Social Workers need to be Registered like Doctors and Nurses, Association says

Stuff 27 April 2018, by Amber-Leigh Woolf

Social work needs to be registered to stop anyone calling themselves a “social worker”, mandatory registration advocates say.

Last week, the social services select committee ignored calls to make requested changes to the Social Work Registration Legislation Bill for mandatory social work registration.

The Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Workers fear if left unchanged, the definition of “social work” in the legislation means anyone could practice social work.

Capital and Coast District Health Board social work professional leader Kim Myhill said she knew of people who had assumed the title of social worker.

The bill aimed to increase professionalism of social work and ensure  workers were competent.

Myhill said while the association and DHB social work leaders supported the intent to increase protection for the public, the majority  also supported mandatory registration to protect the title of “social worker”.

More than 80 per cent of submissions called to replace the role title approach to registration with one based on who practiced social work in deed, not just title.

Myhill said under the proposed legislation, a worker who had lost their registration for misconduct could then go out in to the community again to work.

“It’s not recognising us as the valued profession that we are. It’s undermining our profession.”

All DHBs in New Zealand already required social worker registration, she said.

Association president Shannon Pakura said registration made workers accountable for their practice and decisions.

“You could have someone engaging with the public who does not have any understanding of how to assess or engage … who is not qualified and acts on a gut feeling.”

Pakura said when someone needed to engage with a social worker, they were usually in a vulnerable or an emotional stage of their life.

The scope of the social workers’ role was clear and robust, and compared to that of a nurse or a doctor, she said.

“We want our title protected.”

The bill would be considered in May, and the association is calling on Members of Parliament to vote down the legislation.

Minister for Social Development Carmel Sepuloni said defining social work was not within the parameters of the bill.

“This is an important and complex issue which would require significant additional work and consideration from a range of individuals and groups.”

The select committee recommended they follow the original intent of the bill, she said.

“I want to see the social worker profession respected and valued.

“I also want to ensure that the public and some of our most vulnerable people who rely on the important work of social workers feel safe and are getting the informed and professional support they need.”

The bill was an important first step to professionalising social work and protecting vulnerable people, she said.

“We have maintained a commitment to addressing scopes of practice as a next step and responding to concerns raised in the social work community.”

They were working with social workers and others to ensure concerns were addressed.

“I am very open to hearing feedback within the parameters of the current bill, and I would like to reiterate that we will continue to do work in this area.

“This Bill is just the first step, and we want to make sure we get this first step right.”