A Day in the Life of a Social Worker: Liam Cunnah

Liam Cunnah

Civilian of the year, Burnham social worker. Liam Cunnah

The first “Day in the Life of a Social Worker” for 2021 features Liam Cunnah. Liam was recently nominated and selected as the 2020 New Zealand Defence Force Civilian of the Year. His nomination recognised his work in the introduction, development and permanency of social work in the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF). The award also recognised Liam’s ongoing studies and as a Board member for Salisbury Street Foundation which demonstrated the NZDF core values of Courage, Commitment and Comradeship. Liam explains that receiving the award at the Person of the Year ceremony was an incredibly proud moment for him and one that he won’t forget!


ANZASW would like to extend our congratulations to Liam for his incredible work!

Originally from North Wales, Liam emigrated to New Zealand in 2007. In 2003 Liam was working in the Mackenzie Country as a Shepherd when he met his wife. They now have two sons aged four and seven.

Liam trained at Ara (then CPIT) and graduated in 2011 with a Bachelor in Social Work. Since then he has continued to study, completing a Postgraduate in Family and Systemic Therapies as well as Level 1 and 2 Gottman. He is also at the beginning of further Postgraduate study in Mental Health and Addictions.

Social work in the military is still an emerging and developing discipline. Four years ago, Liam along with two other colleagues, were involved in a one year “pilot” to introduce social work into the Army and wider NZDF.

Liam highlights that social work “offers a holistic view to a wide range of biopsychosocial-spiritual factors. The NZDF functions as a collectivist and communal subsystem and as such the social work lens has provided a beneficial addition to the NZDF world through use of language that is both familiar and similar.”

Within the NZDF, social work delivers in three key areas of practice: One on one assessment and brief intervention work with individual soldiers, civilians and couples; education and training delivery to Units and the wider NZDF population; and, Command/Managers and Leaders’ advice and support.

Liam’s day to day work varies hugely; he explains that some days he might see four to five soldiers, his clients, and the following day he will find himself having back to back Command meetings as well as Health MDT and case consults. Liam enjoys the varied nature of his work. No day, week or year are the same with the ongoing fluid and dynamic nature of this kind of work.

Liam is also often invited to attend training exercises in either Tekapo or the West Coast. He explains that attending these exercises can be great opportunities to interact in a low-key manner with soldiers and Command as well as gaining experience himself of a “day in the life” of his clients. This increases the visibility of the service as well as his own knowledge of the work completed by different Military trades.

Liam highlights that he has enjoyed watching the expansion of the NZDF social work service over the past three years with the addition of social workers now being present on all camp and bases in New Zealand. Liam explains how proud he is of his fellow NZDF social workers with the development work they have completed so far in the building of a new and unique area of practice, all while also managing full caseloads.

On top of all this work, Liam has also been able to contribute, alongside three of his colleagues, a chapter in an international military social work textbook. The chapter captures the history, development and scope of practice of the NZDF Social Work Service.

When asked what he visions the future of social work to be, Liam explains that to him social work seems to be at an exciting point of its history in New Zealand. With the upcoming transition to mandatory registration (27 February 2021 ), he hopes mandatory registration will enhance the professionalism of social work and its standing within the wider helping professions.

Liam explains that it is hard to have imagined that four years ago military social work would be included in the suite of disciplines within the expanding social work kete. With this in mind Liam wonders what other areas of practice will be included over the next four years and beyond.

With some social workers being called upon to expand their skill sets and knowledge with postgraduate study, Liam questions whether there will be additional scope within the SWRB  for registered “clinical” social work in the same way in which the USA recognises this through “Licenced” Social Workers.

For Liam, social work is an expansive world of possibilities around areas of practice which is why he believes it is an incredibly potent and effective service delivering, not only, the self-determination and empowerment of its clients but, in the right environment and context, that of the social worker themselves.




One comment

  • Lesley Williams

    Well done Liam! No surprises here…you’re an amazing social worker with vision and heart…so proud to have worked alongside you those few years ago at West. Cheers! Lesley.