A time for outrage

A guest post by Dr Patricia Fronek, Senior Lecturer in the School of Human Services and Social Work, Gold Coast Campus, Griffith University. Tricia is the creator and producer of Podsocs

It is indeed a time for outrage. The far right is exerting considerable political influence in most Western countries to the point where rhetoric and ideological approaches to welfare and society appear indistinguishable. Critical thinking seems to be absent in many school curricula: see for example creationism still taught in faith schools.

The average person has decreasing access to independent information in popular, monopolised media. “Balance” has been reinterpreted to ensure the right has a say no matter how bizarre allowing for homophobia, xenophobia and, let’s face it, just plain hate. Some of these doozies are that abortion causes breast cancer and educating children about difference and bullying will turn them gay: as reported, a few weeks ago, in an article from the Conversation Fear and loathing reigns in Safe Schools and same-sex marriage debates. By preying on fear, ignorance and prejudices, discourses are being shaped by distorted and extreme perspectives. How else has Donald Trump and others like him come so far?

Economic and social inequalities are rising alongside social problems and diminishing services. Neoliberalism marches towards privatisation and a globalised free market in everything but the movement of refugees, where nationalism prevails.  Economic prosperity is expected to cure everything.  Meanwhile we see the return of ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ in the form of “strivers’ and ‘shrivers’ and ‘lifters’ and ‘leaners’ while the most undeserving of all are refugees and asylum seekers and anyone who actually needs a safety net including those with disabilities and older people. Political conversations seem overly populated by false binaries: for example, the options offered to asylum seekers are either drown at sea or be imprisoned in concentration camp type conditions. These sources of outrage were the motivation for a recent article by Polly Chester and me called Moral Outrage: Social work in the Third Space (Fronek & Chester, 2016) published last week in Ethics and Social Welfare.

Outrage and despair are felt by social workers around the world as the numbers of those who are disadvantaged and oppressed grow, while at the same time the services they need are shaved, disappear altogether or like transformers morph into something else altogether.  In our article we examine a new form of social work protest: that of social workers in the Third Space – online and in social media – where social workers are refusing to be subsumed by neoliberal policies. They are finding new identities, practising resistance and attempting to exercise influence in three ways – across, outward and upward. Working across is about forming relationships and collaborative partnerships, upward is intended to influence politicians and policy makers and outward working presents an opportunity to engage the media and the general public. Refusing the unacceptable and seeking to be engaged in the Third Space requires social workers to be knowledgeable, skilled and acutely aware of the ethical dilemmas they might face and in that process bring the three Rs – risk, responsibility and reflection – to the fore.

It is a time for outrage. It is not a time for complacency and silence. As 93 year old Stéphane Hessel wrote “the worst attitude is indifference” (Hessel, 2010, p.11).

Read the full article here. 

References

Fronek, P., & Chester, P. (2016). Moral outrage: Social workers in the Third Space. Ethics and Social Welfare.  DOI: 10.1080/17496535.2016.1151908

Hessel. S. (2010). A time for outrage: Indignez-vous. New York: Twelve Hatchette Book Group.

FIRST PUBLISHED RSW Collective by RE-IMAGINING SOCIAL WORK IN AOTEAROA NEW ZEALAND @RSWcollective 

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Campaigning against Australia’s institutional abuse of abuse of children – We’re better than this

Yesterday I saw the We’re better than this campaign.

 

It is wonderful to see celebrities come out in protest of what counts amongst the worst travesties in Australian history. Australian celebrities are protesting against Australia’s treatment of refugee children. Hundreds of children are locked up in Australia, Naru and Christmas Island. Australia is committing the institutional abuse of children and breaching their responsibilities in terms of the United Nations Conventions we are party to – those on refugees and the rights of children. Children should not be held in such conditions…but neither should their families.

Australian actor, Bryan Brown, should be commended for leading such a charge but I do have a word of caution.  In one interview, Bryan mentioned placing children in the care of Australian families as one possible option. To be fair, he didn’t necessarily present this as the solution and in other interviews he places the responsibility squarely on the Australian government to find a solution.

We need to keep this campaign going and support it – but I have a couple of words of caution.

Our government must respond to the advice of experts in finding a solution, an area where, unfortunately, it doesn’t have a good track record. The danger is the government will respond in ways that are not so good. For example, women in detention are so desperate about their current situations, futures and their children’s well-being, losing custody of their children appears a good option. Many parents are reported to be so traumatised, they will need adequate psychosocial support, mental health and healthcare. All people will. Some Australian politicians and adoption campaigners would be all too willing to pursue adoption as the solution especially in some states. Authorities and politicians will no doubt have been inundated by inquiries from prospective adopters. Such as solution would be a further abuse of children, not to mention their families.  Note – this is not a criticism of adoption rather adoption is not the answer for children with families co-erced by circumstances and the abuse by government.

In my view, it is important that we do not conceptualise children as separate from their families because they are not. Even unaccompanied minors have families and they should be removed from detention centres but the focus should then be on healing and reunification strategies. For children with families, perhaps temporary removal is the lesser of two evils under current government policy but there is a word of warning here too. We know from studies on trauma and disasters that maintaining the care of families or carers is one of the most important things to a child’s recovery – something we shouldn’t forget. If removed, how will the government ensure ongoing contact with their families and the maintenance of relationships if families are separated. Will they arrange regular and frequent visits to or from Naru or Christmas Island for this to occur? To say the least, children will be anxious about parents and other family members who remain in detention and be traumatised by separation. For parents, it would simply be another breach of their rights, re-traumatisation and significant loss.

It seems to me that this campaign is about raising awareness and demanding action from the government and I say go for it – but perhaps there should also be a view on the solutions and not simply leave it to the government to decide what is best. Their track record is not good. The lesser solution is to address living conditions, provide education and health care and respond to the needs of refugees in detention. The humane and appropriate solution is to release refugees into the Australian community with the appropriate supports to assist them to rebuild their lives after the trauma Australia has imposed. Unaccompanied minors should be placed in homes preferably with members of their community or with Australian families who are properly prepared. Reunification strategies must proceed while the children heal.

So my message is keep up the good work celebrities but perhaps keeping an eye on the solutions is also important – at least make sure the government takes the advice of experts so we can avoid unintended consequences.  Keep the pressure up!

Closet activists and covert workplace activities

Social workers feel under pressure when conflict exists between their professional commitment to social justice and organizational imperatives. We know when values conflict like this or when others are hostile towards our values, social workers tend to quit or burn out. For many social workers negotiating neoliberal influences on welfare organisations and on how services are delivered experience managerialism as negative. They feel harassed by a preoccupation on quantifying success often in financial terms, have limited resources to do their work, and deal with demands for increased documentation and excessive caseloads. Social workers accept these things as the reality in many workplaces. Leave or join them. That’s a pretty depressing thought, but new research has found social workers have a third way – to fight back.

Some social workers are digging in and taking a stand – and not in the traditional sense of radical social work. It seems they go underground, work in covert ways to make sure they live up to their professional values. They find imaginative ways to work around the roadblocks in their way. Closet activists might turn a blind eye when clients do things they shouldn’t, extend services beyond the official cut-off date, fill out forms ‘creatively’, ignore directives from management and at times break the law to assist a client. These social workers don’t act this way thoughtlessly. They struggle with ethical questions and shift between questions like – Is this action ethical? Or is it unethical not to find a way to help clients who need it? Actions are not taken lightly. These dilemmas raise issues for the social workers involved, their profession and for educators. How do we make sense of it all? How does this affect our clients and social workers?

Covert workplace activism is underground resistance in action. For the social workers who participated in the study, it is a response to unjust systems and the failure of open challenges to actually change anything for the people they work with every day. Working in this way helped social workers make good on their commitment to social justice in difficult workplaces and protected against feeling demoralised. These social workers are the ‘new radicals’, fighting from within the closet, chipping away case by case at a welfare system that is lost and broken.

Imagine twenty years from now, changes have come and gone. A brand new social worker sits next to you, highly motivated and eager to deliver on the values of the profession. She, or he, turns to you and asks – what did you do to challenge neo-liberalism? What will you say?

By Lyndal Greenslade, guest blogger on socialworksocialwork

Listen to Lyndal talking about her research on Podsocs

Higher education policy – written with the blood of students

Just prior to the 2014 Federal budget, my policy and legislation lecturer lamented the yawning absence of student activism in higher education – pretty standard in the 1960’s and 70’s. Back then no one could predict the uprising that was about to happen.  Several weeks later, the Federal government outlined their new policies for the deregulation of university fees and the increased interest on HEC’s-help loans. These policies may as well have been written in the blood of students.

The response has been nothing short of incredible. On the 13th of May 2014, a dramatic shift in policy driven by neoliberal ideology changed the face of higher education. It’s yet to be seen if the Government’s attack on the education system will get through the senate but the reaction is tense, loud and sharp. The Government plans to remove the ladders that gave all people access to the ivory towers of education. Ladders that allowed people of all socio-economic backgrounds, ethnicities and cultural backgrounds to reach up, reach out and reach their potential. One moment, higher education is a way to change life courses and expand minds – the next, it is a commodity, something only available to people who can afford to pay.

Sure, there are suggestions of scholarships for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. For every $5 that universities collect from additional fees, the Government will put $1 towards assistance packages but with increased fees, university will begraduation-2 unaffordable for so many people. For many it already is. Juggling university and assignments with paid work and running households is difficult enough already. I predict that the only people who will benefit from these scholarships are the people who don’t need it anyway. Frances Abbott, I’m looking at you!

These policies are ripping the guts from higher education. Education can change systemic and intergenerational poverty regardless of the social status or wealth into which they were born. I have spent the last four years studying subjects that have given me insight into the treachery that results from extreme conservative ideology, and outdated attitudes and policies. These policies really make me cranky and frightened because I’ve learned how social circumstances can be turned around through education and how a lack of education and poverty are intrinsically linked. I’ve paid nearly $20,000 for a degree that has helped me understand how a Government should run its country if it wants peace, harmony, productivity and happy citizens. Now I am watching social policy do the exact opposite of what it should. To add to my frustration, the Government is axing public service jobs and defunding programs. This makes me worry about getting a job so I can pay off the debt that I have.

I am proud of myself and my fellow students. Since the 13th of May students around Australia have shown leadership and courage, and an unbridled passion for the equality that can be achieved through higher education. My generation of students can see the flaws in the ‘earn or learn’ slogan. We are stuck between a very big rock and a very hard place. We know it’s never been ‘earn or learn’ – it’s ‘earn AND learn’. There’s no way you can put yourself though university without working unless of course daddy can pay.

So it’s a “choice”? – either pay what you can’t afford for an education, or get a job – any job. The Government doesn’t seem to give a toss about whether you enjoy your job, pursue your dreams or live a fulfilling life – as long as you’re not claiming welfare support. ‘Small government’ means limited intervention and getting away with doing very little for citizens. Instead individuals look after themselves. Sure, we are told there is still a safety net – but it sadis woven from very weak thread. If you fall through the cracks, it just might not hold. I feel that everything I have learned over the past four years has prepared me for this political mess. It is now up to us – students and professionals.  We have to make sense of the policies that will come through the senate. Worry and unrest will be channeled into precise, passionate actions. We have the energy and knowhow to create a better ideal and recapture what education is all about. We will grow and expand our hearts and minds – not simply as a means to employment but to think.

The message to students from the Government in the 2014 budget is simple – higher education is now a user-pays system. It’s up to the current generation of students and fledgling professionals to demand what we are entitled to (as citizens and tax-payers!). Australia can’t continue down the road of becoming a two-tiered society. It will be pretty gloomy under the glass ceiling being created by this Government’s education policies.

 By Polly Chester, Guest Blogger on socialworksocialwork

Polly is social work student at Griffith University. Check out Polly’s Blog.