Oranga Tamariki boss not sure how many more social workers are needed

The Government has launched its new Ministry for Vulnerable Children, Oranga Tamariki.

Its predecessor - Child, Youth and Family - was restructured 14 times, but the number of children in care has continued to grow.

Oranga Tamariki chief executive Grainne Moss says the ministry will need more social workers, but she cannot put a figure on how many are needed, despite doing needs analysis "all the time".

Ministry social workers have told The Nation they're overworked and stressed, and in Auckland alone at least 50 more are needed.

"The issue is they need to be the right social workers, at the right time, in the right place with the right skills and support," Ms Moss told host Lisa Owen.

Currently the ministry has about 1250 social workers across New Zealand, and funds another 1500 social workers in the community, she says.

Ms Moss can't give a figure on how many more are needed because of the ongoing changes in the needs of at-risk children, but tools like a new app are helping reduce staff workload.

"What social workers are telling us is that will potentially save 25 percent of their time.

"So in effect, by using the right tools you can increase the capability of your current social worker pool."

The amount of face-time social workers get with families is currently about 25 percent. Ms Moss wants it to be 40 percent.

It comes after extra social workers were sent to Masterton where judges raised concerns a backlog of cases were potentially endangering a number of children.

The ministry's social worker team in the town had dropped from 12 to just four at one point, RNZ reported.

Ms Moss admits there are problems that need to be addressed.

"We need to change that and we have taken a number of steps."

However, she made no sign that social workers, or carers, with the ministry will be paid more, despite about 50 percent of carers being on benefits.

"What's optimal is a really loving environment, and that's the first thing we need to look for.

"The caregivers we're working with are telling us the main priority is training and support."

Ms Moss says she is confident the ministry has enough money to allow it to achieve its early goals.