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The system, not social workers, is the issue at OT

The Association is disappointed at comments made by Minister for Children Tracey Martin about Oranga Tamariki, Ministry of Children, this week.

“While Minister Martin’s statement partially echoes the Association’s observation in June this year, that systemic issues need to be addressed in relation to uplifts of children / tamariki, we must emphasise that individual social workers, particularly those on the frontlines, are not the issue here,” ANZASW Chief Executive Lucy Sandford-Reed said.

An ANZASW member working in Oranga Tamariki, Ministry for Children, told the Association that, in their view, the merger that created the agency should have taken place with a greater acknowledgement of the lessons produced by landmark reviews of care and protection in Aotearoa, particularly in terms of relationship with Māori.

The Ministry has “avoided the 13 recommendations that came out of Puao-te-Ata-tu,” the member noted, resulting in a “huge loss of trust between OT and our own communities.”

“Our very whānau we are here to serve, we’ve lost their trust. Also the Ministry has lost the trust of social workers,” the member added.

“I am disillusioned because our Minister has come out with a bold statement to social workers that if we refuse to change, we need to move on,” the member said.

“The Minister just threw all the child protection social workers under the bus. Many of us have fifty plus cases to manage at a time- this is what needs to change,” they continued.

In 2014, the workload and casework review revealed that social workers were dealing with “increasingly complex child and family needs” while many practitioners were being overwhelmed by “unreasonably high caseloads,” impacting the amount of time that social workers can spend with children / tamariki and families / whānau.

“We have for a long time had a risk-averse system that has in some cases erred to far on the side of caution when it comes to uplifts,” Sandford-Reed noted.

“However, it is important to remember that, despite systemic issues, were it not for Oranga Tamariki, Ministry for Children, the lives of many children / tamariki and young New Zealanders may have been severely damaged or cut short. This is demonstrated by the fact that every two days a child is admitted to hospital in this country with non-accidental injuries and every year the Ministry receives 90,000 notifications about children / tamariki at risk of harm,” the Chief Executive noted.

As Minister Martin’s colleague, Darroch Ball, noted earlier this month: “When, despite all of those threats and abuse, Oranga Tamariki social workers still go to work and fulfil their duty to protect those children it shows how resilient and selfless they are. It shows the safety and care of children are the priority of those social workers, with their personal safety coming in a distant second.”

“We applaud the hard work of colleagues employed by the Ministry as they continue to support communities across our country at this tense juncture. As Minister Martin has rightly noted, Oranga Tamariki, Ministry for Children, needs time, consultation and support to better serve New Zealanders. We are cautiously optimistic that the necessary changes will be made,” the Chief Executive said.

“Oranga Tamariki, Ministry for Children, provides an service which is meeting a high level of need in our communities- we have to work together as New Zealanders to change the system for the better so that it will deliver the results that we are all hoping for,” she added.

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