As the report’s proposals are considered and implemented, the Public Service Association hopes frontline staff and the people they support will finally be listened to. The union will study and engage in detail with its recommendations.
The PSA supports calls to empower Māori and challenge systemic racism. To achieve these goals, the union argues any reforms to Oranga Tamariki must urgently address unsafe workloads.
Oranga Tamariki staff are dangerously overworked and under-resourced, a long term issue the PSA has consistently raised publicly and in engagement with the Ministry. PSA organisers have spoken to social workers responsible for as many as 93 children at once.
"Social workers and other Oranga Tamariki staff go into this profession because they want to support struggling families and protect children from harm. Currently, their ability to do so is undermined by extreme and unmanageable caseloads," says Public Service Association National Secretary Kerry Davies.
"It takes time and patience to thoroughly investigate complex situations, build deep relationships and earn the trust of families involved. If a social worker is dealing with too many cases at once, it becomes difficult to invest the kind of time children and whanau deserve."
"Our members need more time and more support for cultural competency training, professional development and stress management."
Manu Hunter convenes the PSA Rūnanga among Oranga Tamariki staff. He works in Dunedin at a community residence for children in protective care.
"Even if we have policies that are very Māori focused, we still need the resources to put them into practice. As much as it’s cultural, it’s also about time frames. Good social work practice requires sufficient time and staff to deal with high caseloads, emergency cases, court reports and an ever-increasing pile of paperwork," he says.
"There are no top down solutions, only ones built on partnership and solidarity. We need space set aside to develop strong trust-based relationships with at-risk families, iwi, community groups and our colleagues, because we genuinely want to get it right every time."
Rob Teppett is National Convenor of PSA delegates at Oranga Tamariki, and is now a Senior Advisor after beginning work for the Ministry in 1986.
"This is an incredibly rewarding profession, a chance to save lives and help people recover from terrible experiences. I’m hopeful about the good we could do with more qualified social workers in the community, both working for Oranga Tamariki and for the iwi providers and NGOs we partner with," he says.
"Too often we are the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, desperately trying to intervene in complex, dangerous and tragic situations. We all deserve to live in a society that doesn’t push people to the edge of that cliff in the first place. It’s clear Oranga Tamariki must change, and we need this country to change with us as well."