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Issue 45 (3/2020)

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Table of Contents

  • Review and Revision of the Code of Practice for Registered Social Workers
  • Main Focus
  • Work Report
  • Statutory Interpretation—regarding the collection of addresses of RSWs
  • Continuing Professional Development Courses and Activities for RSWs

    Review and Revision of the Code of Practice for Registered Social Workers

    The Code of Practice for Registered Social Workers was first gazetted on 16 October 1998, and the related Guidelines were issued on 7 December 2000. Both were revised in 2010 and then in 2013. To keep the code up-to-date, the Board has appointed a Taskforce on Review of Code of Practice (the "Taskforce") to initiate the review, and it had held a total of 25 meetings in between 2017 and 2019. During the period, the Taskforce has made reference to relevant professional codes of social worker organizations from overseas (including the United States, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, and Taiwan), and reviewed in confidence the complaints cases against RSWs in recent years. By mid 2019, the Taskforce submitted its draft amendment version to the Committee on Professional Conduct (the Committee). The Committee commenced in-depth discussions and further revised the bilingual version of the draft. The Board endorsed the revised draft by end of the year and agreed conducting public consultation after legal vetting.

    The draft is to combine the Code of Practice and the Guidelines into a single document. Besides the ease in reference, the legal status of the Guidelines will be uplifted. Content-wise, a new section "Ethical Practice and Decision-making" will be added, emphasizing the importance of the value system and its impact on social worker’s ethics and professional decisions. With regard to the section "Principles and Practices", the same categorization by five accountable target groups (clients, colleagues, employing agencies, profession, and society) of the current version is adopted, with a number of principles, standards and rules being revised with reordering, elaboration, updating or deletion.

    The Committee aims to hold five public consultation sessions towards June and July for different stakeholders including frontline social workers, administrative or supervisory staff of social welfare agencies, social work educators, service users and members of the public. The Committee also welcomes opinions in writing. Details will be announced later.

    Main Focus 

    1. E-Newsletter

    Since the establishment of the Board in 1998, the Newsletter has served as its bridge to communicate with registered social workers. With the advancement of the times and the reduction of paper use, the Board has in recent years published its newsletter electronically via the website with notification to RSWs by email. To better reflect the role of newsletters, from this issue onwards, we rename the newsletter as 【註意】, carrying the connotation that social workers are mindful of the contents of the newsletter.

    2. Revamp of forms related to social workers registration 

    Various forms such as application for registration renewal, and notification of changes to personal particulars have been in use for many years without significant changes. After an in-depth review last year, the Board considered that it was necessary to align the format of the forms, reorganize and simplify the information to be filled in, making it more user-friendly for RSWs. The latest version of the forms has been launched for use since 1 January 2020, and has been uploaded to the Board’s website. If RSWs are still keeping any copy of the old forms, please note that they are no longer regarded as a legally specified form due to their obsolescence.

    3. Updates of disciplinary procedures and related forms 

    In recent years, the Board has been concerned with potential abuse of the mechanism for complaints against registered social workers. After in-depth discussions, it was decided that when submitting the complaint forms, complainants are required to file also statutory declaration to the effect that contents of their complaint are true and based on their best knowledge, hoping that would pull off any fabricated or hearsay complaints. In addition, the Board has also reviewed and updated the disciplinary procedures and the related forms, which has been taken effect on 1 January 2020. For details, please visit our website.

    4. Phone recording service 

    Phone enquiry is the main bridge of communication between the Board Office and RSWs. To improve the service quality of the Board Office and avoid any unnecessary misunderstanding, the Board has installed the automatic phone recording service since the end of last year. The vocal records will be kept for one year only.

    5. Cessation of the $20 refund scheme 

    To encourage RSWs to apply for renewal of registration within the “Renewal Window”, so as to save the mailing and administrative expenses of sending the “Notice of intention to remove name from the Register” by registered mail, the Board has been running a refund scheme since January 2018. For RSWs who successfully submit their renewal applications within the "Renewal Window", the Board Office will send them each a refund cheque of HK $20 together with the issue of the new registration card.

    The scheme has been implemented for more than 2 years, but compared to that prior to the launch of the scheme, there is no improvement in the ratio of whom the Board is to send the Notices by registered mail; meanwhile, the additional administrative work and expenses for the scheme implementation are escalating .

    In view of this and having consulted the Labour and Welfare Bureau, the Board will terminate the refund scheme after its full three-year implementation, and the last batch of RSWs eligible for refund will be those with registration due to expire on 31 December of this year.

    Work Report

    159th board meeting 159th board meeting
    Photos taken in Jan 2020 at 159th Full Board meeting

    1. Gazette of Disciplinary Committee Panel

    According to section 27 of the Social Workers Registration Ordinance, if the Board decided to conduct a disciplinary inquiry on a complaint case, it must appoint five members from the Disciplinary Committee Panel to form a Disciplinary Committee to conduct a disciplinary inquiry. Names of the newly appointed members to the Panel have been gazetted on 16 January this year for a term of three years, and the list has been announced on the Board's website. In order to brief the panel members for a better understanding of the disciplinary procedures, the Board initially arranged to hold a briefing session in February and invited the legal advisor of the Board to explain the main points of conducting a disciplinary inquiry. However, it was postponed due to the recent epidemic situation, re-arrangement to be confirmed.

    2. Promotional Work

    During the period from November 2019 to February 2020, the Board has visited the following institutions to introduce the duties of the Board to social work students:
    • Hong Kong Community College of The Hong Kong Polytechnic University(Year 1):76
    • Hong Kong Baptist University(final year):100

    talk talk talk

    Our colleagues visited different tertiary institutions and introduced the functions of the Board to students.

    3. Social Work Day

    The Board always supports the "Social Work Day" event co-organized by different groups and institutions in the field. There should be a seminar on 21 March to reflect on the role and values of social workers in the current situation of Hong Kong; however, the event has been suspended due to the recent epidemic situation. Details will be announced later.

    Statutory Interpretation—regarding the collection of addresses of RSWs

    Ms. LAM Tze-yan

    In view of recent massive notification and enquires for address changes, it is useful to revisit some key points to appreciate the purpose served by such an address and what kind of addresses are needed. In short, an address serves the purposes laid down in law and it should be true and correct linked to a place with a postal address in Hong Kong. Email and post-office box addresses are not adequate. We shall elaborate as follows.

    1. The purposes pertaining to an address is in accord with the spelt-out purposes of the Ordinance (Cap 505 Social Workers Registration), which is said in its long title, to be “an Ordinance to provide for the registration and disciplinary control of professional activities of RSWs and for any related matters”. Hence one address serves a three-fold purpose: registration, disciplinary controls and any related matters. The common law will rightly add that addresses are crucial for the purpose of the administration of due processes of law of professional bodies whose decisions will affect its members and the public in very significant ways.

    2. Registration matters: under Cap 505, an address is a required piece of personal information to be put in the Register which is open for free public inspection (s16(1)(a)(i)). Anyone whose name is NOT on the Register is disentitled from calling himself a social worker; or from passing-off as a social worker (s.34(1)). There are hefty sanctions under our civil and criminal laws (ss.34(2); 35(h)).

    3. Obtaining registration via misleading, false or fraudulent personal data (including an address) can be an offence punishable by imprisonment (s.35(d)).

    4. An address is needed to send postal notices of intention of removal of RSWs from the Register by the Register (s22(4)). It is the duty of RSWs’ to update their personal data (including addresses) within three months of change. Otherwise, the Registrar is under duty to remove their names from the Register (ss.16(3), 22(f)).

    5. Disciplinary matters: an address is needed in disciplinary procedures to serve pertinent documents on the parties. Whether a RSW wishes to complain or he is being complained against, an address is needed for service including face to face personal service (s31(1)).

    6. Related matters: in the specified forms stipulated in the Ordinance (ss.18, 20), addresses are stated to be used for communication, and residential addresses for statutory declarations etc. (see registration form 1-1-2020; renewal form 20200101).

    7. An address should be a postal address in form (paragraph 6 above ; s.22(4)); true and correct in substance (s 37(3)(a)(ii). Except for statutory declarations, it need not be residential addresses. But it must be a true and correct address that pertains to the holder. Furthermore, untrue or disingenuous addresses, if provided, (aside from paragraph 3 above), will contradict the true and correct declarations given by RSWs (when they register or renew), in the above-said specified forms.

    8. Email addresses will not do as it contradicts the Ordinance (paragraphs 6 and 7 above; (ss.16(3); 31(3)). Post-office box address contradicts the common law. In common law, persons who sue providing only post box addresses; and defendants who only provide postal boxes will be reprimanded by the Court with costs consequences. In exceptional circumstances and only upon application to the court, would substituted service be allowed (substituted by say post-office box addresses). This is for the sake of due processes of law to clamp down evasiveness.

    9. If RSWs insist on providing untrue or fake addresses, or resorts to email and post-office box addresses, the Registrar is under duty to take steps including removing the names of the RSWs from the Register. Of course if RSWs can rectify in time, removals would not be necessary.

    It falls on RSWs to provide true and correct postal addresses (not email nor post-office box addresses) and update them in time (within three months). Failure to do so would trigger removal under the Ordinance. It is hoped that via visiting the law, the purposes and format of addresses are made clear to guide future actions. 

    Continuing Professional Development Courses and Activities for RSWs

    (as at 29/2/2020)

    Gender distribution

    Male:7,471 (30.57%)
    Female:16,964 (69.42%)

    Qualification for Registration
    Recognized degree:16,161 (66.13%)
    Recognized diploma / associate degree:8,194 (33.53%)
    Others:80 (0.32%)

    Statistics on Complaint Cases since the establishment of the Board
    Total cases received:582
    Total cases for disciplinary inquiry:114
    Total established cases::32

    Note: As some cases are still in the preliminary stage or disciplinary proceedings, the above figures are not expressed in proportion.