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Yesterday morning (June 8 2020) the Office of the Children’s Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft released a new report Te Kuku O Te Manawa. The report is focussed on changes that need to occur within Oranga Tamariki to enable pēpi Māori aged 0-3 months to remain in the care of their whānau; a goal that ANZASW fundamentally supports and promotes.

ANZASW welcomes the report recommendations that highlight the need for social workers to practice ethically and professionally in all areas of their work. However, ANZASW is alarmed that the report singles out social workers as the perpetrators of unprofessionalism, racism and brutality. An accusation that ANZASW is deeply concerned by.

It is important to note that ANZASW strongly promotes and advocates for equality, justice, anti-racism and the wider social issues that are raised throughout the report. ANZASW supports its members to act ethically and with high levels of skill and effectiveness. Ongoing professional development is important, and the association encourages its members to participate in the thinking and discussion that the Children’s Commissioner is promoting.

New Zealand has one of the highest levels of child abuse and child death as a result of abuse, in the OECD and sadly Māori are over-represented in this data. The consequence of having high levels of child abuse is that there is a real need for a statutory protection system that prioritises the safety of our young. This, in some cases, will mean that pēpi must be uplifted.

ANZASW acknowledges that the issues raised by the Commissioner are critically important and require ongoing discussions and reflection. We are committed to actively promoting and advocating for equality and justice of Māori and the incorporation of te ao Māori and recognition of the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

With the upcoming election, it is especially critical to discuss the social issues that contribute to the over-representation of Māori in such figures. These issues are however multidimensional and require critical consideration of the systematic and systemic factors that contribute to such issues.

Social workers in Oranga Tamariki are exposed to and work within complex, difficult and at times dangerous situations. Such circumstances may be compounded by child abuse, domestic violence, mental health issues, drug and alcohol use and the associated violence including the use of guns and weapons. Within this work, social workers are required to build professional, respectful and accountable relationships. The report has highlighted that Oranga Tamariki, the profession and the wider community are challenged by the need to engage in conversation about how child protection can occur in partnership with te ao Māori.

These challenges are not new, however the report acts as a timely reminder and highlights the need for increased and ongoing engagement with and commitment to be made to such issues.

ANZASW acknowledges that within any profession there are individual practitioners that undermine the standards of the profession and that social work is no different. For instance, it is not hard to reflect on cases where individual lawyers, doctors or nurses have brought scepticism to their profession. However, it is not appropriate for the media, or anyone else, to suggest that all social workers are unprofessional in their practice based on the actions of a few.

ANZASW further offers our support and recognition of the excellent work that is carried out by social workers in Aotearoa in protecting and keeping our pēpi and children safe through skilful, safe and ethical practice. We strongly encourage social workers to engage in professional development, critical thinking and conversations that reflect the key issues presented in the Children’s Commissioner’s report.

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