A word from the new chief social worker…

Greetings all social workers. As many old hands in the Department will know, I was a social worker  in the Masterton office for many years, which is why I leapt at the chance to transfer to a head office frenzy team, pumping out policy.

So relaxing after working with the families the policies are directed at, until the day we were called to an emergency conference. I sat in the front row to stretch my good leg and loosen the straps on my prosthetic just as applications were called for the chief social worker vacancy. I was last out the door.

I found a note on my desk from Tom Slope, our last chief. Apparently he was needed urgently in his new job as change leader for Otago Health. He asked me to pass on his regrets that his stay with us was cut short. Nevertheless, despite the imminent roll-out of the ‘New Cultural Paradigm,’ he’s confident the 200 page manual he introduced will be extremely valuable. And finally, he’s proud to have been the leader of such passionate, committed, team players.

So now I’m in charge. Bit of a hoot, eh. Beats casework. But not sure what I was supposed to be doing and feeling a bit intimidated by the Minister, I thought, well, I’ll keep away from anything controversial and just talk about common knowledge stuff like what to do about the rural areas like Masterton and Alexandra, Wrong move! She gave me that puzzled stare and said, “It’s being rolled out as we speak. It’s one size fits all.”

Not knowing quite how to respond to this I said, “But they don’t have all the specialists the cites have. They’re too small. They. . .”

“Too small!” she said, as if I’d blasphemed. “But surely you have social workers with community work experience. They can’t all be busy. Get them out of the office to grow the communities until they do fit.”

Growing communities was a new one on me but I didn’t want to show my ignorance. While I was trying to think of something to say the minister rolled her eyes and walked off.

But since this is my first newsletter I’ll finish on a positive note. The good news is that the fundamentals of the job, the things you are long accustomed to, will continue: The impossibility of finding enough suitable foster parents is unchanged.

The new social worker you have just inducted will be gone in three months. Head office frenzy teams will keep churning out new policies, and, of course, every couple of years our department will get a new name. By the way, we are now The Vulnerable chil. . . Sorry, I mean Oranga Tamariki. If that name takes you back to 1925 you’re right. It means Child Welfare.

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Chris Horan

Chris is a former social worker, probation officer and Family Court counsellor, living in Hawea in the South Island.