Understanding the Role of Women in the Care and Protection of Children
The critical contribution of women in upholding the State's responsibility for children in need of care and protection in New Zealand has not been sufficiently recognised. This thesis traces the development of child protection legislation from the Destitute Persons Relief Ordinance 1846 to the current Children, Young Persons and their Families Act 1989. It examines the socio-political influences that contributed to changes over time, and the various roles women have played as social workers, foster mothers, and kin carers. The circular journey from family responsibility in 1846, to state control, then to the Children, Young Persons and their Families Act 1989 and again, back to family responsibility, has been drawn. Re-interrogating my own research phenomenologically and drawing on my social work experience, the thesis gives evidence of the effects of the current legislation, the Children, Young Persons and their Families Act (1989), on families/wh?nau, and children.
The thesis methodology is feminist autobiography and tells a second journey of care and protection. My experiences of being raised by kin, my work as a foster mother, a social worker, a university lecturer and researcher tell this story. These two journeys are braided together where paths cross or run parallel. The use of critical feminist theory as an analytical tool and feminist phenomenology as a methodology has revealed the reality of experience of women in varying roles, who throughout time have cared for children in need of care and protection. Social workers, foster parents, the children?s biological parents and kin/wh?nau carers of these children, and the children themselves have been part of my journey.
The thesis, firstly, makes a contribution to social work literature as it offers an understanding of the effect of child welfare legislation and the incumbent power therein on the lives of families, children and social workers. It also argues that the influence of early life experiences on professional choice demands ethical reflective self-examination. Secondly, the thesis contributes to academic autobiographical research methodology, arguing for its ability to honestly locate the researcher in the field of enquiry and enhance the richness of the study.