- The Social Workers Registration Board has been in operation for a number of years. What role and functions does it have? Which of them may mean to benefit registered social workers?
The Board was established under the Social Workers Registration Ordinance in 1998. The Ordinance provides for the registration of social workers and disciplinary control of the professional activities of registered social workers, and for related matters. Any functions which are not provided by the Ordinance may be regarded as “ultra vires”.
The Board was a statutory body established under the Social Workers Registration Ordinance which was put into effect on 6 June 1997. Its functions are:
establish and maintain a register of registered social workers;
set and review the qualification standards for registration as a registered social worker and related registration matters;
assess qualifications to ascertain whether they should be set under paragraph (b);
publish from time to time and make available for public inspection-
the qualification standards set under paragraph (b);
the qualifications, not being qualification standards set under paragraph (b), in respect of which the Board has performed its function under paragraph (c);
examine and verify the qualifications of persons who apply for registration as registered social workers;
receive, examine, accept or reject applications for registration and renewal of registration as a registered social worker;
deal with disciplinary offences in accordance with this Ordinance;
keep proper records of its proceedings and accounts; and
perform such other functions as are imposed on it under this Ordinance.
In general, the Board's powers include:
establish committees to advise the Board on the performance of its functions and the exercise of its powers (including committees which have members who are not members of the Board;
employ persons to assist the Board with the performance of its functions and the exercise of its powers;
acquire and hold property of any description if in the opinion of the Board such property is necessary for -
the accommodation of the Board or of any committee (including a disciplinary committee); or
the performance of any of its functions, and, subject to the terms and conditions upon which such property is held, dispose of it;
enter into, carry out, assign or accept the assignment of, vary or rescind, any contract, agreement or other obligation;
exercise such other powers as are conferred on it under this Ordinance.
Simply speaking, the Board's functions are to deal with matters related to RSWs’ registration and professional conduct, and in turn to ensure that the interests of service users are well protected. This is also the spirit of the Ordinance.
The Board is not operating a membership system. Its functions are different from those of professional bodies or unions. While these entities may provide their members with personal service or “welfare”, the Board, being a statutory body, is confined to performing its functions within its mandate under the Ordinance. Nevertheless, that the Board's monitoring RSWs’ professional conduct may result in increasing the trust of the general public in the social work profession.
- Is a registered social worker regarded as a member of Social Workers Registration Board? Should the registration fee and the renewal fee be regarded as membership fee and annual fee respectively?
Social Workers Registration Board is a statutory body established under the Social Workers Registration Ordinance but not a professional organization that adopts a membership system. Fellow workers are required by statute to be registered as registered social workers and to pay the prescribed fees. Along this line, registered social workers are not members of the Board. Nor should the registration fee and the renewal fee be regarded as membership fee and annual fee.
- A person intends to study abroad to pursue a qualification in Social Work. What qualifications does the Board recognize for registration?
The Board has compiled an accreditation list of social work qualifications awarded in the USA, the UK, Canada and Australia. Those social work qualifications which are recognized by the accreditation bodies of the said countries are in principle recognized by the Board for registration. However, any person who is going to pursue social work studies in the above countries are strongly advised to check with the accreditation body of the country concerned that the qualification led by the programme he intends to study will still be recognized in the year of graduation.
- Is it necessary for a social worker, who is occupying a non-subvented social work post, to be registered with the Board?
There is no relationship between the source of subvention of a social work post and the requirement of registration for the person who occupies the post. Under the Social Workers Registration Ordinance, any person whose uses the title of "social worker" or other related descriptions is required to be registered with the Board or he will be liable to the violation of the Ordinance.
- A registered social worker submitted his application for renewal only one day after the expiry date of his registration. Why was he required to re-apply for registration instead of having his registration renewed?
A registered social worker's name will be removed from the Register of registered social workers if he fails to renew his registration before it expires. Under Subsection 20(6) of the Ordinance and the Board's current policy, he will be required to re-apply for registration if he wishes to resume his registration status. The Board understands that fellow workers might miss the expiry date of their registration amid heavy work engagements. However, the Board has to abide by the Ordinance in dealing with the break in registration. Fellow workers are therefore advised to notify the Board of any changes in their registered addresses as soon as practicable. This is to ensure that fellow workers will receive the Board's correspondence related to renewal of registration. In any circumstances, fellow workers have the primary responsibility to renew their registration in time.
- I intend to pursue an overseas social work programme for a qualification which is now recognized by the Board for registration. I notice that the awarding institute, in partnership with another tertiary institute in Hong Kong, is offering a programme bearing the same name leading to the same qualification. If I complete that “partnership” programme in Hong Kong, I will be awarded the qualification by the said overseas tertiary institute, which carries the same name as that currently included in the Board's list of recognized social work qualifications. Can I be registered as a registered social worker based on that qualification?
When considering whether to recognize a social work qualification awarded overseas for registration, the Board will take the reference of the authorized accreditation body of the country where the awarding institute is. In the case where an accreditation mechanism has been well established in that country and the Board has already admitted such a mechanism, the Board, in principle, will recognize those social work qualifications already accredited by the accreditation body of that country. Given this mechanism of the Board, for a qualification to be awarded by an overseas tertiary institute, even though the programme is run by its Hong Kong partner and the students will take courses in the local territory, the local tertiary institute should not seek recognition of the qualification from the Board direct. Rather, the awarding institute should first seek the recognition of the qualification from the authorized accreditation body of its country. Therefore, you should first seek clarification from the Board, or the awarding institute and the accreditation body of that country on the recognition status of the social work qualification you plan to pursue.
I possess a local social work qualification which is recognized by the Board for registration. Recently, I have found that the awarding institute (“Institute A”) of my qualification is launching a joint social work programme in partnership with another tertiary institute (“Institute B”) outside Hong Kong. The qualification will still be conferred by “Institute A” but the programme is run in the campus of Institute B outside Hong Kong. The names of the programme and the qualification are the same as those offered and conferred here in Hong Kong. Do the holders of the qualification led by the “joint programme” run outside Hong Kong enjoy the same qualification for registration as those holding the qualification led by the programme offered in Hong Kong?
The qualification led by a social work programme which is run by a local tertiary institute at a campus outside Hong Kong, no matter by itself alone or in partnership with another institute, will not be automatically recognized by the Board for registration, notwithstanding that a qualification bearing the same name and being led by a local social work programme offered by the same tertiary institute has already been recognized by the Board for registration. Therefore, “Institute A” will have to apply for the Board's recognition of the social work qualification led by that programme run outside Hong Kong to enable the graduates to be qualified for registration. Upon receiving such an application for qualification recognition, the Board will launch a qualification recognition assessment before deciding whether to recognize the social work qualification led by the programme being run outside Hong Kong.
- Five years ago, I was convicted and sentenced to imprisonment for 3 months. Under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Ordinance, would I be exempted from declaring the conviction when applying for registration?
According to section 37(5) of the Social Workers Registration Ordinance, any person applying for registration as a registered social worker is required to make a statutory declaration as to whether he/she has been convicted of any offence, whether in Hong Kong or elsewhere. The Rehabilitation of Offender Ordinance is not applicable to social worker registration and thus no exemption will be given in any circumstances. If you have a conviction record, please set out the details of conviction and the nature of each such offence in your declaration. Please also provide a copy each of the charge sheet and, the certificate of Trial (or the Court's judgment) for the Board's consideration.Registered Social Workers' Duties
- If a registered social worker has been charged with or convicted of an offence, should he report to Social Workers Registration Board?
Under Section 24 of the Social Workers Registration Ordinance, a registered social worker who has, at any time on or after the date of the statutory declaration made by him during his application for registration with the Board, been charged with or convicted of any offence, whether in Hong Kong or elsewhere, shall as soon as reasonably practicable after he has been charged or convicted, serve a notice in writing on the Board specifying the nature of the offence. Court documents pertinent to the charge or the conviction, e.g. charge sheet, trial certificate, court's judgement etc., should also be provided to the Board.
- What are the Board's disciplinary procedures for dealing with a complaint against a registered social worker?
Under Subsection 25(3) of the Social Workers Registration Ordinance, any complaint concerning any disciplinary offence shall be made in the specified form to the Registrar who shall submit the complaint to 2 members of the Board appointed for the purpose for scrutiny. Should the 2 members consider necessary, they will refer the complaint to the Board. The Board will then appoint a disciplinary committee composed of 5 members selected from the Disciplinary Committee Panel to inquire into the case and to make recommendations to the Board after the disciplinary inquiry. Based on the report submitted by the disciplinary committee, the Board will make a final decision on the complaint. Please click the URL here for the details of the disciplinary procedures of the Board.
Interpretation of Code of Practice
- Social workers may encounter difficulties in comprehending the clauses of the Code of Practice. Whom can they turn to for help?
The Board understands that fellow workers in general would expect the Board might help them interpret the application of the clauses of the Code of Practice. However, one of the Board's functions is to deal with disciplinary offences in accordance with the Ordinance. After a complaint has been referred to the Board, it will appoint an independent disciplinary committee to inquire into the case. Based on the report submitted by the disciplinary committee, the Board will make a final decision as to whether the registered social worker being complained has committed a disciplinary offence and issue a disciplinary order as and if necessary. In view of the Board's role as an adjudicator, the Board is required to maintain an impartial stance. For this reason, the Board has decided to make reference to the practice of other professions not to address individual enquiries on the respective clauses of the Code of Practice. By so doing, the Board does not have to express its position at the initial stage on a certain scenario that may subsequently become a complaint case to be inquired by a disciplinary committee. Fellow workers may seek advice from social workers’associations or other senior social workers for reference.
It is stated in the “Foreword” of the Principles, Criteria and Standards for Recognizing Qualifications in Social Work for Registration of Registered Social Workers (the Principles) that the Board will “ensure that tertiary institutions will train competent social workers to serve Hong Kong society”. Why does the Board confine the application of the Principles to Hong Kong society only when local tertiary institutions are now eying to provide or have already been providing social work training for students from the mainland and other countries? Is it not necessary for the Board to monitor the quality of social workers holding social work qualifications awarded elsewhere?
Local tertiary institutions are free to extend their locus of education to other countries and regions. The formulation of the Principles is aimed at ensuring the quality of training programmes in social work and hence the quality of the social workers practising in Hong Kong. It is not the intention and is beyond the capability of the Board to closely monitor the social work programmes offered by or to deal with matters related to the social workers of other countries and regions.
Why are the Principles applicable to local social work programmes only? How are overseas social work qualifications recognized by the Board for registration?
Assessing a social work programme for the recognition of the qualification led by it is a resource-consuming exercise. Given its limited resources, it is impossible for the Board to assess all social work programmes before recognizing the pertinent qualifications for registration. In the circumstances, for qualifications awarded in a country where there is a well-established accreditation system, the principles, criteria and standards for accreditation formulated by the accreditation body would be scrutinized and compared with the Board's own standards to ascertain whether the programmes accredited by that accreditation body would also lead to social work qualifications to be recognized for registration in Hong Kong. Having satisfied that the qualification standards and accreditation parameters of an overseas accreditation body are comparable to or higher than those of an equivalent programme in Hong Kong, the Board would, in principle, recognize the qualification led by the social work programme accredited by that accreditation body.
- How does the Board deal with an applicant for registration who holds a non-recognized social work qualification awarded in a country where there is not a well-established and comparable system for accrediting social work programmes or qualifications?
For such a social work qualification, a fair assessment of the qualification would be made by the Board by reference to the following:
a. the criteria and standards set out in the Principles;
b. a comparison of the course content, programme structure, and professional qualifications of teaching staff to establish whether the professional standards of the programme are equivalent to those of a comparable programme in Hong Kong;
c. an assessment to be conducted by external assessors, mainly prominent academics in social work who may come from the awarding country and/or have good knowledge of the awarding institution, to establish whether the features of the pertinent programme meet the requirements set out in the Principles; and
d. any other standards and criteria as the Board considers appropriate.
The Board will assess the application from an applicant holding such a social work qualification on an individual basis. The applicant should therefore submit all relevant information and documents pertaining to the programme leading to the social work qualification, which include the curriculum and practicum of the programme, profiles of all teaching staff and fieldwork supervisors, and the faculty to student ratio (fieldwork supervisors not included) at the time of his/her study.
- Does the Board have any plan to monitor the quality of the students admitted to a social work programme by setting additional admission requirements in the Principles?
No. The collaboration between the Board and tertiary institutions is based on respect and mutual trust. The Board has no intention at all to apply micro-management to tertiary institutions on how they run their social work programmes. While the Board considers the requirements for teaching staff and faculty to student ratio basically adequate to monitor the teaching quality of a social work programme, it believes that tertiary institutions will formulate fair and reasonable admission policies for the best interests of their graduates.
Some social workers have gained excellent practice experience before obtaining a degree in social work. Is it possible for them to be exempt from the requirement of possessing at least five years’ post-degree practice experience when they take up the posts of fieldwork supervisors in tertiary institutions?
Field practicum is a very important component of a social work programme and the professional competence and vision of fieldwork supervisors are also crucial. The requirement is intended to ensure that fieldwork supervisors possess social work qualifications and practice experience commensurate with and even higher than the level of the social work programmes they work with. That is also to upkeep the quality of field practicum. All along tertiary institutions have no difficulty in recruiting qualified fieldwork supervisors. The Board has no plan to lower the requirement.
To what extent will the result of a qualification recognition assessment or a qualification recognition review affect the Board's recognition of a social work qualification?The result of a qualification recognition assessment involves a social work qualification new to the Board. It will affect the cohort admitted to the pertinent social work programme during the year of assessment, until the year of the first recognition review. As for the result of a qualification recognition review, it will affect the qualification for registration of the students admitted from the year of the last qualification recognition assessment or review conducted for the same programme to the year of the next review.
- Why are registered social workers' registered address posted on the Register? How are RSWs' personal data to be protected?
Under Section 16 of the Social Workers Registration Ordinance, the Board is required to make the Register of registered social workers available to any person for inspection free of charge at the office of the Board. The Register contain every registered social worker's Chinese and English names, registration number, registered address, qualification on which his registration is based and category of registration. The Ordinance does not explicitly impose any restriction on the registered address. Registered social workers are free to provide the Board with any local address for communication purpose. In fact, in response to some RSWs' concern over the disclosure of their registered address on the Register, the Board has seriously deliberated the issue in the course of drafting the amendments to the Ordinance. It eventually decided to maintain the status quo of the Register taking into account that the disclosure of registered addresses is a manifestation of being accountable to the public. Professional bodies such as the Medical Council of Hong Kong, the Hong Kong Estate Agents Authority, etc., also adopt the same practice.
A person who intends to inspect the Register should turn up at the Board Secretariat in person. Any phone enquiries of the kind will not be entertained. The inspector should register with the Secretariat staff and have his identity verified. After scrutinizing the users' guide, he will be allowed to make access to the Register with the assistance of the Secretariat staff. The purpose of inspecting the Register is mainly for verifying the registration status of a person. Any downloading, copying, photo-taking, video-recording or photocopying to forward/extract any information on the Register is strictly prohibited. The Board believes that this mechanism should be able to prevent any abuse of the Register and that the personal data of registered social workers on the Register are protected.
- Is there any simple and quick access to the Register of registered social workers?
Inspectors may refer to the concise Register of registered social workers on the Board's homepage. This Register contains every registered social worker's English and Chinese names, registration number, and the expiry date of current registration.
- A registered social worker was awarded a social work qualification last year and had submitted the pertinent documentary proof to the Board in his application for renewal of registration. Why has the field "highest qualification" in the Verification of Personal Particulars Form not been amended accordingly?
As a usual practice, only the highest qualification of a registered social worker, which is recognized by the Board for registration, will be put on the Register and the Verification of Personal Particulars Form. If a fellow worker submits the documentary proof of his new social work qualification that is not included in the Board's accreditation list, the Secretariat will put this qualification on his personal record but will not on the Register or the Verification of Personal Particulars Form.
Can a registered social worker apply for income tax deduction against the registration fees and the renewal fees?
If being a registered social worker is one of the requirements of his employment, the registered social worker may apply for deduction of income tax against the paid-up registration fees and renewal fees. The social worker may attach a copy of the Certification of Registration or the registration card, whichever appropriate, to the tax return. Registered social workers are advised to apply for tax deduction in the same financial year of the payment of fees.