Minister Tolley’s denigration of social workers is uncalled for

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With the establishment of Oranga Tamariki, Minister Anne Tolley should be committing to support and develop social workers’ skills, not scapegoating them for her Government’s underfunding and underinvestment in the sector, say the PSA and the Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Workers (ANZASW).

"Social workers have been critically under-resourced for a long time, and the Minister’s dismissive comments are of no help to the wider problem of developing our workforce to roll out the programme for the new Ministry," says Glenn Barclay, PSA national secretary.

"Employment in the sector has never kept pace with surging demand, especially after the Government’s policy of mandatory referrals to social workers increased their caseloads significantly."

A 2014 Workload Casework Report authored by Child, Youth and Family and the PSA identified several major barriers to recruitment for social workers, and an under-skilled workforce was far from the top of the list, says Lucy Sandford-Reed, ANZASW Chief Executive.

"If the Minister wants Oranga Tamariki to be a success, she should focus on the real issues in recruitment - undervalued salaries and high caseloads, inadequate professional supervision, and extremely demanding roles that receive insufficient support from Government," says Ms Sandford-Reed.

"The standards for social work education are high - a comprehensive, broad-based four-year minimum degree with specialisations in human development, psychology, Tikanga Māori or social policy, for example."

"We recognise the need for specialised recruitment of other front-line professionals like child psychologists and therapists, but the Minister has overstepped the mark this morning by denigrating the expertise and importance of social workers," says Mr Barclay.

"These people are the key workers in child protection, and they deserve much better from the Minister."