Research benefits social work education in New Zealand

Posted on 11 March 2020

The outcome of a three-year collaborative research project, Enhancing the readiness to practise of newly qualified social workers in Aotearoa New Zealand (Enhance R2P), has led to the launch of a new professional capabilities framework for social workers.

The research received project funding from Ako Aotearoa, with matching funding from participating education institutions. Neil Ballantyne, Senior Lecturer in Social Work at the Open Polytechnic co-led the research with Professor Liz Beddoe from the University of Auckland’s Faculty of Education and Social Work.  Researchers from the University of Canterbury, Massey University and the University of Otago were also involved in the project.

As part of their research, the Enhance R2P team reviewed the current curriculum of 14 tertiary education institutions offering social work education in New Zealand, followed by evaluating the readiness to practise of newly qualified social workers. In close consultation with key stakeholders, the team then used what they learned to develop the new professional capabilities framework.

“It’s important that programmes of professional education, including social work education, adapt in relation to social, demographic and cultural shifts, and to changes in the knowledge base,” says Neil Ballantyne.  “However, it is critical that proposals for curriculum improvements are grounded in a strong evidence base. The Enhance R2P project has provided the evidence base needed by professional and government agencies to recommend evidence-informed curriculum improvements.”

The benefits of the new professional capabilities framework include that it can be used to inform and guide the learning opportunities provided by tertiary education institutions and agencies providing social work placement. It will also guide qualified social workers in outlining expectations for their continuing professional development, especially in the early years of practice.

The Social Workers Registration Board (SWRB) are now considering how the new professional capabilities framework could enhance their existing Core Competence Standards.

“SWRB acknowledge the work of the research team and the contribution of the findings for the profession,” says SWRB Chief Executive Sarah Clark. “As regulator, SWRB will use the insights to inform work currently underway on competence standards and future work on the education framework.”

Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Workers (ANZASW) have incorporated the seven core professional values identified by the Enhance R2P team in the rewrite of their code of ethics published in August 2019. The professional values are: Rangatiratanga, Manaakitanga, Whanaungatanga, Aroha, Kotahitanga, Mātātoa and Wairuatanga.

“With mandatory registration of social workers coming into force in just over a year the Enhance R2P curriculum research, capabilities framework and the core professional values provide a solid evidenced based platform for the development of the social work professional,” says Lucy Sandford-Reed, Chief Executive of ANZASW.

“ANZASW acknowledges and thanks the Enhance R2P Researchers for allowing ANZASW to use the seven Core Values as the framework for the Code of Ethics.  The ethical principles aligned to each of the values provide strong guidance for ethical social work practice in Aotearoa New Zealand.”

The research findings are also feeding into a review of social work education being conducted by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority on behalf of Hon Tracey Martin, Minister for Children, Seniors & Internal Affairs and Associate Minister of Education.

“This is the kind of impact-based project Ako Aotearoa is proud to invest in,” says Project Funds Manager for Ako Aotearoa, Beatrice Dias-Wanigasekera. “Not only has this work already made an impact on the Social Worker “work force” by stimulating essential and effective changes in the curriculum, it has also impacted at the higher levels of Educational Policy.”

To read the full report, Enhancing the readiness to practise of newly qualified social workers in Aotearoa New Zealand (Enhance R2P), go to: