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AASW to call for national registration of social workers

Published: 7 July 2021

Australian Association of Social Workers' Chief Executive Officer Ms Cindy Smith has called for a national approach to social worker regulation, ahead of giving evidence to the Senate Community Affairs References Committee inquiry into the Administration of registration and notifications by Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (Ahpra).

“There are approximately 40,000 social workers across Australia, providing services to people experiencing homelessness, escaping family violence, experiencing mental illness, and seeking child protection. Despite this, social work is not a formally registered profession, placing the public at risk from unprofessional practice.”

“The National Registration and Accreditation Scheme (administered by the Australian Health Practitioners Regulatory Authority) regulates 15 professions to ensure consistent and high-quality standards. However, the Scheme does not cover social workers.”

“Comparable counties including the United Kingdom, the United States, New Zealand, Ireland and Canada have regulatory schemes for social workers. It’s time for a similar approach in Australia.”

Ms Smith said that while the AASW takes all complaints it receives through the AASW Ethics Complaints Management Process very seriously, it is important to note that there are serious gaps brought about by self regulation that would be closed if social work were a registered profession.

  • The majority of social workers sit outside any regulatory system because only 35 percent of all social workers in Australia are members of the AASW and therefore subject to the AASW’s Code of Ethics and Complaints Management Process.
  • Unsafe social workers can continue to practice in Australia – if a complaint about an AASW member is upheld, and the AASW terminates that membership, the social worker can continue to practice as a non-AASW member.
  • People without a social work qualification can claim to be a social worker – the AASW has no jurisdiction over the misuse of the social work title.

“The AASW has been calling for the formal registration of social workers for many years as it would be an important step to help protect the public from unprofessional practice. The AASW looks forward to discussing this with the Senate Committee,” she said.

AASW - Australian Association of Social Workers