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Professional identity-Why it matters or Why we are being screwed by the Government

Written By: - Date published: 11:09 am, April 22nd, 2018 - 27 comments
Categories: liberalism, public services, Social issues, useless, workers' rights - Tags: ,

Originally posted by Amy at Ruminations of a backyard revolutionary


If you talk about professional identity or professional pride, you are likely to be greeted with some eye rolls. In a neoliberal world where workers are treated like automatons many people are forced to endure work. The thought of having some identity and pride vested in it is simply galling.

This does not mean that we can afford to neglect or ignore the importance of professional identity.  Even if its a resistant- “you wont fuck with me” one. This is particularly the case for those people who work with people-undervalued, critical work. To stand in our professional identity- how our work should be -and to fight for that is to resist being swept into the neoliberal rubbish dump of irrelevance.

I am a social worker. We are a profession. Even to say that has often been a radical act. Framed as ‘do gooders’ who are ‘caring’ or alternatively ‘child  stealers’ most of what you hear as a narrative around social work is bullshit. It’s hard to have a line of sight into our work as its multifaceted, complex and ever changing, exactly as people themselves are, and we walk alongside them to the best of our abilities.

To quote our global definition of social work we sythesise “theories of social work, social sciences, humanities and indigenous knowledges. Principles of social justice, human rights, collective responsibility and respect for diversities are central to social work”

This might just seem like words on a page but its one of the most complex jobs ever. Supporting people, families and communities day to day is complex enough. But actual social change? Social justice? That’s a huge task, and its one that we are uniquely committed to and responsible for. It’s even in our standards of practice which we have to prove.

With our well articulated commitment to social justice I suppose it should not come as a surprise that when it comes to recognise us as a skilled, competent profession and protecting our practice the Government has balked. The Social Work Registration Bill has been through select committee and come out the other side. It is an appalling assault on social work. It ensures that the work of social workers is not defined. Nope. Nothing about the work and what that looks like.  No scope of practice- something every other regulated profession has. All that is protected is the title social work or worker. Its kind of like if I wanted to stop people swimming in my pool unless they knew how to swim so I put a gate up and stood sternly in front of it gatekeeping. Yet I forgot the damn fence and the whole neighborhood has just walked in and is swimming behind my back!

“It’s too difficult” they all cry from their seats in Parliament. Social work is too confusing, too vague, too fuzzy, it cannot be defined!  I call bullshit on that. Seriously. Social work is defined clearly globally and locally. We know our own work, how dare you insinuate that we don’t.

What is the actual point of protecting the title but not the practice? Then employers can just call a social work job any old thing and have any old person do it. Maybe someone who doesn’t have to demonstrate that they are upholding social and economic justice perchance? Even the title protection has a wealth of confusing exemptions designed to make sure that you can never be sure who is a social worker even when they are called one.

Or on a more pragmatic basis an employer may just want or need to pay less, not pay for supervision, professional development or anything else associated with quality practice. We know the NGO sector has been underfunded for years, they may do that because they have to. Others will do it because they can. Turn around in 5 years and social workers will be a rarity. Oh don’t get me wrong- the work will be getting done- but you won’t know who you are getting and you can be damn sure they won’t be accountable to anyone.

If the Government really wanted quality practice then in my experience well paid, well qualified staff with access to lots of ongoing learning  and high quality supervision do an amazing job.  It’s not rocket science. It’s logic.

This assault on social work is one of many we have endured.  I am sure it will not be the last. It is not uncommon to be attacked when you are a threat to the powerful and you talk about the reality of or unjust world loudly and without fear. However we are proud you see, we will lean into our professional identity and pride and we will fight. I think you will find that we are strong.

~ Amy

27 comments on “Professional identity-Why it matters or Why we are being screwed by the Government”

  1. JohnSelway 1

    Before the cancer took her, my mother worked for Banardos – helping children find foster homes. She worked her ass off, even while sick with the Big C, long hours and in an office where everyone shared one computer due to poor funding.

    She was an amazing woman with a difficult job. She deserved better and more from it.

  2. joe90 2

    What is the actual point of protecting the title but not the practice? Then employers can just call a social work job any old thing and have any old person do it.


    Or on a more pragmatic basis an employer may just want or need to pay less, not pay for supervision, professional development or anything else associated with quality practice.

    If your intent is to devolve responsibility from the state to NGOs, this is exactly what you do.

    • Bill 2.1

      Devolving responsibility, and gutting something in order that people are easier to exploit, are two different things. One can be done without the other.

      • joe90 2.1.1

        Can’t fill social worker positions because of a shortage of qualified folk, change the job designation.

        Can’t offload case work to NGOs because NGO’s don’t have suitably qualified folk, see above.

        • Bill

          Yes. I think we’re saying the same thing. Doing things this way is politically motivated and wouldn’t be happening if the appropriate political will existed – one that valued us and what we can do for one another; one that was committed to developing or providing the best possible framework to help valued people do valuable things.

    • Michelle 2.2

      the gnats have underminded positions like social workers recently I had to deal with a new cyfs Indian social worker and I couldn’t understand his English and he did not know what he was talking about so here we see how the tories treat the people that rely on help and we have people with very little training he did not know the system.

  3. patricia bremner 3

    Of course Social Work should have a training pathway, with intervals of attainment matched with pay and conditions.

    We undervalue all work with people. This, nursing policing teaching ..so it goes.

    Is that because AI won’t require those services?

  4. Incognito 4

    But actual social change? Social justice? That’s a huge task, and its one that we are uniquely committed to and responsible for.

    Could this be a (the?) pain point, politically speaking, of course?

    This excellent post and yesterday’s Guest Post have opened a new world for me, which tells me how sheltered and protected my life really is …

  5. Anon 5

    We have social workers in New Zealand?

  6. tracey 6

    I went to the Chairs facebook page yesterday and asked his view on the article.

    While we may not like his reply, it was bloody quick. I sometimes email MPs. None reply this quickly.

    An Opportunity Missed? A Failure to Listen? And Whose Advice was Privileged?

    ” To quote our global definition of social work we sythesise “theories of social work, social sciences, humanities and indigenous knowledges. Principles of social justice, human rights, collective responsibility and respect for diversities are central to social work”

    I dont know, but maybe part of the problem is that the definition above applies to Degrees in Youth Work too with the exception of the theories of social work per se but they study similar theory to my knowledge”

    Absolutely Social Work is a profession. To consider otherwise is simply academic or professional snobbery.

    Socialcworkers, youth workers and workers in drug and alcohol addiction, to name but 3 provide crucial albeit under valued work to NZ.

    • Amy 6.1

      Remember it is common for a professions to have points of overlap. Something mentioned in a scope of practice does not prevent everyone else from doing it. Think of Nurse Practioners prescribing- this doesn’t make them Doctors, nor detract from the identity of Doctors. Also think of the overlaps between Occupation Therapy and Physios, yet both have a scope of practice without harming the other. It makes no sense to say social work cannot be defined because it has points of overlap. We all do. Yet we are also unique. Canada has done this superbly for social service workers and social workers- scopes of practice are similar yet there are specific unique points to them which are clearly articulated and accepted. Power remains with those works, not with employers. http://www.ocswssw.org/professional-practice/scopes-of-practice/

      • Tracey 6.1.1

        Thanks Amy

        Canada is actually superb on many fronts so taking their lead would not be a bad thing, imo.

  7. Smellpir 7

    Great post Amy, and kia kaha to all the angry social workers across NZ who feel like they just got politically shafted by their own team!

    The post yesterday traversed whether this was just a cock-up by a new Select Committee who hadn’t got their heads around the content of the bill… and that seems the most likely explanation (I hope!). However, this has got to be made right because two posts on TS in two days from a angry professional group who should be Labour’s core constituency is a very, very bad look.

    What is worse, the Bill was actually in good shape when it was introduced by the last Government in August, 2017. What the hell happened?

    • tracey 7.1

      Did you post to Gareth Hughes Facebook page? He made himself accessible by facebook so, access him there.

      Many many ways to skin the cat.

    • veutoviper 7.2


      I am about to post a fairly long comment on the other post re the make up of the Select Committee, and their previous experience in this area – and the imbalance in this regard between the 5 government members and the 4 National members.

      I have also included details about the make up of previous Social Services Committees under the National government and a Whos Who of current MPs who have had previous experience.

      It is long and detailed and probably of little interest to lots of people here, but having done the research, thought it might be of use to those like yourself who are directly involved to target MPs in Parliament with experience in this area. Feel free etc.

      I decided to post it there rather than here for continuity and also because each post has a slightly different focus. EG this one is really about the massive scope of practice issue …

      Have done a bit of research on that as well but not yet finished.

    • Matthew Whitehead 7.3

      One thing to remember: Darroch Ball is the casting vote on that committee. I have no ideas what his views are on this, but it is not a committee controlled by Labour and the Greens. It is controlled, in effect, by NZF.

  8. patricia bremner 8

    We have awful Nats on that committee, and needed more clever others!!

    • veutoviper 8.1

      No, patricia. The four Nats on the Select Committee are very, very experienced – three of the four are former Ministers (Collins Ngaro and Upston), and three of the four have considerable previous experience on this Select Committee and with this subject – Collins, Ngaro and Pugh. Collins previous experience included 2002-2003 when the original Social Workers Registration Act was examined and passed in 2003.

      Of the five member “govt” team on the other hand, only one – Darroch Ball – has had previous experience on this Committee from 2014 – 2017. The other four have had none and two are new to Parliament as of 2017.

      More detail in my comment on the other post, including why this imbalance of experience exists on this and on many other Select Committees.

      An Opportunity Missed? A Failure to Listen? And Whose Advice was Privileged?

  9. greywarshark 10

    Did we find just who was on that select committtee – Justice wasn’t it?

    Gareth Hughes with Maggie Barry Dept chair.
    Who else and their affiliation? I had a look at the official page but it wasn’t clear.

    And we should remember that there is no degree that must be studied and gained called Political Grounding or such. What we elect on are depth of dimple, suitable clothing, apparent candour and charisma, having some financial or legal training.

  10. koreropono 11

    Fantastic post Amy and mostly, and aptly, describes the challenges social workers face now that government has refused to protect our scope of practice. This means a continuation of the free for all space , where client needs are secondary to organisational need and survival (that’s a whole new post on its own).

    I am curious though, having read the amendments to the legislation I was slightly confused by some of the wording in the additions of 6AAA and 6AAB – they seem to give protection to the tittle social work and social worker but with exceptions at the same time? I think you make reference to this in your post. Can you please explain this further or are you aware of any legal analysis that we can draw on?

    Also in your post, you point out the following:

    “Oh don’t get me wrong- the work will be getting done- but you won’t know who you are getting and you can be damn sure they won’t be accountable to anyone”

    That probably could be made clearer for non-social workers because while “the work will still be getting done”, it is how that work is being done that is the problem. Let’s be honest about the multiple quasi-social workers (using various titles) running around who not only have no clue what they’re doing but are also damaging vulnerable people left right and centre. These are the unqualified persons, hired by organisations because they are cheap and they cost less than maintaining social workers who have practice standards, accountability, supervision, PD and competency requirements, who require annual practicing certification, who belong to professional bodies etc etc. Meanwhile clients are unaware of the lack of qualification/experience/training of the person who they think are some kind of social worker because those quasi-workers using whatever label they are given and the organisations who hire them are not honest about it. Moreover when families are left wondering why this social worker and that social worker are useless (and I have met a few families who’ve expressed this about particular workers/organisations), those unqualified workers and organisaitons are sullying the reputation of the social work profession because many social services users do not differentiate between qualified and unqualified/untrained because they’re not told the truth. Meanwhile many of those unqualified workers are also sullying the name of the social work profession, and I suppose they have a vested interest to do so, if it means continued employment for them (I’ve seen this happen in organisations who don’t hire social workers but use cheap, unqualified/untrained labour instead).

    So while yes the work may be getting done, is it being done with the same understanding of the multiple theories and practice models that social workers utilise in our day to day work. Is this work being done by people who understand about ethics, reporting requirements under the VCA, the importance of reflexive practice? Is this work being carried out by persons who know about the ecological frame work, or who understand the multiple systemic barriers influencing people at an individual level. Do those workers understand how solution focused theory can be utilised to support clients to find their own solutions and move forward, thus incorporating empowerment principles, do those workers even know what empowerment is? Do these workers know how to use CBT or Narrative theory, or any of the many tools in our kete that supports clients toward higher understanding of their situations and develop strategies to cope with poverty, their poor physical and mental health, their parenting concerns, housing problems and [insert mulitple personal and systemic problems here]. And do those workers understand the importance of challenging the status quo, or are they simply the fodder that is put in place to maintain the system as it is, whilst actively undermining any threat to the status quo (i.e. social workers) and potentially putting families at further risk?

    I could keep going and going on the multiple areas of knowledge that social workers carry that unqualified/untrained support workers (or whatever titles they carry) do not hold. So I think to say the work is getting done is giving those workers and the organisations who use them and who know how to manipulate outcome data, too much credit. Kia ora.

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