Advertised position: Social Worker or Miracle Worker?

post by Melina Ubeda Browne

Do you know how many children a typical Oranga Tamariki social worker is responsible for? Did you know that caseloads for social workers at Oranga Tamariki are family based, not individually based?

This means that a typical caseload of an Oranga Tamariki social worker contains ‘cases’ where in one scenario; a case/family may have 3 children involved, but another may have 7 children. Not to mention the cases where multiple children are involved due to being related, household members, or present during a particular event.

This means that a typical Oranga Tamariki social worker with a relatively low caseload of 10 cases/families could potentially be responsible for 30-70 children. Seriously, could anyone ensure the safety and well-being of that many children?

Understanding caseloads is not just about the number of children involved either; many cases are complex, take longer and require higher levels of input while others may need only a short-term intervention or support.

I have 8 years’ experience in frontline social work, 6 of which I spent as a Care and Protection Social Worker at the Grey Lynn and Manurewa offices, and as a Specialist Social Worker in the Engaging Challenging Youth Team (ECY) at the Auckland Regional Office of Child Youth and Family Service (CYFS), now known as Oranga Tamariki.

After all these years, I am not angry, jaded or burnt out (probably due to a loving support system, awareness of self-care, and the amazing management that I fortunately had), however I am undeniably angry that caseloads of social workers are still managed this way.

On the 5th April 2017, a request under the official information act (1982) was made to Child Youth and Family Service (CYFS) now known as Oranga Tamariki. In its response on the 9th August 2017 , Oranga Tamariki representative Batsos (2017) stated “there is no current policy that regulates an optimum level of cases per social worker”(p.22). I ask, why not?

On their website  Oranga-Tamariki (2018) state they “put children’s needs at the heart of what (they) do”, and “create circles of protection and care around children whose wellbeing is at risk”, so how then is something as important as social workers caseloads and capacity left to site-level discretion with no specific policy in place?

In May 2014, the “Workload and Casework Review: Qualitative Review of Social Worker Caseload, Casework and Workload Management” (W&CR) report was led by the Office of the Chief Social Worker and published by the Ministry of Social Development. Its purpose was to better understand the demands and needs of Oranga Tamariki in an ever-changing environment. It asked two key questions:

  • Are social workers working with the right cases, in the right timeframes?

  • Do social workers have the right tools and resources; in order to meet the current demand and deliver quality social work practice and improve outcomes for NZ most vulnerable children and youth?

Uniquely, it had the input of 800 frontline staff and the Public Service Association (PSA), as well as NGO’s and other stakeholders (MSD, 2014).

Since the 2014 report, multiple reviews have taken place, as well as an array of other reports, research and expert panels, all of which acknowledge caseloads as an issue and led to the organisational overhaul of Oranga Tamariki and some new legislation. However, none of these changes have addressed the issue of caseloads, or implemented the W&CR recommendations regarding caseloads, specifically to “define and actively manage caseloads…create organisational policy…data and systems” (p. 79).

In a May 2018 press release discussing the recently announced Government Budget, the Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Workers (ANZASW) said it didn’t go far enough. They would like to see extra funding towards frontline social work and state “there has long been a need for a reduction in unmanageably heavy caseloads” (ANZASW, 2018).

The PSA (2017) stated in their submission to the Government Social Service Select Committee that “the ability of social workers to deliver quality social work services was impeded by…unmanageable case-loads” and were “disappointed that the Government chose to embark on another review” (p. 4), instead of implementing the recommendations in the W&CR urging the Government to go back and implement the W&CR findings; which includes the development of tools for “determining safe caseload volumes” (p. 10).

So, if we all agree that caseloads matter – why is there no policy or tool in place that manages caseloads? And what is a ‘reasonable’ number of children for a social worker to work with in order to be effective?


ANZASW. (2018). More could have been done to tackle urgent social challenges. Retrieved from Scoop Politics website:

Batsos, P. (2017). Official Information Request. Oranga Tamariki-Ministry of Children website Retrieved from

Ciulla, J. B., & Burns, J. M. (2014). Ethics, the Heart of Leadership, 3rd Edition (Vol. Third edition). Santa Barbara, California: Praeger.

MSD. (2014). Workload and Casework Review: Qualitative Review of Social Worker Caseload, Casework and Workload Management. Retrieved from MSD Office of the Chief Social Worker:

Oranga-Tamariki. (2018). About Us. Retrieved from

PSA. (2017). Children, Young Persons and their Families (Advocacy, Workforce and Age Settings) Amendment Bill; PSA submission to Government Social Services Select Committee. Retrieved from file:///C:/Users/melin/AppData/Local/Packages/Microsoft.MicrosoftEdge_8wekyb3d8bbwe/TempState/Downloads/PSA-submission-to-the-CYPF-Advocacy-Workforce-and-Age-Settings-Amendment-Bill-July-2017%20(1).pdf



Author: socialworknz

I'm a social work researcher in Aotearoa New Zealand

One thought on “Advertised position: Social Worker or Miracle Worker?”

  1. Thank you for raising this really important issue, social workers need to start advocating for ourselves so that we can change the system and sustain our mahi for the benefit of those we serve.

    Liked by 1 person

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