper: Social Workers’ Experiences of Covert Workplace Activism.
For more on the history, and recent renaissance, of radical social work see the page on the history of social work website.