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Wednesday, December 4 • 3:30pm - 5:30pm
BREAKOUT SESSION FOUR: Social Work

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Chair: Susan Kemp

Ian Hyslop: The Sociology of Child Protection Reform: Emotional Politics and Contested Narratives

Between 1989 and 2015 the racialized statutory child protection narrative in Aotearoa-New Zealand transformed from a focus on the damage done to Māori children by state violence to the cost visited upon the state and wider society by ‘dangerous families’. The tensions underpinning this discursive shift are manifested in the emotional politics of child protection reform. This presentation will explore how the narratives evident within of this contested field are constructed by conflicting socio-political currents that are deeply embedded within the political and cultural rubric of Aotearoa New Zealand, specifically the unresolved conflict between liberal politics and Te Tiriti of Waitangi in a structurally unequal society. It will be argues that resolution of the problem of child protection may lie in deconstruction of these framing discourses and a reimagining of socially just social work policy and practice.


Emily Keddell: Rethinking domestic violence in child protection assessments: challenging the failure to protect narrative

As the definition of child emotional abuse has extended to include exposure to intimate partner violence, so has the remit of child protection services to intervene in such cases. The intersecting systems of child protection and domestic violence services can operate on ‘different planets’, with differing ideologies and conceptual bases regarding the causes, and hence assumptions about responsibility for violence in adult interpersonal relationships (Hester, 2011). Drawing on media reports and interview data from a decision-making study of social workers, this talk discusses these tensions in the Aotearoa New Zealand context. I argue that when child protection responses, drawing on a ‘child-centred’ discourse, construct domestic violence as the fault of both parents, this dichotomises the child victim with both adults as culpable perpetrators. Because of this, if a mother does not instantly end the relationship, or if she is the victim of very serious violence, even if she seeks refuge help, she may lose custody of her children and be construed as ‘failing to protect’ them. This punishes both women and children for (predominantly) men’s violence, and damages both women’s agency and children’s relationships with their non-violent parent, a key protective factor for children exposed to IPV.


Lauren Devine: Social problems, social work and social justice

This paper draws on data and qualitative work from a UK project. The work was prompted by concerns amongst the UK’s Judiciary, politicians and the media about the seemingly counter-productive outcomes of the past 27 years of statutory safeguarding policy. The concern was prompted by several data-driven UK studies indicating that the ambitious new-Labour neo-liberal policies of early intervention had not delivered the expected results. This paper challenges the political and private sector’s rhetoric that increased funding for privatized services will reduce poor outcomes in child protection. Interviews with practitioners positioned throughout the child protection process showed remarkably similar results despite the different roles: that of deep cynicism that social work in the UK’s framework aligns with social justice. The need for resistance is outlined, together with the difficulties and challenges for social work to emerge as re-aligned with ‘just’ outcomes, and for service users to resist socially unjust interventions.


John Darroch: Political activity and statutory social work; how far are social workers allowed to go?


Social workers employed by the state face a range of organisational and legal restrictions which impact on their ability to engage in political activity. This paper draws upon recent court decisions, organisational guidelines, and legislation to analyse the nature of the limits that apply to statutory social workers in Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand. It argues that public servants are effectively prevented from publicly critiquing government policy, and organisational practice, when there is a direct connection between their critique and the work that they do. It is argued that such restrictions represent a significant conflict with social work ethics; including ethical requirements to draw attention to systemic injustices. Drawing on original research into political activity by social workers in New Zealand this paper will also show how such restrictions can have a chilling effect on the willingness of statutory social workers to engage in any iteration of political action.


Each presentation will be allocated 20 minutes. Additional time for questions and discussion will be available in each stream.

Presenters
avatar for Emily Keddell

Emily Keddell

Univ of Otago
Child protection: policy, inequalities, power, knowledge, decision-making, rights, algorithms, ethnicity.
avatar for Ian Hyslop

Ian Hyslop

Senior Lecturer, University of Auckland
Social justice and social work - the progress development of child and family practice.
avatar for Lauren Devine

Lauren Devine

Professor of Law & Ethics, University of the West of England
My research focuses on the legal and ethical balance between State power and private rights, particularly in public law processes, identifying hidden vulnerabilities and unintended consequences in welfare systems. I empirically evaluate the impact of consensual and non-consensual... Read More →