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Turia Speech: Social work and social development

Tariana Turia Speech: Social work and social development

Speech to graduation ceremony, School of Social Sciences, Te Wananga o Aotearoa, Porirua.

E nga mana, e nga reo, tçnâ koutou.

Ngati Toa Rangatira, tena koutou. E nga kaiwhakahaere o tenei po, Te Wananga o Aotearoa, tena hoki koutou.

E nga tauira, ka nui te mihi ki a koutou.

I would like to begin today recalling the words of Steve Biko – a black anti-apartheid activist who was beaten to death in a South African cell in the late 1970s.

Steve Biko said: ‘The greatest tool in the hands of the oppressor, is the mind of the oppressed.’

His life and his death exemplified those words – despite the violence and intimidation that surrounded him, he never lost control of his own ideas. He remained true to himself and to those he loved and eventually, paid for this with his life. But his example, his words and his vision continue to inspire us today.

I am here today, with each of you and all those who have supported you, to celebrate the liberation of your minds.

With the establishment of kura kaupapa Maori, wharekura and wananga, the education and professional training of our people are in our own hands. We are able to instil in today’s students a view of the world that accords with our own tikanga, one that is based on growth, strength and positive development.

We can look at our potential and celebrate our achievements as tangata whenua.

The wananga, which provide this academic and learning environment, are themselves products of a vision of development through education. Te Wananga o Aotearoa is one which has led the exponential growth of tertiary education among tangata whenua. Our Wananga have enabled so many of our people to see themselves as scholars, and to aspire to the pinnacles of higher learning.

So as we celebrate the success of the students who graduate tonight, we also celebrate that there are wananga for you and others to graduate from – and pay tribute to those whose vision, drive and determination helped to liberate our potential.

There are students here tonight who will graduate with a Diploma in Social Work, or a Certificate in Social Services, or Certificate in Small Business. I applaud your achievement.

Each one of you has the potential to turn around the lives of our people. You have a lifetime of opportunity, to be true to yourselves and your whanau, to create a cultural and economic climate in which our people can flourish, and to inspire future generations by your example.

To the social work and social services graduates here tonight, I want to tell you that whanau development is a critical area for social workers to consider in their work.

As the Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector and as an Associate Minister with responsibilities in Health, Mâori Affairs, Child Youth and Family, Housing and as a former Associate Minister of Corrections, you could say I have had a fair bit to do with the social work profession, involving work with individuals, families and communities.

My husband George and I have cared for and fostered a number of children and I, along with others, have participated in addressing issues of land alienation (whether under water or not) and human disenfranchisement.

You know, I have sometimes wondered why people pursued social work as a career option.

I wondered why bright, intelligent people would want to participate in a profession which by and large has a negative focus.

What sane person would want to spend their days, weeks and years where traditionally the opening lines for the development of a trusting, professional and meaningful relationship has somewhere in them the word ‘problem’?

I suppose most people believe they are able to influence change for the better. It may have something to do with strong beliefs in social justice and a commitment to community development and change. A commitment to the creation of just and caring communities and a just and caring society.

It may have something to do with working with the disenfranchised, the poor and the oppressed, te pani me te rawakore.

It may well be that some are ‘wounded healers’; people who, as members of a family or as individuals, have experienced social work interventions, were impressed by the intervention or believe they could do it better.

Some of those reasons could be similar to the reasons we politicians have, for being involved in politics.

We talk about social justice, equity, a fair society, level playing fields, compassion and the belief we can facilitate change for the better.

Others will claim to have tired of throwing stones at the system from the outside and instead decided to join up and work from the inside.

I continue to debate which position is the most effective!

As an Associate Minister for the Department of Child, Youth and Family, I have particular interests in statutory social work, particularly as it is seen, practiced and promoted within the Department.

I realise social work occurs in a number of settings so I will only briefly refer to social work in the Department.

I believe the Children, Young Persons and Their Families Act, 1989 is one of the most progressive pieces of child welfare legislation. It gives prominence to the notion and belief that children are best cared for by kin. For tangata whenua this means whanau, hapu and iwi.

The State, as the intervener of last resort, has to play its part in ensuring the appropriate resources are available where necessary for kin to be able to care.

I am an advocate of kin caring for each other. I support kin-based care because that is what is normal. It is so normal that most of us here today were raised by kin, whether by our parents, aunts or uncles, kuia or koroheke. Kin care is good, because whanau provide children with a sense of identity and belonging.

Despite the Act, as at the end of December 2003 only 38% of all children in long-term care were placed with family or whanau.

This is clearly not good enough. There is no reason in public policies for children to be placed with strangers.

I am coming to believe that what largely influences this situation are the individual values and beliefs of workers, and the organisational cultural values that encourage interpretations of policies and therefore practice which ensures the alienation of children.

It concerns me that our society appears to have a pre-occupation with labels of pathology and deficits. It seems many social workers have been finely tuned to identify pathology and failure and they are very good at it.

Gary Holmes suggests that people experienced and trained in risk averse/deficits/pathology practice models, would find it difficult to see or recognise the strengths of people or communities.

I am not a fan of practices which focus on deficits, risk aversion and pathology. Too often because of the negative perceptions which we have about people, we lack the ability to see their strengths and potential.

I favour a strength-based community development approach which views and seeks out the potential of individuals, families and their communities.

I know it is often said that seeing, is believing, however I put it to you, that it is not until you believe, that you will see.

It also concerns me the profession of social work has, since the 1970s, slowly withdrawn from the community development and community organisation areas of social work.

I am aware that social workers, in assessing risk, have long believed that any analysis of the issues facing individuals and families must always be made within the context of the community and society.

With the cases which come into my Office, I am not so sure this is remembered in practice.

To deny a recognition of the 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 makes us reflect and focus on the belief of the importance of context.

For all these reasons, I welcome the growth of social work courses in wananga. I see potential for graduates of wananga courses to be trained in a positive environment – one that recognises the cultural values and beliefs and history that students bring with them into their training, and which understands the importance of accentuating the positive and eliminating the negative.

Alongside the development of wananga, we have seen the emergence of iwi social services. They too are products of our people’s vision of developing whanau and community strength.

Iwi social services are meeting a huge demand for more effective social work practice. They are able to work as part of the community they belong to, alongside whanau and other groups, in ways that are not dictated by official policies and procedures.

The special strength of iwi social services is inside knowledge of the community and how it operates. They have a holistic, tikanga-based view of what is going on. They have tremendous potential for good – and they are creating a huge demand for staff who have been trained in strength-based service delivery.

The Certificate in Social Services is a response to this sea-change. Every graduate here tonight is in a position to support our people and to support each other in their development.

The challenge for you, and for iwi social service organisations, is to keep control of your own agenda, and not let prescriptive funding or employment contracts turn you into a 'brown CYFS'.

To our small business graduates, I want you to know that you too have an important role to play. Business development is an essential part of our overall development as tangata whenua.

I am sure most people here have seen the latest results of the GEM survey of entrepreneurship – that our people rate above the national average, and if we were a separate nation, we would be the fourth best entrepreneurs in the world. Not only that, women rate higher than men!

Our people see small business as a way to take control of their destiny, and especially for our women, to make a living while meeting the needs of whanau - small children for example. Being in your own business is a form of liberation.

One of the reasons for our people’s success in small business is the sense of mission, of doing it for others as well as oneself. This increases the motivation to succeed, and also provides a support network of others who feel they have an interest in success.

Again, a wananga environment may better recognise those particular cultural traits as strengths, and encourage a sense of service as an advantage rather than a liability in the competitive world of business.

I am sure that is the case, because of the presence of whanau here tonight.

It is whanau who made our graduates who they are today. It is whanau who provided for their physical and emotional needs as they were growing up, who instilled in them the values and beliefs of their tupuna, who nurtured their identity and sense of worth, and who are now fully entitled to share in the celebration of their tremendous achievements. This is the ultimate example of kin care in action!

Ki a koutou, nga matua, nga whanau – ki nga kaiako o te wananga, ki a koutou hoki nga tauira, kia ora koutou, kia ora tatou katoa.

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