I often get asked questions about our two national professional bodies in Aotearoa New Zealand. And I often see social workers and social work students struggling to understand the contribution each body makes. So this blog post is an effort to offer clarity. It may not be perfect and I will be hoping that readers’ comments and questions will help me improve it over time.
I will start with governance and societal ‘location’ as these are the most significant differences. The SWRB is a Crown Entity which means that it works out its plan with the minister responsible and reports annually to parliament via the Social Services Select Committee. ‘The Board’ has positions for 10 members who can be nominated by any parties but the decision about any appointment is made by the minister and ratified by a parliamentary appointments committee. So it can be argued that these are ‘political appointments’ however social workers have been successful in getting good people appointed. The SWRB has an office in Wellington and the operations of the board are overseen by the chief executive.
The ANZASW is a voluntary organisation constituted by becoming an incorporated society. It has a national office also overseen by a chief executive. As such ‘the association’ is a part of civic or civil society handily briefly explained by Darren Lilleker.
So the SWRB is set up by an act of parliament the Social Workers Registration Act 2003. The ANZASW is set up under the rules for incorporated societies with a constitution.
Now for governance. ANZASW is a membership organisation set up in 1964 ( a historical account by Mary Nash is available on the website along with a Digital History project, curated by Neil Ballantyne). The association is defined as a bicultural partnership organisation which aims to reflect ‘the foundational centricity of Te Tiriti O Waitangi in social, spiritual, political, communal, economic and ideological terrains of human relationships and engagement‘. The members decide on a governance board of a minimum of six members – three Tangata Whenua and three Tauiwi. The association must have an annual general meeting where the accounts are provided, along with officeholders’ and the CE’s reports. The association has about 3000 members. It is voluntary and you cannot be compelled to join a voluntary society.
The SWRB is statutory and its only ‘members’ are the ten appointed. The rest of us are ‘registered social workers’ not members. A common error I come across is for people to say they are members or are applying to join the SWRB- that pleasure is only yours if you get the letter of appointment from the minister. Registration of social workers began in 2004 and you can read some background material in Beddoe & Duke 2009.
So what does each professional body do? Well the SWRA charges the SWRB with the following: to set up a system of registration of social workers with the main purpose to protect the safety of members of the public by ensuring social workers are competent to practise. The SWRB sets the criteria for registration of New Zealand and overseas qualified social workers including the recognition of social work qualifications. See ‘A matter of degrees’ for more background. The SWRB also established a Code of Conduct and has policies and procedures for complaints and discipline and sets up the public register of registered social workers. Also listed roles include promoting high standards of practice, advising and making recommendations to the responsible minister about matters relating to the profession. In 2019 legislation was amended to provide protection of title for social work and make registration mandatory for all social workers. For a brief summary visit here or see the notes below.
The ANZASW has a set of Practice Standards and also offers a competency certification programme which is recognised by the SWRB. The association has its own Code of Ethics and is affiliated to the International Federation of Social Workers. The association publishes electronic newsletters and regular bulletins to members with information about employment opportunities, continuing professional development and conferences. The association is also active in supporting campaigns and writing submissions on public issues and legislation changes which have impact on the families and communities we serve.
The association also publishes a peer reviewed journal, Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work, four times a year, edited by an editorial collective. This includes a regular issue of Te Komako – focusing on Tangata Whenua social work; and – from time to time – publishes Tu Mau highlighting issues for Pasifika social work; these are both unique features of the ANZASW.
Finally, there are two other professional bodies in Aotearoa New Zealand. The Tangata Whenua Social Workers Association and the Council for Social Work Education Aotearoa New Zealand. The latter does not have a website but is a body comprised of representatives of each of the 17 social work education programmes recognised by the SWRB.
Both ANZASW and SWRB bodies have FAQ pages: ANZASW FAQ and SWRB FAQ.
New legislation: The SWRL Bill amends the Social Workers Registration Act 2003 (SWR Act) to introduce mandatory registration of social workers. These changes are intended to:
- promote the increased wellbeing of vulnerable adults and children as a result of a more professional and qualified social worker workforce
- increase the safety of vulnerable adults and children, who may be placed at risk from social workers who are not competent or fit to practise
- update and streamline the functioning of the SWRB, which is responsible for the registration and ensuring ongoing competency of social workers.
Significantly, amendments to the SWR Act will be proposed that introduce the provision for scopes of practice in line with the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act 2003 (HPCA Act). This reflects that fact that social workers as a profession operate in a similar environment to health practitioners.
For further information please visit the MSD pages: