SWAN: backing social workers, backing families

It’s been a tough year for social workers and the vulnerable children and youth they serve.

SWANAs PSA organiser Amy Ross says, “Little by little the social development system is being destabilised under the guise of modernisation. That makes for good political sound bites, but it’s actually a punitive approach where the emphasis is no longer about breaking the cycle of poverty, violence and disenfranchisement within families and communities. As a society we cannot give up on the value of family and the prospect of long-lasting and generational change.”

This ill-advised approach is reflected in the narrow terms of reference and composition of the Modernising Child, Youth and Family expert panel that was established in April. The panel’s interim report that was released in July lays bare the reality of those limitations.

Based on the panel’s dubious beginnings, we have grave concerns that the final report – which we understand is due to be published soon – will continue to be based on ideology as opposed to well-considered decisions based on guidance from those who have gone through the system and Child, Youth and Family staff. While the panel spoke to small groups of stakeholders, the consultation process needed to be more far-reaching and take into account the under-resourcing of social workers at CYF.

“In reading the interim report it’s interesting that the word ‘cost’ comes up over 50 times, but a word like ‘inequality’ doesn’t make a single appearance. Reading between the lines it’s hard not to wonder if the panel’s work is actually just a cost-cutting exercise,” Amy says.  

The irony is that the robust and well-supported Qualitative review of social worker caseload, casework and workload management was recently undertaken by the Ministry of Social Development in conjunction with the PSA. The recommendations of that qualitative review outlined the resourcing challenges of the sector and emphasised the need to employ additional social workers to address current demand levels.

“Not giving that qualitative review a chance is a real loss to the sector and the vulnerable children and youth they serve,” says Amy.  
Amy says that if there’s a silver lining to all this, it’s that social workers and associated fields are better connected than ever. The PSA’s Social Worker Action Network is central to this and now has over 600 members.

“This kind of unity is crucial if we are going to advocate for the profession and the people we serve,” Amy says.

“The PSA continues to follow this issue closely and remains committed to better support for the current system, and improving it by tapping into our wealth of local and international expertise and experience, not by employing highly paid people with little to no connection to services or the communities utilising them.”