I would like to invite some elephants to reveal themselves and vacate the child protection room. This might give us some more space to breathe and think. In other words let’s name some of the uncomfortable realities. Let’s be frank: child protection social work in Aotearoa New Zealand is enmeshed with social inequality. Pelton’s (2015) summary of recent research studies presents compelling evidence of the link between poverty, child maltreatment and entry into state care. It does not take a rocket scientist (luckily) to work out that a range of negative outcomes for children – including a greater risk of maltreatment – result from inadequate incomes, second rate education, deprived neighbourhoods, inadequate housing and poor health. Social workers are aware of this.
This creative work was submitted to the blog by Leah Beaumont. Leah is a recent graduate from the University of Auckland with a Master of Public Policy.
One of the items included in the scope of the current New Zealand government’s review of the Child, Youth and Family services (CYFS) is this one: ‘The potential role of data analytics, including predictive risk modelling, to identify children and young people in need of care and protection’.
Predictive risk modelling (PRM) is a simple and seductive idea. If we can predict with accuracy who is likely to abuse children before they have done so, then we can target services to those families, fulfilling the dual objectives of preventing harm before it occurs, and being uber efficient with taxpayer dollars. Such seductive ideas, especially in an age where access to the ‘big data’ required to attempt such a proposition is viable, are often worth investigating. Enormous datasets can be mined, a large number of variables can be included, and patterns of particular combinations of risk factors for certain populations can be identified. In the case of the proposed Ministry for Social Development (MSD) PRM tool, however, there a number of issues. In particular, the level of accuracy of the PRM tool is overstated, the data it relies on has serious problems, its use as a practice decision-making tool is minimal, it has significant rights implications, and using it to decide who should be offered preventive services may not be any more effective than the current state of affairs (although to be fair this is difficult to ascertain – but needs to be).
Nigel Parton’s (2014) recent study of the political context surrounding the ‘reform’ of child protection practice and policy in England contends that the state is pursuing an increasingly authoritarian agenda in relation to a particular section of the population, England’s poorest and most vulnerable families. The neoliberal project involves a shift in responsibility for social outcomes from the state to families.
A guest blog post by Kate Morris, Professor of Social Work at the University of Nottingham. Kate is one of the authors of Re-imagining Child Protection: Towards humane social work with families. In this post Kate reflects on her recent visit to Aotearoa New Zealand and the similarities between politically motivated reviews of child protection services in England and NZ.