Social work students comment on the views of the Children’s Commissioner and the CYF Review

This guest blog post represents the views of 46 final year social work students at the University of Auckland.

We are a cohort of final year social work students at the University of Auckland and want to share our thoughts on the conversation unfolding around the role and function of social work in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Firstly, we want to respond to the following comments by Children’s Commissioner Russell Wills on National Radio:

“Currently, you can graduate from a university with a bachelor degree in social work in New Zealand and know very little about child protection or domestic violence or the impact of abuse and neglect on children’s development… that’s not ok”.

These comments reaffirm that little is really known about contemporary social work education. Had the Commissioner been familiar with the University of Auckland social work programme, he would understand that child protection is a core topic that features across the curriculum. Through our social work degrees we gain theoretical knowledge accompanied by a substantial practical component working with local agencies. This knowledge and ‘real world’ practice creates a strong platform for us to build our skills, enhancing our capacity to be competent future social workers.

The decision to undertake and invest in a four-year undergraduate or two year postgraduate social work degree is best summed up by a fellow student, “This degree has taught me to integrate the skills, theory and values of social work; as well as providing me with the opportunity to practice within a supported environment.  On a child protection placement I was confronted with the aftermath of a serious family violence situation and was able to utilise my knowledge and skills to practice effectively in a challenging environment.  Because of the strength of my education, I have a strong foundation to build on and to engage in effective social work practice.”

Our other major concern is the move to develop and implement a new operating model for Child, Youth and Family. We support any Government’s quest “For the sake of vulnerable children we must do better… focus[ing] on the needs of children, rather than the needs of the system”, however we are concerned that the members heading the Expert Panel are not required to consider the social work perspective. Given that social workers are the frontline workforce of this agency, we cannot understand why there would be no representation from such key stakeholders. We are concerned that shifting social work towards a business model with primary focus on “outputs, efficiencies and economy” will not explore the underlying root causes of why families are presenting to CYF. Our concern is that the terms of reference seem to imply that profit will be soon be prioritized over people, and it is our most vulnerable who will suffer most.

We are deeply concerned that these changes will lead to band-aid, short-term interventions for our most vulnerable children and their families. Such interventions have the potential to create disastrous long-term social impacts not only for this vulnerable population, but for our whole nation. We strongly promote a social work approach that operates with a holistic view of people within their environmental context. We are fearful that this perspective will be lost and the inequalities and structures that keep people oppressed will not be addressed.

Nicole Renata, Class representative.  (On behalf of 46 final year social work students – University of Auckland, full names provided to an RSW Collective editor)


9 replies on “Social work students comment on the views of the Children’s Commissioner and the CYF Review”

This letter makes a useful contribution to the on-doing debate. I encourage Nicole Renata and the class of 46 students to send the letter to the Listener, where it might enter the public domain and have more influence. Mary Nash

Thanks Mary, we too think the Listener might be a good place to discuss our developing story.

Thank you so much Nicole and colleagues for taking the time to express your views so clearly and articulately. Attempting to influence public media is important, although it can be difficult when the story is not perceived as ‘news’. The good old letter to your MP is also worth considering, especially if you can coordinate the letter writing effort and engulf your MP with letters.

However, let’s not underestimate the influence that your single blog post might have. Since the RSW collective opened this website (just over four weeks ago) we have had 2,093 unique visitors accounting for 6,180 page views. Over 75% of our visitors are from New Zealand, and over 40% are returning visitors. This audience is unlikely to be representative of the general public, but it is an audience concerned with the issues you discuss, including many CYF workers who will welcome the solidarity you and your colleagues have offered. We also know that the blog, and our twitter feed, is noticed by some people who have significant influence including Jacinda Ardern MP and Metiria Turei MP.

Let’s harness all media to challenge the CYF review and the “more effective social services” agenda, but let’s not underestimate the power of social media.

Kia ora Nicole and your student colleagues. It’s great to see a student voice entering this important debate. Thanks for taking the time in your busyness to put this post together. Yes social work needs to attend to the everyday need of those we work alongside but if we are not simultaneously working on a structural level to address the causes of those needs then we can’t call ourselves social workers. Actions in social media spaces are absolutely part of how we can go about this work and, as Neil Ballentyne says, don’t underestimate the power of a single blog post. Your group is showing leadership here and I look forward to hearing your voice on other issues. Nga mihi nui to you all and best wishes for your final year.

It’s great to see this post! Thanks Nicole and the rest of the cohort for speaking out on this important issue. As a graduate of the Auckland BSW programme I was shocked to hear the comment by the children’s commissioner and was hoping that someone would set him straight.

His comments seem to reflect a wider lack of understanding of and recognition for the unique skills and knowledge which social work graduates hold. This blog post itself highlights the critical engagement that social work students bring to their work!

Rebstock is not about Vulnerable Children nor a reconfiguring of CYF’s. No Rebstock is about putting in place a Social Investment framework where actuarial structures, designed to control fiscal future liabilities and risk debt management, A market is being created with the actuarial operating model. The Chief Actuarial Executive will manage the bedding in of the new regieme. Read the report, the EY (Ernst and Young) Investment Approach For Vulnerable Children document and the reports to the Cabinet Social Policy Committee under the authorship of Anne Tolley, Minister of Social Development. When the May and July Cabinet Social Policy Reports are discovered (may be as OIA requests) we shall see more about the new Operating Model. Needless to say Rebstock is not Good News for Vulnerable Children. An new ACC lookalike Board will drive the models and directions. Don’t go to an ACC Board structure because there one coming to a place near you. Rebstock was paid $2,000 a day to lead the writing of the Report. Rebstock remains a Social Investment Trojan Horse.

Thanks David. Yes the emphasis on social investment, especially as laid out in the Cab papers and the Ernst and Young reports make for fascinating reading. The ‘experts’ relied on to drive these changes should definitely concern us!

Thanks Emily
This is what Bill English said to Treasury about Social Investment.
and here
And in Budget 2016
Bill Rosenberg Economist with the NZCTU has a good critical paper on Social Investment.

Share the concerns about Rebstock. We of course know that she is dancing to the tune of her Political Masters Cheers David Tolich

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