Caught between a rock and a hard place: Social work in non-government organisations


  • Ashleigh Price Whitireia Community Polytechnic & Wellington Institute of Technology, Aotearoa New Zealand
  • Stephanie Kelly Whitireia Community Polytechnic & Wellington Institute of Technology, Aotearoa New Zealand



Non-government organisations, social work, policy, social justice


INTRODUCTION: Non-government organisations (NGOs) make a significant contribution to social service delivery in Aotearoa New Zealand. The purpose of this research is to understand how government policy impacts social work practice in non-government organisations in Aotearoa New Zealand. How NGO social workers apply and maintain ethical principles and standards in the current socio-economic climate was explored. The study aimed to increase understanding of how NGO social workers remain dedicated to the pursuit of social justice
and social change in their day-to-day practice, within conflicting policy environments and the government’s social investment approach.

METHODOLOGY: A qualitative research methodology informed by a constructivist epistemology was adopted as the research strategy for this study. The interest was in exploring personal perspectives so qualitative in-depth interviews were carried out with five experienced NGO social work practitioners.

FINDINGS: Thematic analysis of the research data found that contemporary NGO social work is a practice characterised by a sense of powerlessness. From this sense of powerlessness, five sub-themes were identified: freedom and powerlessness; the application of the principle of social justice at a macro level; professional dissonance; issues of funding and resourcing constraints as a result of neoliberal economic policy; and finally, different realities and a notion of othering.

CONCLUSION: This research found that the social justice element of social work practice may be at risk should the dominant neoliberal social policy environment remain in existence.


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How to Cite

Price, A., & Kelly, S. (2021). Caught between a rock and a hard place: Social work in non-government organisations. Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work, 33(1), 67–80.



Original Articles