This article sets out to trouble the psychologised and pathologising approach that has come to dominate child protection practice in Aotearoa-New Zealand and comparable societies. Within a neoliberal ideological frame, Governments deny the need to adjust markets, except in ways that remove protections from workers or specific vulnerable groups. In this context, social work is concerned with adjusting people to the discipline of the market. Within a risk-focused child protection paradigm, circumstances and behaviours associated with material deprivation are construed as indicators of heightened danger and harm to children as opposed to a means of better understanding family life. It is argued here that appreciation of how social inequality plays out in the lives of children and their families is critical to the development of more effective child protection social work. Poverty exacerbates the everyday struggle of parenting—it shames and disempowers, reducing confidence and perceptions of competence. With reference to contemporary Aotearoa-New Zealand, this article critiques current developments in child protection social work and outlines a new direction for development.
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