Social Issues

Social workers fear OT control of staff testimony

Some social workers are suspicious of a move by Oranga Tamariki to join a project to survey the experiences of frontline staff, fearing it is trying to control the result. Bonnie Sumner reports

A rift has broken out within New Zealand’s largest professional body of social workers, with a plan to collect the experiences of frontline Oranga Tamariki staff stymied amid division between members and management.

A number of members within the Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Workers say they have significant concerns that a plan to collect the experiences of frontline staff has been compromised following several meetings between their management and Oranga Tamariki executives.

The ANZASW Action Group was set up by members of the organisation in early July as a response to articles highlighting the treatment of social workers within Oranga Tamariki and frustration that social workers’ voices were not included in the five inquiries launched since Newsroom’s video about the attempted uplift of a baby at Hastings hospital.

At first, it appeared the ANZASW management supported the Action Group’s objectives, when on July 23 the chief executive, Lucy Sandford-Reed, issued a press release saying it would be collecting accounts from frontline professionals as part of a report it would release publicly after presenting it to Minister for Children Tracey Martin and Oranga Tamariki CEO Grainne Moss.

The ANZASW wrote it was concerned Martin and the ministry’s executives “are not taking the concerns raised by Oranga Tamariki staff sufficiently or seriously enough and are failing to address systemic issues.

“To document the reality of practice within Oranga Tamariki members of the professional association will create a safe and confidential platform for past and present Oranga Tamariki staff to share their experiences.”

This platform was the creation of three anonymous portals through which social workers could document their experiences: an 0800 number, an email address and an online survey.

However, four days after the press release was published, an email was sent to Newsroom asking to recall it in order to “add some further information and re-release it in the coming weeks”. It was also removed from the ANZASW website.

In a message sent to members of the Action Group last week, one of its spokespeople wrote that as a result of discussions between the ANZASW executive and Oranga Tamariki over the past two weeks, a more “conciliatory position” was taken by the ANZASW executive and it appeared the ANZASW “no longer supports the action” to collect the experiences of Oranga Tamariki social workers as planned.

“While we will not divulge what was said in email correspondence you can be assured that the ANZASW Action Group has been sidelined,” it wrote.

The message says while the Action Group would like to be able to work with Oranga Tamariki, it would be unable to “as there are differences about how to use the information you provide and to what purpose it would be used for.

“The version of the ‘listening service’ agreed to by the ANZASW exec and OT execs has nothing to do with us and is in no way in the spirit of what we proposed. We might have prompted it, but we are not involved in it and do not agree with its direction.”

In a written response to Newsroom, Sandford-Reed says the planned collection of social worker experiences hasn’t been shut down.

“The group wanting to collect social workers' experiences has been involved in conversations about the project. They were advised that the project could proceed, and the request was made that the opportunity be extended to all social workers rather than just those working for Oranga Tamariki.

“ANZASW enjoys an excellent working relationship with Oranga Tamariki. We are working in partnership with Oranga Tamariki to develop a collaborative approach to solving a range of issues.”

But ANZASW Action Group organisers told Newsroom they have “significant concerns about the independence of the project being run through Oranga Tamariki.

“The stories of social workers have been lost in the numerous reports that have come out. The voices of the social workers have been silent and absent, and that pained us. We wanted to provide an avenue for those stories to be told.”

A spokesperson said the group wasn't sure exactly what the new plan for hearing social workers’ concerns would be.

“I do know with their new service that it’s through Oranga Tamariki, but we have no knowledge of how it works. But our aim was to make our stories public and present those to Minister Martin and Grainne Moss.”

The Action Group is waiting to hear back from the chief executive about its concerns.

According to its website, the ANZASW is a voluntary membership association for social workers “run for and by our members.” Its local fees for practising social workers are between $176.60 and $330.70 a year, depending on income.

As part of their membership, the 32,300 members are offered highly subsidised indemnity insurance, support for research and collegial support. Oranga Tamariki pays the ANZASW membership fees of the social workers under their employment.

Oranga Tamariki, in response to questions, said: “Oranga Tamariki has enjoyed a good working relationship with ANZASW for a number of years. We recently met with the organisation several times to discuss the plan and how we could potentially work in partnership to collectively solve any issues together.”

Help us create a sustainable future for independent local journalism

As New Zealand moves from crisis to recovery mode the need to support local industry has been brought into sharp relief.

As our journalists work to ask the hard questions about our recovery, we also look to you, our readers for support. Reader donations are critical to what we do. If you can help us, please click the button to ensure we can continue to provide quality independent journalism you can trust.

With thanks to our partners