Goodbye to 2015: Now forward, without forgetting


The Re-imagining Social Work blog was launched in April 2015 in response to the New Zealand governments’ announcement of an “independent review” of Child Youth and Family (CYF): New Zealand’s statutory children’s service. See this blog post for an excellent summary of our first few months. Our aim was, and still is, to use this blog, and other social media, to raise awareness about the threat to humane and progressive social work services represented by the CYF review and other recent policy developments. However, in our view, it is impossible to focus on one policy domain ­­– such as the review of child protection services – without also tracing connections with other social, economic and political developments at home and overseas. In a sense what we need to do in order to truly understand what is happening is to develop a political economy of social welfare: one that connects, for example, the aims of the Minister for Social Development’s review of CYF, with the Finance Minister’s agenda to make social services less dependent on the resources of the state, and other developments such as social bonds.

These policy developments are dynamic, interconnected and linked to wider international agendas as neoliberal governmental regimes worldwide continue to work out how to manage the social problems resulting from the growth of inequality, without adopting progressive taxation policies or tackling income redistribution. In our own small way the RSW has aimed to highlight these issues on the domestic front, whilst forging international links to promote discussion, debate and deliberation about progressive alternatives to the morally bankrupt social policy of neoliberal governments here and elsewhere.  So, as the year unfolded, we hosted many thoughtful local and international blog posts traversing some significant issues.

2015 in review

Since the RSW blog was launched, just nine months ago, it has had almost 29,000 page views and over 11,400 unique visitors. The blog has an international following but with a strong local base: 80% of our page views are from visitors located in Aotearoa New Zealand. We have published 66 blog posts, received 152 likes on our posts, and 130 comments (a strong indicator of the relevance of the blog to readers): see the blog’s WordPress Annual Report 2015 for more detail.

Although the blog has been sustained by the voluntary activity of the six members of the RSW collective we have welcomed contributions from all who share our aims and are delighted to report that, of the 66 blog posts published in 2015, twenty were from local NZ practitioners, student and academics; and five were from overseas academics and practitioners. Tangata whenua voices were included with seven posts from Paora Moyle (including video blogs), a link to Minister Tolley’s interview on Native Affairs, a piece by Miriama Scott on the recent history of Child, Youth and Family policy reviews, and a reflection on the “good old days” by Bobby Bryan.

Understandably, many authors have focussed on the aims and implications of the CYF review and commented on the interim report. However, topics ranged widely and included explorations of the Ministry of Social Development’s predictive risk modelling tool, implications of policy change for tangata whenua, discussions of privatisation and the use of social bonds, the relationship between poverty and child protection, analyses of neoliberal social policy, and much more. Our contributions have included a collective position statement from University of Auckland social work students, a poem, a political cartoon and several posts have included links to relevant radio and television news programmes; and let’s not forget the blog post by the Children’s Commissioner on the State of Care report. The blog tagcloud (to the right) gives an indication of the range of topics included in our blog posts, but the top five (in order of frequency) are, unsurprisingly:

  • CYF Review
  • Child protection
  • Māori perspectives
  • Neoliberalism

When we established the RSW blog we proposed “to resist the silencing of our voice by creating a space to discuss, debate and deliberate on the future of modern and progressive social work services in Aotearoa New Zealand”. The evidence of the last nine months suggests we have made a good start; but much remains to be done.

Other developments

In October 2015 the RSW also decided (after a great deal of research and conversation) to propose to the ANZASW that the journal editorship for Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work become a collective endeavour. The six members of the RSW collective successfully bid for this outcome and were joined by four other colleagues (including the two Tangata Whenua academic colleagues responsible for the production of the Te Komako issue of the journal).  The new journal editorial collective plans to work together to build an internationally recognised, open access and socially progressive journal. In early 2016 we intend to invite local and international colleagues to support the journal by becoming part of an editorial advisory board. This is an exciting development and a refreshed and open access journal will be launched in April 2016 (marking one year since the formation  of the RSW collective).

Looking forward

At the end of 2015 the RSW engaged in conversations (using our collective discussion space in Loomio) to share our hopes and dreams for re-imagining social work in 2016 and the years ahead. Our discussion was free-flowing and included the following aspirations:

  • provide an outlet for a vision of social work that challenges conservative political interests, promotes social equality and respects the experience of marginalised people in a structurally unequal society
  • provide a forum that challenges those in positions of power, supports constructive critique and promotes social justice for all
  • foster and build energy for progressive social change and solidarity with all who share this vision
  • reclaim our profession: its values and principles in thought and action
  • be part of a locally grounded, internationally connected and fearless social work community that is confident to engage in constructive, challenging and critical debate
  • build solid international links that give us strength and remind us that our preoccupations are shared by others; that we are connected to powerful thinkers both here and abroad
  • commit to developing a critical and radical approach to social policy analysis using both the blog and the journal to provide open fora for discussion and debate
  • focus attention on the role of the state in addressing inequality, racism, sexism and ableism
  • challenge the state to use inclusive policy processes when developing new policies: processes that consult with the end users of services and those who will be most affected by the outcome
  • promote the co-production of social work services using processes where users of services (both voluntary and non-voluntary) have opportunities to influence and shape their design and delivery
  • advance cooperative and collective organisational forms for the delivery of social work and social work education services
  • theorise and promote anti-racist and anti-oppressive social work practices that move beyond the narrow confines of awareness-raising workshops, and address directly actually existing racism in Aotearoa New Zealand
  • a social work with a pulse – a practice of head, heart and nostrils – that is political, personal and courageous.

This is, of course, a tall agenda for change, but it offers our readers an insight into the issues that currently motivate the collective. We are never far from our core idea: that we need to collectively imagine and re-imagine a social work that listens, engages, respects the realities and lived wisdom of families at the bottom of the socio-economic heap. We want to imagine an alternative to a social work that is naive about the realities of abuse, neglect and disadvantage; an alternative to a social work of disembodied science, calculus and contempt.

As we look forward to 2016 we assert that our stance will continue to be a progressive one: one that builds solidarity, and promotes social justice. We consider oppression and inequality to be grounded in the actual social, historical, economic and political realities and material conditions of contemporary Aotearoa New Zealand. We believe that the problems confronting the development of a progressive social work can only be tackled by a united front of all progressive forces working in solidarity. A solidarity that reaches across organisational divisions, and differences in identity politics, and works together in a genuine anti-oppressive struggle. In the words of Bertolt Brecht we want to go forward without forgetting:

All the gang of those who rule us
Hope our quarrels never stop
Helping them to split and fool us
So they remain on top.

Forward, without forgetting
Where our strength can now be seen!
Forward, without forgetting
Our solidarity!

To all of our readers, let’s work together to make 2016 a year to remember.

Whose tomorrow is tomorrow?
And whose world is the world?

3 replies on “Goodbye to 2015: Now forward, without forgetting”

This is an important ‘speaking platform’ for social work and I am pleased to have featured on it so many times. Thank you R-SW. But that’s my point, speaking platforms shouldn’t be leaving it up to tangata whenua to be talking about the significant institutional racism in social work or mentioning it in relation to all the other isms, thereby minimising its impact upon our ppl. Name it for what it truly is. Racism ensures a steady coveyer belt of our ppl as clients across all sysytems and few Pākehā talk about this. R-SW talks about “theorise and promote anti-racist and anti-oppressive social work” but apart from the odd token mention here in there has been nothing meaningful from a Pākehā perspective that ‘calls out’ racism in Aotearoa. Racism is a ‘Pakehā problem’ not a Māori problem and no article that I have read provides an in-depth analysis about racism and it’s direct impact upon the over-representation of Māori in social work here. As long as you treat institutional racism as colourless (invisible),then you don’t see us (Māori)…and therefore do not have to own it. R-SW have got ‘Māori perspectives’…how about, ‘Pākehā perspectives’ of issues impacting Māori, afterall Pākehā are a culture too.

Thank you R-SW for this initiative and your rallying cry for our profession to gird up for 2016. Looking forward to working together. Kia ora Paora for your challenge to those of us Pakeha to address racism, I hope to be part of a reponse in 2016.

Thank you Paora and David for you supportive comments on the work of the RSW.

We agree wholeheartedly that we need analyses of racism and social work in Aotearoa New Zealand. We are not sure that the blog (or Facebook) is the best place to conduct such analyses, although one of our number is about to make a start. The new ANZASW open access journal would be an excellent place to really explore the issues in depth and to theorise anti-racism and social work in Aotearoa.

We do not agree that racism cannot be mentioned in the same breath as the other “isms”. In fact, from our point of view, we consider that, in order to truly understand the operation of actually existing racism in Aotearoa New Zealand, it is essential to consider it in the context of neoliberalism, the capitalist economic order, and other intersecting issues such as patriarchy, ableism etc. Nor are these issues peculiar to Aotearoa, they are international issues that, in our view, require solutions informed by practices in other nation states.

We are pleased that our blog, and the work of RSW colleagues in other contexts, has helped to open up this critically important debate. For too long social workers have shied away from developing alternative perspectives on this topic. We need to move away from the climate of blaming, guilt-tripping and sloganising and truly embrace our collective responsibility to support the anti-racist struggle and the struggle of all oppressed peoples.

Yours in solidarity,

the RSW.

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