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Professional Social Work

By Steve Maharey, Minister of Social Services and Employment

Sometimes when individuals, families and communities are trying to cope with particularly stressful events or difficult personal circumstances, social workers are called in to help.

When people are at their most vulnerable, it is essential they be protected from any further harm. And in that regard, harm resulting from poor social work practice is intolerable.

Last year a 14-year-old was placed with a Wellington gang member relative. It’s a shocking story now known to many in New Zealand. Together they went out and raped a woman. Child, Youth and Family Services later acknowledged there had been a “genuine mistake” with a social worker having failed to arrange a police check of the convicted gang member.

As I have made clear, I don’t believe mistakes such as this are acceptable.

Over recent years there have been concerns about the public credibility of the social work profession. This has coincided with a growing expectation from the public, politicians and advocacy groups that social work should be more transparent, more accountable, and more professional.

The public needs to be confident that social workers working for the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services, the health sector, the voluntary sector and all other social service agencies where social workers are employed, are competent to do their job well.

That is why I have said I want to establish a social work registration system with the aim to ensure safe practice, protect the public from poor social work practice and maintain high levels of professionalism and accountability.

The Ministry of Social Policy has recently distributed a discussion paper about registration of social workers to groups and individuals within the social work sector.

The Ministry is seeking wide public consultation, and submissions by September 15.

The key questions being asked in the discussion paper are:
 Should there be a registration system for social workers in New Zealand?
 Which system is best suited for the social work occupation?
 Which categories of social workers should the registration system cover?
 What should be the function, form and composition of the Registration Board?
 What criteria should be used to assess a social worker’s eligibility for registration?
 How could the registration system best meet the needs of Maori and Pacific social workers and clients?
 What sanctions should apply to social workers who are found to be in breach of the code of conduct?

We want to know, for example, if preference is for the certification or licensing tasks of social work, or for the full social work occupation.

We want to know whether registration should be compulsory or voluntary and whom it should cover.

Should it be for statutory and non-statutory government social workers, social workers employed by non-government organisations receiving government funding and those getting private funding, privately paid social workers, volunteer social workers, social workers without direct client contact and social work students on placement?

Consultation is taking place early on so we can hear the different views on the issues raised before making decisions.

Public views add a lot of value to the policy development process. Already the Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Workers has canvassed the views of its members. Submissions from Maori and Pacific social workers and social service providers are especially important.

I strongly encourage all those with in interest in this important area to make their views known to the Ministry of Social Policy, either by using the forms being sent out, contacting the Ministry directly or through its website:

Contact: Michael Gibbs, Press Secretary, (04) 471 9154 or (025) 270 9115.

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