The Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Workers (ANZASW) is dismayed by the news that up to two dozen full-time teaching positions are set to be axed in the University of Auckland’s Faculty of Education and Social Work.
News of the planned cuts has emerged at a time when demand for social workers in Aotearoa New Zealand is set to grow. It is extremely disappointing that one of the country’s foremost schools is diminishing its capacity to provide well-trained graduates to the sector even at such a moment.
The Social Work Registration Legislation Bill, which is before Parliament, will almost certainly lead to a higher rate of demand for qualified social workers. It requires mandatory registration for social workers; to be eligible to register social workers must hold a recognised qualification. The growth in demand will come from funders of social work services contractually requiring positions to be filled by a registered social worker.
Both of the above mean that employers will be seeking more qualified social workers. Additionally, more people will seek out formal training for a social work career.
Furthermore, the legislation is likely to lead to the creation of specialist scopes of practice. Specialist scopes of practice require advanced education, knowledge and skills which are likely to be obtained through specialised post graduate programmes. It makes no sense to cut jobs with such changes on the horizon.
In addition to this, the rising demand for child social work services has led the government to commit to provide additional funding to Oranga Tamariki which will see major changes to the entire system of protection and care for children. Additionally additional funds have been made available for frontline domestic violence services. To be successful, these developments will inevitably require agencies to employ more social workers.
It is highly regrettable that Auckland University will be cutting teaching jobs when high-quality social work training is needed more than ever. We also believe that a reduction in staff will limit the ability of the school to provide the highest standard of learning experience to students.
The move also comes at a time where there is a teacher shortage which the government is attempting to plug and when the Associate Minister of Education is preparing an review of Issues and Opportunities in Social Work Education. The review was in part prompted by employer’s complaints that many new graduates were not work ready; it is sad to see that one of the most prestigious and successful schools for our profession will be voluntarily reducing its capacity to prepare social workers for a demanding professional career.
Finally, while the In a statement on the decision to cut staff, the University has said that it is “imperative” that it maintains a “sound financial base” in order to provide high quality services to students . Yet the institution recorded a $68 million surplus last year - easily enough money to prevent these job losses.
The end users of social work services must be able to expect well-trained and competent practitioners. We fear that the cuts to the University’s staff threaten a dimunition in the standards of its social work courses; it is also possible that this move may encourage other training institutions to behave in a similar manner.
We hope that University reconsiders its decision.