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Social Workers Registration Bill first reading

11 October 2001 Speech Notes

Social Workers Registration Bill first reading

Mr Speaker, I move that the Social Workers Registration Bill be now read a first time. Following the first reading, I will move that the Bill be referred to the Social Services Select Committee.

The Bill provides a framework for the registration of social workers in New Zealand. It puts in place a number of measures designed to protect the safety and well being of all New Zealanders who make use of the services of registered social workers.

The issue of regulating the social work profession has been the subject of debate over a number of years. There has been concern about the lack of credibility of social work as a profession. There has also been a growing expectation from the public, politicians and consumer groups that social workers should be more accountable and their work more transparent.

In Labour “s pre-election manifesto we pledged to establish a system of professional registration for social workers. As the Government, the Labour-Alliance Coalition has continued to pursue the development of a system of social worker registration.

The nature of social work requires that social workers assist individuals, families and communities who have to cope with stressful life events and difficult circumstances. These circumstances often make people vulnerable. The Government needs to be assured that people in this vulnerable position are protected from any further harm that may result from poor social work practice.

The aim of the social work registration system is:

- to ensure safe practice in the social work profession;

- to protect the public from poor social work practice; and,

- to maintain high levels of professionalism and accountability in the profession.

The provisions contained within this Bill provide for these goals to be met.

The previous Government also accepted that a registration system should be put in place, and they too looked into what would be required. By introducing this Bill, this Government has shown that it also supports a registration system. Furthermore there has been widespread support for this Bill in the House.

Providers and social workers from all the relevant sectors had an opportunity to feed into the development of the policy that sits behind this Bill through the consultation process that took place during the second half of last year.

In May 2001, the Registration of Social Workers Consultation Summary Report was published. The Report summarises the submissions made on the Registration of Social Workers Discussion Paper and comments made at a number of focus group meetings held in 2000.

Just over 300 submissions were received on the discussion paper, and in August and September 2000 the Ministry of Social Policy held 19 focus group meetings throughout the country to discuss social work registration. In total, around 380 people attended the nine hui, three fono and seven general focus group meetings that took place.

The submissions received during the consultation process were from a broad cross section of the sectors in which social workers are employed: from welfare, voluntary, justice and health sector social workers. Social workers also attended many of the focus group meetings.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of those who participated in the consultation process.

I would particularly like to acknowledge the contribution that the Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Workers has made throughout the project and this Bill’s development. The Association has always been at the forefront of discussions on social worker registration in New Zealand, and I have appreciated their readiness to share their extensive knowledge and expertise in this area.

The number of social workers that this Bill could likely impact on was assessed as just over 8,000 people. This is the number of people who identified themselves as working as social workers in New Zealand at the time of the 1996 Census.

The majority of social workers were female (76%). Maori made up 22% of all social workers, 6% were Pacific social workers.

Social workers held a variety of qualifications:

- 20% had a bachelor degree (of these only 20% had a degree in social services or humanities),

- 31% had a tertiary qualification that wasn’t a university degree,

- 24% had a school qualification, and 20% had no qualifications.

The majority of social workers were employed in the non-government sector (58%).

The remaining public sector employees were primarily concentrated in central government organisations (36%).

The Department of Child, Youth and Family Services was and continues to be the single largest employer of social workers, employing 16% of all social workers.

The Bill provides for social worker registration to be based on a person’s competence and fitness to practice social work. A Social Workers Registration Board will assess a person’s competence and fitness.

This Bill establishes the Social Workers Registration Board. The Bill will be responsible for registering social workers, promotion of the benefits of the registration system to the various sectors that employ social workers and to the public in general, and for overseeing the disciplinary process that this Bill also puts in place.

The Social Workers Registration Board will also be responsible for setting up the Complaints and Disciplinary Board that people can take their grievances about a registered social worker’s performance or behaviour to.

The Bill establishes a register of social workers, administered by the Social Workers Registration Board. The Bill also puts in place a process for people to appeal against decisions relating to the registration of a social worker.

A certification model, which was supported by two thirds of those who participated in the consultation process is the model of registration that appears in the Bill.

The Bill proposes that only those people who have been through a competency process will have the right to use the title “Registered Social Worker’. While other people will not be stopped from practising social work, uncertified practitioners will not be able to call themselves a “Registered Social Worker’.

I expect that relevant sector funding agencies and employers, in particular health and voluntary sector providers, will quickly see the benefit of putting in place employment policies to ensure that only registered social workers are employed. The Bill, therefore, provides the broad and inclusive base for the profession that all New Zealanders’ are seeking in the social work sector.

A registration system, such as the one that this Bill is setting up, will require a phasing in period. While it is anticipated that some social workers will be immediately eligible for registration because they already meet the required entry criteria, other social workers may only partially meet the entry criteria, and the Bill allows such people the ability to be provisionally registered.

Essentially the Bill provides a process for people to gain the right to use the title “Registered Social Worker’ through applying to and meeting the assessment criteria of the Social Workers Registration Board. The “Registered Social Worker’ must then apply to Board to gain a certificate of practice.

The Bill contains provisional registration options to allow social workers time to meet the competency assessment requirements for full registration. The Social Workers Registration Board can then issue consequential temporary and interim practising certificates.

Therefore, the Social Workers Registration Board will grant full registration to those social workers who meet the entry criteria and who have successfully completed the competence assessment. Provisional registration will be granted to those social workers who partially meet the entry criteria and who demonstrate they are actively working towards achieving the remaining criteria. Provisional registration is limited to five years per social worker.

In conclusion, Mr Speaker, the measures in this Bill provide a clear process for social worker registration. All New Zealanders are entitled to be assured of a safe practising social work profession, protection from poor social work practice, and a high level of professionalism and accountability in the social work profession. I am confident that this Bill will meet these needs.

I commend this Bill to the House.

ENDS


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