I often wonder about the degree that Social Workers consider Social Justice when it comes to working with parents and children. There is no doubt that, on most occasions, they are aware of the impact poor parenting has on children and the long term detrimental effects. What I am not aware off is the conversation they have relating to where people come from and what informs parents thinking and behaviour.
The degree by which we can understand anyone is determined by the effort we put into understanding them. This includes our ability to ask questions which demonstrate a genuine interest because it is important to their well-being for us to understand the texture of their life. As Social Workers it is our role to direct people into pathways which are constructive and will enhance lives. It matters not that we are focussed solely on the well being of a child, what is important is that those who interact with that child have been, listened to, heard and understood. We should never preclude those who have an active role in a child's life.
"The social work profession:
promotes justice and social fairness, by acting to reduce barriers and to expand choice and potential for all persons, with special regard for those who are disadvantaged, vulnerable, oppressed or have exceptional needs
advocates change to social systems and structures that preserve inequalities and injustice." AASW Code of Ethics 2010
To what extent do Social Workers provide "special regard for those who are disadvantaged, vulnerable, oppressed or have exceptional needs"? I am concerned that within Child Protection this aspect of Social Work becomes lost in the mire of the work and the pressures exerted by those who are interested in the politics of Child Protection compared to the politics of a person's life. To acknowledge the injustices and inequalities which impact a person's life provides a unique opportunity to walk alongside them and to empathise with them.
I have attended many child protection meetings where there has been the opportunity to explore a person's experiences but it is ignored. By ignoring a person's experiences we are telling them that they don't matter, that we don't care - our agenda is more important than they are.
The injustices people feel are often deeply ingrained. Removing a child is extremely emotive and is encased in a sense of unfairness, injustice and judgmentalism. To mitigate this as best as possible we need to understand what this means to the parent and the connections this has in their lives where they have had these feelings tested over and over again. We all need to understand the impact these feelings have on parents and that this often determines behaviours and how we choose to respond to people who harbor these feelings.
Feelings don't sit in isolation, separate from other experiences. They are enshrined in our beliefs which are determined by our experiences. If a person has experienced childhood abuse it is reasonable for us all to expect them to have a strong sense of unfairness. It wasn't fair that they were treated as they were when they were growing up. The child in them is still confused by the continual injustice perpetrated against them. They still feel like the abused child yet as adults should have a voice amongst other adults, but they don't. They are often still treated like they were as a child, not heard and misunderstood. So they fight back in the only way they know, with aggression fed by their anger.
I don't find any of this hard to comprehend but I suspect that many who work in the area of child protection never consider these nuances. Understanding this would help workers to better communicate with clients which would in turn produce more cooperative and beneficial outcomes.
The notion of Social Justice and Fairness seems to be lost on those who work with the most disadvantaged in our community. In order to provide significant change we have to change the way we view the problem. Social Workers need to build trust and respect. The sometimes vile responses from clients is often challenging but is only the presentation of deeper, more significant issues which are crying out to be recognised and addressed. When a worker takes a defensive stance they are buying into the client's version of all authority figures. The client feels blamed and denigrated, which is the lifelong pattern.
Social Workers need to understand the power they wield and how it is operationalised. Used as a tool to control and have authority over another will always be viewed through the lens of "injustice". I know that the interpretation of "power" is not the fault of the worker, but if acknowledged by the worker, it may help to build a better relationship rather than the flagrant wielding of it.
We should all acknowledge the injustices in people's lives and work to ensure that we don't add to the stockpile.