Social worker alleges widespread bullying in Children's Ministry

A social worker who attempted suicide is alleging widespread bullying within the Children's Ministry, Oranga Tamariki.

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1 NEWS has uncovered 10 complaints of workplace bullying but Oranga Tamariki denies having a toxic culture. Source: 1 NEWS

In a special investigation, 1 NEWS has uncovered 10 complaints of workplace bullying.

But Oranga Tamariki denies it has a toxic culture.

Susan Kennedy feared her job would be the death of her.

“I knew going back, it would kill me,” she said.

Three months ago she tried to take her own life, the result, she says, of prolonged workplace bullying at Oranga Tamariki.

“There was a lot of tension within the work environment and the culture, and there was a lot of bullying going on, “ she said.

Ms Kennedy says she was verbally abused by her boss who, “looked me up and down and said ‘you are quite mental, girl’.” 

And Ms Kennedy believes her treatment caused distress which made her seriously ill.

“I got to my pod and I held on to the side of the wall to stop myself from falling over. Feeling like crap, dizzy, head spinning. feeling like I was out of it, I was having a stroke,” she said, becoming emotional. 

That incident prompted her doctor to suggest sick leave. 

“She said, ‘Susan, you can’t go to work.’ And I broke down crying and I said, ‘But I have to ‘cause I won’t get paid.’ Because that was part of the abuse. She said, ‘no, you’ve got a medical certificate.’ I said ,’No, they’re not paying me’.”

In a document, the clinical psychologist who assessed Ms Kennedy five months ago said this case is one of the most concerning she has ever heard from inside a government department. The report concluded that Ms Kennedy’s workplace was a very feasible cause for her physical harm.

More than a year after she quit, Ms Kennedy’s complaint is still not resolved.

She walked away from an $80,000 a year salary to just $300 a week.

“I’ve had to take out the Kiwisaver and all of that, that ending my life was to me the only option to get some peace from this,” she said.

In a statement, Worksafe confirmed it is investigating Oranga Tamariki over reported bullying.

Victims' advocate Allan Halse of Culturesafe is calling for a prosecution.

“Worksafe has been there for  five years. They have never prosecuted a workplace bullying case. And they say that’s because they don’t have medical evidence to do that. In this case we do have the medical evidence,” he said. 

The wellbeing of our staff is very important. And it's something we actively monitor. - Grainne Moss, Oranga Tamariki chief executive

Oranga Tamariki's chief executive, Grainne Moss denies the ministry has a toxic bullying culture, and says it's committed to getting to the bottom of Ms Kennedy’s complaint.

“I care very much about Susan's situation. And we have been working with her advocate and we have been working through the appropriate processes that are safe for her,” she said.

Ms Moss says the ministry takes all reported allegations of misconduct very seriously.

“We have robust processes to investigate and to take appropriate action where needed,” she said. 

“The wellbeing of our staff is very important. And it's something we actively monitor.”

Ms Kennedy says she's now determined to live, to encourage others to speak out.