As the professional body for social work in Aotearoa New Zealand, ANZASW feels compelled to offer its perspective on the challenging issue of uplifting children from their family / carers / whānau, which has been the focus of significant attention in the media.
Social work professionals face a range of dilemmas when engaging in the uplift of children / tamariki assessed as being or likely to be, harmed (whether physically or emotionally or sexually), ill-treated, abused, or seriously deprived. They often face complex and challenging circumstances in which they simply enact decisions made by others, yet end up becoming the target of blame whether or not they separate a child from their family / whānau.
Social workers have few choices when directed to uplift a child. No social worker goes to work with the intent of taking someone’s child away; at the same time, they are required to fulfil their responsibility to protect the safety of children / tamariki.
While the Association acknowledges criticism of recent events in the news involving a controversial attempted uplift of a child, we believe it is important to emphasise that in such cases, social workers sit within a decision-making hierarchy contained in a system that is profoundly risk-averse.
We are aware that members involved in the recent incident have been subject to verbal and online abuse following the emergence of the story in the media. They are facing extreme stress. This is unacceptable.
The Association believes that critical reflection on these kinds of incidents should focus on the systemic issues that produce extremely challenging circumstances for social workers and families / whānau alike.
Social workers must follow the law, which stresses the paramountcy of the welfare and safety of children / tamariki judged to be at serious risk. They are obligated to start permanency planning from the earliest stages of engagement with at risk children / tamariki- and to act on these plans once they have been told to do so.
The question remains, how much scope do social workers have apply the knowledge and skill acquired in their training and professional judgment when working with complex family / whānau situations, often under extreme pressure? As the 2014 Workload and Casework Review noted, the capacity of many social workers in care and protection has been hampered by excessive caseloads, engaging with burdensome systems and “increasingly complex child and family needs.”
Rather than vilifying social workers, ANZASW asserts that systemic issues need to be addressed. Furthermore, we fear that some of the issues set out above have been lacking from public discourse on the multi-faceted and complex issue of removing children and young people from their families.