We are still at the cross-roads with child welfare and the wider movement for social justice but the momentum for radical change is building. I have seen bits and pieces from the Kempe Center Virtual International Conference: A Call to Action to Change Child Welfare. It is challenging and refreshing to see workers from other countries wrestling with the burning need for child protection reform. Child abuse is a social problem that is entwined with wider issues. The current risk-saturated, procedure-driven, surveillance-orientated child protection paradigm delivers unequal outcomes, in Aotearoa and everywhere else where this system is administered. Why wouldn’t it? *And what is to be done?
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.
Kia ora koutou
The ‘devolution’of state social work, particularly child protection work, to Māori is the bone to be picked. It is a challenging debate and we are potentially at a critical turning point. For a start there are the “What is an old Pākeha man engaging with this issue for?” – “Isn’t it a topic for Māori to somehow resolve themselves?” kinds of questions to contend with. I’ll get to that part in the following paragraphs. We need to be talking about devolution – again – and we need to get it right this time.
A guest post by Jude Douglas
For years when I was working in statutory child protection I didn’t easily admit to being a social worker. There was a sense of shame for me personally about the control aspects of the work and also, people’s ideas of what a social worker was were hazy at best and often just downright wrong. So I just put my head down and did the job. Several years ago and about the time I was moving to broader level roles and when the debates about registration and professionalisation were really ramping up I decided that there was an opportunity to reclaim the title of social worker and own it, and put out there what we did. This was without a strong media interest in issues around social care – it’s still that way unless of course there’s a disaster – then there’s a baying of hounds for a while and the silence resumes.
This review by the Office of the Commissioner for Children was prompted by an alarming escalation in the removal of Māori infants from parental care by the state. The report sets out to address the following question: “what needs to change to enable pēpi Māori (0-3 months) to remain in the care of their whānau in situations where Oranga Tamariki-Ministry for Children is notified of care and protection concerns?” It is introduced as the first part of a two-part reporting process: we are told that the forthcoming second part of the report will offer practical recommendations for change.
This document is the third in a series of related inquiries prompted by ongoing concerns over the persistence of institutional racism in statutory child protection. The spark was provided by the now notorious Hawkes Bay uplift debacle. We also await the findings of an investigation from the Ombudsman (Peter Boshier) and the outcome of a Waitangi Tribunal inquiry. The burning issue of state social work responses to Māori is also central to the ongoing Royal Commission of Inquiry into historical abuse in state and faith-based care. In the following post I will offer some thoughts about the strengths and weaknesses of this report.
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?
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
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.
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.