An opportunity missed? A failure to listen? And whose advice was privileged?

Beehive, NZ government building.

A guest blog post by Kieran O’Donoghue, Associate Professor in Social Work, Massey University.


Tena Koutou Katoa,

The Social and Community Services Select Committee report published on 13 April 2018, is an example of an opportunity missed in regard to protecting the public and enhancing the professionalism of social work.  It is also an example of the Committee failing to listen to the majority of submitters, whilst at the same time raising questions about whose advice was privileged and why?

The opportunity missed is a scope of practice model of registration. A scope of practice would have set the boundaries of what is social work practice and what it is not. It would have made it clear where the boundaries are for social workers and how we differ from other professions and groups in the social services. It also would provide the starting point for specialist scopes of practice to be developed for fields of practice such as, child protection, youth justice, heath social work, mental health social work, kaimahi ora and pacific social work practice. Empowering the Social Workers Registration Board to define the scope of social work practice would also set a precedent for the wider social services workforce, which is diverse and includes counsellors, youth workers, support workers, community workers, social entrepreneurs and others. It could also further the workforce development of the social services sector, because it would provide a model for other groups, such as youth work, counselling and support work to define their scope of practice. This is important because the social services and social development sector is likely to become a key field of work in the future, as the nature of work changes through automation. A scope of practice-based registration of social workers provides a policy framework that starts to plan for these changes. It also mirrors that used in the Health professions covered by the Health Practitioners Competency Assurance Act 2003. Notably, the health sector is a major employer of social workers and there is a clear role for social workers across health in addressing the social determinants of health.

The Select Committee report indicates both a failure to listen and a failure to give the scope of practice due consideration. This is particularly evident in the timeframe of the early release of the report on 13 April, when it is due back on 30 April, and the National party members’ minority opinion concerning “the restricted timeframe not giving the committee sufficient time to fully consider the submitters issues.” It is also apparent in the comment on page 7 where the report states, “Some of us consider that scopes of practice should have been explored further.”

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Further evidence of the Committee’s failure to listen is that they seem to confuse professional social work with unregulated support work and general helping when talking about workforce planning on pages 7 -8, and express an interest in advancing the workforce development for non-regulated social support workers.

The select committee report is also reflective of a Government knows best discourse, by following the advice of the Ministry of Social Development in its report dated 4 April 2018 over the majority evidence of the submitters and the advice of the Social Workers Registration Board, the Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Workers, the Social Services Providers Aotearoa, and the Tangata Whenua Association of Social Workers. The Ministry of Social Development’s advice is flawed and fails to acknowledge the work done by the SWRB already in regard to establishing a scope of practice (see: http://swrb.govt.nz/download/when-an-annual-practising-certificate-is-required/).

The conclusion that I am left with is the bureaucrats have once again gained control of the social work profession and want to manage social work and social workers under a neoliberal managerialist ideology.

Going forward the challenge that social workers face should the Bill pass in its current form is to claim our professional identity, hold ourselves to be social workers and be a member professional body such as the Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Worker and/or the Tangata Whenua Association of Social Workers. In other words we take ownership of clauses b and c in Section 6AAB which state:

A person is practising as a social worker for the purposes of this Act (and practises and willing to practise as a social worker have corresponding meanings) if that person—

(b) in undertaking any work for gain or reward, holds himself or herself out to be a social worker:

(c) holds a position, in a voluntary capacity or as a member of any body or organisation, that is described using the words “social worker” or “social work”

Kia Kaha,

Kieran.

For further information please see the following.

Social Workers Registration Legislation Bill- Submissions and advice

Social Workers Registration Legislation Bill – Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Workers (ANZASW)

Social Workers Registration Legislation Bill – Ministry of Social Development Departmental Report 2018 04 09

Social Workers Registration Legislation Bill – Social Service Providers Aotearoa

Social Workers Registration Legislation Bill – Social Workers Registration Board

Social Workers Registration Legislation Bill – Social Workers Registration Board Supp 1

Social Workers Registration Legislation Bill – Social Workers Registration Board scope of practice

Social Workers Registration Legislation Bill – Tangata Whenua Social Workers Association supp 1

9 thoughts on “An opportunity missed? A failure to listen? And whose advice was privileged?

  1. I am reluctant to join this conversation save for the fact that this discussion “What is social work and who is a social worker?” has been going on since I stared doing the work in 1975 at Wellington Hospital. I am still doing the work as a (part time) family therapist. Perhaps it really is an issue of how we regard ourselves; which is the only meaningful way to interpret the sections 5&6 which are tautologies and therefore quite useless in defining social work. Try substituting doctor for social worker and you will get what I mean. Personally I think it (SW professionalism) is a lost cause when it can cover everything from a narrative therapy to delivering meals on wheels. Perhaps we should accept that it is the attitude to service that counts for the clients. Research indicates that the relationship between worker and client is the greatest indicator of a successful outcome and having a qualification or registration is no guarantee of a that. But publically funded services and “professionals” have to be accountable to their clients and the community and so back to the debate and the place that we started from. Good luck with this Kieran.

  2. I couldn’t disagree more, Kieran. As a social worker with 40 years experience, I still struggle to explain to professionals and my clients what social work actually is, and how it differs from other occupations. I think we have got a bit above ourselves over the last 30 years, focusing on being so -called professionals, rather than on social justice which is meant to be the raison d’etre of what we do. How different things might have been, if we had stuck to social justice and opposed the right wing revolution of the 80s, rather than getting bogged down with competency and registration. Social work is a socially defined task, not a profession. As such, it makes sense for the funders to define what they are willing to pay for. We should certainly make the case that they should fund social workers who have excellent initial training, and ongoing training and supervision. The problem is, the last government and perhaps this one, are not so keen on footing the full cost of this, especially in Oranga Tamariki and the NGO sector. I see the real fight for social work being in a union struggle for improved wages and conditions, rather than an unwinnable battle about what is social work.

    1. I respect your comment and one would imagine a social worker of your wealth of 40 year experience would indoctrinate the social justice for your clients every day.
      As a social worker working,working for the NGO Services for almost 10 years now and assisting and advocating for the most vulnerable people in life. Many other health professionals and many clients,that contact myself and other social workers on a daily basis,certainly fully understand what our job role is. I certainly would hope so and feel proud that they do. Otherwise they would not be seeking our assistance and specific knowledge in the various areas we work in.We are soooooo used to juggling many balls, to assist our most vulnerable clients in every aspect of their life. Thankyou to all the other wonderful Health Professionals, that I work alongside with. Thanks for acknowledging our profession and working in together and for the hundreds of phone calls of referrals to integrate our social work theories of practice with clients.Also on a practical note to help them, get social housing,negotiating with Winz,networking with Doctors,nurses Workplace Employment,ACC,getting food parcels for families.Obtaining petrol vouchers sometimes to put in the clients thirsty tanks,when they run dry. Taking clients to the Foundation of the Blind,Aspire and many disability places to get equipment etc etc. Seeking foster care homes for some of the children,many clients appreciate having a social worker,they have said to me that it has certainly helped their wellbeing.. Must slpi of to bed now as Im thinking about filling in all the reports and paper work,thankgoodness for a few stiff coffees during the day.. Also thinking of the years Ive spent obtaining blankets,heaters food parcels,dealing with emergency Crisis situations. Thankgoodess for all the great people I liase with so I can help my clients. I am so grateful to the many clients that fully understand what we do and just appreciate it and thats fantastic !. Thankyou Kieran and also our PSA delegates,your doing a wonderful job!. Keep it all UP, You have many social workers support and appreciation, give it heaps..

    2. Nice commenets Jackie and you are spot on as far as the government not being real about resourcing ‘best practise’,especially OT.
      I think your right in terms of the fight should be in better wages(especially NGO’S) and conditions. We have NGO S/W’s (and other various job titles that they have been given by their employers) doing very complex ,risk ladened and heavy work.Some of these workers are recieving as little as half of what their conterparts may be earning at OT and no one can tell me that that they working any less harder and smarter.This is shocking and we need a strong professional body out there working to lessen this gap.
      Thank you for pointing out some key points and hopefully this can gain momentum !
      Regards
      Phill

  3. Hugely disappointing result and yes a continuation of the neo- liberal agenda. Thanks Keiran for summing this up so clearly. We all need to consider how best to push back at this piece of bureaucratic nonsense.

  4. Impossible to understand this decision without context and that context is the Social Investment Model. English,s flagship for health and social sector, which, while being compltely flawed and unjust, looks like being pushed onward by Labour.

    1. Its very interesting reading all these articles and opinions and feedback-I appreceiate it and the opportunity to have my say.I msut admit it is getting really frustrating -trying to hold a professional standing out there in the ‘world’ of Social Work.I have been practising for 20 years and even to this day I work alongside other professionals who do not know what it is that I do. As a trained Family Therapist and qualified ,registered S/W -I often will find myself labeling myself as a family therapist ,as it seems to be easier to explain and also seems to gain more respect than the title of Social Worker.Dont get me wrong I am proud of both of these titles.I shouldnt be in this position.
      What this whole issue has raised for me is that I feel ‘burnt’ by the system-I feel like S/W have been taken for a huge ride,taken advantage of and still are!Why? For at least 10 years we have been told by employers that you must be registered and qualified to work here and do this role.So what do people do-they get registered.The thing is ,that there is no mandatory law to say we should be or need be.I have supported mandatory registration for all this time,as I thought this was the thing to do as it would protect us and raise our profile and assist in the journey to be considred professional.
      How much money have we all paid into this scheme,into the pockets of these government employers-millions to keep this little machine going for all this time and for what? I have not recieved nothing,apart from a little plastic card with my photo on-why-I dont need it-I dont use it-we have been scamed big time folks! Someone made an earlier comment about being part of the registration board is to be part of a professional body. No-this is not the case.ANZASW are our professional body(whats left of them)and thats where I am going(as I have all along) to focus my attention and funds to.
      I would like to throw out the challenge to all s/w ,that this is where we focus -on bringing ANZASW back into the limelight and based in Wellington,so they can be at the centre of where these decisions are being made.Once we have a strong voice there,we can inform the government(not the other way around) on what we need the registration board to look like and what a S/W’s role is.
      Like the many voices being raised at the moment-we need to take back charge here folks advocate for ourselves for a change!

      1. Hi Phil
        Good to see many comments on the registration legislation issue. My response to your points is to say that since 2003 the SWRB has basically done what it says on the tin. It has registered social workers. The SWRA only empowers a few things – registration of social workers who apply and are eligible, the recognition of social work education programmes for the purpose of determining registration of individuals. In the latter function they have stretched rather a long way, as might be expected, by slowly ratcheting up the influence on schools of social work via conditions they can set for social work qualifications to be deemed ‘recognised’. They have for example raised the BSW from 3 to 4 years and required teaching staff to have master’s degrees. These are decisions that not everyone agrees with but the SWRB legally can impose such changes. The SWRB can also require competency assessments, CPD and supervision for the annual practising certificate. And it is required by law to set up an manage a disciplinary tribunal. All of these functions carry an expectation of some prior consultation with the wider profession and stakeholders.
        So, without labouring the point as all these matters have been discussed in detail elsewhere, the SWRB has done what it’s been mandated for.
        I understand people’s frustration at the moment as we have to fight this lousy bill, but the board itself isn’t the target. The SWRB stafff and members are probably as frustrated as we are. And even if we get good legislation it’s not going to change the world and give us massive improvement on status or pay equity. Those things will come from our actions to support strong associations- including Tangata Whenua SWA- and PSA and other unions. A reworked SWRA even with good protection of title and clarity about scope etc will still just give us an appointed board that is a state entity, reporting to a minister of the Crown. It’s the bodies we control that need our energy and commitment.
        Cheers,
        Liz

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