24 April 2018

‘Social work in New Zealand under attack’

Statement from the Aotearoa New Zealand Assocation of Social Workers:

Social work in Aotearoa New Zealand is under unprecedented attack. As the voice of the profession in the country, the Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Workers (ANZASW) appeals to international colleagues for solidarity and support at this critical time.

The assault centres around a piece of legislation which contains clauses and findings that are an affront to the profession. The bill is set to be passed into law.

The legislation requires that only those social workers employed in positions described using the words ‘social worker’ or ‘social work’ are legally required to be professionally registered. ANZASW estimates that this will mean that half of the workforce will not be registered, leaving them unaccountable for their practice. We have identified 110 roles in which our membership are working under titles that do not include the words ‘social work’ or ‘social worker.’

This move will have serious consequences, not least in undermining public confidence in social workers who assist the most vulnerable in our society. As a result of this legislation, we cannot as a profession provide the assurance that all social workers will be fit and competent to practice.

ANZASW considers this Bill to be tantamount to an attack on social workers’ professional identity, as it means that employers are granted the right to decide who is a social worker or not. This is totally unacceptable and has no parallel in other professions that work with vulnerable clients, such as doctors, teachers and psychiatrists. Colleagues around the world can attest to the fact that such a state of affairs is not an international norm, but a shameful aberration.

The bill also determines that social work cannot be defined, a statement that reveals considerable ignorance of the profession. It ignores the fact that there are clear agreed international and regional definitions of social work and its practice which have been published by IFSW itself and Aotearoa New Zealand’s Social Work Registration Board.

This seems to be a case of authorities that have no expertise in social work making mistaken judgments about the profession, choosing to protect the rights of employers over the interests of clients and practitioners.

As a result of the bill, we believe that employers here will be incentivised to develop and maintain jobs in which practitioners are not given the title of social worker, so they do not have to pay fees for registration, supervision or profession development.

The vast majority of submissions by experts and organisations within the social work sector called for government to amend the bill to replace the role title approach to registration with one based on a scope of practice. These recommendations were ignored.

As a result the profession will be far harder to regulate in the interests of clients. For example, a registered social worker who is struck off could simply re-enter the sector through a role which does not use the title social worker or social work. In addition to this, the bill could see unqualified people taking jobs that are currently performed by qualified social workers; this will contribute to a degradation of the perceived standards of social work and puts service users at risk of incompetent or dishonest practice.

We call on our colleagues worldwide to demonstrate their opposition to the legislation, identifying it for what it is: an exception to international standards and an attack on our capacity to provide quality practice to clients.

Lucy Sanford- Reed

ANZASW Chief Executive

Phone: 03 349 0190 Extn 4

Mobile: 027 349 0190