The most serious disciplinary cases concerning social workers are referred to the Social Workers Complaints and Disciplinary Tribunal
Independent of the SWRB, the Tribunal is the disciplinary decision-making body which is quasi-judicial and its process is similar to that of a court.
The Tribunal is drawn from a pool of people, with each hearing consisting of five, including three social workers, a layperson, and the chair or deputy chair (experienced barristers) who prepare, preside over the hearing, and finally issue a written decision.
Decisions can include:
- no further action
- censuring the social worker
- placing conditions on the social worker’s practise
- suspending the social worker from practising
- cancellation of the social workers registration.
Find out more about the complaints process here.
There has been a noticeable increase in the number of complaints and notifications received by the SWRB, in part due to the introduction of mandatory reporting requirements under the Social Workers Registration Act.
The Tribunal hearings are often held where the social worker is located so involve travel and meeting costs but as a result of Covid19, more hearings are now being held remotely.
The SWRB funds Tribunal hearings and while costs may be awarded, the social worker’s ability to pay must be taken into account which means that usually SWRB recover only a small portion of the actual costs, if anything. There is a direct relationship between the increasing number of disciplinary matters and their associated costs. The SWRB funds these costs through the disciplinary levy. If the numbers of disciplinary matters rise, then so too does the disciplinary levy to meet these costs.
The increase in complaints shows the regulatory system is working which protects the reputation of social workers as unprofessional behaviour is held to account, and the SWRB assesses and takes action.
Complaints against registered social workers
SWDT decision Pomare Lumsden
The Tribunal considered a charge against Pomare Lumsden, registered social worker of Otariki, who was convicted in the District Court of two drug offences, including supplying methamphetamine to another person which they both used. The social worker was censured and his registration cancelled. See full decision:
SWDT decision Bessie Hanley
The Tribunal heard a charge against Bessie Mihiroa Hanley, registered social worker of Hastings, who was convicted of indecent assault. The social worker admitted the charge and resigned her position.
The Tribunal censured the social worker and conditions were imposed for a period of two years commencing when she returns to a social work role. She was also ordered to pay towards the costs of the hearing. See full decision:
SWDT decision name suppressed
The Tribunal considered a charge that a social worker, between 2017 & 2018, created two fake identification cards representing that she was employed by Work and Income New Zealand and Oranga Tamariki, when in fact she was not employed by either of those agencies, and visited a client in hospital with those cards displayed. At the time, the social worker was not registered and the Tribunal found it did not have jurisdiction over pre-registration conduct that is charged as professional misconduct or ‘conduct unbecoming’.
The Tribunal decided that the appropriate course was to strike out the charge. See full decision:
SWDT decision Sioeli Vaiangina
The Tribunal considered a charge against Sioeli Vaiangina, registered social worker of Auckland. The social worker was charged with not disclosing the police investigation regarding indecently assaulting a young woman under the age of 16 when renewing his practising certificate, and breaching the Code of Conduct.
The Tribunal considered that the fact and circumstances of the Police warning were sufficient to undermine the trust and confidence the community must be able to hold in a registered social worker. The social worker was censured and his registration cancelled. The Tribunal ordered the social worker to pay towards the costs of the charge. See full decision below:
SWDT decision name suppressed
The Tribunal heard a charge against Ms S, provisionally registered social worker of Auckland. The social worker was sentenced, by the Auckland District Court, to ten months’ home detention for indecent acts to a young person under the age of 16.
The Tribunal found that the offences were committed in circumstances that reflected adversely on the social worker’s fitness to practise and upheld the charge. The social worker was censured and her registration was cancelled. The Tribunal ordered the social worker to pay towards the costs and expenses of the hearing. See full decision:
SWDT decision Luisi
The Social Workers Complaints and Disciplinary Tribunal found registered social worker Robert Luisi was employed as a social worker but worked without a practising certificate for several years. The Tribunal censured Mr Luisi and ordered him to pay a fine and a portion of costs. See full decision below.
SWDT decision Harrison
The Disciplinary Tribunal found that registered social worker Chapman Harrison breached professional boundaries in relation to his interactions with a teenage girl who he met when she attended a youth programme he was in charge of, and with whom he shared whakapapa. She was in a vulnerable state, having suffered bullying and having a risk of self-harm. In addition to providing her with social work services without appropriate supervision (particularly given the conflict of interest), he allowed their personal relationship to develop in a way that went outside of his professional obligations, including sending text messages with inappropriate content and purchasing her personal gifts (a cell phone and perfume). Additionally, during this time, the Tribunal found that Mr Harrison was practising social work without having a practising certificate.
The Tribunal determined that Mr Harrison breached the Code of Conduct and that his conduct amounted to professional misconduct. They censured him and made orders that he undertake training on professional boundaries, cultural competence, and communication; and that he be subjected to a period of 2 years’ supervision. He was ordered to pay costs of $500. See full decision below.