Where to social work in a brave new neoliberal Aotearoa?

Ian Hyslop 

Ian is a lecturer in Social Work in the School of Counselling , Human Services and Social Work  at the University of Auckland. Ian’s professional and research  interests are tied to a concern with the relationship between social work and social justice, locally and globally. He worked for twenty years as a social worker, supervisor, and practice manager in statutory child protection practice in Auckland, New Zealand. He has spent a great deal of time over the last  year thinking, writing and talking about the review of New Zealand’s child welfare services. Like most who practice, teach  and research in child welfare he acknowledges the role of risk identification, assessment, decision making, professional judgment in practice. Ian writes:

“Uncertainty is embedded in the nature of child protection work, despite the bureaucratic and managerial imperative to eradicate it. The recent focus on the scientific prediction of child abuse within high risk families connects with the neoliberal policy agenda of disciplining the poor and unproductive”.

Child protection social work in Aotearoa New Zealand is enmeshed with poverty and social deprivation – with the lives of vulnerable families. Current policy initiatives are moving social work towards a stricter policing of the underclass poor as I have written elsewhere  in The Road not Taken about the  recent review of Child Youth and Family Services in New Zealand. And  let’s be clear:

 that that the CYF Review process, outcome and ongoing implementation, is not a neutral or dispassionate exercise. It has and will continue to be, politically and ideologically orchestrated. In this sense the ‘review’ has been about constructing a narrative to fit within a predetermined frame that is consistent with the Government’s wider social investment policy programme. The agenda is about reducing the downstream fiscal cost caused by ‘vulnerable’ people and “productivity”.

Child ill-treatment is correlated with poverty in the form of inadequate housing, education failure, poor health, low incomes and impoverished communities. It is time to make this clear in a political environment that is bent on divorcing social work from a concern with increasing structural injustice and focusing us on the detection, remoralisation and/or punishment of deviant abusers. The liberal humanist tradition of social work focuses on the individual redemption of failing subjects. In a punitive neoliberal political environment, this orientation potentially lures social workers into an othering of those who are unable or unwilling to take responsibility for their own moral rehabilitation”.

“We live in pivotal times for social work.” 

This article asks readers to consider the argument put forward and to question where they stand: where might social work be taking you  in these current conditions and where would you like to take social work?

Readers can access the full article in the  free open access journal Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work from the link below.

Hyslop, I. K. (2016). Where to social work in a brave new neoliberal Aotearoa? Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work. 28(1) ,5-12     Read here.

Further articles by Ian:

Hyslop, I. (2012). Social work as a practice of freedom. Journal of Social Work, 12(4), 404-422. doi:10.1177/1468017310388362 Abstract here.

Hyslop, I. (2013). The’White paper for vulnerable children’and the’Munro review of child protection in England’: A comparative critique. Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work, 25(4), 4-14. Read here.

Hyslop, I. (2016). Social work in the teeth of a gale: a resilient counter-discourse in neoliberal times. Critical and Radical Social Work. 4(1) 21-37   abstract here


About socialworknz

I'm a social work researcher in Aotearoa New Zealand
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