Evolving our practice approach for COVID-19

Published: April 20, 2020

Oranga Tamariki Chief Social Worker and Deputy Chief Executive Professional Practice Grant Bennett discusses how our practice has evolved as a result of COVID-19.

With COVID-19 changing almost every aspect of life in Aotearoa, our work at Oranga Tamariki – and how we do it – has had to evolve in response to this unprecedented time.

It is crucial that our work continues uninterrupted, as our most vulnerable tamariki, rangatahi and whānau need support now more than ever.

We’re already seeing reports from across the country of increased demand on social services, such as Women's Refuge, and we’re likely to see an increase in safety and wellbeing concerns too.

Grant Bennett
Chief Social Worker Grant Bennett

Big challenges

Now more than ever, our existing relationships with tamariki, whānau, caregivers and partners are helping us to find safe and new ways for people to connect and provide support to each other.

The necessity of physical isolation is making it more challenging than usual to respond to the needs of tamariki, rangatahi and whānau.

Having to drastically reduce person-to-person interaction make it harder to have open, collaborative and trusting engagement. In addition, people are under a great deal of stress, which can make engagement, gathering information, judgement and decision-making all the more difficult.

New responsibilities

We also now have additional key responsibilities that need to be considered, on top of continuing to meet the safety and wellbeing needs of tamariki and rangatahi, and providing support to whānau, caregivers and victims of youth offending.

We must ensure the safety and wellbeing of our workforce, including our caregivers, and consider the health, safety and wellbeing our iwi, Māori and NGO partners. We also need to make sure we’re doing everything we can to actively prevent the further transmission of COVID-19.

Working in different ways

Alongside our usual tasks, we’ve been focussed on developing and sharing new practice approaches that allow us to overcome these challenges. 

We’ve released over 30 new pieces of practice guidance for our social workers, which allow us to be highly innovative, pragmatic and capable of modifying how we usually do things so we can continue our while, while effectively balancing our responsibilities in this complex environment.

For example, our responsibilities under Section 7AA of the Oranga Tamariki Act remain paramount. So, we’ve developed practical guidance on how our teams can continue to prioritise mana tamaiti, whakapapa and whanaungatanga for tamariki Māori over this time.

Keeping connected

Where the requirement for physical isolation prevents us from engaging person-to-person, we’re constantly asking ourselves ‘what could we do instead?’ to foster the maintenance of tikanga, empower whānau in decision-making, and nurture whakapapa connections remotely.

Technology is enabling us to connect and undertake our work, and we are working to address access issues, including providing whānau with the technology they need to enable connection.

Looking to the future

The current journey we are on is an uncertain one. As the situation evolves, we’ll continue to adjust as we learn what works in a time of crisis, and how we can take we’ve learnt with us into the future.

While we may not be able to have the person-to-person interactions we were used to, the range of skills that we use to build trusting relationships with tamariki and whānau remain as relevant and important as ever.

It’s these skills that will allow us to deliver our work – no matter how it’s done – and ensure we keep sight of the people who need us, now and into the future.