Research shows benefits of defunded NGO Study Award Scheme

Thu 13 Oct 2016

Massey University researchers have published a report about the benefits of the Government NGO Study Award Scheme, which has recently been defunded. The ...

Massey University researchers have published a report about the benefits of the Government NGO Study Award Scheme, which has recently been defunded.

The scheme, established in 2005 under MSD’s Community Investment fund, offered financial and pastoral support for non-government organisation (NGO) employees to study towards a degree level qualification in social work.

Massey University researchers Dr Polly Yeung, Ms Hannah Mooney, Dr Awhina English and Dr Kieran O’Donoghue conducted independent research about the impact of the scheme. The study included interviews with 13 past award recipients, interviews with 7 managers of organisations who supported recipients and a survey of 142 award recipients.

The report, Non-Government Organisations (NGO) Study Awards – Exploring the Impact on Social Work Students and Social Service Organisations (2016), found that "Results from this study indicated that the award has contributed significantly to lifting the level of social work education, knowledge, competence and skills in the recipients and the NGO social work sector" (page 6).

Common themes from study participants about the positive impacts included the ability to continue working while studying, continue working in the NGO sector despite lower wages than government employment, deliver better services to clients and increase their competency. Managers felt that the scheme supported staff to have better competency and confidence and that having qualified social work staff enabled the Managers to encourage their staff to work towards registration.

Other key findings included:

  • 88% indicated more commitment to finish their training
  • 85% reported more confidence in becoming a practitioner
  • More than 75% reported high competence in self-reflection, empathetic reflection and reflective communication skills 
  • 81% continued working in NGOs even after job changes

The authors reported benefits specific to Māori social workers "The NGO study award was particularly beneficial to many Māori and iwi organisations in that it was tool for Māori staff, many of which were experienced long-term practitioners, to gain a qualification while remain working. They could see the benefits to whanau Māori and the impact on Māori communities was inevitable" (page 10).

The authors concluded that "In summary, the establishment and operation of the NGO study award is a good example of MSD’s social investment approach to improve social services via training incentive and support for social workers to gain professional qualifications" (page 11).

More than 700 people have received assistance through the scheme and more than 400 of these students have graduated with a recognised qualification in social work. Almost half were Māori working in iwi-based services.

The report follows the recent MSD decision to stop funding the scheme. Head of Massey University School of Social Work Associate Professor Kieran O’Donoghue said the decision was disappointing given the positive findings of their research. He also said "The current inquiry into the Social Workers Registration Act before the Social Services Select Committee is likely to result in mandatory social worker registration, with implications on the NGO workforce which has the lowest percentage of registered and qualified social workers."

Social Service Providers Aotearoa (SSPA) has asked MSD to reverse the decision to stop funding the scheme, particularly as it looks likely that the government will require mandatory registration for social workers. SSPA National Manager Brenda Pilott said:

"It seems almost certain that there will be a law change to make registration of social workers mandatory and in most cases this will require a 4 year bachelor’s degree. So it is inexplicable that the government has chosen this moment to cancel the NGO Study Awards scheme for social workers.

After a decade of voluntary registration, there are still several thousand practicing social workers who are not registered, and many do not have the qualification required.

SSPA supports mandatory registration but the scale of the challenge of making the transition to a fully-qualified and registered profession should not be under-estimated. The challenges are especially acute in the NGO sector where some 2600 social workers – more than half the NGO social work workforce – are not registered. A good number are unqualified or under-qualified.

NGO social workers are baffled by this decision when so many need to study or register.

This scheme was a valuable one that helped mid-career social workers get a qualification. Taking time off work to get a four year degree is unrealistic for many, without financial assistance. The awards scheme gave a good return on investment. Cancelling it at the time when mandatory registration is likely to be introduced makes no sense at all."

Green Party Spokesperson for Social Development Jan Logie has criticised the Government's decision to defund the programme saying "What the Government is calling social investment is actually cost cutting and this is another example of that."

The Parliamentary Social Services Select Committee is currently conducting an inquiry into the operation of the Social Workers Registration Act 2003, including whether registration of social workers should be mandatory.

Social Development Minister Anne Tolley has indicated she will be taking a plan to cabinet to require social workers to have a university-level qualification and be registered.

While there is support for mandatory registration, others have questioned the impact on the NGO sector and Māori social workers. Paora Moyle, an assistant lecturer in social work has stated that mandatory registration will significantly and disproportionately impact Māori practitioners:

"The truth is that many of our most committed frontline practitioners are Maori, unregistered and work in the community. Who are happy to take less pay because they choose not to work in monocultural government environments. Elitism in social work is returning it to a white middle class profession. For example, changing the 3 year degree into a 4 year qualification adds greater financial burden on students with the impact felt most by Māori. Many Māori with essential lived-experience would make excellent social workers but who have no chance of becoming registered, don’t even bother applying for the degree."

Ms Moyle goes on to clarify that:

"As concerned social workers who have alternative views about the SWRB and ANZASW, we are NOT saying that there should be no professional standards. Of course there should be but we want Tangata Whenua lead standards, in line with global standards that advocate for Indigenous autonomy."

For more background on mandatory registration see the previous NZFVC story on the Bill to make registration mandatory for social workers, introduced in 2015. It did not progress.

Image: Pixabay