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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What disturbs me most about this government

Out of all the turmoil, ridicule and criticism one thing stands out for me about this government. These are the proud comments by Mr Abbot that he never looks at himself or engages in any form of self-examination.  Perhaps I don’t understand what he is trying to say, but it disturbs me every time I hear it and proves, to me at least, that we are being hammered by ideologues, somewhat scarier than mere self-interest. I have no doubt many of them really believe what they are doing is right and equally know there are a disturbing number who seem to be very in love with themselves and the thrill power brings. However both approaches bring the same result – a hardness towards the impact their actions have on people who live outside their own experience. Without examination of self, we just perpetuate what we are comfortable believing or go unquestioningly with our desires.

Jan Fook who writes on critical reflection in social work is right – some people just can’t reflect on self. Why is it important? Self-examination means exploring the consequences of our actions on all stakeholders, questioning our assumptions, evaluating and using evidence, and including the structural influences on problems and the biases in our own thinking about issues and their solutions. If critical thinking and the ability to reflect were skills taught to children from a very early age, the world would be a different place, politics would be different (and more effective) and there would be less chance hurting others in pursuit of ideals. Reflecting on self requires flexibility and openness. It allows us to evaluate and incorporate new knowledge and most importantly learn from our mistakes. Granted done properly it is not an easy thing to do and nobody always does it well – the trick is doing it. It is truly brave to self-examine. Boasting about avoiding it is flawed and weak.

I am sick of politics, sick of writing and tweeting about it but as a social worker it can’t be avoided when injustice and breaches of human rights occur.  And these have been shocking in Australia of late and I can’t give tacit approval through silence. So please start reflecting on self politicians and bring humanity back to Australia. Australians are proving they won’t put up with it. And truly I want to write about something, anything else!

A discussion between adoptees this weekend the 24th January

Check out the second panel on intercountry adoption produced by Pascal Huynh. The discussion will go live this weekend on the 24th January 2015. The youtube link for participation is https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8qoq6mVPeVw.

Is adoption constructed in the best interests of the child: a discussion between adoptees

Scheduled for Jan 24, 2015

This year, actress, director and producer Deborra-Lee Furness has been nominated as a finalist for the Australian of the Year Award for promoting adoption as a social progress. While adoption may end as a happy story for many adoptees and adoptive parents, it is not always the case. The social construction of adoption creates a range of experiences, not only positive and not only negative. To fully understand adoption, we must not dismiss any of those experiences and must be conscious of the ethical implications of this system.

In this second panel questioning the sustainability of the concept of adoption, adoptees will be given the chance to openly voice their criticism and expose their reality. The following panellists have been selected to invite the audience to observe some adoption issues.

In this panel, we will discuss:
– The black market of adoption in Australia in the 1950s
– The importance of being critical about adoption whether how good or bad was the adoptee’s experience.
– The false assumption that adoptees are automatically within good hands
– The adoptee’s fear of expressing criticism
– The cultural identity issues with intercountry adoption
– The ethical implications of creating a birth certificate under the adoptive parents’ names
– And much more

Join this 1 hour LIVE ONLINE EVENT regrouping a variety of Australian adoptees! In the last 15 minutes of the panel, we will be answering to your questions!

Instructions to post questions to the panellists:
1) Go to the Youtube Link:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8qoq6m…
2) You can write your question under the “comments” section.
3) Questions must be clear, concise and formulated with a question mark. Your question should start with “Why”, “What”, “How”, “Where”, “who”, “Is” or “Are”. Comments won’t be considered by panelists.

PANELISTS:

PENNY MACKIESON: Adoptee from the pre-1980s forced adoption era in Victoria. Social Worker; Member of the Committee of Management for VANISH (the Victorian Adoption Network for Information & Self Help);

WILLIAM HAMMERSLEY: Adoptee from the Australian 1950’s black market of adoption. Member of Adoption Origins Victoria political lobby group and co-administrator of Australian Stewardships Not Adoption Awareness Support Group on Facebok.

BRIAN CHERRY: Adoptee from the 1950s victim of abuse within adoptive family and out-of-home care. Administrator of the Royal Commission into Child Abuse Petition on Facebook.

DR. CATHERINE LYNCH: Adoptee from 1972. Administrator of activist group “Australian Adoptee Rights Action Group” on Facebook.

AMY JUNG: Australian inter-country adoptee from South Korea.

[Other panelists TBA]

Victoria and NSW: starting at 3pm on Sunday 25th of Dec 2015

Queensland: starting at 2pm on Sunday 25th of Dec 2015

Western Australia: starting at noon on Sunday 25th of Dec 2015

For more informative videos on adoption check out the See & Hear and Adoption ‘speaks’ pages of this blog

Message to politicians- try living on disability support

Cutting welfare for people with disabilities is a vile and savage act.  Any crediting of intent would put our politicians on par with terrible people, so I shall stick with ignorance as the cause. I have worked with people with physical and other disabilities for much of my career and I know pensions and entitlements are more than just subsistence living – it is about survival. People with disabilities have to pay rent, eat and support dependents like anyone else but they also have to pay for much, much more than the rest of us.

Like everyone else, people with disabilities work if they can – but it takes more than personal will to get a job and maintain employment. Putting qualifications and education aside, employers need to provide flexibility, support and accessible environments. Tried getting around in a wheelchair lately? – even an electric one?  An electric chair (if you can afford one) can be worse – try turning around in a small office or corridor or even getting through a doorway. Some people need personal assistance in the workplace.  For example, a person might need help to empty a catheter bag, or be able to pay for a device that lets them empty a catheter bag onto a grassed area, or even to be repositioned in a wheelchair to avoid pressure sores that can kill you (remember superman?), or just eat lunch. Who is going to pay for assistive technology in the workplace? People when they do work often lose access to government subsidies for equipment and other items as a result of being employed.

People with disabilities already pay significant co-payments for equipment which can include wheelchairs, shower chairs, hoists, pressure cushions, home modifications, disposable needs such as bladder management disposables – then there’s medication and personal carers. There are subsidies but they are limited. Often people need more care because they can’t afford the modifications or equipment that would increase their independence.  There are even costs associated with an assistant animal if they can get one. People in rural and regional areas face higher expenses with the delivery of essential needs. Some people face costs associated with ventilators and need airconditioning because they don’t have temperature control – without it death is a real possibility.  Dare I state the obvious, power costs.  I have worked with people with all these needs and many of them are working and most would work if they could find a job. Too many people are still living inappropriately in nursing homes (some on the streets) because they can’t afford independence. People with all types of disabilities of all ages have hidden expenses that people without physical or mental disabilities don’t see.  It is more than just paying rent and eating. We should be going forward not backward.

Message to politicians: Try living for a year on a disability support pension with the same expenses and environmental limitations as a person with a disability and let’s see how well you fare.

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!

“Inequality for All” – a film worth seeing

In this film, Robert Reich, professor, author and member of the Clinton cabinet explores widening inequality in the US and whether it is indeed a problem. This is an important film and one which not only north Americans should be watching but also voters in countries whose governments are keen to emulate the US model. He challenges us to question our assumptions. Many of the arguments against Reich’s analysis will sound very familiar…a film worth seeing.

Trailer – Inequality for All

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