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The Social Workers Registration Board.

The Petition for an Independent Complaints Authority for Child Youth & Family, (CYF) New Zealand

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The Social Workers Registration Board

Please Note: The Petition is Closed
The debate and need for change continues.

Last updated 31st September 2010

The following is an update to Why a CYF Complaints Authority is Needed. As we said from the beginning we do not claim, nor do we believe we have all the answers or that our ideas will or will not work. We do however want to stimulate debate and welcome all feedback.

Let's look at The Social Workers Registration Board (SWRB) views, and start with a comment made in an email dated:
Monday, 10 August 2009 from the Board.
"We are concerned that Mr McCroskie continues to call for an 'independent CYF Complaints Authority … ' when one already exists."

It is our opinion that in making the stated claims the SWRB either knowingly or unwittingly becomes part of the problem and not the solution. For rather than clearly name this exisiting independent CYF Complaints Authority it is left to the readers imagination as to which exisiting Panel, Authority, Agency or organization this might be. Although given the source, we do believe that the SWRB is probably meant.

Addressing the Claims

  1. Setting The Call Straight
    This call is not only from Mr McCroskie but has been from many individuals and organizations for years. Yet it seems that each existing agency insists that an independent authority is not needed as one exists, when in point of fact no true Independent Authority does exist. This call and the need is not so much about correcting errors by individuals, although that might clearly become part of any Authorities brief. It is about correcting the procedures and practices of the agency that guide individual Social Workers into erroneous behaviour and actions that border on abuse.
  2. An Existing Authority
    As the writer does not name the agency or authority that is said to be the exisiting independent authority. Then let us look briefly at the most often claimed authority, the Chief Executive Officers (CEO) Advisory Panel
    1. If the writer refers to the CEO Advisory Panel;
      The writer needs to find out exactly what the role of that Panel is? The process one needs to go through to get a meeting with the Panel? Then please explain how this Panel can be an Independent Authority when any recommendation made by this Panel is not binding on the CEO or the CYF Agency. If then neither the CEO or the CYF agency are bound to follow nor implement that advice how can the CEO Panel ever correct procedures that lead to error?

      Secondly in regard to the CEO Advisory Panel, there remain many matters that the Panel cannot investigate. To suggest the CEO Advisory Panel, is this independent authority, when the Panel is unable to advise or look into the aspects that are the cause of repeated practical errors in regard to the standard operating procedures that CYF follows, would then be twice errant in regard to the CEO Advisory Panel.
    2. Perhaps the author is refering to the Children's Commissioner.
      If so, the writer is again wrong. While the Commissioner may advise the Minister on certain matters surrounding CYF, and in theory is charged with the oversight of the Childrens, Young Persons and Families Act, the Commissioner may only make suggestions in regard to the Act. The Commissioner can not under the present legislation correct procedures and guidelines that lead to errors in practice and action. This is another can of worms brought about in our opinion by ridiculous legislation that we will cover more indepth shortly.
    3. If the author means the SWRB is this Independent Authority, then this is also wrong.
      For the fact is, the SWRB can not investigate or recommend corrections to any procedure or practical errors within the Child Youth and Family Agency's present standard operational practices. The SWRB may investigate complaints in regard to an individual Social Worker, but the Board can not investigate complaints made in relation to the CYF Agency, the organizations procedures or practices, wherein reside the real and evident errors within the Agency. The Social Workers Registration Board cannot then be that Independent Authority when the Board cannot hold the Agency accountable for procedures or guidelines that lead to errant practices.

      Moreover the SWRB is at present unable to enforce a common standard of practice because Registration is not compulsory. While the Board itself is not funded through Government channels but must rely on Registration Fees alone for all its income. Both these situations in our opinion are also errant. Registration should be compulsory, and a base fund should be given to the Board annually, to allow the Board to work in a pro-active manner rather than having to be forced into being reactive.


Why Obstruct the needed?

What is it that the exisiting agencies fear, "redundancy" or an authority that can investigate All aspects? If it is "redundancy" does not your errant claim then show you to be nepotistic and self-centered? What is so frightening in having an agency that can look at all aspects of CYF procedures and practices and correct the errors that lead to actions that border on abuse and others that are clearly abusive?

There is no doubt in our mind that just as individual social workers need to be held accountable, so do the organizations they work for. The biggest issue in this regard with the SWRB is that the Board can not hold the Child, Youth and Family Agency accountable.

It is about procedure, Not Individuals.

If a policy or procedure that guides the Social Workers within an organization is wrong, how can the problem then be with the individual Social Worker. Afterall the individual is paid by the organization to work according to the organizations guidelines and procedures. Just as any employee in any situation, the individuals are expected to follow those guidelines, procedures and instruction of higher officials.

If a manager then overrules a social worker and something goes wrong, is this really that Social Workers error?

For example;
A senior officer within CYF, for argument sake the CEO Mr Hughes, Mr Smith, any Regional Manager or alike can direct or override any of their staff decisions. Yet these people are not all Social Workers with academic qualifications or practical skills in the profession. I doubt if either Mr Hughes or Mr Smith will become registered Social workers, however even given their positions we can argue that they are not required to be qualified in the field.

Yet other senior personal are not all Social Workers and those who are qualified, are not compelled to be Registered. So they also remain unaccountable to the SWRB for the decisions they make and the directives they give that may impact directly upon any Child or family concerned. So then these managers and senior personal can often remain in the background, a bit like a puppet-master pulling the strings with impunity.

Let us also not forget the Care and Protection Resource Panels which are supposedly there to advise Social Workers in difficult decisions. Yet they also do not have to include people with a Professional background in the field, and neither are they accountable to the SWRB. In fact these Panels are only accountable it seems to the local CYF manager who can in fact dismiss any member or the panel itself at anytime.

Now then given the important roles that Care and Protection Panels have in all this, surely they should be accountable to an outside agency such as the SWRB or the Children's Commissioner rather than in house and the local CYF Manager. You can read more about the Care and Protection Panels here


Protecting Individuals from Bad Decisions

In situations as outlined above, Should the Social Worker have to stand alone and accept all responsibility for the consequences?

We may argue that they should. Afterall they are the qualified, the professional, and as such they should have known better. The employee we might argue should have taken it to a higher authority for clarification. But again suppose that in any instance the Social Worker employee did that and was still instructed to follow the managers directive.

Are not all then equally guilty? Do not all three then have some responsibility for the error? Yet only the Registered Social Worker can be held accountable by the SWRB.

In the same way that none clinical or professionally trained staff would not be giving experienced doctors or surgeons advise in the consultation room or theatre. So it should be with social workers and their managers.

Especially so if that manager is not a registered social worker and thus unaccountable to the SWRB as the registered Social Worker would be. Even more so if that person in authority is only accountable to an agency that seeks to hide it's errors, deny it's errors and refuses to accept that it should be accountable.

We might argue that the Social Worker could just walk away from the organization and seek employment in a more favourable working environment. Well excuse me for pointing out the obvious but is this not what happens at present within CYF. And not just from burnout but from frustration at being hogtied and expected to carry out abusive practices. Look at the videos Graeme has posted, do a google search or read the "Real Life Examples" in the first part of this document to find out why we say abusive practices.

Now we might argue that if a Social Worker can be clearly shown to have acted in a suspect or errant manner then the Social Workers Registration Board can address that, if complaint is made, and some correction of the individual is possible. Yet in this, if the employee is only following orders or prescribed procedures and expected practices, then the same or similar will eventually occur again and again. Which is exactly what has been happening within CYF for years.


Which is better Reactive or Proactive?

  • What use is a reactive SWRB?

After reading youbethejudge, it seems the most errant have not been corrected. The harm done has not been addresed and more importantly these types of behaviour and action reflect upon every Social Worker within the nation. Yet, this narrative, is but one case of the many we could mention. While one of the people mentioned actually works in Greymouth and seems to have been promoted. Yet this person is not a registered Social worker but is apparently a member of the Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Workers (ANZASW). So then while they are said to be in a coordinators role in the present position they hold. Obviously they see themselves as a Social Worker based upon their continued Union membership in ANZASW. Yet they can avoid being challenged over their actions because they choose to remain unregistered?

In response to the question it may be argued that under the present rules and regulations, without complaint no action or investigation can be taken. This leads us to the question;

  • What if the Social Workers Registration Board and the union ANZASW got ProActive?

Consider the possibilites of actually taking responsibility for those you have oversight of and or claim to represent. Not sitting back and waiting for complaints. But standing up for Social Workers, the Children, Youth and Family's of New Zealand and doing the job you claim you can.

Reign in the rampant abusers of children and family's who claim to be Social Workers and bring the entire profession into disrepute. Get behind the call for a greater authority that will be able to do what you presently can not. Back the call for compulsory Registration and Government funding for the Board. Let's together Stop Abuse in all its forms toward all children and their families, from all people, especially those who are supposed to know better and claim to be Social Workers.


In Agreement

All that said, the Social Workers Registration Board (SWRB) and Graeme seem to agree on a few things, but not on everything. For example the need for a truly independent CYF complaints system. Given that the Chief Executive Advisory Panel is attached to the MSD who run CYF and answer to their CEO. Then at present this is clearly not an independent system.

However the SWRB seem to be suggesting that they (the SWRB) are independent and can do the job. This has pros and cons as I will now explain:

The pro is they are not part of the MSD and therefore are independent in that respect. The con is, could they as a government agency run such a system alone and not get high jacked at some point.

If the system includes other community members and/or organizations as part of the complaints panel outside of the SWRB then that might be more agreeable for sure. For example: familyfirst, the commissions, ANZASW and other non-governmental organizations.

The biggest hurdle here is the Government being willing to let ngo's have a say in CYF policies or issues, which does not happen at the moment, unless there is an amendment to an existing act and public consultation is called for.

I would rather see the funding that goes to the CEO Advisory Panel, given to the (SWRB) to become pro-active and oversee complaints about CYF and for that to be boosted if needed. There is a need for compulsory registration but also a danger in that. First the costs and fees are too high, but as the SWRB does not get any crown funding I can see why.

The second is the criteria, I call myself a qualified social worker and advocate because in my roles this is what I am doing now, however I doubt I could meet their requirements as they are, for what I currently do.

It is in fact too easy to bypass the SWRB at present by simply having a title such as, a support person, advocate or manager, coordinator or alike. Thus you can avoid having to join the SWRB at present and would still be able to avoid registration if compulsory registration was instituted. As one person at CYF said they would do. I work on my own and not as part of any organization, however I would like to join the SWRB and to be held accountable, as I do agree with the standards and believe these should be followed by all.

Thirdly, we would also have to be careful that any Complaints Authority did not end up like (some) Care and Protection Resource panels, rubber stamping everything and suffering from nepotism and cronyism.


In Closing

Most of the New Zealand public don't know some of this agencies exists or for what purpose, and when you approach them they offer little, if any help with complaints in regard to the CYF Agency, this is however because they are unable to help in that regard. Graeme would welcome anyone writing to him who has had a good experience with any of these organizations when laying a complaint.

One of these organizations said, "We can't compel CYF to front up owing to the complexity of privacy issues and their employment agreements with the Ministry of Social Development (MSD)"

I also think that when CYF get complaints about their staff they should be compelled to advise the Social Workers Registration Board if it is justified. Anyone who has seen Ray Smith's responses when interviewed over "The list" story will have noticed that a year later he was none the wiser.

A full 12 months after the events surrounding "The List Story," and only after nation wide publicity do any of the victims even get a half-hearted apology, while the second in command is still none the wiser. Is this truly an acceptable standard?  

Given that do you trust CYF to investigate themselves, indeed do we, would we trust other organizations and agencies to investigate themselves. Graeme has plenty more examples of this kind of attitude.

We would like to see all the agencies and organizations lift their game and improve their public profile for the sake of our children, families, social workers and the profession, which is why we ask that CYF display their Codes of practice and conduct, and for the social workers to inform clients about them at first contact.


Summary of main issues:

The biggest problem with the Social Workers Registration Board is that they while they could hold a Registered Individual Social Worker within CYF accountable, the organization Child Youth and Family is out of the SWRB reach.

In our own familiy's dealings with the Chief Executive Advisory panel no individual was ever held accountable in their report. We got an apology from CYF the organization for what happened and that was it. You might say that should be enough but the problem is some of the people involved with our case still work at CYF and got off the hook, while they continue in their ways and remain free to do the same to other families. Because neither the error in action or CYF guidelines and procedure have been addressed.

One Possible Solution:
If the Social Workers Registration Board were given oversight of the CYF Agency in regard to it's policies, procedures, and operating practices from a structural framework point of view, and retain the current abilities to hold the individual social worker accountable, then there is the complete package which in theory dove tales nicely together. The SWRB could then possibly have someone on the Care and Protection Rescore Panel to keep an eye on things there also.

This combined with Compulsory Registration for all qualified and practicing Social Workers or those working in the field under other titles and the addition of minimal Government funding for the Board, could see the Board and it's Registered Membership become pro-active. Increasing the quality of service and practice not only within CYF but right across the field of Social Work.

Finally please remember
The views expressed in this document may or may not be be supported by those people and agencies mentioned. Some of the individuals and groups along with the thoughts and ideas expressed are for the purpose of gathering ideas and giving working examples. Consequently some persons and organizations mentioned have been dragged into this debate unknowingly.


Please Note: The Petition is Closed
The debate and need for change continues.

The SWRB States.

--- Original Message ---
From: Sean McKinley (email address withheld)
Sent: Monday, 31 August 2009 11:52 a.m.
To: Graeme Axford

Dear Graeme

Apologies for the delay in responding to but as previously mentioned I have been out of the office and have been catching up on work on my return.

Thank you for your email and the explanation of the issues as you see them.

I appreciate that your experience has resulted in a somewhat negative perception of CYF from your point of view and that this tends to influence your perception of the organisation as a whole. My experience is somewhat different and I expect that we will probably agree to disagree on many points.

The Social Workers Registration Act 2003 has as its main purposes to protect the public by implementing a registration process, establishing a complaints and disciplinary function, promoting registration and enhancing the professionalism of social workers. Please note that the Board is appointed with both registered social workers and lay representatives. The complaints and disciplinary tribunal is only required to have at least one barrister or solicitor. The remaining members are from a wide cross section of the public and as well as registered social workers there is a requirement for a wide selection of people appointed to this tribunal. The tribunal is truly independent in that the neither the Board or the Minister for Social Development can influence the tribunal’s decisions.

Registration is currently voluntary but the Act includes a regular review cycle to determine whether voluntary registration is achieving the purposes of the Act. The Board’s view is that registration should be compulsory and we are working towards that. Once registration becomes compulsory anyone calling themselves a social worker or more importantly undertaking social work activities must be registered whether they call themselves a social worker or some other title.

In the short time that registration has been in place a significant number of social workers have registered and many more are working towards meeting the criteria so that they can be registered. Our main focus is to work with the profession to ensure they are aware of registration, what is required and how to go about registering. We have been successful in that endeavour and the number of registered social workers continues to increase.

We have received a number of complaints about registered social workers and social workers who are not registered.

When we receive a complaint about a registered social worker this is processed as determined by the SWR Act and involves the SWRB working with the complainant, the social worker concerned and often the social worker’s employer. Where possible we work towards achieving a solution that is acceptable to all parties – often this can be a simple matter of an apology. In some cases the practice of the social worker is reviewed by the SWRB and processes put in place address any problems and conditions or restrictions placed on the practise of the social worker. In some instances there is not acceptable solution to all parties or the issue is of such seriousness that it is referred to a complaints assessment committee and this results in a hearing for the Complaints and Disciplinary Tribunal. All this has occurred under the current legislation. As you are also aware some complaints are not addressed by the SWRB as they fall outside of the Board’s legislated purpose. Some complaints are dismissed by the Complaints and Disciplinary Tribunal if they are assessed as not needing to be pursued.

If we receive a complaint about a social worker who is not registered we are not able to address that complaint ourselves but we always provide alternative avenues for a complainant to follow whether that be referrals to employers, the Health and Disability Commission, the Childrens Commission, etc.

Please be assured that the SWRB will always have access to the appropriate funding to address complaints against registered social workers and we don’t expect to be in a position where deregistering social workers would have that great an impact on our financial viability.

The SWRB does register social workers as individuals and as such the Board’s authority is as you point out over the individual. This does however have an impact on employers as they are required to ensure that registered social workers that they employ meet the standards set by the Board in terms of supervised practice, professional development and competence to practice. There are severe penalties both for the individual social worker and the employer if someone is employed as a registered social worker but does not meet the requirements to continue to be registered.

I hope the above goes someway to addressing the issues you have raised previously. In the end I am very happy with the progress we have made in implementing the SWR Act and I am really proud of the numbers of social workers who have registered. The majority are actively taking responsibility for their registration or working towards meeting the qualification and/or competence requirements. Many employers such as CYF, DHB’s and many NGO’s are actively supporting their employees financially to achieve registration. While all professions will include those who don’t meet the high standards attained by the majority we are actively working to ensure that those who are registered continue to provide excellent social work services and to address the shortcomings of those who don’t. Compulsory registration would help us achieve that more easily but until such time as a change is made to the legislation we will continue to work towards fulfilling the purposes of the Act as it is currently set out.



Please Note: The Petition is Closed
The debate and need for change continues.

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