New research released by Oranga Tamariki shows that the Social Workers in Schools (SWiS) programme may be contributing to positive outcomes for many student groups.

Using anonymised data from the Statistics NZ’s Integrated Data Infrastructure (IDI), the researchers looked at the impact of SWiS on stand-downs and suspensions, care and protection notifications, and Police apprehensions for alleged offending.

It found encouraging results for some student groups that may be attributable to SWiS.

For example, Māori boys enrolled in SWiS base schools showed a drop in rates of police apprehensions compared to Māori boys in schools that did not get SWiS in the expansion. And for Pacific students there were lower rates of care and protection notifications to Child, Youth and Family (the predecessor to Oranga Tamariki).

However, for kura kaupapa Māori, no evidence was found that the impact of the expansion of SWiS was different compared with mainstream schools.

The SWiS programme began in 1999 and was expanded in 2000 and 2001 into 170 schools, and again between 2005 and 2007 to school clusters where at least 60 percent of students were in decile 1-3 schools, taking the number to about 300 schools. In 2012/13, the service was extended to all schools and kura that were decile 1-3 at the time, covering school years 1-8. This expansion increased the number of schools and kura served from 300 to 700.

The research looked at student outcomes in schools that received SWiS services as part of the 2012/13 expansion, compared with students from decile 4-5 schools that were unaffected by the expansion. It also looked at students from decile 1-3 schools that received SWiS before 2012/13 that were unaffected by the expansion.

The researchers note in the report some limitations with the research, noting that the data-driven results should be analysed alongside qualitative evidence, such as what SWiS workers actually do as part of their work, and the range of outcomes.

Vasantha Krishnan of Oranga Tamariki says it is the first time the effectiveness of the SWiS programme has been analysed in this way and is pleasing to see some positive trends emerging from the research.

Krishnan says one of the big take-outs from the research was the importance of supporting students at times of transition, particularly as they moved to Year 7 and 8.

Principal of Tarawera High School Helen Tuhoro agrees the SWiS programme plays an important role for these year levels. She says her school is privileged to have the Kawerau community’s two SWiS workers working with their Year 7 and 8 students. The two workers are shared between the four schools in the community.

Tuhoro says having a male Māori SWiS has seen huge benefits for their students and their whanau.

“He works tirelessly to support and advise on personal, learning and family issues. His role as advocate and mentor has enabled our students to develop greater self-esteem and confidence and largely given them hope for their future.

“The commitment to our ākonga is amazing and having the desired outcomes of the role, allowing our students to continue with their daily lives using new strategies and approaches to cope with whatever situation may arise.”

However, Tuhoro points out that it isn’t an easy position to fill.

“It has not been an easy-to-staff position and we are on our sixth SWIS in five years. However we have finally found a person that connects with our students and is passionate in his work.”

According to Oranga Tamariki, one social worker serves a school or cluster of schools and kura with a total roll of between 400 and 700 students.

The government spends $21.4 million annually on the programme.

Krishnan says there are still decisions being made about the future direction of the SWiS programme and that the research will help inform any longer-term strategic thinking.

The full paper The impact of Social Workers in Schools: A preliminary investigation using linked administrative data can be read here.

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