Social Workers: Unappreciated workers in an unappreciated discipline


It must be tough being a social worker. Certainly New Zealand First Member of Parliament Darroch Ball certainly thinks so. In the general debate in support of a Bill of Parliament to allow foster parents or kin carers to approach Kiwi Saver to open an account on behalf of a foster child in their carer, Mr Ball alluded to the work done by social workers.

I agree with Mr Ball. Being a social worker is like being on a high rope above a pool infested with sharks. All of them would have you for dinner in a flash if you fell off. Somehow a social worker has to navigate a mine field that has any number and range of devices – distrustful parents/guardians/caregivers, a community quick to judge, terrified and/or stressed out children, among others.

They always have to be right in the eyes of everyone, who quite forgetting – possibly deliberately – that they are as human as we are, will most probably make a mistake they end up regretting at some point in their career. And even when they are right, are making all the right decisions and their clients are making progress, how many have actually heard someone say “hey, look mate, I know your job is a hard one but you are doing your best – keep it up”. It would make their day in ways I don’t think anyone but the worker in question would be able to appreciate.

They are meant to be the eyes, ears and trained practitioners doing work that increasingly teachers and other professionals such as General Practitioners who come into contact with children seem to be doing. And whilst these professionals can certainly be useful – a teacher who is dealing with a child that used to be well behaved and is now disruptive would be right to want to find out what is going on in their background.

Without doubt they have strict responsibilities to uphold. And just as in any employment there are one or two rotten apples who are just there to play the system or cause as much trouble as they can. Each case is going to be different from the preceding one.

The attrition rate must be high. Under paid, under valued, under staffed, under resourced would all be things that are true about the profession of social workers.

Parliament claims to care about social workers. And maybe it does, but how many of the 120 M.P.’s that sit in the chamber have actually sat down with a social worker in a neutral setting over coffee and just talked to them about their daily routine, the rewards and challenges that they face? And how many of them have talked to Child Youth and Family managers and tried to find out from the middle man what challenges their staff are reporting?

So, say what you will about social workers but they are probably in terms of the humanities, the least appreciated, most overworked and under paid people. But they do not need to be like this. We can do better. And if we want to improve the social statistics for New Zealand children, our mokopuna, our whanau, we must help our social workers.

The challenge of funding sport for females


I was still getting over the Cricket World Cup final loss to England when I noted that the Silver Ferns netball team had lost their last group match at the Netball World Cup to old rivals and reigning world champions Australia by 1 point. Under any other circumstances that might have been an ominous warning. But this was cause for a grin. A rapidly rising New Zealand team that just 13 months ago had been written off as not having a dogs show of reaching the finals

Few had expected them to reach the final. 14 months ago, the team was in disarray having lost to all of its major rivals Australia, England, Jamaica. It had failed to make it onto the dais at the Commonwealth Games, where in the past they had always taken silver or gold. Even relative minnows Malawi had managed a 4 point victory over them. General expectations were that New Zealand would exit at the semi-finals and maybe pick up the bronze medal (which went to England). So, to not only make the final no one was expecting them to, but then defeat Australia, was nothing short of stunning.

But just as stunning despite not being anything new and criminally overlooked following the match by a lot of people was the complete absence of prize money. Until A.N.Z. Bank, a primary sponsor agreed that they should get $25,000 a piece, the Silver Ferns were destined to return home with no monetary compensation for the time taken to become the best in the world. Contrast that to the $3 million distributed among the Black Caps following their Cricket World Cup Final against England where neither regulation play or extra play could find a winner.

In the case of the Silver Ferns, I have to agree with a column that was written a few days ago, which said that they should have said “some financial recognition by way of prize money would be nice”. Maybe for some they were thinking that the dollars are nice, but nothing could beat lifting the crown, which on a personal level might be true. But what is it telling future generations of of females about demanding their worth be recognized? Not much. Oh, and sure netball is not the biggest sport on the planet. Sure it is not like football where the transfer of a star like Ronaldo would likely cost over US$100 million. Sure it is not cricket, where Virat Kohli is worth US$140 million from endorsements. But in the 21st Century, it is time that those who play the elite variation of the game start demanding that their contribution to the sport gets recognized.

Perhaps it is an indictment on the state of the game in New Zealand that financial compensation had not even been contemplated by any one. Perhaps it is telling us that the unfortunate mental messages that netball players are not worthy of just reward have succeeded in doing their unfortunate business. However, it was also telling to hear from the International Federation of Netball Associations that financial compensation for the most elite players has not really been on the agenda.

A few years ago, after much heat from commentators, the players and the public, Rugby New Zealand finally addressed the lack of compensation for the Black Ferns. Apparently until then three consecutive world cup titles was not enough to justify financial reward. Yes, we might be a small player in terms of our financial resources, but the All Blacks are a global brand worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Sure there might not be so much television coverage but if the dollars are not put into making sure people know in the first place, of course they are not going to get much coverage.

Rugby however is going places, despite what I got told by some Americans on the Fox News channel Facebook page when I pointed out that America was at the 2011 and 2015 Rugby World Cup’s. I know this because rugby is one of the fastest growing sports there. When America defeats the New Zealand 7’s team, you know they know how to play the game. But does America know that America knows how to play the game?

I do not see this happening in netball. The sport needs to start arranging exhibition matches in places like the U.S. where multiple netball associations exist under a fractured organization. Let them see the thrill of an Australia New Zealand exhibition match in progress.

It is a slow work in progress, but I hope when the A.N.Z. prize money comes through the Silver Ferns are made to understand that they really are worth it. And that before too long, I.F.N.A. realizes that the sport will not grow unless they start seriously marketing it in new countries. Like America…

New Zealand 25 years on from “Once Were Warriors”


25 years ago a movie exploded on to New Zealand theatre screens. Audiences were shaken, stirred, angered, horrified at what they had just seen. A – within its R-16 censorship rating – cold hard look at something New Zealand had been sweeping under the rug: the dreadful toll of domestic violence on our communities, our families/whanau and ourselves. Once Were Warriors, based on the book of the same name by Alan Duff, shone a light onto things and into places in New Zealand society that people did not want to talk about. 25 years later, what has changed?

To understand the problem we should look at the movie itself, first. It centres around a dysfunctional Maori family whose male head is hopelessly lost – not so much wilfully but perhaps having never known any other way. Handsome, muscular but dangerously prone to violence, which is all too frequently inflicted on his wife, his sons and daughter. Slowly Beth Heke is realising that Jake is too dangerous for her and her family and they need to get out, but not before his eldest son Nig becomes a patched gang member and daughter Grace is raped by an uncle. She commits suicide. One day Beth finds her diary and starts reading through it, then she happens on a page where Grace mentions being raped. The movie ends with Beth and Nig confronting Jake in a pub with his drinking mates including Uncle Bully.

25 years later some things have changed for the better, but all who are working towards ending domestic violence and the effects it has on society know there is a long long way to go. Sexual violence, addiction and domestic violence have not changed much. Whereas then it was almost taboo to grumble about sexual violence, it is becoming more acceptable to make a stand, but not without the real risk of being ostracized by supposed friends and family. Whereas alcohol was probably the substance of addiction in 1994, it is more likely now to be methamphetamine or synthetic cannabis.

In 1994 many people would say “harden up” or “get a divorce, Ma’am”, movements such as White Ribbon Day have brought an annual focus with Defence Force and emergency service personnel turning out. Law changes on the books now make strangulation an offence and police have better training and resources for dealing with such violence. Calls for people who have suffered domestic violence to be allowed time off work to get their lives in order are also happening. Most recently recognizing that pets may be the subject of abuse when victims have walked away from dangerous situations, a pet refuge programme has been established to take pets that cannot be taken by families fleeing.

But unless we address how men come to be bullies, dysfunctional people who only know violence, we will not address the causes of domestic violence in full. Unless we look at the broken homes, the lack of male role models and support for those who have learned right from wrong there will still be the Jake Heke’s who know no other way; the Beth Heke’s who find themselves trapped by powerful figure, but know they need to leave. Tragically there will also be the Grace Heke’s who find themselves propping up the sexual violence statistics and the Nig’s who join a gang. We can avoid this, and 25 years later one would have hoped that significant progress would have been made at the least. But all of the statistics suggest that there is a long way to go before Rena Owen can say that her character Beth Heke has done her job.

 

Toxic masculinity vs non-toxic masculinity


I recently watched a video on masculinity and the need to separate out the good from the bad. By bad I mean the masculinity that leads to, as the narrator says, rape, war and murder.

But this does not mean masculinity is bad. It just means there are two types of it:

  • Toxic masculinity (has any one or more of the following features) – degrades women and/or views them as meat; thinks violence is an acceptable method of solving problems; may feel threatened by women who stand up for themselves
  • Non-toxic masculinity – competitiveness, feeling of duty and the need to be brave in the face of danger

Now, to be clear, this does not condone in any form the “boys will be boys”/”just boys having a bit of fun” behaviour that is toxic masculinity, but for the period that is taken up teaching them to become men boys will indeed be boys. They will want to play computer games with shoot ’em up/war/combat themes; they will go through a period of being under peer pressure to do things that are not necessarily proper such as street racing their cars and want to engage in sexual activity with girls. There will be most probably alcohol involved. It is about learning to use these devices properly and the appropriate environment to do so in. This is where having a male figurehead in the household becomes important. In in an ideal situation that male role model will guide the growing adolescent male into being a young man. This period is what I call developmental masculinity – a type that is when their understanding and exercising of it is clearly in development. It is not a permanent phase and some will quickly grow out of it.

I played Postal and Zombie Apocalypse which were both restricted games. Both involved killing everything in sight. But I understood clearly, as did everyone else I know who played them that this sort of conduct was obviously not acceptable in society. It did not harm us. I do not remember ever having any sudden compulsion to get one of my fathers guns and go kill people. I played Command and Conquer, Civilization and other strategy games and had great fun being aggressive, but at the same time – and maybe this was because I was learning about war time history and the crimes of the Nazi regime – I also would often go back and replay missions to see how cleanly I could carry out my orders.

I watched Demi Moore in Striptease at age 16, just like several others in my age group did. When Mum and Dad were not at home I watched adult only programmes on television until I saw a car in the drive and then like a bullet I was in bed, tucked up and pretending to be asleep – pretty sure others did that too. Did they adversely affect my mind or make me want to do bad things? No.

As an adult I like to go white baiting on the Waimakariri River. I like to have a beer, and mow the lawn. I go to the pub on a Friday night and catch up with a regular bunch of guys for a yarn, a laugh, and something to eat. I watch sport, have no problems with watching the restricted rated movies on the Sky movie channels – some of which are tainted with excessive nudity, violence and other content – all the while knowing just as I did as a teen playing graphic computer games that this is not proper conduct in society. And that is fine with me.

The best men in my life are non toxic. I have a father. He is a man and not apologetic for being one. He drinks beer, is happy to go duck shooting, bag a rabbit with the rifle or hook a 26 pounder from one of the hydro canals in the Mackenzie Basin. He was the coach of my cricket team and taught us all aspects of the game – batting, bowling, and encouraged all to have a go. He was the primary income earner as an environmental planner. But at the same time he taught my brother and myself right from wrong. He taught us never to lay an injurious hand on a lady; that we must have her consent. He and my mother never acted without the other at least knowing.

I have a brother. Like me he did many if not all of the things I have listed above. He turned out just fine. He is very happily married to a lovely lady and is well liked by her family. He has a good paying job and they own a house in Nelson. He tried cannabis at University (I was offered it too, but declined). He has drunk and gotten drunk. He has brought friends home to crash after nights out on the town – all of whom likewise turned out to be thoroughly decent people.

All three of us have maintained our masculinity. Because it is not about whether a man is masculine or not, but whether that masculinity is toxic or not.

 

The rotten structure that is our state care sector


New Zealand is approaching a house that is not all that it seems. It is a place with secrets, a place that explorers might visit but most people would steer well away from. On closer inspection though, signs start to emerge that things are not quite right. There is graffiti on the walls along with dried blood. The people living there are not in the best of condition and give the appearance of being rather rough. Cigarette smoke permeates the atmosphere. This structure might or might not exist in real life. That is beside the point – it is representative of the state in which New Zealand now finds its much maligned state care system for abused people.

The structure is basically a giant rotting building. It looks fine on the outside, but touching any part of it and one suddenly has the impression New Zealand should be steering well away from it. Crumbling, under pressure, with gaping holes down which no one knows who has fallen, the framework for dealing with our abused children and helping them get their lives back without going to prison or into institutionalized care, is in dire need of a sustained funding increase and overhaul.

Duncan Garner’s article in yesterday’s edition of The Press dealt with a man known as Patient A in an inquiry into our state care sector that found a myriad of problems, gross underfunding and resourcing. A combination of basic human rights being repeatedly infringed on a prolonged basis with little or no understanding by the authorities of what they were apparently doing, staff trying to make do with what resources and personnel they had whilst knowing at all times they were skating on very thin ice, had led Patient A to spend more than a decade in and out of care and prison.

Mr Garner is right. This will need a huge change of support. At the very core of Oranga Tamariki is an alleged desire to help our children grow into meaningful adults that help to give New Zealand a future. Fluffy nice words are said by Ministers and the Prime Minister, but where is the detail on policies that will meet the Governments objectives and the necessary rules to enforce them? More to the point who will enforce the rules and how?

.It is this kind of maltreatment and associated failures to address the root causes that makes me concerned about the situation we might have in a generations time where a whole lot of patients who should have been under much tighter control become exploding social bombs. Years of conditioning caused by family abuse, neglect, falling in with the wrong people and no guidance, have turned men who might have been under other circumstances okay, have led them to have monumental problems with society, with people, with the law.

It is this kind of maltreatment that puts in the heads of damaged patients that it is somehow okay to attack other people, other peoples property. Many of the people who commit child abuse, sexual abuse, domestic violence are born into an environment where this mentality is thriving. In order to address #MeToo we must be prepared to address this.

Having now approached the house does New Zealand want to go in, have a look around and try to understand how its social care system for abuse victims got to this and where we might go from here? Or is New Zealand going to be put off by what it sees and just wants to sweep the whole thing under the carpet?