Where to social work in a brave new neoliberal Aotearoa?

Ian Kelvin Hyslop

Abstract


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. Rather than being a new and far-sighted initiative, this policy focus on a dangerous underclass is historically evident within western liberal societies and is particularly prevalent in times of capitalist expansion. 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. 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, re-moralisation 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 and where would you like to take social work?


Keywords


child protection; poverty; neoliberalism; capitalism; history; inequality

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.11157/anzswj-vol28iss1id111

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