Looking back in order to look forward- state care

By Faith Gatsby

Hindsight is a fantastic concept isn’t it? From my own personal experiences, I’ve found that looking back at how I did things in the past is a great way to assess how I can better position myself to manage similar circumstances in the future. Taking this into consideration, if we look back on the history of the state care system and the role that social work plays within this, we can see that it has not been the easiest of journeys for the children who were uprooted from their families. Negative connotations of abuse and neglect spring to mind and the fact that the role of social workers was seen as part of the problem can be a very difficult pill to swallow. For example the story of the life of Daryl Brougham  recently was emerging within the media, which explains how he moved through 79 foster home placements throughout his life. How can we as social workers even begin to explain the extent of what went wrong in the state care system in his instance?

First and foremost, it is important to acknowledge the fact that the state care system has had many flaws in the past especially with regards to Māori children. In the early stages of human development, it is of the upmost importance to maintain and facilitate a sense of personal and cultural identity for a child within the context of their family surroundings. Experiencing a lack of cultural stimulation of aspects such as language, customs and traditions can be detrimental to the wellbeing of Māori children as they exist within their whanau, hapu and iwi. A public inquiry is being called into the experiences of Māori  children in state care as these early experiences have been a deciding factor for adult outcomes such as a disproportionate ethnic representation within the prison population.

Even though social workers are partly being blamed for the horrific experiences of the past, I firmly believe that the role of the media in magnifying and emphasizing the shortfalls of the social work profession can be debilitating for day-to-day social work practice. Breathing into life the success stories of grassroots level social work interventions can play a massive role in re-writing the narrative in terms of celebrating the small victories for front line social workers.

The question we have to ask ourselves now is what we can do differently to ensure that history does not repeat itself. We need to be certain that we cause more good than harm within the lives of the children and families that we work with. In recent years there have been cases of children falling through the cracks of the state care system highlighted within the media but the appropriate steps can be taken to avoid this in the future. We need to understand that as social workers we are placed in a position of power and influence and the individual actions that we take on a daily basis have the potential to have a massive impact.


Hurley, S. (2017, March 2nd) Dame Susan Devoy says Maori children more likely to be taken from their families. New Zealand Herald. Retrieved from:  http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11810075

Harris, S. (2017, March 30th) CYF overhaul: Former foster care child Daryl Brougham speaks out. New Zealand Herald. Retrieved from: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11828761


About socialworknz

I'm a social work researcher in Aotearoa New Zealand
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