Assaults, abuse against OT social workers harm us all

ANZASW deplores the abuse directed against social workers at Oranga Tamariki, Ministry for Children, highlighted in the media this week.

As reported by Radio New Zealand, a spike in abuse over the past year to June includes 39 physical assaults; since May, there have been 30 documented cases of threats to harm, and 8 to kill, staff.

“Clearly this beyond unacceptable,” Lucy Sandford-Reed, Chief Executive of the ANZASW, said.

“There’s likely to be significant under-reporting by those affected. Also, threats against one staff member can affect a whole team of social workers who work closely together, due to concerns about colleagues,” she added.

“Over and above physical assaults and threats there are reports of social workers being named online in abusive posts,” she added.

“Studies indicate that abusive behaviour toward social workers has a damaging effect on the security and well-being of the children / tamariki they work with as well,” Sandford-Reed noted.

“But we absolutely cannot just accept that this is part of the job, an occupational hazard, or normalise this,” she said.

“A heavy responsibility falls on third parties that use dangerous rhetoric that encourages abuse or the likelihood of it against social work professionals, in some cases anonymously. We would like to see zero tolerance of this,” she added.

“We encourage social workers who feel conflicted about reporting abuse, threats or violence to access support through their employer, their Union or their professional association, seek advice and to engage with the police,” Sandford-Reed said.