Bill to make registration mandatory for social workers

Thu 27 Aug 2015

A Bill which seeks to make registration mandatory for social workers has been introduced to Parliament. The Social Workers Registration (Mandatory ...

A Bill which seeks to make registration mandatory for social workers has been introduced to Parliament.

The Social Workers Registration (Mandatory Registration) Amendment Bill was pulled from the Member's Ballot on 23 July 2015. The Bill "implements recommendations made to the Minister for Social Development by the Social Workers Registration Board to provide for the current voluntary system of registration for practising social workers to become a mandatory system."

The Private Member's Bill was proposed by the Labour Party's spokesperson for Social Development, Carmel Sepuloni. Ms Sepuloni said "The Government has had multiple opportunities to act on this matter, but has chosen to ignore officials. It has also rejected the advice of the sector to make registration mandatory which was a key recommendation in the White Paper on Vulnerable Children. Since the system of voluntary registration was introduced in 2003 there have been seventeen cases of reported misconduct of people who worked as social workers or community workers, sixteen of which were unregistered. As the law stands anyone can call themselves a social worker. As far as I’m concerned, this is dangerous and unacceptable. The legislation needs to be urgently reviewed and Labour is committed to holding the Government to account on this matter."

The Social Workers Registration Act 2003 provides the framework for social worker registration. At the time it was enacted, a mandatory registration scheme would have meant many social workers would not have been able to gain registration or to continue to practice, as they did not have the required educational qualifications.

During a review of the Act by the Social Workers Registration Board (SWRB) in 2007, the majority of submitters proposed that registration becomes mandatory.

The SWRB released a discussion paper in 2011. The paper stated that the 2006 census showed that over 13,000 people self-identified as being social workers. However in February 2011, a total of just 2842 social workers were registered.

Feedback from the discussion paper was summarised in a report in 2011. It found that 95% of submissions were in support of moving to mandatory registration. The report stated that self-regulation is insufficient as a means of public protection because:

  • "voluntary registration does not meet the purpose of the Act
  • the public are at risk from poor social work practice by people using the title Social Worker outside the safety framework provided by the Act
  • moving to mandatory registration is a fundamental step in reducing public risk from poor social work practice by improving the professionalism and accountability of social workers."

The SWRB recommended that registration become mandatory, with the title Social Worker reserved for registered practitioners only. The report suggested mandatory registration be implemented in a staged approach, alongside improved consultation with Iwi Māori Providers and additional support and resources.

The Government's White Paper on Vulnerable Children (volume 2) noted that Child Youth and Family's strategic plan, Mā mātou, mā tātou - changing young lives, sets out the goal and expectation that Child, Youth and Family will have a 100% registeredprofessional workforce by 2015. The White Paper states that 1046 Child, Youth and Family staff were registered, working in a variety of roles across the organisation.

The first reading of the Bill is yet to be heard.

Further information and resources:

In the UK, the Chief Social Worker for Children and Families recently announced the introduction of a new national accreditation system for child and family social work. The new accreditation system involves an assessment process, including theory exams, observation of practice, and feedback from children and families.

Relevant resources include:

Research in Practice Strategic Briefing: Social Work recruitment and retention (Bowyer & Roe, 2015)


New Zealand

NZ heading towards compulsory registration of social workers, MPs unclear of path, Stuff, 06.04.2016

Labour backs social worker regulation, NewsTalk ZB, 29.07.2015

Social workers welcome call for mandatory registration, Manawatu Standard, 28.07.2015

Social Workers Registration (Mandatory Registration) Amendment Bill, Press Release, Aotearoa NZ Association of Social Workers, 24.07.2015

Mandatory registration of social workers long overdue, Massey University, 24.07.2015

Call for mandatory social worker registration, NewsTalk ZB, 26.04.2015

Call for compulsory social worker registration, Radio NZ, 18.03.2015

Why are unqualified people able to practise as social workers?, Radio NZ, 24.11.2014


Social work needs to earn back public trust, The Guardian, 28.07.2015

Image: Pixabay