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.”
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”
For further information please see the following.