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Ka whawhai tonu mātou! We continue to fight.

In this final RSW post for 2021 Neil Ballantyne and Ian Hyslop reflect on the conflicted and generative relationship between social injustice and social work. It has been a difficult year for many. Our old certainties have been challenged as the pandemic has spread suffering globally, particularly, as always, for the poor and dispossessed. The title of this post – “Ka whawhai tonu mātou” (struggle without end) is taken from the title of Ranginui Walker’s classic text. It was the cry that met British soldiers as they invaded Ōrākau Pā in Kihikihi, in 1864: “We will fight on forever”.

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A socially just child protection system?

We are often told that the confluence of poverty, inequality and entry into the child protection system is not something that child welfare services can address. Child protection focuses on the risk of harm to children and the circumstances of their families. Structural inequality, if it is acknowledged at all, is regarded as a problem of a different order. As social workers it is out of our hands and therefore it is invisible; class exploitation and racially configured oppression are one thing, and child protection is another: oh dear, how sad, never mind. I have trouble accepting this proposition.

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Where has my radicalism gone? Revisited (again!)

This is a guest post from Lauren Bartley

Over the last few years, I have contributed a couple of blogs to Reimagining Social Work, reflecting on the grief I felt at losing my sense of radicalism once I started working as a social worker. You can read those blogs here and here, but a quick rehash: throughout my degree, I became pretty disillusioned by how little focus contemporary social work placed on social justice. It seemed that social work was more about putting plasters on people, and adjusting people to their circumstances, rather than trying to change those circumstances. I had created a name for myself as a bit of a radical and got pretty fired up in my classes and assignments about what social workers should really be doing. And then I got my first social work job, and reality hit. Workload, time constraints, and organisational suppression of anything remotely political meant that I was really restrained in what I could do, and I quickly felt my sense of radicalism slipping away.

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Social work and the un-justice system

This is a guest post from Bex Rillstone. Bex graduated the MSW(P) Programme, University of Auckland, in 2018. She has worked as a housing social worker in South Auckland and as a Family Start social worker with a kaupapa Māori NGO. Bex now works in a male prison, delivering rehabilitation programmes. She also sits on the Labour Party Justice Policy Committee, advocating for changes within the Justice and Corrections systems.

I have been working in a men’s prison for almost two years now. There is something unsettling about working within a Justice system that remains so fundamentally unjust. Many people have asked me why I choose this line of work. The answer is that I purposely chose to move towards my fear rather than away from it. I already knew, from international research and national recidivism rates, that the prison system doesn’t work – for perpetrators or for victims.

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Courage and Convictions

The exemplary work of anti-racist researcher and children’s rights activist Dr Oliver Sutherland and his associates in ACORD (Auckland Committee on Racism and Discrimination) documents a deeply disturbing history of abusive state care in the 1970s and 80s. The following discussion draws on a witness statement, dated October 4th, 2019, which Dr Sutherland presented to the current Royal Commission into Historical Abuse in State Care and the Care of Faith Based Institutions.

The aim of this post is to encourage some reflection on the role of advocacy organisations in bringing hidden injustice and suffering to light. None of this happened very long ago and it  happened here in Aotearoa; at the hands, or at least under the noses, of state social workers. There are some lessons in here for us all in my humble opinion.