Ministry for Vulnerable Children leaves an uncertain taste in the mouth

by Anonymous

The opening of the newly formatted Ministry of Vulnerable Children (Oranga Tamariki) has brought uncertainty in the way that it seeks to decrease the abuse of children and young people in Aotearoa New Zealand. One of the key issues that has come to light during the restructuring process is the emphasis of a social investment strategy in the development of approved interventions. Minister Anne Tolley (2017) has endorsed the use of the social investment approach by approving actuarial valuations and evidence based approaches to identify best interventions for vulnerable children. But is the public aware of how this can potentially be a detrimental process?

Two issues in particular sour my taste buds in the social investment approach. The first is how actuarial valuations constrain organisations to a measurement of outcomes which can directly impact practice and the allocation of resources. The second is how an evidence based approach does not always reflect the experiences of practitioners and service users as acceptable knowledge in the process of establishing alternative interventions.

The use of actuarial valuations stems from a neoliberal paradigm of modern politics that pursues an economic perspective of individual rights in the free market, privatisation of government services, and a user pays system, that can significantly impact the distribution of resources (Pease, 2009). The science of actuarial valuation is based on statistics and mathematical equations to calculate the probability of risk. A current actuarial valuation term that is being used is Risk Based Accountability (RBA) (Keevers, Treleaven, Sykes, & Darcy, 2012). The Ministry of Social Development uses RBA as a checklist of direct outcomes that need to be measured for social service organisations to remain eligible for funding from the government. This framework goes against our values of social justice and anti-discriminatory practice as it autocratically forces organisations to comply with interventions developed to obtain such outcomes, and can potentially put children at risk due to the perceived functionality of these developed interventions of practice.

Which brings me to my second point about the perception of evidence and how that evidence influences interventions for practice. Evidence based research is influenced from a positivist perspective which has a deductive nature. It is a scientific method that relies on random control trials to test hypotheses and interpret conclusions. Random control trials are ranked as the gold standard of research with opinions and experience being the least recognised source of evidence. Plath (2006) criticises the transferability of evidence based research toward practice methods asserting limitations that erode its functionality within the contextual nature of social work practice. These limitations are reflected in the interpretive nature of social work that respects subjective opinions and experiences as valid knowledge in the development of identifying interventions of practice that are appropriate for managing the safety of children in New Zealand.

It is important to consider as we wait to see the effects of Oranga Tamariki that we must remain critically reflexive in the processes that are to be developed and ensure that they remain in the best interest of children, young people, and their whanau.


Keevers, L., Treleaven, L., Sykes, C., & Darcy, M. (2012). Made to measure: Taming practices with results-based accountability. Organization Studies33(1), 97-120.

Pease, B. (2009). From evidence-based practice to critical knowledge in post-positivist social work, in Briskman, L, Pease, B and Allan, J (ed), Critical Social Work: Theories and Practices for a Socially Just World. Sydney: Allen and Unwin

Plath, D. (2006). Evidence-based practice: Current issues and future directions. Australian Social Work59(1), 56-72.

Tolley, A. (2017). New Ministry for Vulnerable Children, Oranga Tamariki launched. Retrieved from:


About socialworknz

I'm a social work researcher in Aotearoa New Zealand
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