Social workers to government: Don’t destroy all our hard work

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Ministers in charge of the Child Youth and Family reforms have no understanding of how the sector works - and should listen to social workers, the Public Service Association says.

The proposal to create a new Ministry for Vulnerable Children risks putting New Zealand back to the 1950s, where children were "rescued" from their families and placed into care.

More than seventy social workers from around the country met at the first ever conference of the PSA’s Social Work Action Network (SWAN) to discuss alternatives to the proposals.

PSA Organiser Amy Ross says the reforms threaten to erode the unique contribution social workers make in supporting and empowering children, families and communities.

"Social workers are trained to look at the whole picture - the environment a child is living in, and how to overcome challenges facing the whole system," Ms Ross says.

"We’re concerned the Government’s well-meaning efforts to focus on children will return us to the 1950s and 1960s, where children were removed from their families and placed in foster care.

"We’re urging the Government not to return us to this dark past."

Ms Ross agrees the child protection and youth justice systems need to be improved, but front-line social workers must be involved.

"The 1989 Act and the Puao Te Ata Tu report are taonga which must be respected and cherished.

"In many areas, social work has been prevented from succeeding due to risk aversion, under-resourcing and institutional racism.

"The government’s reforms do not answer these concerns, but instead further dilute the identity and purpose of social work."

SWAN conference participants also expressed concerns about the "big data" approach of the reforms - which they say closely resembles monitoring and racial profiling.