The Social Workers Registration Bill: A call to action! 

A guest blog post by Amy Ross of the Social Workers Action Network (SWAN).

Some of you may be aware that a new Social Workers Registration Bill was tabled in the House on the 9th August 2017. This bill aims to move registration from voluntary to mandatory.

Why is this a call to action? Many organisations have been calling for increased recognition and professionalism for years. Indeed the intent was always to move to mandatory at some point. However it turns out that not all forms of registration are equal. The bill, in its current form, represents a major assault on social work and social workers and embeds long standing misunderstanding of and disrespect for social work as a unique and skilled profession.

The core concern in the bill is how social work is defined. Unlike other professions under the Health Practitioners Competency Assurance Act whose profession is defined by a scope of practice[1] the proposal for social work is that the employer essentially defines who is and who is not a social worker.

This will mean that for areas where there are various occupations that are closely related to social work, it will be for employers (or contracting agencies) to make the call as to whether they will require employees to hold the title “social worker”…. The implementation phase should support employers to make good decisions about whether and where they require a “social worker” [2]

For example your employer could decide to keep your job identical but remove the word social work from your title and job description and, like magic, you would not be a social worker. Sure you will be using all your skills, experience and knowledge from social work but that will not count under the new bill.

In the Cabinet Paper it is made clear that allowing more flexibility about who is and is not a social worker is indeed the intent:

A key advantage of the proposed reform is that it does not conflict with existing policy settings designed to enable multidisciplinary practice in the health and social services sectors. These policies allow for the chief executive of the Minister for Vulnerable Children, Oranga Tamariki to delegate social work functions to non-social workers under certain circumstances. [3]

No other profession anywhere in the world has been faced with such an arbitrary and ineffectual protection of title and role. Indeed it gives the impression that social work is so opaque as to be essentially meaningless as a profession. This is emphasised in the Cabinet Paper with the following statement:

…the boundaries of what is and is not social work are not distinct from many other social service and health sector occupations, so it would be impossible to define social work without affecting a wide range of related occupations, which undertake similar tasks and require similar skills. [3]

Implications 

There are a huge range of implication were this bill to progress as is. Key points to consider are:

  • Equal Pay for social workers is currently being negotiated. When we get this in place we are faced with an environment which incentivises employers to employ someone without using the title social worker. Why would they persevere with a social worker when they can hire someone to do the same work without the title and thus avoid the pay rate social workers will attract?
  • Further obfuscation and erasure of social work as a profession. We refute utterly that social work is not unique enough to be defined and recognised in its own right. We have established international definitions to guide us. Being clear about who and what we are is important for us and for the communities we work with.
  • Having “social work tasks” delegated more to non-social workers, as the bill endorses and embeds the idea that social work is “fuzzy” by nature and has no specific purpose. We strongly believe this will lead to social work roles disappearing.

Final word

There are other issues with the bill, particularly in reference to the impact on the NGO sector. For example the Cabinet Paper makes it clear that the cost of registration will be borne by individuals “but ultimately flow to their employers”. [4] Employers will not be funded for this as a part of a contract and will have to attempt to negotiate it if they wish to have any of it covered. For any of you in the NGO sector you no doubt know how tight resources are already, and that organisations are often at the whim of whatever the Government offers. Negotiating for more is not really a position many are in. It is clear increased funding is not high on the Government agenda when it is actually recommended as a potential solution to the increased cost implications of registration sector that NGOS “consider whether to amalgamate with other NGOs”. [5]

We will be providing you with more information on this as the bill progresses, and have already forged links with the wider sector who are also really concerned about this. We will be submitting to the select committee process and will be mobilising any of you who are keen to also submit and/or support other submitters.

If you are not signed up to SWAN please do so now: we need you so we can be mobile and active on this and other issues facing social work. You can do this by phoning the organising centre on 0508367772 or by going into your MYPSA account and ticking the join SWAN box.

Please feel free to get in touch with any questions/ideas.

Kia kaha,

Amy Ross

Footnotes

[1]  A scope of practice is a document written by and agreed with the profession that defines the work undertaken by its members, where and how they work and the principles/ethics that underpin the profession. See for example the Occupational Therapists Scope of Practice.

[2] Regulatory Impact Statement: Legislative changes to increase the professionalism of the social work workforce

[3] Paragraph 33 Cabinet paper

[4] Paragraph 123 Cabinet paper

[5] Ibid.

5 thoughts on “The Social Workers Registration Bill: A call to action! 

  1. It seems so ironic that just at the moment when we should be able to proudly claim our professional identity by having its title protected at last, we are undermined as a profession by a government which seems hell bent on dividing us, disrespecting the knowledge and value base that is distinctly and uniquely ours. It doesn’t surprise me in a way – social work is a profession that ‘promotes social change and development, social cohesion, and the empowerment and liberation of people. Principles of social justice, human rights, collective responsibility and respect for diversities are central to social work…’ from the 2014 Global definition of Social Work, IFSW. As such we are a threat to a government which has presided over such growing inequality, continues to marginalise the most vulnerable and under whose leadership we now have the dubious distinction of having one of the highest rates of homelessness in the OECD. Thanks Amy, SWAN , the PSA and ANZASW for leading a response on this. We need to remember what unites us, what our common values are rather than the differences that come from the different focuses we have in respective roles. I hope all of us can get involved in the effort to change the draft legislation – the alternative doesn’t bear thinking about.

  2. I’m with you on needing to address this Amy, whoever is the new government should be a target for our focus on the integrity of our social work profession.

  3. This is a real concern and is evident today in childrens teams,where it is openly promoted that any one can be a lead professional.They want as many people as possible to be lead professionals- so what this means is,that you go into a families home,who are some of the most vulnerable,complex families you can think off and you do your best to monitor or hold this family while you search for the specialist services required. Unfortunately nothing changes as there are no specialists out there,because the profession has been ‘dumbed down’ so much because we let it happen,right in front of our eyes.Oranga Tamariki need to grow some here folks,as they have and are letting this profession down big time by not speaking up and accepting politicians ideas,who clearly have no idea.How can they go out and even try and strengthen a family when their own home is riddled with power and control- they live and work in a place of fear and where does fear come from -ignorance.Sorry,I don’t want some ignorant,non qualified,lead professional -oops,I mean social worker telling me much to do about nothing!
    It’s a sad state of affairs out there folks and I can only hope that a change of government may lead to some brighter days,as this govt have all but done their best to destroy this profession.

  4. I am horrified to think that the very powerful statutory role accorded to Social Workers within Oranga Tamariki would be given to people who are unqualified, unassessed to be competent and unbound by ethical practice standards.
    In fact I don’t think the Courts would endorse such a practice as the statutory role is afforded by an act of Parliament and the repeal of the CYPF Act would be required and another piece of legislation take its place (with all that would require e.g. select committee).
    This would be a dangerous and unethical development in the complex area of child care and protection – I can see the damage done to children and the future law suits piling up around any decisions made by Oranga Tamariki.
    This is akin to certifying a building as meeting the required standards yet built by a DIY person maybe with good intentions but no professional body oversight that ensures they meet the required building regulations. Dangerous!

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