Child, Youth and Family (CYF) has rejected a claim it is massaging child abuse statistics to make it appear the number of cases is dropping.
In its annual State of the Nation report - released today - the Salvation Army said some government departments were so focused on meeting targets they had become wilfully ignorant of the effect of policies and were doing the bidding of their ministers.
But that has been disputed by the chief social worker for CYF, Paul Nixon, who said social workers were concerned with their day-to-day cases and were not focussed on targets.
He said discrepancies between child abuse data collected by social workers and the police could be explained by the fact that they each collected different information.
The police collected data on any domestic abuse where there is a child in the house, but CYF only investigated claims of abuse directly against a child.
"If an adolescent has attacked another adolescent, then that wouldn't necessarily be a child protection investigation. We're primarily concerned about children's' living environments and who is looking after them, and the quality and safety of their care."
Former CYF social worker Nicola Atwool, who was on the panel that reviewed caseloads, said while the police and CYF collected child abuse statistics differently, the discrepancies they were reporting warranted a closer look.
"There are some very difficulties when we set those kind of targets and I think they can obscure rather than assist the situation, in terms of increasing the effectiveness of our response."
Social Development Minister Anne Tolley said it was insulting to accuse CYF of cooking the books to make a minister look good.
"Nobody who works in Child Youth and Family, one of the most difficult jobs out there in government, turns up at work every day to cook the books to make a minister look good," she said.
"They're there to make sure that children are kept safe and it's an insult to those people."
Mrs Tolley said the government had set bold targets and did thorough evaluation of its policy outcomes.