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Social Workers Registration Bill third reading

Social Workers Registration Bill third reading

Steve Maharey Speech: Mr Speaker, I move that the Social Workers Registration Bill be now read a third time.

Mr Speaker, the key principles of this Bill are to provide people with greater protection from the harm that may result from poor social work practice, to enhance the professionalism of social work, and to ensure an investment is made in the people who work in this important occupation.

The Bill establishes a regulatory framework for the registration of all social workers. It will be applicable across all sectors where social workers are employed in New Zealand. The Bill will improve the quality of social work by requiring that registered social workers are competent and held accountable for their practice. It establishes a system which will provide greater protection to the often vulnerable people who receive services from social workers. People receiving social work support deserve a quality service.

Mr Speaker, the Bill will establish a Board to register social workers. The Board will be required to promote the benefits of registration to social workers, the employers of social workers and to the public generally. A Tribunal will be established to consider complaints against registered social workers and to manage the disciplinary process.

Under the registration system only certain people will have the right to use the title ‘Registered Social Worker’. Only those who have a recognised qualification in social work; who have enough practical experience, who are judged to be a fit and proper person, who are competent to practise social work with Maori and different ethnic and cultural groups in New Zealand, and who have been through a competency process will have the right to use this title. Other people will still be able to call themselves social workers, but they will not be able to use the title ‘Registered Social Worker’.

Mr Speaker, the public need to be assured and have confidence that the most vulnerable people in our society are receiving services from fully qualified and competent social workers.

The Bill is an enabling rather than prescriptive piece of legislation. A significant amount of detail around the registration system will be left to the Social Workers Registration Board to determine. For example, the Board will decide what an appropriate qualification in social work will be, and how much practical experience will be considered enough for the purposes of registration. Making the Bill enabling rather than prescriptive will require the social work profession to take ownership and leadership of the registration system.

The Social Services Committee received a number of submissions on the Bill. The vast majority of submitters supported the intent of this piece of legislation. They were of the view that a registration system would result in increased protection and safeguards for clients and social workers alike.

One of the key issues raised at Select Committee was whether registration should be compulsory for all social workers. Wisely, Mr Speaker, the majority of the Committee agreed that it would not be viable to introduce mandatory registration immediately. Mandatory registration would require a definition of social work tasks to be included in the legislation. Constructing this definition is problematic, not least because social work is characterised by a range of skills, many of which are also characteristic of other professions such as counselling. Mandatory registration would also incur significant costs for social workers and their employers. It will take some time for social workers currently practicing to meet the eligibility criteria for registration. Adopting mandatory registration could have other unintended outcomes like individuals or employers changing position titles to avoid registration.

The Select Committee recommended a number of important changes to the Bill and I would like to thank them for their careful consideration of this important piece of legislation.

Mr Speaker, I would like to sincerely thank the social work sector for the significant contribution it has made to the development of this Bill. Almost unanimously, social workers have supported the Government’s pledge to establish a registration system. This is testimony to their professionalism and to the commitment they have to the welfare of their clients. I congratulate the social work sector on its positive and constructive response to this new system of registration. I’m looking forward to building on the relationship Government already has with this sector through the appointment of the Social Workers Registration Board.

Mr Speaker, we want to have this new system established as soon as possible. To achieve this the Bill requires that the Social Workers Registration Board must be appointed within 12 months of the Bill being passed. In reality, we will be aiming for a significantly shorter period for the appointments to be made. Once the Board has been appointed and has established its operating procedures and the processes required for the registration system, the other provisions in the Bill can come into effect. The first registrations of social workers could be made as soon as mid-2004.

Mr Speaker, this Government promised to introduce a registration system for social workers. We have done this. We have introduced a registration system that will work. Over time, we expect that registration will be seen as the basic standard for all social workers. Employers will demand it. Prospective social workers will want to achieve it. Registration will become a mark of professionalism, quality and accountability. The vulnerable people who receive services from social workers deserve a quality service. This piece of legislation will ensure this will happen.

Mr Speaker, I commend the Bill to the House.

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