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Mandatory registration for social workers is a step closer today with the Bill passing its first reading in Parliament, says Minister for Social Development and Minister for Children Anne Tolley.

“The Social Workers Registration Legislation Bill will help to increase the status and professionalism of social workers,” says Mrs Tolley.

“Mandatory registration will ensure that all social workers are well equipped to deal with our most vulnerable New Zealanders. We want social workers to be able to focus more on early intervention and reducing preventable harm.

"As a result of this legislation, people will know that when they’re dealing with a social worker it’s someone who has been vetted by the Police, are subject to professional ethics, and undertake annual development as a condition of their practice.

“Importantly, social workers will be accountable for their practice. There will be processes in place to address any concerns, and any social workers who have their registration cancelled will not be able to practice again.”

The Bill will amend and update the Social Workers Registration Act 2003. It will restrict the use of the term ‘social worker’ to those who have proved they have the required qualifications, skills and experience.

Other changes to support mandatory registration include:

Streamlining competency processes as part of professional development; Simplifying registration processes and clarifying the process to assess a person’s fitness to practice social work; Requiring employers to report serious misconduct and incompetence; Requiring social workers to report any suspicions or beliefs based on reasonable grounds that another social worker cannot perform their required functions due to a mental or physical condition; Aligning the complaints and disciplinary processes with similar regulatory regimes.

Of the current 6,300 social workers in New Zealand, it’s estimated that around 2,000 are unregistered. Of this group it’s expected that nearly 60 per cent (1,200) should be able to register using their qualifications, and another 300 should be able to register using their work experience.

The costs of these changes are expected to be modest, and more registrations will mean that the cost per social worker will decrease.

To ensure a smooth transition, the majority of the changes will be implemented within a two year period, making it easier for social workers who work for smaller NGOs or in range of settings including health and education. 

This shift in professionalism supports the changes underway by the Ministry for Vulnerable Children, Oranga Tamariki. There are a number of initiatives to streamline processes to enable social workers to spend more time with children and young people. 

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