Large group of children playing tug-of-war.

Social workers changing children’s lives

28 September 2016.

Today is National Social Workers’ Day. It’s a day to celebrate Social Workers and what they do every day to improve the lives of New Zealand’s most vulnerable children.

Social workers have chosen a hugely demanding, but uniquely rewarding profession. They must have the skill to operate in the hard spaces between government, public and community expectations, the right to family privacy and protecting and enhancing children’s lives. They know all too well how high the stakes are for children and families. They must balance the risks of intervening too early or too late in family life—the consequences of their work are life changing.

This determination to make vulnerable lives better is why social work has always sought to raise public and political awareness about complex risks around children – child abuse and neglect, domestic violence, parental drug and alcohol problems, social injustice and unmet need; often working with the most marginalised people living on the edge of society.

Social work is a fine balance of both art and science. It draws on research and knowledge from psychology, human development, sociology, culture, philosophy while requiring imagination and skill to engage some of the most hard to reach people. It makes sense of children’s needs and wellbeing in the context of their relationships and it creates change through working with families in difficulty, while strengthening resilience and constructive support from wider family and other agencies.

Social work involves managing a myriad of relationships – with children, their families and wider family, community members and other agencies – a major challenge is to get these groups to cooperate around the needs of children.

The profession continues to grow. Social workers will be pivotal to the future success of the new Ministry for Vulnerable Children, Oranga Tamariki. We are determined that social workers will be able to prioritise spending more time with children so they can operate in a more child-centred way. This means being more culturally responsive and working more effectively with Māori and Pacific families; working closer with other agencies and being focussed on the whole child and longer term outcomes.

For social workers integrating into a wider set of services for children these are exciting times.

Paul Nixon
Chief Social Worker
Child, Youth and Family