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)