ANZASW Statement: Response to the chief ombudsman’s investigation He Take Kōhukihuki: A Matter of Urgency

ANZASW is pleased to respond to the ombudsman’s investigation report released yesterday, 6 August 2020. The report is based on an investigation period from 1 July 2017 to 30 June 2019. Issues raised in the report reflect concerns that have been present within the community for several years now. ANZASW supports and welcomes the recommendations and believes that if successfully implemented, they offer an opportunity to repair some of the issues identified within Oranga Tamariki.

It is hugely concerning to read of the inconsistencies and lack of professional supervision which is an integral part of competent social work practice. The ombudsman identified that in 46 percent of cases there was no evidence of professional supervision. Combined with the lack of comprehensive policy guidance this of great concern to the professional body. ANZASW does not condone poor practice.

The ombudsman further noted that the failure to follow policies and procedures that are in place severely compromised the quality, robustness, and transparency of decision making. Oranga Tamariki must practice in a manner that is lawful, fair and responsible, transparent and open.

The report highlights that the key failures within the organisation are system based and require system-focussed solutions. The ombudsman found that there was no specific operating guidance on the use of without notice section 78 applications. The available guidance did not sufficiently articulate clear criteria for how staff are meant to identify and assess the viability of other options to secure the safety of tamariki. Given that without notice applications are a departure from the fundamental natural justice requirements enshrined in law, there must be independent oversight of the policies, procedures and practices connected to the removal of newborn pēpi.

Mandatory registration which will come into effect on February 27, 2021, will help improve professionalism and enhance public safety. ANZASW strongly supports the move to mandatory registration.

It is recognised that child protection is complex and that Oranga Tamariki staff members are often situated in highly emotional and stressful situations. We also recognise that the criticism and concerns of the report are not directly related to individual social workers but to a system that impairs social workers’ ability to practice responsibly and adequately.

ANZASW is proud to continue to work with Oranga Tamariki to ensure social workers have the support and guidance they need to continue the critical work they carry out in protecting and caring for some of Aotearoa’s most vulnerable.