Scope of Practice

The SWRB and social work leaders are developing a Scope of Practice taking into consideration contributions made by social workers from across the sector.

A Scope of Practice is a high-level description of social work practice, and it supports a shared identity for social workers across different work settings (fields of practice), roles and employment titles, and establishes a common understanding of social work in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Scope of Practice Social Workers Registration Board
Social workers in Christchurch discussing developing a Scope of Practice

What is a general Scope of Practice?

A general scope of practice for social work describes at a high level, the

  • activities of social work – including the breadth of social work practice/roles
  • purpose of social work – the needs social workers address in their work/the outcome being sought from social work intervention
  • methods of social work – how social workers do their work, including reference to the knowledge, skills, interventions and strategies social workers use.

For Aotearoa New Zealand, the Scope of Practice will be informed by Te Tiriti o Waitangi as a founding document of our nation, our laws and codes.

The detailed knowledge, skills, ethics and values required of social workers will be described in the SWRB Code of Conduct and Competence standards, and the ANZASW Code of Ethics.

Rōpū (working group)

Scope of Practice Social Workers Registration Board
(LtoR) Diane Garrett RSW, Principal Policy Advisor SWRB, Paul’e Ruwhiu RSW, Lecturer Massey University Auckland; Kieran O’Donoghue RSW, Associate Professor Massey University; Graham Warren Kaumatua SWRB;Shannon Pakura RSW, SWRB Chair & Māori Service Development Manager Barnardos; Sally Dalhousie RSW, COO The Fono and ANZASW Vice President; Rose Henderson RSW, SWRB Board member, Director of Allied Health Canterbury DHB; Lucy Sandford-Reed CEO ANZASW; Sharyn Roberts RSW, ANZASW President and Social Work Manager Te Ora Hou Otautahi; Miriama Scott RSW, President Tangata Whenua Social Workers Association; Shayne Walker RSW, Senior Lecturer University of Otago; Liz Gourlay RSW, Professional Lead Social Work BoP DHB.

A rōpū (working group) made up of leaders from across the social work sector has now met to begin developing the Scope, taking into consideration the contributions made by social workers during the SWRB engagement hui.

That draft Scope will be shared for sector feedback later this year.

Feedback on Scope of Practice

A Scope of Practice discussion document was previously circulated to the sector, as below,

Scope of Practice discussion document

and we have had feedback from all across the sector with the main themes being captured by the word cloud:

Scope of Practice Social Workers Registration Board

We would like to thank all the social workers who engaged in the first stage of providing feedback.

The feedback we have received has been through a mix of workshops around the country, Webinars, survey monkey, and email submissions. ANZASW also hosted several workshops and Webinars for which we are grateful.

We received a number of suggestions for content that social workers thought should be included, and where they added to the themes in the first section below, we have included them.  We also received several complete Scope of Practice statements, and these are at the end of this document.

The material in this document has been condensed for sharing with the sector. We received a number of emails that included some general thoughts and concerns. Where there were suggestions for scope content, we have added new suggestions. The full content of emails will be reviewed in the development of the draft Scope of Practice.

We are now working to develop the structure for the Scope of Practice that best reflects the feedback gathered, and our Aotearoa New Zealand practice context.

Once a draft Scope of Practice has been developed, we will seek further sector feedback before finalising the Scope of Practice. This work must be completed, signed off by the SWRB Board and gazetted by the 27th February 2021.

For a more comprehensive document, you can download the feedback from social workers (below) or click on the arrow on Feedback on Scope (below) to read it:

Feedback on Scope of Practice

Feedback on Scope

Feedback from workshops and survey monkey – framed within the three questions relating to purpose, activities and methods

  1. Purpose of social work
    1. Address social issues, social policy gaps, and social wellbeing -access to resources (housing, income stability, education, employment, cultural support), human rights, stigma, but particularly poverty, discrimination and inequality)
    2. Helping people make sense of their situation, regain a sense of purpose and reach their potential – empowerment. strengthening emotional and social wellbeing, tino rangatiratanga, reduce harm, reduce barriers to inclusion, increase resilience, support cultural identity
    3. Building life skills and challenge inequalities and discrimination
    4. In the future social workers will have greater roles in climate adaption, disaster management and resilience support
    5. Address impact of colonisation and oppression, as well as identifying and challenging institutional racism
    6. Support for communities to be resilient against future trauma (including intergenerational trauma) and shock
    7. Upholding the principles of te Tiriti (bi-cultural practice)
    8. Social empowerment, social integration, social education and teaching, social cohesion, social stability and social development
  2. Activities of social work (breadth of roles)
    1. Life coach, family violence support, encourager, glue, family/relationship therapy, bridge builder, mentor, consultant, whānau coordinator, facilitator, liaison and support, connector, change agent, community development/worker, researcher, counsellor, manager, supervisor, policy advisor, cultural advisor, educator.
  3. Methods of social work
    1. Whanaungatanga- establishing, engaging in and building relationships
    2. Decolonising approaches and practices
    3. To meet people where they are at, to provide advocacy, promote empowerment and self-determination, provide a voice and encouragement
    4. Social work process – engagement, assessment, intervention, closure (engage, assess, analyse, plan, goal setting, intervene, review, evaluate, risk assessment)
    5. Work with clients and their families and whānau in a culturally sensitive way to identify needs, risks, strengths and develop plans and provide interventions and therapy to address needs, increase safety and build on strengths
    6. Tuputaki (bringing all together)
    7. Strength-based practice, client-centred, whānau-orientated, empathetic, task-focused, therapeutic
    8. To create a space to empower service user to take control of their own waka. Social workers are warriors who share values, beliefs and vision to guide the waka.
    9. Collaboration with others (seek to understand a person in their environment, kanohi ki te kanohi/ face to face relationships, talking and listening and understanding a person in environment)
    10. Advocacy (across micro, meso and macro levels in society), particularly for vulnerable individuals, whānau groups and communities
    11. Critically reflective practice
    12. Work collaboratively (building partnerships/relationships built on trust, respect, integrity and understanding; and developing communities, community participation)
    13. Respect (tino rangatiratanga, kaitiaki, mana whenua, manaakitanga)
    14. Using kaupapa Māori lens and Māori models of practice (te Tiriti), whakapapa
    15. Role models – model behaviours and strategies, inspire and facilitate change, hold the belief in the ability to change until the client trusts in their own ability to change
    16. Showing respect for diversity in language, culture, gender, sexuality and worldviews
    17. Able to hold complexity and holistic frame, Conduit/bridge between systems, Comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty, Problem solvers, challenging stereotypes, Facilitating courageous conversations, Strategic contributions to organisations (Board governance, advisory)
    18. Ecological framework Understanding of historical, bicultural, socio-political and economic variable impacting people in Aotearoa

Other suggestions for consideration

  • The scope must start, and throughout reflect the unique Treaty relationship in Aotearoa New Zealand. This is after all a key competence for NZ social workers and has significant weight placed upon it in CPD requirements and those entering the NZ workforce with overseas qualifications. It therefore must not be hidden beneath broader phrases like indigenous knowledge or minimized by being an italicised appendix as in the 2017 draft.
  • We believe reference to the qualification of social work is an essential aspect in any scope eg. “Who are educated to work” (2017 scope) or “…and an academic discipline” (Joint Global Definition of Social Work).
  • The scope should link to the core skills that are taught as part of the social work qualification. The social work assessment core cycle of engage, gather, analyse, plan, act and review should be highlighted. We believe listing within the scope the wide range of activities that social workers might do under each of these assessment phases would be distracting.
  • One defining feature of social work is that it is empathetic and relational. We believe thisis a distinct difference between how social workers and other disciplines approach the assessment cycle (eg. Medical) so this should be incorporated.
  • Similarly, to differentiate the social work version of the assessment cycle from any other professional that uses a similar cycle – of which there will be many – the explanation of who are our clients and that our work/interventions are undertaken in the context of need is central to any scope.
  • We suggest the phrasing of empowerment is enhanced to more strongly represent the social work role of seeking the voice of clients, particularly of those who have less opportunity to speak or are less heard.
  • It is important that non-front-line social work roles are included but this needs to be succinct and brief. It refers to a small minority of those working in social work so should be a minor expansion within the scope. In the 2017 scope we think this is too pronounced and too wide-ranging. We suggest the phrasing is more aligned to indicating that any other work that directly influences direct work with clients and communities, present and future, eg. teaching, supervising or policy writing.
  • The core skills of social work are already in common usage and circulation with the SWRB Competencies. We wonder if the scope would benefit from being more tightly aligned to this, rather than a new range of methods and activities being explored.
  • Given there is a global definition of social work, we would support use of this as the foundation in the scope.
  • We suggest a good test to check the scope wording is right would be to imagine we are explaining what a social worker’s point of difference would be in a high functioning multi-disciplinary team. This approach should clearly showcase the ‘social work package of skills’ and differentiate it from the other social and health service approaches.
  • In this discussion I come from the premise that the mark of a professional social worker is that they have an identifiable set of skills, a body of knowledge and work to a Code of Ethics.   I agree with the premise that all registered social workers have similar core skills and knowledge and that the context in which they work provides additional skills and knowledge appropriate to the field of practice. (p.5).  I am very pleased to see that the ‘fields’ are suggested for application of skill sets and knowledge.
  • We agree with the Board’s action to strengthen social work practice with the re-development (enhancing) of a National Aotearoa New Zealand Scope of Social Work Practice. We endorse Te Tiriti o Waitangi as the founding document of our nation, laws and codes and informing our Scope of Practice.
  • We agree with the SWRB draft General Scope of Social Work Practice (2017) outlined in the discussion document and would like to add the following comments which reflect health social work practice.
    • Purpose of social work – We agree with the purpose as set out in the draft.  (paragraph one)
    • Activities of social work – We agree with paragraph two and would include comment about social workers promoting social and health changes; social workers assist people with life and health adjustments using counselling skills and strategies.
    • Methods of social work – Social workers engage collaboratively in multidisciplinary/ interdisciplinary teams using interprofessional approaches adding expertise to assist individuals and whānau.
  • What makes social work unique is that it has a dual focus – working collaboratively to support people to have what they need to flourish (people in their environment at individual, whānau and community levels), and changing the social systems/structures to be more responsive to the needs of those people and communities. Some social workers work at the front-line, advocating primarily at the micro and meso levels, while others engaged in social policy, work to make change at the macro level. Some social workers span these areas and others are focused on educating the next generation of social workers to live the values, knowledge and skills needed to progress the dual focus above.
  • An identifiable set of skills is required for a thorough assessment. An identifiable body of social sciences, social work and cultural knowledge is required to guide a successful intervention.

Scope of Practice complete statements received for consideration

A number of people submitted complete statements which follow:

Social workers are registered professionals who through respectful relationships with clients, carers, families, whānau, groups, other professionals and communities assess, manage, evaluate and facilitate change in individual, interpersonal, family, whānau and social situations. They do this through both analysis and action of the presenting relational, environmental, cultural, structural, political, societal, economic, historical and intergenerational dynamics. Social work seeks to facilitate change through enabling and empowering people to use their strengths and their communities to transform life challenges, enhance well-being and surmount societal barriers. Across a variety of practice settings, social workers use Mātauranga Māori, cultural, social sciences and humanities knowledge, social work theories, research, practice wisdom, skills, strategies and interventions. The principles of Rangatiratanga, Manaakitanga, Whanaungatanga, Aroha, Kotahitanga, Mātātoa, and Wairuatanga (ref. ANZASW Code of Ethics) are central to social work practice.

Social workers assess need, safety and resources. They work with clients, carers, families, whānau, groups, other professionals and communities towards client outcomes and social goals concerning personal and private matters, the development of social skills and through co-creating new experiences and community connections. Social work practice involves the conscious use of self, the application of critical reflective thinking, professional judgment and is guided by Codes of Ethics and Conduct.

Social workers create and review social policy, undertake practice-based and socio-political research, community development, community organising, networking and advocacy in relation to social justice, poverty and inequality. Social workers use their expertise in professional and/or team leadership, social work management, supervision, coaching, mentoring, teaching and tutoring social work, and advisory roles. Such practice is undertaken in accordance with Te Tiriti o Waitangi, the IFSW IASSW joint definition of social work, the Social Work Registration Board’s Code of Conduct and 10 core competencies, the ANZASW’s Code of Ethics and within the generally accepted standards relevant to the individual social worker’s area of practice and level of expertise.


Registered social workers are trained to work collaboratively with tangata whaiora, families/ whānau and / or communities to assess, manage, support and intervene in situations where tangata whaiora, families/ whānau and / or community needs are compromised; and /or human rights and social justice principles maybe violated.  For social work in particular this incorporates analyses of bio-ethical, environmental, cultural, structural, societal and economic issues; with other aspects eg. family assessments or psychiatric assessments being in addition to the aforementioned basic social work analyses.

Social work seeks to enable and empower tangata whaiora, families / whānau and / or their communities to address life challenges, enhance well-being, challenge societal barriers, and to highlight and address breaches to human rights and social justice.  Across a variety of practice settings, social workers use indigenous, evidence based social sciences, social work theories, skills, strategies, interventions and humanities knowledge. Principles of social justice, human rights, bioethics and respect for diversity are central to social work practice; and in accordance with Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

Those in teaching roles, social policy, advisory roles, supervising or management must demonstrate their work, research or policy development directly addresses the needs and issues of  tangata whaiora, or families/ whānau and / or communities;  that eco-systemic, bio-ethical, social justice and human rights principles underpin their work.  (Simply supervising, managing or teaching social workers is not in and of itself sufficient to meet this scope of practice.) 


Social workers in Aotearoa New Zealand work with a range of complex factors that impact on the safety, wairuatanga, and well-being of individuals, families, whānau, and communities. Their role is to restore and strengthen people’s ability and capacity to address and manage the challenge, difficulty and vulnerability that is being experienced.  Social work in Aotearoa New Zealand is skilled, respectful, kind, authoritative, compassionate, relational work that upholds the inherent mana of people, and attends to their self-determination and rangatiratanga.

Social workers undertake evidenced based systemic assessments and analysis that holistically consider all aspects of the context of a person’s situation. A number of methods and activities are then undertaken to enable and support change work that addresses safety, wairuatanga, and well-being. This is evident in a reduction of harm factors such as violence and addiction, and through enhanced wellness, identity, inclusion, self-efficacy, belonging, self-efficacy, whanaungatanga, and social connectedness.

Social workers in Aotearoa New Zealand recognise the historical impacts of colonisation, assimilation, institutional racism, exploitation, violence and oppression, and actively challenge discriminatory practice at all levels of society. They seek to address persistent issues of poverty, inequality, violence, discrimination and ongoing failures of social justice. This is undertaken through a commitment to kotahitanga and community, solidarity and collective action for all people. Social workers in Aotearoa New Zealand act with mātātoa and apply courage in situations that are uncomfortable, challenging and uncertain.

Social workers work across a number of fields in Aotearoa New Zealand including: Iwi Māori organisations, health, social services, justice, and statutory child protection services. They apply their expertise in variety of ways and roles including one to one clinical work, community development, advising, research, education, supervision, facilitation, advocacy, management, policy development and leadership. Social workers are skilled in the application of critical reflection and questioning and commit to a process of on-going learning and development in order to deliver the best service to people and communities.


Using social work skills and knowledge, social workers are registered professionals who work with individuals, groups, communities or the public, in the context within which they are living, to facilitate people to address challenges risks and adversity, enhance wellbeing and strengthen skills for sustainable change. Social workers also identify, inform and engage in action to change the structures of society that create and perpetuate injustice. Social workers may work in case work, clinical / therapeutic, educational, research, leadership, managerial, supervisory, community development, advocacy, policy development or governance roles.

Social work is practiced in accordance with Te Tiriti o Waitangi-informed practice, the IFSW / IASSW joint definition of social work and Statement of Ethical Principles, the ANZASW’s Code of Ethics the Social Workers Registration Board’s Code of Conduct and Core Competencies.

A social worker will hold an SWRB recognised social work qualification from a New Zealand education provider, meet the criteria under section 7 of the SWRA for overseas qualified social workers. Social workers with extensive experience but without a recognised qualification must be approved under Section 13 of the SWRA.


Social workers are qualified professional practitioners who are registered to practice within Aotearoa New Zealand in keeping with the ethics and standards described by the Social Work Profession in local and International contexts. A social Worker is educated through agreed and approved standards of qualification to work collaboratively with clients, communities, and organisations by incorporating an analysis of socio-environmental influences, cultural, structural, societal and economic issues. Social work seeks to enable and empower people and their communities to address social inequality, dis-empowerment, discrimination, and the erosion of human rights. The principles of collective responsibility, political efficacy, and respect for diversities are central to social work practice.

Social workers assess manage and judge risk, trauma, and safety and apply critical thinking and professionally accountable judgement.

Social workers engage in the development and formulation of social policy, undertake socio-political research, community development, networking and advocacy in relation to social justice, fairness, and work towards the goal to achieve a civil society.

Social workers use their expertise in accordance with Te Tiriti o Waitangi based practice, the IFSW and IASSW joint definition of social work and the 10 core competencies, in professional group or team leadership, social work management, supervision, coaching, mentoring, teaching and tutoring social work and advisory and advocacy roles.


Social work aims to alleviate the negative effects of societal constructs upon individuals. Social work can increase an individual’s sense of self-worth, autonomy, empowerment and connection by elevating their own unique value within their eco-system. Social work is directed by human rights and is enacted through collaborative relationships between a social worker and their community.

In the pursuit of promoting social justice and equity for all, social worker practice is based in respect, inclusivity, and the recognition of the inherent strengths that are made available through diversity. Social work is the understanding that all knowledge holds value and that each experience can provide unique input and solutions. Through this lens, social work can enable positive change and alleviate interpersonal gaps and barriers on both individual and community levels. Social work is the catalyst through which community can further activate and address their specific needs. Rather than enacting expertise on a community, social work is the practice of learning from others as the experts on their lived experiences. Social work perspective is one in which each community has endless potential, it is the role of the social worker to encourage and witness positive social change. Social work is the mobilisation of social change and a sense of agency through connection. The desired outcome of social work is to foster what is of value and what is held precious within the environment for individuals and their community and to ensure that these things are protected well into the future.

Within Aotearoa New Zealand, social work is steeped in Te Tiriti O Waitangi. This is the basis of our nationhood and the lens through which every social interaction is interpreted. In recognising the wairua of Te Tiriti, social work must aim to decolonise and enrich our culturally diverse nation for the emancipation of all people.

Social workers are facilitator of social change and justice, they belong in any space when power imbalances exist and count-act these imbalances through the protection and attainment of human rights. Social workers exist within spaces such as; justice, mental health, health, education,employment and immigration. They ensure that individuals and communities are accurately resourced and supported in a sustainable manner. Social workers build collaborative relationships for change. It is their responsibility to know a person, their mana, their hopes and dreams and their environment prior to commencing any work. In building relationship, social workers are mana enhancing, they follow the lead of an individual and do their best to eradicate any power imbalances. Social workers celebrate diversity and provide a space in which a person can be their authentic self without fear of judgement, prosecution or prejudice. This is an opportunity for people to learn about and enhance their sense of self and their place in the world. When working with people, social workers enter dream-scape and encourage limitless potential.

Social workers recognise the societal constructs within which they must operate and are critical of authoritative powers which depict individuals and communities as anything less than powerful, hopeful and inspirational. Social workers advocate that all people be treated equally and have equitable access to knowledge and resources.

Social workers are guided by their life experiences, their personal values and their collective professional knowledge. They move within an interchange of the personal and the professional in order to engage in authentic connection with people. Social workers self-advocate to ensure safety for not only those they work with but for themselves, their colleagues and their profession.

Social workers traverse the fine line of holding strong rapport and relationship with the professional responsibility to ‘keep whānau safe’. Sometimes this means notifications to State and Authorities where we cannot guarantee safety. Social workers hold that complexity and maintain strong transparency with whānau about this professional responsibility.

Social workers challenge power imbalances and call out all injustices in order to bring what is of value to the forefront of society. Social workers are a sounding board for change, they absorb the narrative of society and amplify the changes needs to happen. Social workers are an example of how a person should treat another, they hold hope for better outcomes, better relationships, better wellbeing and a better society.

Social workers think in the now and in the future. They work with each person on an individual and a community level. They continuously maintain flux and adjust the plan to accommodate the fluidity of life. Social workers can work 1:1 and in a group setting, they are always attuned to the injustices at play which act as barriers to people and their ability to step into their mana.

Social workers carry out ecological assessments which consider the whole of a person and what support they need. All assessment is carried out in partnership with a person and if a person cannot highlight their needs a social worker will speak to whānau, friends, other agencies involved to assess and plan a appropriate actions to best suit the person’s needs.

Social workers are able to recognise ‘bigger picture’ mahi and look across the different taha to ensure all dimensions of a persons oranga are acknowledged and needs met. Ie. We understand that a tangata whaiora’s addiction is not isolated from mental health.

Individual needs can be physical/taha tinana(housing, finances, health), emotional/ taha hinengaro (mental health, wellbeing, self-talk), spiritual/taha wairua (belonging, belief, marae, church, groups, or social/taha whānau (friends, peers, colleagues, connectivity). A social worker should look at a person as a whole and aim to provide a holistic approach to support them.

The desired outcome is to meet a person’s needs to ensure they can live their life to the fullest in a safe environment. Social workers hold a wealth of knowledge about the established and potential paradigms of a society, they navigate many different spaces with confidence and can shift their language and connectivity to accommodate to deferring levels (interpersonal, whānau, community, organisational, government).

Social workers utilise their lived experience and expertise to advocate for real and uncompromising change. They pay witness to the narratives within our society that lack visibility, they know how to hold their ground and continue to show up when all others cannot be found. They advocate for change in family violence awareness, drug/alcohol awareness, gangs, mental health, disabilities, gangs, community fears, youth groups, elderly. In order to advocate for this change, social workers uphold a professional level of transparent written, oral and electronic communication, they are reliable and on time.

Social workers are present and involved in their environment. They are experts of their community and actively liaise with other professional bodies. Social workers promote awareness of any issues within and work alongside community members who want to help. Social workers use a respectful and non-judgmental approach when working alongside the community and take into consideration that the community are experts of their own lives.

Social workers have a lens of anti-discrimination and non-prejudice, through this lens all forms of inequality and inequity are very clear. Social workers enhance the awareness of these matters and call them out as barriers, road blocks and injustices.

Social workers accumulate legislative and cultural knowledge which can be utilised at any time to promote and enhance the lives of individuals and community. Social workers are confident in their specific lens and the value of social work in the lives of others, they are collaborative with their colleagues and are competent at engaging with several different disciplines to the benefit of their community.

We have been able to engage with members of the sector through email, an online survey, different roadshow events across New Zealand, and a webinar led by the ANZASW. We will continue to engage with the sector to ensure your voices are heard and reflected. Once we have finished this first stage, the Scope will be returned to the sector for another round of feedback.

Developing a Scope of Practice was required by amendments to the Social Workers Registration Act, which you can find more about here.