Social work and social justice: The relationship between fitness to practise and criminal convictions for non-violent activism

Nathan J. Williams


INTRODUCTION: Social work as a profession is underpinned by ideas of social justice and human rights, and that social workers have an ethical obligation to uphold these ideas. Social workers have a history of engagement in non-violent social justice activism (NVSJA), and a proud record of achieving social change in Aotearoa New Zealand. However, having a criminal conviction for engaging in NVSJA can be a barrier to social work registration in Aotearoa New Zealand.

APPROACH: An exploration of current research around NVSJA and social work registration was conducted. Along with an examination of the Social Workers Registration Board’s (SWRB’s) Fit and Proper Person Policy Statement, with a consideration on the reporting of acts of NVSJA and social workers by the media.

CONCLUSION: Those who engage in NVSJA are often likely to gain criminal convictions. This creates a potential barrier for social workers who go beyond the rhetoric and fight for social justice, in a macro and practical sense, from gaining registration. This has become additionally important since the Social Workers Registration Legislation Act (2019) passed and with registration becoming mandatory two years after the Act gained royal assent. There is a need for a change to the Fit and Proper Person Policy Statement so that the SWRB is better able to support social workers who are standing for what social work is all about, or at least, what social work is stated to be all about.


social justice; activism; convictions; fit and proper

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