‘A Lightbulb in the Darkness’ - How NGO Social Workers Conceptualise the Strengths Perspective in Child Welfare.
The Strengths perspective has a long history within social work policy and practice (Saleebey, 1996). Evolving overtime, this capacity focused approach to supporting families make change has continued to be at the forefront of interventions, particularly in the challenging area of child welfare social work (Turnell & Edwards, 1997; Cousins, 2015; O’Neil, 2005; Kemp et al, 2013). The principles of the Strengths perspective; particularly around the sharing of power, collaboration and inclusion, respect and clients as experts in their own lives can seem at odds with statutory responses to child welfare concerns (Ward, 2015; Saleebey, 1996; O’Neil, 2005). Additional to this, child welfare social work in Aotearoa New Zealand is facing challenging times (University of Otago, 2017). There have been numerous reviews and restructuring to the statutory organisation, currently Oranga Tamariki, responsible for managing child welfare concerns, attempting to improve outcomes for at risk children and families (Atwool, 2019). The most recent changes in 2017 indicated more of a shift from state responsibility to community responsibility in managing child welfare concerns, directly impacting NGO social workers. This research aimed to explore this tension and identify how NGO social workers conceptualise the Strengths perspective and its application to child welfare cases. 12 registered NGO social workers participated in semi structured interviews, giving insight into how they navigate a Strengths based NGO role, with preliminary themes presented to a focus group for feedback. The interview and focus group data, considered alongside an extensive literature review, resulted in seven dominant themes emerging in a thematic analysis: the construction of knowledge of the Strengths perspective, relationships are key, the interface between NGO and statutory, success with Strengths, limitations and barriers, the entanglement with Oranga Tamariki and cultural frameworks. These themes indicate current perceptions of the Strengths based, NGO social work position within the statutory child welfare system and offers pathways forward to support NGO social workers, Oranga Tamariki and families, to successfully engage the Strengths perspective in child welfare cases, ultimately improving child safety and family wellbeing. Recommendations have been developed from the findings of this research. These include NGOs reviewing their policies regarding Strengths based practice, ensuring policy expectations are supportive of this approach being utilised, supporting stronger relationships growing between NGOs and Oranga Tamariki and social workers having a collective understanding within their organisation of the Strengths perspective and application expectations. Developing cultural competency across both statutory and NGO social work organisations was also highlighted, to enhance successful Strengths based practice with Maori and Pasefika families.
Advisor: Keddell, Emily; Wason, Susan
Degree Name: Master of Social Work
Degree Discipline: Social and Community Work
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: Strengths perspective; child welfare; NGO social work
Research Type: Thesis