Rights and wrongs: young citizens in a young country

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Paul Michael Garrett's conclusions about the future prospects of social work strike us as both too pessimistic and too optimistic at the same time. We are more optimistic about the possibilities of creating a more sympathetic policy environment in which a more fruitful social work practice could be developed, but also more pessimistic about the potential of the profession itself to deliver such a form of practice.

Writing from Wales, we will concentrate on tracing the development of child and family policies and practice here in the post-devolution era. In doing so, we draw some points of comparison and contrast with the Garrett analysis of the same field in England and the Republic of Ireland.

Garrett rightly points out that the neo-conservative project, which has exercised a hegemonic grip over large parts of the developed world for more than 30 years, is as much about social policy as it is about economics. Cuts in public expenditure and widening inequalities are often presented as the inevitable by-products of unavoidable and overriding policy purposes – the regrettable but inescapable consequences of dealing with crises such as the level of public indebtedness. We would agree that such outcomes are not by-products at all, but the inherent techniques and purposes of the ‘neo-con’ project. Cuts are not a temporary response to immediate dangers, but part of a long-term determination to redraw the contract between the citizen and the state. Widening inequalities are not a matter of hand-wringing regret, but an intentional policy tool of an outlook which believes that a market economy should reward success and punish failure.

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