Social workers with criminal convictions navigating the social work profession
Keywords:Registration, criminal convictions, social work, social justice, barriers, professionalisation
INTRODUCTION: The social work profession in Aotearoa New Zealand has become increasingly regulated culminating in mandatory registration under the auspices of the Social Workers Registration Board (SWRB), which took effect in February 2021. There has been considerable debate about the benefits and risks to social work from mandatory registration, particularly concerning whether someone is a fit and proper person to practise social work. This article presents voices largely absent from the debate, exploring the experiences of social workers with criminal convictions navigating the social work profession.
METHODS: The research presented is drawn from an MSW study where 11 social workers with one or more criminal convictions were interviewed. As part of the study, participants were asked about mandatory registration and their experiences with registering. Interpretive phenomenological analysis methodology framed the entire study, including data analysis.
FINDINGS: Most participants viewed mandatory registration positively, but many expressed frustration about the lack of transparency and clarity from the SWRB regarding the registration process for people with criminal convictions. The SWRB’s practices and powers were also questioned, including over-ruling the Criminal Records (Clean Slate) Act 2004 (CSA, 2004).
CONCLUSIONS: It is apparent that the decision-making leading to mandatory registration did not include the voices of social workers with criminal convictions or advocacy on their behalf. Participants highlight many challenges such people face in gaining employment within social work. These challenges could be mitigated by SWRB reforming its current approach to the CSA (2004) and providing increased clarity and transparency for those with criminal convictions.
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