New Zealand Law Society - Mandatory social worker registration now closer

Mandatory social worker registration now closer

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Minister for Children Anne Tolley has introduced the Social Workers Registration Legislation Bill to Parliament.

The omnibus bill has the objective of increasing the professionalism of the social work profession by increasing coverage of the regulatory regime, ensuring social workers are competent and fit to practise, and increasing the effectiveness and transparency of the way the Social Workers Registration Act 2003 works.

The 2003 Act enabled the voluntary registration of social workers, but there was no mandatory registration. The Act has been reviewed twice since, with both reviews recommending mandatory registration. The new bill follows a third review.

The existing regime does not fully cover the social work profession. While the Act protects the title of registered social worker by making it an offence for unregistered persons to hold themselves out as a registered social worker, it does not protect the title of social worker. Anyone can call themselves a social worker whether they have qualifications or not and individual social workers can choose whether they become registered or not. Those who are not registered are not subject to the standards and processes set out in the Act.

The bill would amend the Act so that the title social worker is protected. This would extend the scope of current occupational regulation so that anyone practising as a social worker or doing a job with that title must be registered and have a current practising certificate. This includes if a person is claiming to be a social worker, or holds a position or performs a role described using the words social worker, or if the person is undertaking restricted work.

To allow for a smooth transition to the extended registration regime, the amendments that will require all social workers to be registered would come into force two years after the bill is enacted.

Section 13 of the Act currently provides an experience-based pathway to registration for social workers who the Board accepts have achieved a sufficient breadth of experience but who do not have a recognised social work qualification. The bill would remove that pathway five years after the bill is enacted.

The current complaints assessment committees which investigate complaints against social workers would become professional conduct committees.