“It’s about the most needy children”: A Foucauldian analysis of school social workers’ responses to need in post-earthquake Canterbury

Raewyn Tudor


INTRODUCTION: After the 2011 Canterbury earthquake, the provision of school social work was extended into a larger number of schools in the greater Christchurch region to support discussions of their practice priorities and responses in post-earthquake schools.

FINDINGS: Two main interpretations of need are reflected in the school social workers’ accounts of their work with children and families. Firstly, hardship-focused need, which represented children as adversely influenced by their home circumstances; the interventions were primarily with parents. These families were mainly from schools in low socioeconomic areas. Secondly, anxiety-based need, a newer practice response, which emphasised children who were considered particularly susceptible to the impacts of the disaster event. This article considers how these practitioners conceptualised and responded to the needs of the children and their families in this context.

METHOD: A qualitative study examining recovery policy and school social work practice following the earthquakes including 12 semi-structured interviews with school social workers. This article provides a Foucauldian analysis of the social worker participants’ perspectives on emotional and psychological issues for children, particularly those from middle-class families; the main interventions were direct therapeutic work with children themselves. Embedded within these practice accounts are moments in which the social workers contested the predominant, individualising conceptualisations of need to enable more open-ended, negotiable, interconnected relationships in post-earthquake schools.

IMPLICATIONS: In the aftermath of disasters, school social workers can reflect on their preferred practice responses and institutional influences in schools to offer children and families opportunities to reject the prevalent norms of risk and vulnerability.


School social work; vulnerability; disaster recovery; Foucault; discourse analysis

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.11157/anzswj-vol32iss4id797


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