The Ministerial appointment of an ‘expert panel’ to oversee the development of a ‘future CYF operating model’ supported by a ‘Detailed Business Case’ is a deeply disturbing turn for those concerned with the future of social work practice in Aotearoa / New Zealand. Statutory child protection is carried out by social workers. I am concerned by the panel composition which features no child protection social work practice expertise or experience. Most of all I am uneasy about the intent which lies behind the rhetoric of modernisation, efficiency, and the emotive panacea of a child-centred approach to practice. This intent remains obscure but as Bob Dylan once suggested, “you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows”.
Following Anne Tolley’s (Minister of Social Development) announcement last week of the formation of an ‘independent expert panel’ to review Child, Youth and Family (CYF), there has been an avalanche of responses on social media. Having read and reflected on this material I found myself wondering, as a social work educator, what it is that front line social workers in CYF actually need to complete their job in a competent, timely and safe manner?
Children’s Commissioner Russell Wills was asked by National Radio last week to respond to Minister Anne Tolley’s proposed CYF modernization project. An even, calm and suitably critical Mr Wills offered himself as an ally for child protection social workers and for the children they work alongside on a daily basis. It is very simply in his words “hard work,” and he couldn’t have agreed more with Nine to Noon interviewer Kathryn Ryan who described the size of social work caseloads as “unfathomable when you consider the complexity of the work.” To have this challenge acknowledged is largely satisfying and affirming for social workers and few would disagree with Dr Wills’ stated support for the application of “big brains” to the task of modernizing our child protection system to better meet the needs of children and young people.
In these media savvy days political pronouncements are almost always focussed on managing media. During elections media management is particularly intense with resources invested in promoting vote winning messages whilst sullying the reputation of others. Once in power, and with a respectable majority assured, governments turn to the business of pushing their real political agenda. Media management between elections includes tactics such as timing political announcements to minimise critical reaction, wrapping politically sensitive policies in good news stories, and using slippery semantics to conceal or make palatable politically controversial policies.
Last Wednesday the Minister of Social Development Anne Tolley announced the formation of an ‘independent expert panel’ to lead a ‘complete overhaul ‘ of Child, Youth and Family. This is the first of a series of posts by social workers who wish to challenge aspects of the panel’s role and composition and call for a much more open process of discussion to influence the way forward.