Today is Social Workers' Day.

Along with teachers, nurses and others who care for our most vulnerable there would not be a group more deserving of recognition.

Social workers, especially those who work at the "sharp end" of abuse and neglect as those in Child, Youth and Family (CYF) do, have chosen one of the most difficult and challenging roles in our society.

Get it right and you will make an incredible difference for the better to a child's life. Get it wrong and the consequences can be disastrous.


And despite the huge and often unrealistic demands on them, they do get it right in the vast majority of cases. Usually they get little thanks - today is a chance for all of us to do just that - say "thanks".

The bigger issue here is the public view of the work that social workers do. On a daily basis it deals with some of the worst features society can dish up, is often heart-wrenching, sometimes dangerous and almost always very complex.

Most people would not know that this involvement with families is often at multiple levels and requires sophisticated planning.

Social workers must see a child's world in terms of what they experience and need. It's about helping families, caring professionals, communities and caregivers seeing this same complete picture and committing to changing it together.

Over this past year CYF social workers received 150,000 notifications, of which some 10,000 were found to be emotional abuse, 3800 physical abuse and 3500 sexual abuse. Many thousands of cases of neglect were encountered.

Little public recognition is given for this work and social workers never really ask for it.

We need social workers with the courage and expertise to put themselves at the centre of one of the most controversial issues we face in this country - whether or not to remove children from their families when they are in danger.

This is never straightforward, nor is it done lightly.
When something goes tragically wrong the public finds it is easier to blame social workers or other professionals, rather than looking at where the real problem and responsibility for harm lies.

We need to do more to help everyone understand this, because the issues that our social workers deal with belong to all of us, as families, communities and a society.

The problem is that it is also an imprecise science.

When a social worker visits a home, often with the police, a decision must be made about the immediate danger children are in. This is often a very hard call particularly in cases of neglect or family violence.

It is a "damned if you do and damned if you don't" situation.

Our society and our Government and its ministers rightly place the well-being and achievement of children and young people as a top priority for our nation.

We have the Children's Action Plan, the new Ministry for Vulnerable Children, Oranga Tamariki, from early April, and a number of other initiatives across our communities targeting family violence and our most at-risk children and young people.

All of this is very positive and a huge step forward. But it will only work if all of us agree and commit to having a role in this, agree it is a shared problem and recognise that those doing the front line work need to be supported and encouraged in what they do.

So, today spare a thought for all of those dedicated souls who make it their life's work to protect and care for our most vulnerable.

They deserve our support and encouragement. Our kids deserve it.