After the release of another report on the care system in Aotearoa, it is surprising to see that for almost two decades now, Child, Youth and Family apparently keep on getting it wrong when it comes to protect and support children and young people. The recent report on the latest review of the organisation (Investing in Children) states, loud and clear, that as a nation we are failing to provide safe, stable and loving care for children. It seems to me that the blame for such a mess is being placed on social workers, who keep on being caught in the political discourse. As a social worker, it is disheartening to see our professional skills and knowledge once again being devalued and run down in the public eye.
The effectiveness of an entire child welfare system has come to be judged in terms of deficit. The focus is on what does not get done well and how social workers do not measure up to the state’s high expectations (Ferguson, 2008). What struck me in the report is that the government’s lopsided presentation is perpetuating the perception that social workers keep on failing vulnerable children. Sadly, it misses the opportunity to celebrate all the achievements and positive outcomes made by hundreds of social workers. It is a mistake to blame the failings of the child welfare system on social workers. Of course social workers want to make a positive change in the statistics for children’s re-victimisation and young people’s re-offending while in State care. However, social practice extends beyond direct contact with clients. It intersects with broader and very serious social problems such as poverty, low income, unemployment, housing and mental health. Focusing on ‘poor social work practice’ not only detracts from the more structural problems facing social work, it increasingly undermines any notion of government responsibility. I think it is time for the government to be accountable for its ongoing poor political choices and admit that social workers cannot always clean up its mess.
Another significant feature of the report is social workers voicing their frustration with the system, bureaucracy and the lack of joined-up services. Social workers have been overloaded and under-resourced and it seems it is only getting worse. However, this issue has been echoed in many other reports, yet it seems that nothing much has been done to address it. All this takes social workers away from the core of their work – engaging effectively with families for positive change.
Since the report came out, I feel social workers have been quiet, maybe too quiet. I wonder whether this silence represents a response to another slap in the face from the government, or if they are simply too run off their feet to comment.
Ferguson, H. (2008). The theory and practice of critical best practice in social work. In K. Jones, B. Cooper & H. Ferguson (Eds.), Best practice in social work: Critical perspectives (pp. 15-37). Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.
Modernising Child Youth and Family Expert Panel. (2016). Expert panel final report: Investing in New Zealand’s children and their families. Wellington, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://www.msd.govt.nz/about-msd-and-our-work/work-programmes/investing-in-children/