The social work ‘elite’ maintaining the brown school to prison pipeline?

This blog speaks to the structures, organisations and people that contribute to maintaining the child protection social work status quo in New Zealand. Namely, the abusive transacting of our mokopuna through state care, which has not significantly changed for them since forced urbanisation. Particular attention is paid to the Social Work Registration Body (SWRB), the Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Workers (ANZASW) and the social work elite.

Organisations such as the SWRB and ANZASW seem less concerned with supporting social workers and more interested in maintaining the brown school to prison pipeline that keeps professionals in jobs. We hear the same old rhetoric that upholds the social work industry and key positional people (the elite, good intentions are enough group, self-appointed white allies and some Malcolm X stylz house servants) who do not want their positioning disrupted. The same positional patch protecting that blocked Puao te ta tu (Daybreak) from ever seeing the light of day. People who will on one hand vehemently denounce neoliberal Child Youth & Family (CYF) reforms and simultaneously participate in passive racism sucthat keeps Maori marginalised (For an example, see this piece for later reading).

Take for example the SWRB, a government entity that in 2017 is set to make registration of social workers mandatory and once you register you cannot unregister! We heard recently from the SWRB CE (well-advertised on mainstream media) that unregistered social workers “Have the potential to do harm and if they’re not being assessed or monitored.” Since when did we have lone rogue cowboy type social workers out there preying upon vulnerable families? Where is the research to support this? It’s the same scaremongering rhetoric that justifies the need for a controlling mechanism to be in place. What do you see when the Emperor is parading around his splendid expensive new gears, with adoring white gentry lathering his ego of how wonderful he looks? Do you see his beautifully woven finery or a big white nono? The truth is that many of our most committed frontline practitioners are Maori, unregistered and work in the community. Who are happy to take less pay because they choose not to work in monocultural government environments. Elitism in social work is returning it to a white middle class profession. For example, changing the 3 year degree into a 4 year qualification adds greater financial burden on students with the impact felt most by Māori. Many Māori with essential lived-experience would make excellent social workers but who have no chance of becoming registered, don’t even bother applying for the degree.

The social work elite market mandatory registration because they believe that the professionalisation of social work needs to include improving professional status. That we should be seen as “experts” and thus have equal standing and credibility among the other helping professions (e.g. psychiatry, psychology, nursing, and counselling). Professional registration might provide you with a Gold Star however it conflicts with the true purpose of social workers and our ethical standing. This means we are supposed to reject the expert position and work in alleviating the power differential for vulnerable people in systems (check out the global standards for clarity on this point).

Professional registration is used by organisations as a control mechanism to prevent social workers speaking out about systemic issues of repeated failures in our government’s duty of care to children, institutional racism, underfunding, high caseloads, and organisational bullying. This is a KEY issue that is not being talked about in social work! Social Workers are being used by the SWRB to play a maintenance role and to promote conformity, not to address social justice issues. As concerned social workers who have alternative views about the SWRB and ANZASW, we are NOT saying that there should be no professional standards. Of course there should be but we want Tangata Whenua lead standards, in line with global standards that advocate for Indigenous autonomy. That’s right Tino Rangatiratanga! We want a Tangata Whenua based process that approves social workers as competent to work with Maori. Maori decide this, not Pakeha!

Questions being asked about the SWRB often go unanswered so this blog seeks to put a few of them on the table.

  • Why is the SWRB not required to be transparent about their investigation processes? Why can you ask colleagues of a person you are investigating to provide statements about them but not share this with the person they are investigating?
  • Why are the bulk of the SWRB investigations/sanctions/fines on social workers for allowing their APC to lapse? Rather than on those who practice unethically, particularly those inside statutory social work?
  • Why is it that the SWRB ethical standards are not in line with global social work standards; particularly with Indigenous visibility, participation and partnership? (Is it because the same positional elite that maintain the status quo are the same ones who set the standards and advocate for mandatory registration?)
  • Why is it ok for our exorbitant fees to go into prosecuting individual social workers (APC lapses) but there is not enough funding to employ appropriate assessors to assess social worker competencies against the Kaitiakitanga framework? This is a KEY issue and speaks volumes about the SWRB priorities. Is it more about revenue gathering through sanctioning social workers rather than assessing their competencies to work safely with Maori?
  • Why does the SWRB allow unregistered, non-social work practitioners as investigators and tribunal representatives to sit in judgment of registered social work practitioners?
  • Why does so much time, resource and expense seemingly go into the smaller fry cases (APC lapses) and the public/controversial cases involving registered statutory social workers seem to get buried? Is there a pre-process the tribunal goes through where it considers cases that can and cannot be pursued by the tribunal? (e.g., because of the Privacy Act/Disclosure clauses or that a case is before the Family Court).
  • Why do senior Maori associated with the SWRB often have their names attached to Pakeha research to get around the cultural considerations involved? What if the research team wanted to take an outspoken activist (asking too many questions) before the SWRB and the Maori on the research was also a SWRB member? Is this a not a conflict of interest?
  • Why does the SWRB (who espouse their ethical stance to te Tiriti and biculturalism) employ Pakeha assessors to evaluate social work programmes frameworks on competencies to work with Maori? Is it not white supremacy to assert that Pakeha are qualified to assess training programmes that teach competency to work with Maori?

The ANZASW espouse their commitment to te Tiriti and biculturalism at every opportunity. They do so with no explicit reference to the imbalance of power in their organisation or indeed unaware of how overtly they present as white supremacist centred. Most apparent when self-appointed Pakeha sit on a ‘by Māori for Māori ‘competency approval process for new Māori social workers, whilst categorically denying the existence of any racism within their association (For further examples, see this piece for later reading). The point here is that despite only 10% (the elite) of their membership feeding back their views on mandatory registration, ANZASW is going to go ahead with supporting it. Pretty indicative of how aligned the SWRB and ANZASW are! These organisations mainstream mix Maori rendering them silenced in the same way elitist social work platforms do. We need to be able to have these conversations kanohi ki te kanohi, not in ANZASW board rooms or SWRB tribunals, not in CYFs or the new Ministry’s offices or in front of disinterested ‘expert panels’ who model all that is wrong with capitalist white supremacist hetero-patriarchy.

So what is bicultralism and te Tiriti centeredness in social work? When it comes to social work training programmes, too many are not equipping social workers with ‘actual’ competence to work with Maori. (We like what Te Wananga o Aotearoa and Raukawa have to offer and basically where ever Maori are attending in bulk.) The core focus of social work training in Aotearoa is Western derived monocultural social work knowledge so that practitioners are able to meet international requirements. Minimal attention is paid to the historical or even contemporary state of Maori here at home. Or indeed Maori principles and practices of healing and collective wellbeing, much less anti-oppressive knowledge that aligns with decolonising social work. Tacking a bit of Maori onto white supremacy does NOT work! Stop churning out social workers who believe that cultural ‘fluency’ is about knowing your mihimihi, a waiata and a karakia. Yeah flashing that shiny as badge is going to get you in a door. And stop approving social workers as meeting a standard to work with our whanau and they are NOT. What standard, the Tino Rangatiratanga sticker in the front window kind? And if you have Maori students telling you that they experience racism in your programme and you are not dealing with it, shame on you for protecting your own nono. If it were sexism you’d be all over it. Train SPANNERs to work with our whanau, not COGs to work for the state! And please limit the tone policing!

Tone policing is interesting and has been vividly showcased on a couple of social work Facebook pages. Where social workers (Maori and Tauiwi) have been attacked for discussing topics such as white supremacy or black lives matter. Even the term “genocide” seems to trigger extreme white guilt responses from people who then question the posters right to be on the page. Of most concern was to find out that one of the offended people is not in fact a naive student but a lecturer in a social work programme. This screams white fragility and cultural incompetence across the whole of social work. Not even the page administrator appears to understand the dynamics of white supremacy and is either silent or aids the racist ranter. What is most shameful and the epitome of passive racism is that some of our social work educators/academics stay silent when they could be challenging this behaviour, there by giving it their stamp of approval. They are protecting their own positioning and reputations on the backs if our people. Racism is a Pakeha responsibility to address and if you are not challenging racism on social media sites you are unlikely to be adddressing it within your social work schools. On the upside, this racism inspired te Tiriti centred social workers, Tauiwi and Tangata Whenua practitioners to form their own FB page. See Resisting Genocide Perpetrated by Social Work a roopu of a strong activist voices who are gaining momentum.

Another critical issues we don’t talk about in social work is the creme de la crème excuse of “unconscious bias” that is so fragrantly used to explain away covert racist targeting of Maori. It’s not unconscious when the Maori boy gets a supervision with residence (incarcerated) for the same thing the Pakeha boy gets diversion for and the social worker doesn’t challenge it. Social workers are not powerless and voiceless, children in state care are. I’m over hearing the spin by ANZASW and CYF that social workers do their best and are not blame, that dodgy child protection practice is ALL about social workers being overworked, under-resourced and time pressured. I’m over hearing the media narrative where a child has been murdered that the public needed to do more. So often the public, neighbours, acquaintances reported incidents prior to a murder and the system failed to follow through on the reports. For example the Livingston and Moko cases. Yes there are some excellent offices around Aotearoa producing sound examples of working successfully with families and whanau. You can tell because they have great local relationships with Police, Iwi and service providers and their numbers of children in care are low. Other offices are abysmal with high numbers and top tariff and corrupt practice occurring. Where is the consistency and shared best practice across areas? Where is the kaupapa Maori research about how social workers make decisions Mr Chief Social Worker? Maori are the predominant social service user group and Pakeha academics get to lead on potentially beneficial research for improved outcomes for Maori.

The problem of the abuse of children in Aotearoa is just broader and deeper than we can really fathom. To begin to address this we need a solution that is bigger than the problem. We have to return to the frameworks of Puao-te ata-tu and Matua Whangai. What Tolley is trying to (“not on my watch”) fast track implement is a hit the repeat button exercise, because white is right arrogance refuses to consider Indigenous solutions. If you are a te Tiriti centered social worker, you have a DUTY of CARE to the people you work with not to the machine that uses our babies as fodder to feul a profiteering industry. Be the spanner in the works for whånau, not a cog for the Crown!

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8 thoughts on “The social work ‘elite’ maintaining the brown school to prison pipeline?”

  1. Tika tou korero. Your analysis could be applied to any/most people or organisations who are employed or contracted by the Government, e.g. teachers, health… It seems to have got worse. I suspect that Iwi organisations are now part of the web that ends up maintaining the power of the status quo, sacrificing innocent Maori kids to maintain their incomes.


    1. Kia ora R, lovely to hear from you. Ae, you are right, it can be applied across the board. I’m lucky to have academic privilege where I can pretty much say what I like and be supported by my faculty. Nga mihi Paora…thanks for commenting and lets keep in touch.


      1. I have shared your blog (sorry not very techno with the blog thingi) I have had lots of comments. You are a special person I can feel it! I am pakeha but I want to be as good a pakeha as is possible. You inspire me and you will inspire this country.. . bless and good luck with what ever you do in this life. You and your whanau should be part of oranga tamariki or get it stopped it is Scottish for crying out loud!!


      2. Nga mihi nui Dianne. Andrew knows me from my days in the Youth Court, so it will be all goos stuff from him. However, be aware that not all people think I am wonderful…not from knowing me personally but from my speaking out against much in chold protection work that does not work from a Maori perspective. Some think I am (well the list is endless and nasty) lolz and they do not know me at all. Really I am a lovely person with a huge ngakau and wairua. Thank you for sharing my work. I’m not one for putting it out there too much myself. Very glad of the tautoko. Mauri ora much. Naa Paora


  2. There was a post on facebook about those who speak the truth are often hated

    I interveiwed Andrew as part of a research component of my SWD, he was very good.

    However -if the attitude, arrogance and ignorance of this government and in this case Anne Tolley continue to do what they do (under a different name albeit)……what hope is there??? we have do something??? What hope is there for our moko……. I truly despair


    1. How I’ve gotten around the despair and replaced it with hope. I have changed the way I look at the whole picture. One has to begin with decolonising the self and realise that everything is a journey, like living in the question rather than going straight to the answer/solution. I use my own journey to help others see their own and the many parts of it. Each part is essential and must be valued by ourselves. Even the not so great bits end up being great because we come from greatness and we go home to it. My point being, despair is ok but dont stay there. Hope is eternal and the waka we take ourselves forward in. Never give up on those kids in care, just keep asking the questions, keep resisting and keep looking after your own inner self that is connected always to wairua. Its all in my decolonising blog. Also stay connected to those who support the korero. 🙂 Nga mihi.


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