Schools welcome social workers

By Sonya Bateson


Bay students in eight low decile schools will soon have access to social workers under the Government's new Social Workers in Schools programme.

All low decile schools throughout the country will receive support from a social worker by the end of this school term. The Social Workers in Schools programme aims to help children who have poor attendance or engagement in school, social or behavioural problems, or are experiencing grief or loss.

The programme has already been in place in Te Puke Intermediate, Merivale School and Gate Pa School for a number of years.

Te Puke Intermediate principal Jill Weldon said they had signed up to a pilot programme more than 10 years ago.

"It's amazing the work the social worker does - not just for students but also their parents. For our staff it means the social worker can help address some of the social inequality issues that arise for some of our kids, which takes the pressure off them. She's often the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff but she can also help pick things up before they become an issue."

Mrs Weldon said their social worker also ran programmes for parents and had a good relationship with them as she was a Te Puke local who knew the community well.

"She doesn't work for CYF, she works for us to help provide services to our kids. Some people make the assumption that because she's a social worker there's a negative connotation to that but for anybody involved with her it's a really positive experience."

Gate Pa School principal Richard Inder said his school shared a social worker with Merivale School and it was a "wonderful resource" for teachers and parents.

"From a school point of view, we deal with a whole range of issues. We're often asked to help but don't have the expertise to help or point in the right direction. These social workers are trained and have the resources and skills for that. For us, in reality, we could use a social worker full time. Without them it would make our job much harder."

A Ministry of Social Development spokesperson said in recent years there had been strong demand from schools for specialist support for children to deal with their increasingly complex needs, resulting in Minister Paula Bennett expanding the programme to all decile 1-3 primary schools.

The spokesperson said the range of issues dealt with by the social workers was broad and often involved complex family situations. The providers were recruiting their new social workers who would begin working in schools during term three, as soon as the recruitment process was complete.

Three schools spoken to by the Bay of Plenty Times who were to be a part of the programme's expansion said they were pleased to be involved, but had not yet had the programme explained to them or how they would benefit from it.

Greerton Village School principal Anne Mackintosh said she hoped it would be a co-operative situation that would work in well with the school.

"Anything that benefits our students and families has to be a good thing, it's really strengthening the bridge into the community. That's how I hope it will work, it's important they work closely with us so we're all on the same page. We do pride ourselves on working hard with our families."

Te Puke Primary principal Shane Cunliffe said he was waiting eagerly for their social worker to start. He said it would be another resource for students to communicate with aside from their teachers and whanau.

Te Kura o Matapihi tumuaki (principal) Tui Yeager said she was not sure what the programme would look like but said it could only be a positive thing.


Issues dealt with by social workers in schools

Supporting children to attend and engage in school

Helping build resilience

Helping children know how to manage difficult situations and who to go to for help

Introducing strategies to respond to and reduce bullying

Helping children make friends and maintain relationships at school

Helping the transition process when children move schools

Providing support to families

- Bay of Plenty Times

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