We live in critical times. The unequal distribution of wealth and privilege (and the resulting unequal distribution of social suffering) continues to impact upon the stability of the world order. Arguably there is, at least, an increasing awareness of the social, economic, and environmental challenges which we are faced with collectively: as a planetary species. However, understandings of causes and solutions are, as always, contested. It is useful, I think, to attempt to unpack some of this complexity. Bear with me – I will return to what this unpacking may mean for progressive social work.
By Deb Stanfield
This year I read Dr Hinemoa Elder’s new book Wawata: Moon Dreaming. I buy the book at my local bookstore, and learn what I can from her about mātauranga Māori and the beauty of te reo Māori. I learn that Whiro is the Māori name for the new moon – the lunar phase under which I start to reflect on what happened in 2022. I’m inspired by what she whispers to herself: “To persevere, no matter my ability to see in the dark.” She tells herself that Whiro is a “protective time for insights, a time to call on that deep core of resistance and fight for what is right” (p. 36). This voice speaks to me as a social worker.
Hilary Mantel, who is famous in Europe for her historical novels, died unexpectedly this year. I read some of her work too – what I enjoy most is the wisdom she shares about what it’s like to write about the past. She talks about the many gaps in history, the complexity of how we remember, our inconsistencies, falsities, and how as a society our memory is political – based on glory or grievance – rarely on hard, cold facts.
Dr Elder also writes about the past and the influence of tūpuna, those who have gone before us. “Our ancestors reach forward into our lives as a source of strength in our strange modern world, a source of ancient wisdom and technology” (Elder, 2022, p. 11). Mantel talks about how we make sense of the world based on who our ancestors are. “We carry the genes and the culture of our ancestors, and what we think about them shapes what we think of ourselves, and how we make sense of our time and place” (Mantel, 2017).
A twitter thread by @EmilyK100
Some critical imaginings on a wet afternoon in late November, Tamaki Makaurau, Aotearoa New Zealand. Can social work escape the care – control (help – surveillance) bind? Social work services are provided to a particular section of the population – those at the bottom of the social and economic heap. Social work ‘assists’ those at the margins to cope/survive. However, the ‘position’ of those who are constructed as ‘clients’ is structurally generated – a function of capitalist social and economic relations. Capitalism is unjust by definition in terms of process and outcomes. It requires an exploitative relationship between owners and workers. It is a system that produces and reproduces inequality. What the experience of social work practice does do – for those with eyes to see – is expose the human consequences of structural injustice. However …
I have read the Ombudsman’s opinion in relation to Malachi Subecz. Like Emily Keddell I think there are some critical implications about the need to better manage and better fund the transition of our state child protection service. Change in child protection needs to be made with care simply because people get hurt in this work; more specifically children sometimes lose their lives. This does not mean reform is not needed. It is.
People wonder all the time why it is that child protection workers fail to identify and act on risk. How do mistakes that are so obvious in retrospect occur? The answer is that the reasons for this are mostly systemic. Child protection systems are complex and do not always behave rationally, at least not in the sense of clearly and consistently adhering to legally mandated procedures. Such systems are always applied within a political context and the perverse imperatives within the system are not always fully apparent to those who act within it. The disturbing thing for me is that this scenario is so familiar. I have seen this avoidant, minimalist, defensive practice before – in the 1990s. And many of the contextual drivers are the same.