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Issue 41 (3/2018)

Table of Contents

Work Retrospect and Prospect of the Committee on Professional Conduct - Mr. WONG Ka-ming, Acting Convenor of the Committee on Professional Conduct

Mr. WONG Ka-ming (Acting Convenor of the Committee on Professional Conduct)
Professional conduct of social workers is an issue of concern both to the profession and the general public. Recognizing its importance, the Board has set up the Committee on Professional Conduct ("the Committee") since its inception to handle matters related to professional conduct of social workers, including the review of the Code of Practice, the Guidelines on the Code of Practice and the disciplinary proceedings. We will share the works of the Committee in this issue of Newsletter.

Committee Members

The Committee comprises nine members, including Mr. WONG Ka-ming (Acting Convenor); Mr. HUI Chung-shing, Herman, S.B.S., B.B.S., M.H., J.P.; Dr. LEUNG Chuen-suen; Ms. LUK Ka-mei; Mr. LUN Chi-wai; Mr. MA Kam-wah, Timothy, J.P.; Mr. SHIU Ka-chun; Mr. TSANG Kin-chiu; and Ms. Lit Ming Wai (as co-opted member since Feb 2018).

Work Retrospect and Outlook Reviewing the Code of Practice and Guidelines on the Code of Practice

The Code of Practice for Registered Social Workers ("Code of Practice") and Guidelines on Code of Practice for Registered Social Workers ("Guidelines") have been in use for more than eight years after the last amendment in January 2010. Given the changes in Hong Kong's social, political and economic environment, together with developments and changes in social services and the ever evolving needs of service users, it is worth to review the Code of Practice and its Guidelines to keep abreast of the times. To this end, the Committee has established the Taskforce on Review of Code of Practice in January 2017 to conduct a comprehensive review of its current version, and to put forward proposed amendments to the Committee. Members of the Taskforce on Review of Code of Practice included Mr. WONG Ka-ming, Mr. LUN Chi-wai, Dr. LEUNG Chuen-suen as well as co-opted members Dr. LAM Chiu-wan and Dr. CHENG Yuk-tin, Carl.

Since the setup of the Taskforce, it has held more than ten meetings to review the Codes and Guidelines in consideration of the latest local situation of the society and the field whilst reference was also sought from relevant codes of practice of the UK, the USA, Australia, Canada and Taiwan to facilitate a comprehensive review of greater latitude. The Taskforce aims to complete its review and has the proposed amendments ready for consultation by the end of this year. We cordially invite RSWs to contribute valuable views in the consultation by then.

The Committee has already served for more than two third of its current term. In the remaining period of less than a year, all of our committee members will continue to make our best efforts to complete the review of our Code of Practice and Guidelines.


How much you know about the disciplinary proceedings against Registered Social Workers

The Board is entrusted with the responsibility of handling disciplinary offences committed by registered social workers ("RSWs") on a fair and just basis. What are the respective rights and responsibilities of parties in a complaint under the current mechanism? What are the roles of the Board and the Disciplinary Committee? We would like to share with you in the following section.

1. What channels are available for lodging a complaint with the Board?

According to the Social Workers Registration Ordinance (the "Ordinance"), any complaint against a RSW must be made in the specified form to the Registrar. The Board cannot proceed with any alleged disciplinary offence unless a formal complaint was made as prescribed by the Ordinance.

2. What will the Registrar do upon receipt of a complaint?

After receiving a complaint, the Registrar will verify the identity of the RSW being complained, if necessary, clarify the allegations with the complainant and subsequently refer the complaint to two Board Members who are appointed by the Board for initial examination.

3. How will the two Board Members deal with the complaint referred to them?

The two Board Members are empowered by the Ordinance to decide whether to refer the complaint (in whole or in part) to the Board, which would appoint a Disciplinary Committee to commence disciplinary proceedings. To consider whether the case is satisfied with the requirements of referring to the Board, the two Board Members may seek information from the complainant or any relevant agencies or individuals when examining the details of complaint and the allegations. According to the Ordinance, the two Board Members shall refer the complaint to the Board unless they are satisfied that:

  1. The complainant has had actual knowledge of the disciplinary offence complained of for more than 2 years, and there are no special circumstances which explain the delay in making the complaint;
  2. The complaint is made anonymously;
  3. The complainant cannot be identified or traced;
  4. The social worker concerned has ceased to be a RSW;
  5. The complaint, or a complaint of a substantially similar nature, has previously been inquired into by a disciplinary committee and the Board decided that the disciplinary offence complained of was not committed;
  6. The subject disciplinary offence is trivial;
  7. The complaint is frivolous or vexatious or not made in good faith;
  8. It is unnecessary to refer the complaint to the Board.

4. Will the Board notify the RSW being complained immediately after a complaint is received?

The Board will appoint a Disciplinary Committee within 30 days upon receipt of a complaint referred by two Board Members. The Registrar will serve a written notice to the complainant and the RSW being complained of within 28 days to commence the pre-hearing proceedings.

5. Who will convene the disciplinary hearing?

The disciplinary hearing is convened by the Disciplinary Committee which is responsible for hearing, taking and examining the evidence of both parties of a complaint. The Disciplinary Committee, as an independent entity, will submit recommendations to the Board on whether the RSW being complained has committed any disciplinary offence after hearing all testimony and evidence, and recommend appropriate disciplinary order when necessary.

6. Is there a mechanism to ensure that all complaints are dealt fairly with?

Upon receipt of a complaint referred by the two Board Members, the Board will appoint five members from the Disciplinary Committee Panel to form a Disciplinary Committee. Among these five members, no less than 3 or no more than 4 are RSWs while the others are members from other professions. To avoid conflict of interests, all members to be appointed are required to declare interest in relation to the complainant and the RSW being complained before the membership of the Committee is confirmed. At the same time, to ensure fairness of the disciplinary hearing, the complainant or the RSW being complained may raise objection to or request for replacement of any member on the membership list due to conflict of interest.

7. How should both parties prepare for the hearing?

a. Both the complainant and the RSW being complained are required to submit documents and evidence as described below. Such documents and evidence will serve as both parties' submissions and evidence for the hearing:

(i) The complainant shall submit a Complainant's Case before the expiration of 30 days after the written notice served on him/her.

(ii) If the RSW being complained intends to defend the case, he/she shall submit a Respondent's Case before the expiration of 30 days after the Complainant's case served on him/her.

(iii) The complainant may submit a Reply to the Respondent's Case before the expiration of 14 days after the Respondent's Case served on him/her.

(iv) The RSW being complained may submit a Reply to the Complainant's Reply before the expiration of 14 days after the Complainant's Reply served on him/her.

b. The disciplinary hearing will be conducted after both parties have exchanged all evidence. Pursuant to the Ordinance, a notice will be served to both parties no less than 28 days before the hearing.

c. If either party has reasonable grounds for requesting the case to be conducted in camera, he/she may submit a written application to the Disciplinary Committee. The Disciplinary Committee will make decision at its discretion after considering the interests of all parties.

8. What are the rights of a RSW being complained?

A RSW being complained has the right to:

  1. before the hearing, to obtain any documents and other evidence produced by the complainant and other witnesses for the inquiry;
  2. to call witness and produce documents or other evidence;
  3. to attend and hear all evidence produced at the hearing;
  4. to examine the complainant, witness, and documents or other evidence produced at the hearing; and
  5. to legal representation.

9. When and how will the RSW being complained be notified of the result of the disciplinary hearing?

After the hearing, the Disciplinary Committee may either pronounce instantly or postpone its decision depending on the circumstances and needs. If the Disciplinary Committee decides to postpone its decision, the Registrar will notify both parties its written decision on the complaint at a later date.

10. What should the RSW being complained do if the alleged disciplinary offence is established?

If the Disciplinary Committee announces that the alleged disciplinary offence is established, it shall advise the RSW being complained of the procedures pertaining to mitigation before the Disciplinary Committee makes recommendation on disciplinary order. If the RSW being complained chooses to mitigate, he/she shall submit the mitigation to the Disciplinary Committee within 5 working days after the pronouncement of the complaint.

The Disciplinary Committee shall hear his/her plea in mitigation before recommending the appropriate disciplinary order to the Board.

After the Disciplinary Committee has announced its recommendation, if there exists fresh grounds of mitigation which have not earlier been submitted to the Disciplinary Committee, the RSW being complained can submit such grounds to the Board within five working days after the Disciplinary Committee has announced its recommendation on disciplinary order. The Board will make final decision with reference to the Disciplinary Committee's recommended decision and disciplinary order.

11. How the RSW being complained will be disciplined if the Board decides that the complaint is established?

After considering the gravity of the disciplinary offence committed by the RSW being complained and all relevant circumstances, the Board shall issue one of the following disciplinary orders:

  1. Remove the name of the RSW from the Register permanently;
  2. Remove the name of the RSW from the Register for such period (not more than 5 years) as the Board thinks fit;
  3. Reprimand the RSW in writing and record the reprimand on the Register; or
  4. Chairperson of the Board to admonish the RSW orally.

12. What can the RSW being complained do if he/she feels aggrieved by the Board's decision?

If the RSW being complained is aggrieved by the Board's decision or any disciplinary order against him/her, he/she may appeal to the Court of Appeal within a three-month appeal period. The Court of Appeal may affirm, reverse or vary the decision or disciplinary order appealed against.

13. Where can the social workers seek clarification on acts defined as disciplinary offences during the course of service delivery?

In view of the Board's role as the adjudicator, the Board is to maintain an impartial stance. For this reason, the Board has decided to make reference to the practice of other regulatory bodies of other professions not to address individual enquiries on the respective clauses of the Code of Practice. Fellow workers may seek advice from social workers' associations or other senior social workers for reference.

We cordially invite registered social workers with recognized diploma in social work or equivalent qualification to join the Disciplinary Committee Panel

According to the Ordinance, the Disciplinary Committee Panel comprises three categories of members, namely not less than 12 RSWs with recognized degree in social work; not less than 12 RSWs with recognized diploma in social work; and not less than 10 non-RSW members. Currently, there are 13 members in the category of recognized social work diploma holders. Although the number of members of this category meets the statutory requirement, there is a need to expand the size of members to ensure the Board can comply with the statutory requirement continuously. The Board therefore cordially invites social workers who are registered with recognized diploma in social work and have five years of social work experience to join the Disciplinary Committee Panel. Interested fellow workers are welcomed to contact the Board Office.


Publication of Disciplinary Order


The Social Workers Registration Board (the “Board”) appointed a Disciplinary Committee to conduct a disciplinary hearing for a complaint case on 13 October 2017. After the hearing, the Disciplinary Committee found that the social worker being complained of (hereinafter called “Social Worker A”) has committed the alleged disciplinary offence. With due consideration of all relevant circumstances, the Disciplinary Committee recommended the Board to issue a disciplinary order under Section 30(1)(d) of the Social Workers Registration Ordinance (hereinafter called “the Ordinance”), i.e. reprimanding Social Worker A orally. The Board endorsed the recommendation made by the Disciplinary Committee and decided to publish the disciplinary order and the related details on an anonymous basis in the SWRB Newsletter in accordance with Section 32(1) of the Ordinance. The publication was an alert to other social workers and it was for educational purpose. The disciplinary order and the related details are stated below:

The Case

(A)  Background

The complainant is the representative of an agency (hereinafter called “Agency B”). At the time of the incidents, Social Worker A was employed as social worker at an integrated children and youth services centre operated by Agency B. 

(B)  Allegation

Social Worker A was alleged of committing professional misconduct and/or neglect and/or behaviour mismatch of his/her capacity as a social worker in any professional respect, including but not limited to misconduct that contravene Sections 1, 13, 14, 33, 37, 38, 41 and 42 of the Code of Practice for Registered Social Workers or behaviour mismatch of his/her capacity as a social worker. Under Section 25(1)(a) of the Ordinance, such behaviour might constitute a disciplinary offence.

(C)  Details of Allegation

The case involved physical contact between Social Worker A and a boy (hereinafter called the “Child”). The Child was about 10 to 11 years old at the time and from a single-parent family fostering by his mother. He was a service user of Agency B. 

(1)    Social Worker A washed the Child’s hair, rubbed the Child’s back and massaged the Child at the centre, including in the men’s toilet. The Child was not wearing any clothes at the time. The incidents took place more than ten times in some days during a period. One of the incidents happened at about 10:00 or 11:00 pm. 

(2)    Social Worker A provided tutorial lessons for the Child and jogged with the Child in his spare time. After that, he would wash the Child’s hair, rub the Child’s back and massage for the Child.  Social Worker A did not inform his supervisors about this; nor did he obtain permission to do so. Such behaviours were outside the duties of Social Worker A, and he had no need at all to make physical contact with a naked boy.

(3)    Social Worker A claimed he did not touch the child’s private parts. He said his intentions were to show his care and concern to the Child. However, since the Child was a client of Social Worker A, such physical contact (whether he touched his private parts or not) was inappropriate and involved suspicious intentions.

Judgment and Recommendations of the Disciplinary Committee

(A)    Findings on whether the incidents occurred

Social Worker A admitted the allegation. After taking into account all relevant factors, the Disciplinary Committee decided that the allegation was established.

(B)    Mitigation and the Disciplinary Committee's considerations
(1)    Since the case involved a minor, Agency B reported it to the Family and Child Protective Services Unit (FCPSU) of the Social Welfare Department. The FCPSU did not find any case of child abuse and therefore did not take further action. Also, the Child and his mother did not file a complaint. One of the key points of Agency B’s internal guidelines is that if service user is a minor, social workers should not have any inappropriate physical contact with them, Such guideline applies to all situations no matter they are of the same gender or not. Social Worker A was aware of such guideline and admitted that he had violated it.
(2)    Social Worker A explained that he helped the Child to reduce studying pressure by jogging and bathing for the Child was in relation to his social work intervention strategy As Social Worker A was busy during daytime, he could only jog with the Child at night. It would be 10 pm by the time they finished jogging and all lights were off at home. With the consent of the Child’s mother, Social Worker A bathed for the Child before escorting him home. 
(3)    Social Worker A told the Disciplinary Committee that he had never done anything similar to other children or members. He also explained as follows:
  1. He admitted he had made a wrong judgment but it was done out of love and empathy for the Child. No other intentions or motives were involved.
  2. He said he had used other intervention strategies to help the Child, including acting through the Child’s tutor and peers, and checking his school activities and family situation.  
  3. When the Child told him that he longed for father-like care and concern, and he played the role of father.
  4. He did warn the Child not to let others see and touch the private parts. He mainly helped the Child to wash the hair and to rub the back. The Child had his back towards Social Worker A during the bath and the Child changed clothes on his own. 
  5. He had sympathy for the Child and was eager for helping the Child. When the Child asked for washing the hair and rub the back, he was adversely influenced by stress leading to the judgment without due consideration.
  6. It was the working culture of his centre that his colleagues often stayed in the centre beyond working hours, and provided services in non-traditional ways and he did not see any problem in jogging with the Child at night.

(4)    Social Worker A submitted five letters written by his colleagues and supervisor to testify to his good character and job enthusiasm. Agency B did not object to it but emphasized it could not be ruled out that such acts might be detrimental to the Child.

(C)    Recommendations of the Disciplinary Committee    
After hearing Social Worker A’s case, the Disciplinary Committee opined that Social Worker A committed those acts because of his sympathy on the Child. However, washing the Child’s hair and rubbing the back were outside the ambit of a social worker, and the acts constituted professional misconduct that contravened Section 25(1)(a) of the Ordinance. The Disciplinary Committee also opined that Social Worker A had contravened paragraphs 1, 33, 37, 41 and 42 of the Code of Practice for Registered Social Workers. The decision was based on the following two considerations:
(1)    Serious professional misjudgment:
Social Worker A carried out the intervention strategy by playing the role of a father to fill up the family gap of the Child. Nevertheless, this was not a commonly adopted intervention strategy and Social Worker A could not provide any theoretical basis when adopting such strategy. Social Worker A was merely releasing his own feelings and sympathetic sentiment. That was fundamentally in conflict with his professional role as a social worker.
Social Worker A should protect the Child and handle role conflicts effectively. Even if the Child requested to be bathed, Social Worker A should refuse and suggest other viable solutions. As a professional social worker, he should understand that even though they are of the same gender, there was a risk that his adolescent client felt offended to be seen naked.
The Committee did not rule out that the child’s mother did consent to such acts, but as a professional, Social Worker A should have made better judgment. Conversely, his decision was driven by emotion instead of professional judgment.

(2)    Willfully neglecting to report to the agency:

His mistake consisted of not one incident but a series of more than ten incidents. Social Worker A did ponder about it but he did not put clients' interest as first priority, consult his supervisor or seek professional guidance from supervisors; nor did he raise the issue at case meetings to resolve the struggle arising from the conflict between personal and professional roles.
The Committee therefore decided to recommend the Board that Social Worker A was found to have professional misconduct. Given that Social Worker A admitted the case, cooperated and showed goodwill, the Committee took into account his explanation, attitude as well as the good character testimonials from his five colleagues and supervisors when deciding on the recommended disciplinary order. 
The Disciplinary Committee recommended the Board to admonish Social Worker A orally pursuant to Section 30(1)(d) of the Ordinance. To educate and alert other social workers, the Disciplinary Committee also recommended the Board to publish details of the case and the disciplinary order in the SWRB Newsletter pursuant to Section 32(1)(b) of the Ordinance on an anonymous basis. 

Decision of the Board

Upon receipt of the disciplinary inquiry report from the Disciplinary Committee, the Board decided to adopt all recommendations of the Committee after careful consideration and deliberation.

Work Report

Paying Renewal Fee by Credit Card

credit cardTo make it easier for RSWs to pay renewal fee, the Board began last year exploring new payment methods. After comparing various solutions, the Board decided to introduce the online credit card (Visa or MasterCard) payment method. With effect from 9 March 2018, RSWs can pay their renewal fee for registration by credit card through the Online Registration System.

Report on Promotional Activities

Between October 2017 and February 2018, our staff visited the following tertiary institutions to promote the work of SWRB:

Gratia Christian College (Year One): 15
IVE (Shatin) (Year One): 125
University of Hong Kong (Year One): 40
Hong Kong College of Technology (Year One): 104
Hong Kong Shue Yan University (Year One and Graduation Year): 51
Hong Kong Polytechnic University (Graduation Year): 34
Total headcount: 369

Social Work Qualification Assessment

Between October 2017 and February 2018, the Bachelor of Social Work (Hons) degree awarded by Hong Kong Nang Yan College of Higher Education has passed the Board's qualification assessment (conditionally recognized), and the Bachelor of Social Work (Hons)(full-time) degree awarded by Hong Kong Shue Yan University has passed the Board's qualification review.

The SWRB Newsletter Fully Digitized

e newsFor two decades, this Newsletter has been published twice a year to keep the profession informed of the Board's latest developments. Thanks to technological advances, the dissemination and release of information are no longer restricted to the printed format today. To stay abreast of the times and to preserve trees, the printed version of the Newsletter will be discontinued and replaced by web version. Starting from the next issue (Issue 42 to be published in October 2018), the SWRB Newsletter will come in digital format to reach at the registered social workers. Should you require a printed copy, you can request one at the Board Office.

About one third of RSWs have not provided us with valid email addresses for communication purpose or receiving the Newsletter. We would like to urge all RSWs again to inform us their latest email addresses by completing the Notification on Choices of Form of Communication on the envelope of this issue of the Newsletter.

Preparations Underway for the Election of Board Members

By virtue of the Ordinance, the Board should consist of 15 members in which 8 members must be elected by RSWs with the tenure of office of three years. The current term of Board members will retire on 15 January 2019 and the Board has already begun preparations for electing new members for the next office.

To ensure that Board member election is conducted in a fair, just and open manner, the Board has reviewed and amended the Election Rules and consulted the profession in the run-up to the Board election, so as to perfect all aspects of election work. The major revisions made in the Election Rules are as follows:

  1. Amended as general Election Rules applicable for any election of the Board;
  2. Establishment of a new Election Committee to oversee the entire election process, including all preparations and the counting of votes on the day of election;
  3. Specifying by-election arrangements;
  4. Specifying voter qualification; and
  5. Conducting an election forum.

The new Election Rules have been published on the Board's website for download and reference.

Partial Refund of Renewal Fee for Renewal Applications Received within the "Renewal Window" Period

To encourage RSWs to apply for registration renewal within the "renewal window" period, the Board introduced an incentive scheme in January 2018. All RSWs submitting their applications within the renewal window period will receive a cheque of $20 as refund together with the registration card from the Board Office. To mitigate any administrative cost, we urge all RSWs who have received their cheques to cash them as soon as possible. This would avoid re-issue due to expiry.

Update Personal Data Promptly

In 2017, the Board issued about 5,200 "28-day-deadline notifications" by registered mail to social workers pursuant to the Ordinance. Owing to various reasons, including change of address, 12% (650 notifications) of notices was undelivered. We would like to urge all RSWs to update their records promptly through the Online Registration System or the written notification channels if there are any changes in their personal data, especially change of registered address. This would avoid delay in delivering letters or documents issued by the Board.

Social Work Day 2018

As in previous years, the Board sponsored Social Work Day organized by professional social worker groups. Dr. LEUNG Chuen-suen, our Deputy Chairperson, was appointed to take part in event preparations as the Board's representative. This year's Social Work Day adopted the theme "Companions". Activities included a running challenge and online film sharing. For highlights of Social Work Day, check out this dedicated website:


(As of 28 February 2018)

Gender distribution of RSWs

Male: 6,644 (29.9%)

Female: 15,563 (70%)
Total: 22,207

Qualification of RSWs

Recognized Bachelor Degree: 14,366 (64.7%)
Recognized Diploma/Associate Degree: 7,749 (34.9%)
Others: 92 (0.4%)
Total: 22,207


Invitation for Contribution of Articles

To encourage RSWs' participation in the Newsletter, and to provide opportunity for colleagues to express their views on social work profession, colleagues are welcome to contribute articles. Please note the following rules when doing so:
  1. The Board regularly publishes Newsletter in every April and October. Colleagues are welcome to contribute articles to express their opinions.
  2. Articles should be related to the functions of the Board or the social work profession, otherwise, the Board has discretion to decide whether to publish them or not.
  3. No articles represent the position of the Board and authors should take sole responsibility for their views.
  4. Authors should provide their real name, contact address, email and contact number. Authors may request for not publishing their real name.
  5. Articles could be written in Chinese (within 2,000 words) or in English (within 1,500 words).
  6. The Board is with full discretion in deciding on publishing an article or not.
  7. The Board reserves its right of editing an article.
  8. No any form of remuneration will be provided by the Board.