SWAN conference 2016

In September, social workers from around New Zealand came together in Auckland for the Social Worker Action Network (SWAN) conference.

SWAN logo 2015A network within the PSA, SWAN’s mission is to unify, inspire, inform and advocate for social workers. This year’s theme was ‘Social Work Identity in a Neoliberal Social, Political and Economic Environment.’

Tepora Hona, a social worker at Child, Youth and Family in Whakatane, said the chance to see Amy Ross, one of the conference leaders, was a real drawcard: “I’ve met Amy before and she is really inspiring so I jumped at the chance to be involved,” said Tepora.

For Tepora, the conference was also a chance to lift her head from her work, which is all-consuming, to think about the big picture. “I appreciated the chance to discuss the wider issues facing my profession, and especially issues for Māori social workers and service users.”

New Plymouth based social worker Rowena Wood, who works for the Salvation Army, spoke of the conference as helping take her "from a state of paralysis to one of empowerment, confidence and action.”

“As a social worker with an honours degree in social science and social work I am well aware of the direct impact that government ideology and its ensuing social policy has on my profession. Over the years I have experienced the incremental cut backs, the trimming of budgets and the tearing back of our social security systems. As a social worker it is painfully clear to see first-hand, live and up close the fall out of the neoliberal environment we’re in.”

“We deal with real poverty, social exclusion and very real distress on a daily basis and it’s challenging work that leaves little time to reflect. I had quietly learned to accept this as ‘the way it is now’,” says Rowena.

However, attending the SWAN conference “woke” Rowena up again and reminded her of the grass roots of the social work profession – its core and its values.

Rowena says, “I was reminded of the struggles involved in fighting for decent working conditions, the sheer grit and determination it took to build a public health care system and a decent welfare state. I was reminded that raising my voice to share my concern and opposition to government policy is not being difficult or radical and that as a social worker I have an ethical, moral and social responsibility to do so.”

“On a personal level I was also able to meet some very inspirational people. Meeting social workers from around the country was great, as we talked there was a growing sense that these problems we face are national and not restricted to region.

“Getting together left me with a real sense that we are not powerless and that together we can resist, question and speak out against constant cut backs and higher demands on us as employees.

“I had the privilege of meeting Amy Ross who was one of the inspirational leaders of the conference. Her dedication, insight, clarity and strength was contagious. As a result of meeting Amy and some of the other attendees I have a renewed loyalty to the PSA and I left feeling truly proud of being a member.” 

By Briar Edmonds