Northland principals are calling for changes to Oranga Tamariki after a new survey revealed school leaders in the region lack confidence in the organisation's ability to ensure children's safety.
The Te Tai Tokerau Principals' Association (TTPA) surveyed school leaders in Northland - with 72 principals responding - about their experiences dealing with Oranga Tamariki.
When principals were asked if they had confidence that when they referred children to Oranga Tamariki, the organisation's intervention would ensure the child is safe and the reason for the referral is taken care of - 61 principals - 84.7 per cent - said no.
Pat Newman, TTPA president and principal of Hora Hora Primary School, said he expected there to be some negativity - but the final results shocked him.
"I was absolutely blown away, shocked - you name it. I said 'bloody hell' all the way through."
Newman said schools were quite often the ones making referrals to Oranga Tamariki, and principals were finding it was taking too long to get responses.
He said it was "soul-destroying" waiting for Oranga Tamariki, and not seeing any results at times.
"You go through emotions of anger - because you know what needs doing - you go through frustration, you're pouring that many resources into helping these children and yet you're spending more time fighting the agency that is supposed to be protecting them."
When the survey asked if there had been a dramatic improvement in service from the days of Child, Youth and Family (CYF), six principals - 8.3 per cent - said yes, 44- 61.1 per cent - said no, and 22 - or 30.6 per cent - said they did not have enough experience to answer.
Newman said the organisation and its leadership needed to understand what good practise was, follow the Vulnerable Children's Act, work as a team with other agencies and understand that schools may know more about the families than they do.
"Above all - they need to bring in some sort of community oversight or accountability," he said.
Rena Hona, Oranga Tamariki Te Tai Tokerau regional manager, said without details of specific cases and concerns, it was difficult to respond to the general claims made in the survey.
She said the organisation recognised schools were an important network in keeping children and young people safe, and teams worked closely with principals and schools.
She said schools could contact her or site managers about concerns they may have.
Hona said the Whangārei North site had implemented a new process where each school in the area has an allocated social worker, and it hoped to roll out similar initiatives at other sites.
"The aim is to improve communication and cooperation with schools to ensure we are working together effectively to support children and young people.
"Feedback from schools so far has indicated this is a step in the right direction," she said.
Hona also said despite the survey showing nearly half of responding principals said Oranga Tamariki were not always honest and truthful, she was not aware of any instances of staff lying.
"I encourage anyone with concerns to reach out to me directly," she said.
Paul Barker, principal of Kaeo Primary School, said it was clear Oranga Tamariki staff were "overworked" and trying to do their best with the resources that they have.
"You know when you look at America and go 'that's a crazy country' well the people and individuals aren't, but it's what happens there. I think the people are trying very hard to do the work but they're just swamped."
Barker said the lack of resources was affecting children, but he had never seen an Oranga Tamariki employee in his office who did not care about the safety of children.
"I have seen a whole lot of them run ragged, spending as little time as possible because they've got to get on to the next one," he said.
Meanwhile, the day Marilyn Dunn, principal of Ruakākā School, spoke to the Advocate she had spent all day trying to get hold of Oranga Tamariki.
She said the organisation put her through to a social worker, but after 35 minutes on the line no one answered the phone. She gave up and called them back and they said they would send her a form, but she never received it.
She called again and waited on the phone until she received the form which was "complicated" and time-consuming.
"It's really really frustrating. And then knowing that nothing will come of it anyway, that they won't even look at it probably until tomorrow or the next day."
Dunn said this was a pretty typical experience with Oranga Tamariki and depending on the situation, it could take up to two or three weeks before action is taken after the school has made a notification.
"For me to notify them, it's not a two to three to week away problem it's a today problem," she said.
She said other than the name change she hadn't noticed a difference between CYF and Oranga Tamariki, but changes were needed.
"What I would like to see is that when I put a notification in today, I would like somebody to come back to me by the end of the day. To even phone me and say 'can you give me more details' and then they can make a decision on whether or not they act that day.
"Or they can tell me what they're going to do and when they've done whatever they're going to do to follow up and say 'look we know the kids going to be safe now we've done this.'"