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Turia Speech to AGM of Te Kaiawhina Ahumahi ITO

Social work and social development

Tariana Turia Speech to open AGM of Te Kaiawhina Ahumahi ITO, Te Wananga o Raukawa, Otaki, 8.30am

E nga iwi, e nga reo, Ngati Raukawa, tena koutou katoa. E nga kaiwhakahaere o tenei hui, Te Kaiawhina Ahumahi, tena hoki koutou.

First I want to acknowledge and thank all the social workers here, who do a fantastic job, day after day, usually under very difficult circumstances. You go into dark places where most of us never go, see terrible things we never see, and cope with stresses we can hardly imagine, in the knowledge that we all benefit, whether we realise it or not. No reira, ka nui te mihi ki a koutou.

Second, I want to acknowledge all those who support our social workers – the teachers and trainers, employers, administrative support people, advocates, and family members who give them the back-up they need.

That includes Te Kaiawhina Ahumahi. Kia ora koutou. I also want to thank you for your contribution to the success of industry training. You are part of a growth sector – numbers of people training on the job have risen over 50 percent in the last five years, and that has to be good for the country as a whole, and the profession of social work.

Actually this hui represents an intersection of several important issues for me

education and training as a part of our growth and progress

social work, and the healing and restoration of families and whanau

the Treaty of Waitangi as a template for our nation’s development.

Education in broad terms is about preparing people to be contributing members of the society we live in. It is a process of imparting a sound sense of identity, cultural values, attitudes and important knowledge, so as individuals we can relate to the community and the wider world around us.

We are all influenced by our history, our upbringing, our family backgrounds and we take these with us wherever we go, and into whatever profession we choose to pursue, including the profession of social work.

Our values and beliefs are shaped by past experiences and events, and social workers must, at the very least, recognise the forces which have shaped our own values and beliefs.

We bring our values and beliefs with us, when we seek to acquire skills that the community needs through training. Training programmes need to recognise that any group of raw recruits will no doubt reflect the diversity of cultures and histories in our society.

Social work is about healing and restoration. We must work to restore the network of relationships around an individual and their family, and the effectiveness of any intervention depends on an alignment between the cultures and beliefs of the client, the social worker and the community.

If we do not consider the wider relationships with the community, a medical model of social work, of treating symptoms of disorder as they manifest themselves in individuals and families, is unlikely to work. To deny a recognition of the wider social, economic, historical, political and cultural factors which have influenced people’s lives is to deny them much of the essence of their humanity and identity.

Community development, in my view, is one approach that makes us reflect and focus on the importance of context. It concerns me the profession of social work has, since the 1970s, slowly withdrawn from the community development and community organisation areas of social work. That is one issue.

Another is that too many of the cases which come through my office reflect social work education and practice which is heavily problem-, risk- and deficit-focussed.

There appears little evidence that individual, whanau or community strengths are considered seriously as alternatives to the deficit/pathology model.

We need to remember that a strengths approach does not focus on the problems, deficits, discord and conflicts but rather the discovery of the assets and resilience which abound in every community.

Indeed I favour any social work process and practice which involves harnessing and unleashing the abilities and talents of individuals, families and communities.

I see that as your job! Social work has to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative. However, I feel the strengths perspective in social work practice is largely ignored, and I am coming to believe that what largely influences this situation are the individual values and beliefs of social workers, and the organisational cultural values of training institutions and employers.

These are issues that we should bear in mind, as we consider the future of industry training in social work. My colleague Steve Maharey has spoken of the merits of degree level courses being the minimum requirement for registration as a social worker under the Act which comes into force later this year.

I understand Te Kaiawhina Ahumahi is looking at how to develop programmes of on-the-job training that will enable practicing social workers to achieve registration. While there has been a strong demand for social workers in recent years, there has been a decline in the numbers gaining diplomas, degrees and post-graduate qualifications.

To me, one of the strengths of the social services industry, if I can call it that, is the emergence of iwi social services, and the adoption of a whanau development approach by many agencies in health, education, social services and other sectors.

I am totally committed to whanau development, and I am looking forward to progressing some new initiatives over the coming year.

Tangata whenua have been at the forefront of whanau development, because it is consistent with the culture, values and beliefs of our people. But it is not exclusive to us, and in health, for example, most iwi providers have a significant proportion of non-Maori clients who find a family-oriented and strength-based approach suits them better than traditional mainstream approaches.

I feel that whanau development is a strong, coherent approach that offers a clear alternative to people who are trying to address their own issues, to practitioners, communities and the nation.

It has been developed largely outside mainstream education and practice. How can this knowledge and expertise be made accessible to others?

I think Te Kaiawhina Ahumahi has already found some good answers. You are exploring ways that iwi social workers can gain recognition for their skills through on-the-job training towards relevant qualifications – in the same way as their colleagues do in mainstream providers. They can continue their professional development within a kaupapa Maori environment.

In order to allow the different approaches to maintain their cultural integrity, while providing for exchange and cross-fertilisation of positive ideas and practice, Te Kaiawhina Ahumahi has adopted a Treaty-based structure. Each strand within Te Kaiawhina Ahumahi has enough autonomy to set tikanga that are appropriate for them, while recognising their interdependence with each other.

In the current political climate, this sort of creative and constructive approach can easily be derided as 'politically correct' or 'separatist'. As a nation founded on a treaty, where we celebrate diversity within our unity, we are struggling to formulate and agree on some principles to guide our development. We really need good practical examples of how things can work on the ground.

It is not easy, to change established customs and patterns of behaviour, and I commend your commitment to put your principles into practice.

I wish you well in this task, and in the transition to the registration scheme for social workers, and beyond. In the immediate future, I also hope you have a successful annual hui.

Kia ora tatou.

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