Onboard newsletter – May 2021

He tauwhiro ara rau o te whakaaro nui, tēnā koutou katoa!

The Practising Certificate round opens shortly on June 2nd which is a month later than usual but we’ve been using the time, working hard to improve the process. 

This year you will be able to renew your Practising Certificate*, make your declaration, and pay online in one process on the new MySWRB portal. 

We want to make it as easy as possible for you and:
• we will have multiple payment options, including the ability to make monthly payments (many of you have asked us for this previously, and with the new database we can finally make it happen)
• your Practising Certificate will be available to download instantly in A4 or wallet size, and
• we have more staff to answer your emails and calls.

It is, however, never easy to embed a new system so please bear with us if it takes a little time to get an answer to your query, and if there are any stumbling blocks, we will work to improve those.

There is another part to the Practising Certificate round which is the Disciplinary Levy and we have had questions as to why this has increased this year. The Board did not take the decision to do this lightly. The mandatory registration of social workers has led to increased demands on the SWRB, with public safety as our focus, and increased scrutiny of the workforce.  

Complaints and notifications doubled in one year (2018/19 – 2019/20) and we are seeing a rise in these numbers again this year. Each notification needs to be assessed by the SWRB, and some require investigating by Professional Conduct Committees and the Disciplinary Tribunal, with all those costs. You can find a more detailed explanation later in the newsletter. In a mandatory environment, holding unprofessional behaviour to account is vital. This reassures the public that social workers are professionals who adhere to a Code of Conduct, undertake Continuing Professional Development, are supervised, and operate within a Code of Ethics.

Sarah Clark
Chief Executive

*You won’t see an option to renew your Practising Certificate on MySWRB until the round opens!

Next Governor-General started career as social worker

The announcement of New Zealand’s next Governor-General is exciting for social workers. Among her many and distinguished achievements, Dame Cindy Kiro started her career with a social work degree from Massey University and practised as a social worker before going on to gain an MBA in business administration and a PhD in social policy. Dame Cindy has held many leadership roles including as the Children’s Commissioner (2003-2009), the first woman and Māori to hold the position. Dame Cindy will take office as Governor-General in October this year.

Digital format for Practising Certificates

For those who haven’t caught up with the news, we have shifted to a digital format for Practising Certificates which means you’ll be able to instantly access, download, and print your certificate, in A4 or wallet size. We’ve taken the step to stop sending certificates and end the use of plastic cards to speed up the process because we know each year there have been delays receiving these. That was made worse last year with the lockdowns in response to Covid-19 – and using less plastic is good all on its own. You can show you have a valid Practising Certificate on SWRB’s Public Register

The shift to a digital format has already been undertaken by the Nursing and Teaching Councils. 

Renewing your Practising Certificate on MySWRB

To renew your Practising Certificate, head to MySWRB (our new online database system), which you can access via the website, as below. The registration team will also be ready to assist you with extended call centre hours. From Monday to Thursday, the phones will be open from 8am – 6pm, on Fridays from 8am – 4:30pm, and we’ll be answering phones on Queen’s Birthday (Mon 7th June) 9am – 4pm.

SWRB told us (in 2015) mandatory registration fees would go down. What happened?

We have had comments from social workers that the SWRB told them several years ago that once mandatory registration was in place, fees would go down. It took us on a search to find when this was said. The comments look to have come from SWRB’s 2015 review of the Act. In that, it stated ‘mandatory registration would likely lead to a reduction in costs as a result of economy of scale.’

A lot has changed since 2015, especially as more work was done on what a mandatory environment would actually look like:

1. At the time, the SWRB statement was based on limited information. We did not know until the end of February 2021 how many registered social workers there would be.

2. There are few economies of scale. While we have 10,300 plus registered social workers, only 7,860+ are practising so there are few economies of scale. (The Teaching Council has 100,000 plus teachers on their register so their fees can be lower, however, even they are increasing those to meet their obligations as a regulator.)

3. The SWRB was given additional responsibilities under the new legislation:
• Implementing mandatory registration
The 2019 amendments to the Act gave SWRB the responsibility to implement mandatory registration, requiring the SWRB to update infrastructure, processes, and policies.
While the new database and the Information Campaign, including updating the website, were funded by the Government and not by social workers, we had to boost our Registration Team numbers to answer the thousands of phone calls, emails, and applications we received, and develop new processes and policies.
• Implementing mandatory reporting
The changes to the Act also saw the SWRB tasked with implementing mandatory reporting for conduct, competence, and health, and continuing its oversight of the complaints process.

Impact of mandatory reporting on complaints and notifications

Since mandatory reporting, there has been an increase in the volume of complaints and notifications;from 84 in 2019/20 to over 140 already this year and this figure may rise further before the end of June (our financial year).

The SWRB is required toassess all complaints and notifications. Each complaint is a lot of work because the team has to:

  • consider information from those involved
  • triage and assess
  • prepare and present the information to the SWRB Board, and if requested
  • seek further information
  • the SWRB Board may then refer the matter to a Professional Conduct Committee.

There are also two external disciplinary processes which are funded by the SWRB:

  • A Professional Conduct Committee (PCC) is external to the SWRB & comprised of two registered social workers and a lay person. Their investigation is thorough and can take some time. For the most serious cases, the PCC can lay a charge with the Tribunal.
  • The Social Workers Complaints and Disciplinary Tribunal is quasi-judicial with a similar process to a court, and also external to the SWRB. Each hearing consists of five people, including three social workers, a layperson, and the chair or deputy chair (experienced barristers) who prepare for and preside over the hearing; and finally issue a written decision.

The Disciplinary Levy funds the SWRB’s internal complaints and notifications work, PCCs, and Tribunal hearings. The number of Tribunal hearings has also increased in recent years; from one (2018/19) to three cases opened (2019/20) to 12 cases opened this year (2020/21).

The increase in the number of notifications and complaints is likely to be a combination of the new mandatory reporting requirements, more people knowing about the SWRB, and having more social workers on the Register.

Learnings for social workers from a Tribunal case

The Social Workers Complaints and Disciplinary Tribunal recently considered a charge against a social worker for not disclosing a police investigation or a formal police warning when he renewed his Practising Certificate. The charge also alleged that the social worker did not co-operate with the Professional Conduct Committee’s investigation in any meaningful way.

The social worker had been accused of sexual assault on a young person under 16, a charge he denied. The Police indicated that a conviction for criminal offending could have been pursued but there were concerns the young complainant would not have had the support of her family if the case had gone to prosecution. The SWRB requested an explanation for not disclosing the police investigation. The social worker’s response was he was innocent and because the case had not gone to court, he had been unable to prove his innocence. He also said that, despite the police report, he did not believe there was anything to declare. The Tribunal found that the circumstances were concerning and that disclosing the police investigation was required. This is one of the key learnings from the case. It is critical that the trust and confidence the public holds in a social worker is upheld.

The Tribunal referred to the case we discussed in our newsletter last month and observed that social workers often work with clients in unsupervised settings which requires a high level of trust. Principle one of the Code of Conduct requires social workers to act with integrity and honesty in their personal and professional lives. Principle nine requires a social worker to maintain the public’s trust and confidence in the profession by avoiding any activities that could bring the social work profession into disrepute (9.1) and requires the social worker to be open, honest, and constructive in all dealings with employers, SWRB and other authorities (9.6).

In this case, the social worker did not co-operate with the PCC investigation. He was brief in his responses to the PCC and he did not provide the detailed information the PCC required, despite being given reasonable opportunities to respond. The PCC referred the Tribunal to other cases from similar regulatory authorities where those under investigation had failed to constructively engage, or honestly disclose information that could adversely affect their registration or Practising Certificate. The findings of these cases determined that a lack of engagement or dishonesty with a regulatory authority can justifiably lead to a disciplinary sanction.

The Tribunal considered the nature of the allegations, the omission of notifying the SWRB in the Practising Certificate renewal process; the lack of constructive engagement; and the fact that there was no evidence about the social worker’s insights, intentions for social work practice, or any reflection on matters that might relate to future practice.

Alongside the breach of the Code of Conduct, the Tribunal’s finding was that these omissions amounted to professional misconduct. The social worker was censured, his registration was cancelled, and he was ordered to pay costs. A social worker must disclose any pertinent matters to the Board, including around conduct, competence, and fitness to practise, in a timely way. The most obvious trigger for this is at renewal of their Practising Certificate. A formal police warning is clearly within the category of matters that warrant disclosure. The social worker’s failure to disclose in this instance constituted a breach of the Code of Conduct.

You might be interested to know there are several factors that need to be considered when a social worker is ordered to pay costs. One of those is that the ordering of costs cannot create undue hardship. While the usual starting point for costs in disciplinary proceedings is a contribution of 50%, the Tribunal noted that the social worker was in a difficult financial position and any burden imposed by a costs order would be borne heavily by his wife. With that said, the Tribunal considered an order of costs is appropriate when those who appear before it are found guilty, otherwise the profession would bear the entire cost of the proceedings. He was ordered to pay $1000, which is a significant sum to the social worker, however, it is only a small proportion of the total costs.

Māori development updates

Since our whakatauki was developed, our Chief Advisor Māori Development, Hohepa Patea, has been teaching waiata, te ao Māori perspectives, and basic mihi to staff as a mechanism to build te reo Māori and cultural capability to provide support for SWRB events. 

The Chief Advisor has also been providing advice to the regulatory space and policy team, our internal and external communications, and using tikanga Māori to lead the mandatory celebration event. The Chief Advisor has been working with the SWRB team to refresh the values (ngā uara) building on the existing SWRB values which were based on the Kaitiakitanga framework. We spent some time developing these (see right). 

SWRB is partnering with other organisations to develop a Māori speaker series about the regulatory space through a Māori view and the Chief Advisor also has his sights on embedding a Tiriti-based approach for SWRB’s core functions.

Symposia – exploring social work practice with Māori and Pasifika

There is still time to book your ticket for the Symposium on 1 June 2021. Six dynamic Māori and Pasifika speakers will share their life experiences, research, and practice knowledge with the sector.