The Nurses Organisation says new Children's Teams intended to help at-risk kids are critically under-resourced.
Children's Teams were devised to help take lower-priority cases from the Child Youth and Family, and involve public health nurses assessing the needs of individual at-risk children and the co-ordinating wraparound support for them and their family.
But Nurse's Organisation's associate professional services manager Hilary Graham-Smith told Nine to Noon there simply weren't enough resources for the huge amount of work required of the teams.
She said in some places, such as Waikato, the actual amount of work had been almost triple what was predicted.
"But this issue is not just limited to particular Children's Teams, we've had concerns expressed from around the country about the complexity, the depth and breadth of this work and the resource that it requires," she said.
"Our concern is that in their planning for the Children's Action Programme, and the work of the Children's Teams, there was an underestimate of the level and the complexity of the needs of vulnerable children and their families. It was very optimistic that existing resources would absorb this emerging need," she said.
Ms Graham-Smith said some staff also feel they lack training, and some are worried about their safety when they have to go into gang affiliated homes or homes where there is domestic violence.
"Sometimes public health nurses are having to go into homes where there may be risk of violence, drug uses etcetera and that's very concerning and worrying that they should be doing that work, potentially on their own."
She said some people have already resigned since the new structure has been in place.
"I think that's probably attributable to not being entirely clear about what the work would involve and how complex it was.
"The pressure of the work has been a contributor, where people have felt poorly resourced and inadequate.
"And I guess for our nurses it's what we'd describe as moral distress, being unable to deliver, being unable to provide the care that they want to provide because of the lack of resource."
She added that being unable to deliver put nurses under "moral distress".
The Children's Action Plan, an inter-agency collaboration involving the Ministry of Social Development, said it had met with the New Zealand Nurses Organisation to work with them over the issues last week.
"We particularly take safety issues in our [Children's] Teams very seriously," its National Directorate Sue Mackwell said.
"Children's Team directors must undertake a risk assessment for all offsite visits. They don't send out lead professionals into families' homes if they have the slightest concern for their safety."