Schools thrilled with new social workers

POSITIVE MOVE: Social worker Anna Bern, left, and Glen Taylor School principal Lin Avery are very supportive of the expansion of the Social Workers in Schools programme.
POSITIVE MOVE: Social worker Anna Bern, left, and Glen Taylor School principal Lin Avery are very supportive of the expansion of the Social Workers in Schools programme.

Several East Auckland schools have a new staff member joining them from this term and principals are thrilled.

Six primary schools in the Tamaki area are included in the expansion of the Government's Social Workers in Schools (SWiS) programme, which targets low decile primary and intermediate schools and began as a pilot in 1999.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett announced the expansion of the programme to all decile 1 to 3 schools last year.

Thirty-five full-time social workers are starting the 2013 school year at primary schools in Kaipara, greater Auckland and the South Island.

The staged expansion will be completed in term 3 when all 673 decile 1 to 3 primary and intermediate schools around the country will have access to a social worker.

Ruapotaka Primary has just become part of the initiative.

Principal Gael Vickers says it will be a great resource for families to draw on but it will be an adjustment for them.

"It's going to take time for parents to accept this new person but once they do, it'll be good."

Glenbrae School principal Leslie Elia is "delighted" with the news her school will receive a social worker.

"We've been desperately needing a social worker. The school works really hard to have a strong relationship with families and I think this will help to strengthen it even more," Ms Elia says.

Panmure Bridge Primary will share a social worker with Glenbrae School. Principal Richard Johnston says it will enable teachers to stay focused on teaching.

"It's just another service that we can call upon that doesn't take away teacher time. I'm really keen to meet the person and see how we can make it work."

Glen Taylor School and St Patrick's School have shared a social worker for more than 10 years.

The school's SWiS worker Anna Bern spends every Friday at St Patrick's and the other days at Glen Taylor School but this distribution is flexible, she says.

"Sometimes I'll be at Glen Taylor School but I might be working on something for St Patrick's. The schools are really understanding."

Her role is one of support: "I am here to provide early intervention and prevention and help children to improve their engagement at school.

"My aim is to take a little bit of the load off teachers because we know social issues can directly impact on what's happening in the classroom."

Ms Avery says Miss Bern is a "wonderful support".

"It makes an enormous difference just knowing there is someone with social work training who is here to help."

More often than not issues in the family underlie behavioural problems and it's better if problems are detected early, she says.

"If families have good support then their children can become productive, contributing members of society. Otherwise they just have more barriers to overcome."

St Patrick's School principal Carmel Bullot agrees the programme is a great opportunity for schools.

"It's all about enabling the students and their families to achieve success in their lives and at school."

The SWiS workers can help with just about anything, she says.

"Anna will make home visits. She will advocate on behalf of families if they need help with WINZ or Housing New Zealand as well as make referrals to health services."

East And Bays Courier