Running from crisis to crisis looking after over 40 children is the reality for a Government-hired social worker who is crying out for more help.

Recent numbers from Social Development Minister Anne Tolley's office show that there are 66 fewer social workers employed now than there were in 2015. This is despite a recommendation to hire an additional 356 in a 2014 report by the Public Service Association Te PÅ«kenga Here Tikanga Mahi.

A Child Youth and Family social worker, who has been in the industry for 17 years, said they need double the number of social workers if they are to do their job properly.

The social worker, who requested to be known only as Matt, said some social workers have caseloads of over 40 children, whereas an ideal caseload is between 8 to 12. Matt believed the workload had increased significantly since the early 2000s but staffing had remained the same.

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"All we're doing is rushing from fire to fire without spending the time we want to spend doing the work we want to do for New Zealand's most vulnerable children.

"Social workers are passionate people who want to do the best for children but they're spread so thin across so many all you can do is crisis-based work."

A MSD spokesperson said no one reason can be attributed to the slight decline in recent numbers.

"Our absolute priority is hiring frontline staff with the right skills to support vulnerable children. Social work is not unique. Other professions are experiencing similar challenges."

Ministry for Vulnerable Children chief executive Grainne Moss said they will increase staff capacity. Photo / Dean Purcell
Ministry for Vulnerable Children chief executive Grainne Moss said they will increase staff capacity. Photo / Dean Purcell

Tolley said a previous workload review found that around half of CYF staff time is spent on administration. An expert panel found that fewer than a quarter of CYF staff work directly with children in need of care and protection, and less than 1 per cent of staff have a dedicated professional support role, such as psychologists and therapists.

This comes as latest figures show a record number of children - 5453 - were taken into state care in the past year.

The CYF overhaul, called the Ministry for Vulnerable Children, Oranga Tamariki, will bring wide-ranging changes into effect over the next five years. Chief executive Grainne Moss told the Herald that its priority was to ease the administrative burden on frontline staff.

"Work is under way to ease this, so social workers can spend more time with children and young people."

Matt said the result of understaffing was ongoing accumulative harm for at risk children which was "heartbreaking" to watch. He agreed with the overhaul that social workers needed to spend more face-to-face time with families - but that could only be achieved through increasing resourced or they were "doomed".

"If you're left in a situation where you're being abused or have got verbal and physical abuse in your home, it affects the children emotionally, psychologically and physically.

"We've wanted this change [CYF overhaul] and we wanted it to work but unless the resources flow we're doomed."

Green Party social development spokesperson Jan Logie said understaffing social workers is unacceptable. Photo / NZPA / Ross Setford
Green Party social development spokesperson Jan Logie said understaffing social workers is unacceptable. Photo / NZPA / Ross Setford

Greens social development spokeswoman Jan Logie suspected social workers were leaving but not being replaced.

"Social work is a really difficult job. The drop in number tells me the Government hasn't supported social workers to do their job properly.

"It means they are not getting the support they need and it increases the chance of mistakes being made."