A unique role working at Haumaru Ōrite, Starship Hospital

Published: June 15, 2023 · Updated: June 15, 2023

Geoff is an Oranga Tamariki social worker at Haumaru Ōrite, the acute mental health unit for children and adolescents at Starship Hospital in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland. It’s a unique role, and one he feels privileged to work in.


Geoff Wells: Kia ora koutou katoa, ko Geoff Wells toku ingoa. 

I’m a registered social worker, but currently seconded to the role of Oranga Tamariki project manager for Haumaru Ōrite here at Starship. It is an 18-bed, acute mental health in-patient setting for tamariki and rangatahi aged from 11 years to 18 years.  

Part of the Oranga Tamariki Action Plan is to work with our key partnered agencies to improve and work to best outcomes for our rangatahi and tamariki.  

Collaboration is a very important thing in terms of working together as agencies. So, my role is that I’m the conduit between Oranga Tamariki and Health, and at times with police. We all hold a piece of the jigsaw puzzle, so to speak.  

There’s clinical psychiatrists, there is clinical psychologists, there’s also teachers from the Northern Health Schools, occupational therapists, and nurses on the unit, so there’s a wide variety of people that work with Haumaru Ōrite.  

It’s that sharing information in real time, in terms of bringing people together so that we can ensure there are good plans put in place for when a young person leaves the unit.  

A lot of the children come in with a long history of trauma and have been well known to Oranga Tamariki throughout the years.  

I suppose I’m fortunate and privileged and humbled to be in this role, which is a unique role. But being a survivor of abuse as a child myself and not having a voice has been able to put me in a position where I feel at times I’m that voice for those who don’t have a voice. 

I’ve worn many previous hats in my 61 years. So, I trained and qualified as a chef originally, have waited on the Queen and the Duke, so yes, had a bit of a colourful life.  

Around 19, 20 years ago when I first started working with the previous Child, Youth and Family, I used to bake goods and take them into our National Contact Centre and sell them and raise money. And then from there, that just sort of grew on and to where I now provide up to 400 gift bags per year to kids in need in our communities that would otherwise not receive a gift at Christmas.  

What else have we got in here? These sorts of things which come in handy for kids that you know, have a need. I suppose we take it for granted that families have all these things or can afford all these things, but they can’t. In reality, to spend $10 on this is almost like a meal.  

It’s just something that I personally do ‘cause I want to give back to the community and I feel a bit like Santa, and I’m fortunate enough to be able to.  

After 20 years working as a top chef and caterer, Geoff Wells was nearly 40 when he qualified as a social worker. ‘I wanted to be a voice for those who often don’t have a voice,’ he says.

‘A lot of people ask me that question, do you like your job? It can be a sad space to work in because we see children and young people in crisis, who think they have no support or no one in their life.’

He says however the multi-agency team often see good outcomes. The children and young people are well supported in the unit and when it is time to leave, they are set up with a good plan, with support from community mental health teams, and community services.

Geoff says collaboration is often the key to success. He works alongside doctors, nurses, therapists, and teachers. The different agencies such as Te Whatu Ora, the Police, Ministry of Education or Oranga Tamariki, all hold a different piece of the jigsaw puzzle. ‘We all get around the table and join the dots up to work out the best plan for the young person. It is like all getting in the same waka and paddling in the same direction.’

Giving Back

And when he’s not at work, Geoff can often be found in his garage, which is piled high with children’s clothes, books, toys, and other presents from jigsaw puzzles, to boogie-boards, to paddling pools to beach towels. He has run his own charity for 15 years, and last year gave away about 400 Christmas parcels to local children.

'I normally take annual leave a couple of weeks before Christmas and get to work in Santa’s grotto, sorting everything and putting things into age groups and getting them into Santa sacks ready to distribute.

'Why do I do it? Because I can. I enjoy giving back. I am a great believer in paying it forward.

‘Christmas is a special time, but it can also be a tough time for kids. I believe in my heart of hearts, by giving a child one gift I can make them in that moment forget about what they are worried about and put a smile on their face. That’s priceless.’