New Zealand Social Work Registration Board Conference

Mairi-Anne MacDonald

Mairi-Anne MacDonald

Mairi-Anne MacDonald, our Director of Sector Development gives us an update from her work in New Zealand

Kia ora from New Zealand!

This conference was celebrating ten years of the social work registration board in¬†New Zealand. ¬†It was called Protecting the Public, Enhancing the Profession (Etiaki ani i te Hapori ‚Äď E manaari ani i nga mahi) and was held in Wellington, New
Zealand in November 2013.  Wellington is a great city, filled with coffee shops and restaurants and some really interesting museums and art РNew Zealand is a wonderful place to visit if you get the opportunity.  I didn’t see any hobbits, but maybe next time….!

The conference was held at the Te Papa museum in Wellington. This is a fantastic place which tells a very powerful story of the growth and development of Aotearoa/New Zealand through turbulent times. Aotearoa is a bi-cultural society and going through Te Papa is a good way of finding out what this means here.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAotearoa/New Zealand is on the Pacific ring of fire¬†and earthquakes and¬†volcanic activity are a constant part of the backdrop of Kiwi life. Although, these¬†events are rarely serious, the 2011 Christchurch earthquake was a devastating¬†exception. Just two months before my arrival in Wellington, a quake in the Cook¬†Strait shook the city. ¬†It was a relatively minor event but enough to ensure I bought a torch and whistle and found out about what to do if an earthquake¬†struck ‚Äď chances are it might never happen, but it‚Äôs always better to be¬†prepared for the possibility.

The conference brought together a range of people from practice, academia and government to discuss issues in relation to registration and social work practice in New Zealand.  There was opportunity to hear about international experiences from Dame Moira Gibb who talked about the work of the Social Work Reform Board in England and Vishanthie Sewpaul from the University of KwaZulu Natal who has experience of influencing social work practice in South Africa, as well as from people who are involved in delivering and teaching about social work in both the North and South Islands.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASocial work registration has been voluntary in New Zealand since registration started and there is now a general view that they need to move towards mandatory registration in order to drive up consistency of practice standards and maximise the protection of the public. I was there to talk about the experience we had in Scotland of introducing mandatory registration for social workers.  I also wanted to talk about the importance of moving towards the wider registration of the social service workforce in order that they recognise the significance of the work social service workers undertake, and ensure that there are clear development pathways and standards of practice and education that are consistently applied across the country.

The New Zealand/Aotearoa Social Work Registration Board is the registering body for social workers in New Zealand. They are a government entity and work in partnership with the government to promote registration. There are two professional associations for social work in Aotearoa/New Zealand, the Aotearoa/New Zealand Association of Social Workers (ANZASW) and the Tangata Whenua Social Workers Association (TWSWA). The TWSWA primarily supports
MńĀori practitioners, fields of practice and practice models.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne of the interesting things about travelling to other countries this year has¬†been finding out about what social work and social services and registration¬†mean in different countries ‚Äď sometimes there are similarities with what happens
in Scotland, and sometimes it‚Äôs very different. ¬†In New Zealand, for example,¬†social workers have to complete a competence assessment at registration and¬†then be re-certificated annually. ¬†As part of this they have to be able to¬†demonstrate that they have competence to practice with MńĀori, understand¬†MńĀori culture.

I was able to go along to many of the sessions at the conference on various¬†topics, such as ‚Äėthe virtuous social worker‚Äô, digital literacy in social work,¬†instilling concepts of social change, the next wave of social workers ‚Äď Generation¬†Y. ¬†There were many topics that I didn‚Äôt have the opportunity to hear about,¬†particularly in relation to MńĀori social work practice and history, that I was also¬†interested in. ¬†Here is a Storify summary of the conference, with thanks to Neil Ballantyne, who some people may know from his work at Strathclyde University¬†and IRISS before he moved to Aotearoa/New Zealand.

On the first evening of the conference I was invited to a reception with the Minister for Social Development, who is responsible for the registration of social workers. The reception was held in the Parliament buildings in Wellington and you can see the colonial influence in the design and decoration of the building.

The Minister gave a short speech about the value that social work adds to society, and then was introduced to everyone. At the moment, it would appear that there is strong government support for having social work registration, but no announcement about it being made mandatory yet.

On day two of the conference I spoke about social services registration in Scotland.  As usual, there were some technical difficulties, but we managed to get them resolved with the help of the technicians at the venue and I was also able to show the film that we made this year about the experience of early years managers who undertook the degree in Childhood Practice.

People here were generally very interested in how we had taken registration forward in Scotland and thought that the film was very reminiscent of their experiences in moving from a diploma to a degree qualification in social work.  They were particularly interested in why we had decided in Scotland to register the wider social service workforce; the level of engagement we had with employers; the work we undertake to facilitate the development of National Occupational Standards and our workforce development responsibilities.  We had an interesting discussion about the similarities and differences in social work practice and registration in Scotland and New Zealand, and of course, some discussion about the Referendum next year!

Following this session, I arranged to meet again with the Social Work Registration Board and to talk to the president of the Association of Social Workers (ANZASW) and was also invited to meet with the Board of the Australian Association of Social Workers in Melbourne next week.  The ANZASW would like a webinar so that more people can hear about the Scottish experience.

I was delighted to have been asked to speak at this conference and learned a¬†lot about social work in New Zealand and about the tensions around biculturalism¬†and practice. ¬†It was also interesting to look at the similarities and¬†differences internationally and in relation to educational standards and think¬†about how we can develop systems which support people to work globally ‚Äď the¬†world is getting smaller and global working is far more common than it was in¬†the past. ¬†I have made some good connections, and we will keep in touch via¬†email and Skype to continue the discussions we started in Wellington.

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