13 Jun 2017

Govt's chief social worker unregistered with board

8:16 am on 13 June 2017

Less than a week after the government indicated it wanted all social workers to be registered, it has emerged the country's senior social worker is one of those not registered.

A group of school children in uniform sit on the edge of a skateboard bowl

Photo: 123RF

The Ministry for Vulnerable Children, Oranga Tamariki, now requires its social workers to register under the current voluntary system.

Yet the ministry's chief social worker, Paul Nixon, along with 23 percent of the organisation's frontline social workers, are not registered with the Social Workers Registration Board.

At present social workers are not required to be registered, though about 6300 are. At the last census as many as 18,000 people identified themselves as practising as a social worker.

The Social Workers Registration Board makes clear that those who work directly with clients, those who teach social work, those who are managing or supervising social workers, and those who are involved in decision-making at a clinical, managerial or advisory role must be registered.

Auckland University associate professor of social work Liz Beddoe said that criteria covered most people who had a social work qualification and worked in the profession.

As a well-qualified and experienced social worker, there was no reason why Mr Nixon shouldn't be registered, she said.

"To some extent it reflects the lack of clarity that we've had, under voluntary registration, about just who should be registered."

Oranga Tamariki requires its social workers to be registered, even paying their registration and annual renewal fees.

Ms Beddoe said the organisation might not have regarded the chief social worker role as directly involved in social work practice.

"But I would certainly think if I have to be registered as an academic teaching social work students, then it seems that everybody should be registered who has some influence over the profession, as Paul clearly does," she said.

Social Workers Registration Board chief executive Sarah Clark said the online registration process was quite straightforward.

"You have completed or that you are enrolled in a New Zealand qualification, or if you have an overseas equivalent that it's been assessed as relevant for New Zealand practice.

"For those who haven't had a qualification, there is a route getting through practical experience and of course you also need to be competent to practise social work, have practical experience in New Zealand and be fit and proper to practise in New Zealand," she said.

Registration not a statutory requirement - Oranga Tamariki

Oranga Tamariki said in a statement that the chief social worker not breaking any laws by being unregistered.

However Mr Nixon - who has been in the role for six years - did apply for registration earlier this year.

Although the registration board said anyone managing or supervising social workers must be registered, Oranga Tamariki said there was no statutory requirement for Mr Nixon to do so.

"There is no statutory requirement for the Chief Social Worker Paul Nixon to be registered with the Social Workers Registration Board, and he is not in breach of any regulations in not being registered," the statement said.

"This is because he is not a practising social worker. When he was working in the UK he was registered there as he was a practising frontline social worker.

"Having said that, Mr Nixon applied for registration with the board earlier this year. He has done this because the ministry, and Mr Nixon, consider it appropriate due to his professional leadership role, not because he is required to be registered," the statement said.

'I wanted to know her registration'

A father of a Wellington toddler told RNZ having an unregistered social worker had made life very difficult for them.

He tried and failed to hold their social worker accountable, he said.

The Family Court found the girl was exposed to violence and drug-taking while social workers unfairly delayed the man getting custody.

"I wanted to know her registration so I could write a complaint to the Social Workers Registration Board, but they wouldn't tell me whether or not she was registered and just kept referring me back to the database.

"But I've since found out from an Official Information Act request that she wasn't registered. But this was only well after she'd left employment as a social worker," he said.

The ministry said most of its staff who weren't registered were new social workers who were going through the registration process, which could take up to 18 months.

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