It is with great sadness that I must now leave the Board as my two terms (the maximum allowed within our legislation) come to an end.
It has been a privilege to have had the opportunity to be a member of the Board for the past 6 years and the Chair for about 4 ½ of those. As I leave I would like to reflect on the changes I have seen during that time, and make a little more visible the work that goes on in the background that many may not be aware of.
The role and function of the Social Workers Registration Board is and always has been very simple, that is to provide a registration mechanism for social workers with the primary goal of protecting the public.
But I often hear, “what’s in it for me?” from both registered and non-registered social workers.
The benefits to social workers and the profession at large are indirect, as they should be, because the focus of the SWRB ACT is on those we serve. Nonetheless, registration is allowing us to emerge and grow as a profession who values competent practice, demands accountability of itself and wants to increase its own professionalism.
These are the true hallmarks of a profession and after 30 years of being a social worker I feel a sense of pride in what we are now.
The challenge is that we still don’t know who the ‘real’ social workers are, and voluntary registration continues to place us in an environment where anyone can claim to be a social worker.
We know that for the majority of those who have chosen to become registered, their practice is not the issue. This is evident in the low number of complaints that have been upheld. But regulation is often not about impacting on the behaviour of those already 'doing the right thing', it is about protecting the public from those who aren't.
Ironically, the current social worker registration system is totally funded by those ‘who are doing the right thing’, whilst some of those who choose not to be held accountable (i.e. don’t become registered) continue to appear in our media and portray social work in a bad light. Furthermore, these people prey on the vulnerable, and engage in practices that are damaging to the very people the Social Work Registration Board are trying to protect.
This is not a situation the Board has been happy with, so the Board made a decision to become more direct and active about seeking Mandatory Registration. This has led to strong presentations to the Social Services Select Committee and challenging those who are in a position to bring Mandatory Registration about.
We have seen the shift in thinking in several places and we are inching closer and closer.
The Board has also worked tirelessly with other stakeholders within the Social Work arena. For several years now the Alliance (consisting of the SWRB, ANZASW, Tangata Whenua Association of Social Workers and CSWEANZ and more recently the DHB Leaders Group) has met to discuss issues related to social work and to promote the social work profession.
As with most things, change does take time, and initially there is not much to see, but I believe a strong foundation has been built over the last ten years, which was highlighted in the extremely successful conference last year. We are having conversations now that would not have been possible before and as a result Social Work is gaining profile and recognition.
Currently we are reviewing competency standards and processes, and the preparation and support provided to students and graduate social workers. These are big issues that can only result in better outcomes for the people we work with. Indirectly they will also provide a safer environment in which social workers operate and a recognition of the knowledge base and skill set required to be a social worker.
I would like to thank all of the Board members I have served with during my time on the Board. I have learnt so much from all of you, and know that sharing the experience with you has made it a truly life changing one.
But Board members come and go and I would particularly like to thank the Secretariat who are the constant of this organisation.
I would like to reassure all registered social workers that you have a team of committed people who work in the Secretariat. As a Crown Entity our relationships within the Wellington environment and beyond are crucial, and we can thank our Secretariat for the high regard in which we are held.
In particular I would like to recognise the work of Sean McKinley our Chief Executive. Sean has been with the Board since the beginning and has held fast to the purpose of the Board. He has supported me in my role on the Board and I have to say has made me look very good at times. To Sean a most sincere thank you.
I hand over to the new Chair, Shayne Walker, and feel really excited about the work that the Board is about to do and the safety I feel knowing that the Board is in good hands. To Shayne, current Board members and those to come in the future, good luck, enjoy your time and let’s get that Mandatory Registration across the line.