The Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Workers (ANZASW) fears the new Social Workers Registration Legislation Bill, which aims to raise professional standards through mandatory registration for social workers, contains loopholes whereby employers will not be required to register.
Experts in the sector say their concern lies within the bill's definition, or lack thereof, of the term 'social worker' and that their submissions have been ignored by politicians.
They fear the bill will see fewer registered staff and an erosion of public confidence based on employers right to determine who is and is not a social worker.
ANZASW President Shannon Pakura says the proposed legislation as it stands will have long-term damaging effects across the sector and for public seeking social services.
"The Association of Social Workers supports mandatory registration. What we don't support is the way that the bill has set out defining what a social worker is- we object to that strongly".
Nearly 80% of the 137 submissions raised concerns over section 6AAB of the bill which states that a practicing social worker is a person employed in a position described using the words 'social worker' or 'social work'.
Pakura says that could have huge impacts for professional accountability.
"There are many people who are engaging in social work that have different titles, such as a practice manager who supervises social workers," says Pakura, "They don't have that in their job descriptions and yet the way that the bill is currently set out they don't have to be registered and therefore the public aren't protected".
The ANZASW membership database found social workers practicing under 110 role titles. Pakura believes that under the proposed legislation up to 50% of registered social workers would not require an Annual Practicing Certificate.
"What we want is that social work is defined more accurately and that can be done in a number of ways. We've suggested scopes of practice".
In a statement to Te Kāea the Minister of Social Development said:
"Scopes of practice and defining social work were not included within the parameters of the Social Work Registration Bill. This is an important and complex issue which would require significant additional work and consideration from a range of individuals and groups".
The association will be lobbying ministers to vote down the legislation during its second reading.