The state of child protection in New Zealand
The state of child protection in New Zealand: A Big Old White Butt
Institutional racism is at the heart of the ‘current state’ of child protection in Aotearoa New Zealand. It has been for more than thirty years.Aptly described by a rangatahi participant in my research who'd just been in a youth justice residence for 6 months, “you fullas are so dumb, y’all strut your stuff like the Emperors New Clothes…we just sit back laughing coz y’all just showing us your big old white butts.”Institutional racism is rife across all the ministries and some of the worst biased practice is aimed at women and Māori and if you are both you get a double dose. Let me tell you why, the bulk of notifications CYF receive are through referrals from Police resulting from family violence call-outs. And why is social work working well at the front end according to the ‘State of Care’ report yet the Casework and Workload Management review states that there just isn’t enough time, resources or social workers to carry out thorough social work.
Here’s my answer, social workers at the revolving CYF door largely rely upon Police assessment information gathered at family violence incidents. This results in risk-adverse practice of children being removed in the first instance (often unnecessarily) and into the care of the state. Then further assessment is undertaken ‘as and when’ time permits, to see if the children can be returned home. In my current research wahine Māori talked to me about being “microscopically scrutinised” in every aspect of her life because she is, Māori and, in a violent relationship. This is often by “inexperienced and culturally ignorant” CYF social workers. One participant described it as, “its like they(CYF) send interns in to do fine brain surgery.” All this is separate from whether a mother is actually a ‘fit’ parent or not. She still has to endure the process of not only protecting herself and her children, but also from the scrutiny and stigma she experiences from agencies and frontline workers.
These women/mothers are expected to be solely responsible for protecting their children. Thus, the responsibility of the perpetrator of the abuse is often not a factor in securing safety for children. Children are being removed from these women because as mothers, they have failed to protect their children from being exposed to family violence, when in fact it is the perpetrator who is compromising the safety of the children.
And whilst CYF is crying out for caregivers because of the rate children are being taken into care, they’re often only ‘screening’ caregivers before children are being placed with those caregivers. As an ex-state ward, I can tell you that the abuse in care is prolific and children do tell but it often falls on deaf ears. And if, children don’t tell it’s because they think they wont be believed or they fear consequences. This is more pronounced for Maori children who understand the insidious nature of racism right from the word go.
It’s institutional racism and biased practice that directly feeds Maori over-representation in all systems and when the Anton Blanks of this world describe this as “unconscious attitudes playing out” I just have to roll my eyeballs. It’s this understating and pretending the problem isn’t there that makes the current state of child protection in New Zealand the ‘neon signed’ train wreck it is. A train wreck that successfully transacts profitable brown units along a conveyor belt straight into the coffers of our adult prison system. And can we please get over the whole mythicising of ‘miracle’ system cures such as bicultural frameworks, cultural responsiveness and the family group conference, which just serves to keep us all in jobs.
Child protection is fundamentally monocultural, which means social workers by in large are only able to see through their own world view, the 'dominant' and 'one right' world view, against which all other ethnicities, including Maori are measured. Other biased practices that contribute to the over-representation of Maori children in care include predetermining FGC outcomes in favour of the social workers aspirations, approving social workers as culturally competent but who have no idea how to carry out whakapapa searches, it’s patch and dispatch, it’s Maori social workers getting the hard basket cases and who experience ‘brown burnout,’ it’s the intentional hiring of UK social workers over an experienced local Maori social worker, Pakeha occupying most of the management positions and not getting cultural supervision, it’s ‘one size fits all’ approaches that deny the development of Maori ways of working across CYF, and it’s ‘hollow words’ contained in more of the same ‘hollow policy’ and the constant reviews and failure to implement recommendations (i.e., Puao te ata tu 1988, Te Punga: Our Bicultural Strategy for the Nineties, 1994; Te Whānau o Waipareira Report, 1998; The Brown Report, 2000; Te Pounamu, 2001; and Workload and Casework Review: Qualitative Review of Social Worker Caseload, and not least the Casework and Workload Management, 2014). “A big old white butt” blindingly so!