Onboard: Special Edition – Response to Kahu Aroha Report

He ara pūkenga, he ara Tauwhiro, hei whakamana mātā waka
The many pathways of knowledge, the many pathways of social work, upholding the dignity of all

Tēnā koutou,

The SWRB would like to acknowledge the report from the Ministerial Advisory Board into Oranga Tamariki, and to offer support for the recommendations on its social work workforce.

The Kahu Aroha report states that Oranga Tamariki needs to change in order to significantly improve its responsiveness to Māori and to address its own systemic, institutional, and professional issues, finding that the social work voice within the organisation is missing at many levels.

The SWRB appreciates that the child protection system is complex.  We are aware that Oranga Tamariki deals with extremely difficult and emotionally charged situations, including child abuse and neglect, and intervenes when pēpi and tamariki are hurt, harmed, and neglected. This is why it’s extremely important to have social workers in this space, and for their voice to be heard and their expertise valued.

It is clear from the Kahu Aroha report that social workers at Oranga Tamariki are under significant pressure, and the SWRB is pleased to see the recommendation that ‘the social work voice within Oranga Tamariki needs strengthening as professional practice views, opinions, and experience are missing at many levels, including at its leadership group’. As the regulator of social work, we have a responsibility to enhance professionalism and that can only be achieved through social work having a strong voice and identity. 

We note the recommendation that the Office of the Chief Social Worker should be restored as a central role within Oranga Tamariki with enhanced influence across the agency to address the de-professionalisation of its workforce away from social work.

We also welcome the report highlighting that, ‘induction, training, continuing professional development, and supervision, including training and support for supervisors and practice leaders, should be prioritised’. The Kahu Aroha report recognises how important leadership and supervision is across an organisation, a view which the SWRB shares.  We have had ongoing discussions with Oranga Tamariki’s chief social worker and at senior management level around the need for all social workers to have continuing professional development, including supervision.  We recognise that the quality of supervision is hugely important to enhancing the professionalism of social workers.  We think there’s an opportunity to work more closely with Oranga Tamariki on guidance and understanding around supervision.

Further to that, the ability of social workers to have their judgement and advice treated with respect and be able to abide by their professional obligations within organisations, is a challenging space.  But we are clear that social workers need to be supported to deliver on their professional obligations just as doctors, nurses, and lawyers are when they are providing their opinions.

The SWRB, which was recently appointed the lead agency for social work workforce planning, also notes the recommendation ‘that a workforce development plan that rebuilds the mana and professionalisation of Oranga Tamariki social workers, and grows the broader supporting social sector workforce inside and outside Oranga Tamariki, be developed as a priority’. We look forward to having discussions with Oranga Tamariki to be able to co-ordinate efforts in a cohesive way for sector-wide workforce planning.

As the Kahu Aroha report states, social workers are expected to manage ambiguity, uncertainty, and to make judgements in challenging circumstances.  The SWRB agrees and we look forward to seeing systems at Oranga Tamariki improve to ensure all social workers are supported to work within the SWRB Code of Conduct and our competence standards, and that the expertise, skills, and knowledge they bring to their work are valued.  This may go some way towards addressing some of the issues raised in the report.

We believe the social service sector has to work together to improve a system so that it puts whānau and communities at the core of what we do, in a way which enhances mana and ensures the safety of all.

To read the full report, click here.  

Nāku iti noa, nā,

Sarah Clark
Chief Executive