Today’s social worker of Aotearoa New Zealand: Responding without reacting to a child’s basic needs expressed in bad behaviour

By Sky Norm

Oranga Tamariki believes that in the right environment a child will thrive, however there is no black on white meaning or definition attached to it.  Belonging does not necessarily mean “right” environment. Hope comes with purpose, but how can a social worker incorporate it in practice? With the child as the sole focus of any dialog, would a practitioner actually be able to look at the risk from a child’s family, whanau, hapu or iwi perspective or practice solely on risk aversion for the child only?  Are we still dedicating our social work to crisis deterrence and risk justification on short term only or do we plan to incorporate strengths base approach care and support for not just child, but family overall?

When family (right or “in the wrong”) and culture are the two things removed from the “bad environment” in order to mitigate an urgent crisis, so is the sense of “home” alongside the sense of belonging in any “right environment”. While risk barricades safety, the emotional matter of any individual cannot be suppressd and expected to still develop. Those wide-reaching scopes of changes to improve those deep needs of any children do not stand in a name change of legislation, but rather on legislation that will be practical, just, and mindful of our bi and multicultural nation. Today in Aotearoa New Zealand, a social worker in practice should not just consider family and whanau, but feel supported to practice within an approach based on individual strengths, family and whanau strengths, community strengths, child strengths, and above all, incorporate those strengths to better assist that child in fulfilling his/her needs in living a purposeful life.

If we were to consider social work in retrospect, I want to assume we learn from mistakes; however today my practice will affect another person’s life and my hands could be tied. As a practitioner I do not want to react when the need to assault in order to obtain an answer takes over a child that has not experienced joy or healthy relationships in their lives. I rather want to respond by caring and wanting to understand, decipher, be present, and be just for that child. I want him/her to know that they are not alone and I am here to help. I want to believe that in time that child will trust I am a creative practitioner that will think outside the box to ensure his/ her sense of home and belonging will matter to me, his/ her culture is pivotal and respected to their self and my practice, that I will try my best in advocating for the inclusion of all strengths of those that matter for his/ her wellbeing. Lastly, that I understand his/her growing up culture, that I am proud of his/her resilience given the trauma that has lingered around without being addressed (Ungar, 2005).

I am present, I have hope, and I believe that he/she has a purpose.

“Imagine a world where we build on the core strengths of children, their families, and communities, to create dignity, belonging, and justice for all” Lesley du Toit


Du Toit, L., Laursen, E. (2017). Response Able Practice to Grow Youth Participant Resource Manual. Rap2GrowYouth Training, 22-24th May 2017, Auckland, New Zealand (analysis on practice from South Africa, Canada, and the USA).

National (2017). Ministry Proposes name change for legislation. Retrieved from:

Ungar,  M. (2005). Handbook for Working with Children and Youth, Pathways to Resilience Across Cultures and Contexts. New York: Sage Publications.

Who we are (2017). Ministry for Vulnerable Children Oranga Tamariki. Retrieved from:



About socialworknz

I'm a social work researcher in Aotearoa New Zealand
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