The Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Workers (ANZASW) supports Minister for Children Tracey Martin’s strategy of intensive intervention to lower the number of children being placed in care.
At ANZASW we acknowledge that keeping children connected with their families is central to their wellbeing. Every child has a right to a loving home and, where it is safe for them, for their familial links to be preserved.
Research demonstrates that long-term damage occurs when children are separated from their family: dislocation in childhood leaves profound emotional and psychological scars, often leading to unresolved trauma, heightening the risk of poor mental health later in life, as well as increased sensitivity to stress.
Social Workers are committed to working with families and communities to ensure children are safe and cared for. The removal of children from their caregiver and placement in care is a last resort. Social work practitioners always aim to keep families together and only notify Oranga Tamariki, Ministry for Children, as the agency with statutory authority to remove children from their caregivers, about the risk to a child when it is genuinely merited.
Minister Martin’s policy of intensive early intervention is entirely consistent with social work ethics and practices, which emphasise the importance of maintaining family integrity and protection through improving familial relations.
Yet a serious investment in the workforce is required for these plans to meet expectations. Many social workers active in child protection are simply overwhelmed by their caseloads and despite working hard to provide the best possible support to families or caregivers, cannot always fully meet the level of need that exists in the community, much of which can be hidden from view. The refocus on intervention will require an expansion of the workforce.
At the present time it is not yet clear how much of the government’s extra funding for Oranga Tamariki, Ministry for Children, will go toward these intervention programmes and we seek clarity on this.
However, ANZASW believes that more funding for Oranga Tamariki, Ministry for Children alone will not be enough to ensure that the policy delivers improved outcomes. The Ministry for Children cannot make these changes in isolation: social workers across the wider social services sector also need to receive greater support. Organisations outside of the Oranga Tamariki, Ministry for Children often have better opportunities to work closely with families and develop relationships that are crucial to ensuring security and wellbeing for at risk children.
ANZASW also strongly recommends greater investment in providing continual professional development to social workers assisting families, so that their skills and knowledge are as up to date as possible.
We also believe that a wider definition of family than that which is adopted by the Oranga Tamariki, Ministry for Children, needs to be taken into account when considering how to maintain family integrity and provide protection for children. By expanding the concept to include extended family / Whanau, greater resources can be utilised to ensure security for at risk children.
We look forward to engaging with the Ministry on this issue.