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SWRB Commends Decision of the Human Rights Review Tribunal

SWRB Commends Decision of the Human Rights Review Tribunal and to Consult on the Mandatory Registration of Social Workers

16 December 2010

An unregistered social worker has been found to have committed various breaches of the Health and Disability Regulations 1996 by the Human Rights Review Tribunal (HRRT) by taking in excess of $55,000 worth of cash and gifts from a mentally ill elderly woman she was looking after.

Parehe Nikau, also known as Polly Haenga, a qualified social worker eligible for registration but not registered, was assigned to be a community health coordinator for the 63-year-old complainant, referred to as Mrs A to protect her identity, in 2008.

The HRRT had no hesitation in concluding that the unregistered social worker’s conduct was in flagrant disregard of the client’s rights. The SWRB is concerned however that under the current Social Workers Registration Act 2003 there is nothing to stop this person from continuing to work as an unregistered social worker and once again taking cash and gifts from vulnerable clients.

Ms Toni Hocquard, Chair of the Social Workers Registration Board was relieved that as the social worker was engaged in the health and disability sector the Health and Disability Commission was able to act. Ms Hocquard is however concerned that the majority of social workers do not work in this sector and are therefore unaccountable to any legal code unless they are registered with the Board.

“The Board is becoming increasingly concerned about the number of social workers who are not registered, do not adhere to a code of conduct and potentially undermine the reputation of the many honest, hard working and competent Registered Social Workers practising in New Zealand” said Ms Hocquard. “The Board has created a framework for the registration of social workers that has been accepted by the majority of the profession but the time has come for the issue of mandatory registration of social workers to be discussed.”

As a result of this concern the Board’s 2010/2011 output plan, published in May this year, identifies that a consultation document on mandatory registration will be released.

The Board will consult on whether the current voluntary registration under the Social Workers Registration Act 2003 is meeting the purpose of protecting the public by ensuring that social workers are competent and accountable for the way in which they practise. The consultation document will be released by the Board in early 2011.

“It is the Social Workers Registration Board’s aim that all social workers in New Zealand should be registered to protect the safety of vulnerable members of the public by ensuring that social workers are competent to practise and are held accountable for the way in which they practise by an independent Complaints and Disciplinary Tribunal” said Ms Hocquard.

Mandatory Registration would require anyone undertaking social work practice to be registered with the SWRB. A decision that a social worker’s conduct was in flagrant disregard of a client’s rights as found in this case by the HRRT would likely result in an application for registration being declined or, for a registered social worker, a range of penalties up to and including registration being cancelled.


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