Being a Ministry of Social Development client

Recent stories about the decline of trust between M.S.D. agencies and their clients has had me thinking about my own experiences. As someone who has dealt with Department of Work and Income New Zealand and Study Link, and was in and out of M.S.D. offices sporadically between 2000-2007; 2011-2013, I thought it useful to describe the process and atmosphere of an M.S.D. office during work hours.

Over the 8 years, the Ministry of Social Development and its umbrella agencies have been on a slow but consistently downhill slide. This both in terms of the quality of work that is being done with regards to client satisfaction, as well as treatment of those clients in terms of maintaining mutual respect and trust. The issues being raised as a result of this loss of trust and respect has damaging ramifications for both the case manager and the staff involved.

Some of the loss of trust and respect is wholly avoidable and would be solved by requiring all staff to attend a course where they are taught how to differentiate between client types. I believe that broad groups of clients exist:

  • The genuine client – most will fall into this group. The problems that sent them to an M.S.D. agency in the first place are beyond their reasonable means of control, and may contribute to an unfavourable statistic such as child abuse or not being able to afford appropriate care.
  • The unlucky client – the ones in this category are not necessarily fake, but are dawdling because they are out of the Ministries legal scope of responsibility, and thus cannot qualify for care; their case has bounced around between agencies for any number of reasons and they have sort of given up on trying.
  • The fakes – these are the minority who are simply too lazy to help themselves, or are criminals playing the systeme. These are the ones who deserve no sympathy or help. But they are a fairly minor part of a large number of people who have failed or are being failed by the system.
  • The M.S.D. fails – people who the system has failed. They were genuine as they could be. They did everything right and should in any other circumstance fall into the first group. Except that Ministry of Social Development has at one or more levels failed to do due diligence on this particular client and s/he has fallen through the cracks with serious consequences

There is a palpable concern that when one goes into an M.S.D. office, that they are not going to get treated with due respect, thus making them wary of the people who are supposed to be helping, instead of establishing mutual trust. The atmosphere is cool and the staff give the impression at times of being disinterested, laced with suspicion of the person on the other side of the desk.

Some of the clients show a similar lack of regard for those across the desk. Staff have been assaulted, abused, had things thrown at them or flaming rows that have attracted attention. None justified of course and some of the clients have been deserving of the punishment they had meted out.

One might be made to wait for an unknown length of time before being introduced to their case manager, who upon meeting the client makes a judgement quickly about the type of person they are. Despite being supposed to have information about ones history with the M.S.D. agencies at their finger tips, case managers often ask questions that give the impression of there being no record of oneself on their database.

A form might be presented for you to fill out. Sometimes it is necessary, but other times it seems like a simple repeat of writing out information that was probably filled out at the time of requesting the meeting. You hand it back and the case manager looks over the information. If you are lucky, they then action the request. If you are unlucky, another meeting awaits. The meeting itself might have been delayed a few days. All of this is critical time in both the case of the agency or agencies, as well as the client.

It can be a thankless task. Whilst I am sure the majority of case managers are genuinely good people who care, it only takes a few eggs to remind you why many people regard the Ministry and its umbrella agencies with suspicion. And why – even though murder is the gravest of offences, and can never be condoned for any reason – the sickening reality is that another shooting in an M.S.D. office could happen.

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