Salient: Victoria University of Wellington Students' Newspaper. Vol. 32, No. 5. 1969.
what's wrong with Child Welfare
what's wrong with Child Welfare
Education honours student
Currently the Child Welfare Division is experiencing staff dissatisfaction which centres around the conditions under which child welfare officers are required to work, their long hours and their being on call.
These and other factors can make their job a very wearing one, and this obviously affects the service given. These are very proper complaints for the officers concerned to make. However, one may wonder whether Child Welfare Head Office and State Services Commission are capable of examining these complaints objectively, or whether those in power will merely react to this challenge to their administration defensively and emotionally.
In the following discussion I will attempt to outline the functions of the Child Welfare Department, and to evaluate certain of them. Limited space will require some of these functions to be skimmed over.
The Child Welfare Service is administered by the Child Welfare Division of the Education Department. The division was established by the Child Welfare Act 1925, and the role of the department has not apparently been re-reasoned since that time, i.e. 43 years. It is past time for further development. One direction, future change is likely to take is the writing of the various social work agencies (Child Welfare, Social Security, probation etc.) At present Co-ordination and co-operation between social work departments frequently leaves much to be desired. While the writing of the social work agencies into one department is considered periodically, it seems unlikely that a thorough going study which will involve the views of other than public servants will proceed any unification. The most likely time for new legislation to be introduced would be just before the election this year. This would hopefully serve the double purpose of pleasing the voters and calming staff unrest. At the moment one person may have to be in touch with several agencies, acting independently. This is too often bewildering to the person, frustrating to the social workers and to Mr Muldoon, uneconomical.
The purpose of the division under the 1925 Act was "To make better provision to the maintenance, care and control of children who are under the protection of the State; and to provide generally for the protection and training of indigent, neglected, and deliquent children" The division functions to achieve these ends and while so doing, furnishes reports on all children under 171 appearing before the court; gives subsequent oversight and supervision where necessary; inspects and/or licences all homes or institutions which care for its children: supervises adoptions; and operated homes or institutions for Stale wards; delinquents, and neglected, deaf and retarded children.
Dwelling on the reports made to the courts for the moment, these reports are made on the basis of interviews with the child concerned and his parents. The magistrate usually sentences in accordance with the reports recommendations. Unfortunately a child who to one officer may merely be mischievous and untidy, may to another officers be of dirty habits and socially irresponsible. The cardinal sins. Although the report and recommendation are important to the future of the children all too often training given for this responsibility is negligible, i.e. what is picked up through experience. While skill comes with practice, should children be dependent on haphazard practice? As for the youth aid section of the police, this appears to be regarded as a career backwater and a little too soft a practice. It is the police who decide to prosecute a young boy for stealing a six-cent chocolate bar. I had to prepare his court report. Still, even bearing in mind the above comments, the Child Welfare Division docs fulfil a useful and necessary service in reporting to the courts, and does in a sense represent and protect the children concerned.
The skill, or otherwise, of supervision depends on the talents of the person concerned. When the child is lucky and supervisor skilled, counselling may occur, as distinct from an interview on work prospects. Little specific training is given to child welfare officers, or trainees in the skills involved in counselling (apart from being advised to refer to the manual) training most often comes in the form of in-service experience, although often the person the supervisor is supposed to consult for assistance (e.g. the Senior Welfare Officer) is too overworked to have sufficient time. Specialist help was not readily available to children being cared for.2—Psychological services only have staff to see a negligible proportion of cases dealt with, and the child health clinic caters for those already far gone. Obviously, the, heavier the caseload the less the case worker can do adequately, assuming he has the facilities he needs. These situations, aggravated by chronic under staffing, lie at the base of the current unrest.
As far as relationships with the children are concerned, these are extremely variable with too many decisions about the child being based on expediency. Also, procedural rather than casework ability is often emphasised. The child may also suffer as a result of having several different supervisors in a year. This is assuming there is any relationship to suffer damage A relationship is often hard to establish as many children tend to see child welfare as a punitive authority rather than a counselling body. I cannot support the above assertion with actual facts because no research has been carried out as to the effectiveness of Child Welfare work3—despite the fact that a research group does exist at Child Welfare Head Office.
Career advancement is through grading, i.e. approval from above, or through appointment to higher positions. This tends to inhibit criticism and consequently change, and even when constructive criticisms are made there is very little in the way of machinery or feedback to link this up with policy, planning, or what we may term execution. When criticism is made it is likely to be received in a like fashion, i.e. the Superintendent of Child Welfare who in a letter in the New Zealand Tablet (26 Feb, , 1969, p. 335) said about the present unrest of his staff (and as a reason why change is not being initiated from the top). "How can any government . . . operate if it cannot rely on the loyalty of its senior officers?" And, "The person who says in effect 'my loyalty is to the children I serve and not to my superiors' is setting an example of arrogance that is becoming of a dictator."
Once one has joined the staff, the induction training received is limited and variable —this would appear to hold for all the social work agencied, not just child welfare. After all, what can the Child Welfare Division expect to achieve when it is given only one training officer for over two hundred and seventy field staff. By comparison, in the better British Children's Departments the proportion of training or consultant staff ranges from three to ten percent of total staff. During a year as a social work trainee I received one four day induction course which dealt mainly with the responsibilities of public servants and the vagaries of the system. During the same year I saw one training film—on how to answer the telephone. My in-service training amounted to personal trial and error, which in a social service cannot be anything but inadequate. With the superintendent holding such an outlook, even with the best will in the world, it is little wonder that change is slow. Although in a pithy remark on page 25 of the same article ("Physical cruelty was formerly accepted as normal. Today it is unfashionable") the superintendent demonstrates that he is well aware that change does occur.
As far as professional training is concerned, as distinct from in-service training, some graduates from the social sciences are recruited. The Dip. Soc. Sci. course at Victoria also provides a two year professional course for about twelve people a year. The effect of these graduates on social work practice is difficult to assess. What is certain is that most of them go either directly or fairly soon into administrative positions. As at 31 March, 1967 of the 582 in the social workers occupational class 84 held a Dip. Soc. Sci. and a further ten an equivalent overseas qualification Of this total of 94, 50 held senior administrative positions, so only 44 (ten percent) of the 440 social workers holding field jobs (counselling) were professionally qualified to do so. The situation has not changed appreciably since 1967.
Preventative work is carried out to the extent that all complaints received from the public are followed up, and if justified, action is taken. However, the function of Child Welfare is primarily to rescue rather than to prevent. There is almost a complete lack of services for a disturbed but non-delinquent child in New Zealand. Apart from imagination, both insufficient training and inadequate staffing level make preventative work on any large scale virtually impossible.
I would like to finish this discussion with an extremely relevant comment Profesor J. Ritchie made in an address to a group of social workers in Hamilton—"The practice of social work has been dominated by Christianity, casework, and conformity. The lower professional goals or standards arc set, the less is achieved all round."
1 1: In a few cases eighteen years.
2 2: Techniques such as family therapy are non-existent.
3 3: It is necessary to point out that Child Welfare has to take all comers—it cannot chose—and this naturally effects the success rate.