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Social Work Education and Regulation in Australia

Abstract and Keywords

This article provides an overview and analysis of social work education and professional standards in Australia. The professional education and practice standards are set and monitored by a single, professional body, the Australian Association of Social Workers (AASW). In Australia, there is no legislation protecting the title of social worker, and there is limited government involvement in regulating educational standards and professional practice. In this article, I outline the characteristics of the educational and professional standards for social workers set by the AASW. I will explain the Australian regulatory environment for health and human service professions and discuss how this contributes to conditions in which the AASW plays a central role in the regulation of social work education and practice standards in Australia. I will outline the opportunities and challenges posed by the highly deregulated environment and the consequent central role of the AASW in standard setting and monitoring. The article concludes with a discussion of the strategies currently being pursued via the AASW to achieve government authorized regulation of social workers.

Keywords: social work regulation, professional licensing, social work education, Australian social work, self-regulation, professional standards, public safety

Social work in Australia is a self-regulating profession. The professional education and practice standards are set and monitored by a single body, the Australian Association of Social Workers (AASW). A voluntary association, the AASW reached over 9,000 members in 2015, all of whom are professional social workers or who are studying to be social workers. In Australia, there is no legislation protecting the title of social work, and there is limited government involvement in regulating educational standards and professional practice. The unregulated context of social work practice in Australia creates many challenges to sustaining high educational and professional standards. In this article, I will begin by providing a brief introduction to the Australian educational and professional regulation context for all health and human service professions, and I will discuss the implications for the regulation of social workers. I will then outline the role of the AASW in setting educational standards and promoting professional regulation. I will discuss the strategies the AASW has pursued to achieve professional recognition and our ongoing work towards professional regulation.

Social Work Education and Professional Standards in Australia

The AASW accredits tertiary education bachelor and qualifying master’s degrees in social work. Through a consultation process, the AASW develops a set of standards known as the Australian Social Work Education and Accreditation Standards (ASWEAS), and these underpin the accreditation of social work education programs in Australia (AASW, 2012a). Universities or other tertiary education institutes that wish to offer AASW accredited social work programs must comply with the ASWEAS standards through which the AASW regularly monitors and evaluates the educational institution’s social work program by the AASW.

Individuals wishing to be recognized as AASW accredited social workers must complete either a four-year Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) or a two-year Master of Social Work qualifying (MSW). Entrants to the MSW qualifying program must hold at least a three-year bachelor degree or higher, with at least one year of study in behavioral or social sciences. The BSW and MSW qualifying programs are generic programs intended to prepare graduates for entry level practice in diverse fields of practice. In addition to providing students with foundational education in social and behavioral sciences, the Bachelor and Master level programs in social work are intended to prepare students for:

  • Culturally competent practice with Aboriginal and Torres Islander people and with people from culturally and linguistically diverse communities;

  • Social work practice in mental health;

  • Social work practice with children, young people, and families.

The ASWEAS stipulates that students must undertake at least 980 hours of supervised fieldwork practice involving a minimum of two different practice settings. On placement, students must be provided with regular professional supervision and professional activities commensurate with the development of a sound professional knowledge and skill base.

There is also the option for individuals holding social work qualifications achieved in other countries to have those assessed by the AASW international qualifications assessment process to ascertain their equivalence to the Australian social work qualifications. In 2014, a Mutual Recognition Agreement was established between the AASW and the New Zealand Social Work Registration Board to facilitate mutual recognition of social work qualification between Australia and New Zealand. Strict conditions still apply to the recognition of qualifications between countries, and social workers with qualifications from New Zealand may be required to undertake continuing education, such as in relation to cultural awareness of the needs of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Similarly, Australian social workers seeking registration in New Zealand may have similar requirements to achieve cultural competency in working with the diverse cultures of New Zealand applied to them.

The AASW does not set standards for, nor does it monitor, advanced social work education training, such as in advanced clinical practice. Aside from the qualifying MSW, which provides entry-level education to social work practice, there are few advanced coursework masters or doctoral programs in social work offered in Australia (Healy & Lonne, 2010). The weak demand for advanced social work coursework programs reflects the employment conditions of social workers in Australia, where an advanced coursework masters qualification in social work appears to offer little career advantage. There is, by contrast, a reasonable demand for research higher degrees in social work; most universities offering course work for a social work program also provide the option of Master of Philosophy or PhD qualifications in social work. The different funding arrangements for research course work programs, for which students must pay fees, and research higher degrees where, in the majority of cases, the fees are covered by the federal government, may help to explain the greater demand for research degrees.

Alongside the education standards, the AASW also establishes ethical and practice standards through which the conduct of individual practitioners can be evaluated and addressed (AASW, 2012b). The practice standards provide guidance to employers, supervisors, and practitioners about what is required for effective, professional, and accountable social work practice in all social work contexts. The eight dimensions of practice standards outlined in the document pertain to: values and ethics; professionalism; culturally responsive and inclusive practice; knowledge for practice; applying knowledge to practice; communication and interpersonal skills; information recording and sharing; professional development and supervision.

The Australian Regulatory Context

The central role of the AASW in establishing and monitoring professional and educational standards can be understood by reference to the unique and somewhat unregulated professional practice environment for health and human service professions in Australia. Until 2010, registration of health and human service professions operated through individual boards established by the State and Territory governments. Social work has not been registered in any State or Territory government except for one short period from 1985 to 1993, when the profession was registered in the Northern Territory. In 1993, that regulation was revoked “along with all other ‘non-essential’ localized statutory regulations in order to facilitate national competition for jobs and the migration of workers among states and territories” (van Heugten, 2011, p. 179).

Although social work is not regulated by government in Australia, a national framework for the regulation of health professions was established in 2010. The National Regulation and Accreditation Scheme (NRAS) provides a framework for the establishment of consistent legislation for regulating health professions in all states and territories of Australia (AHPRA, 2015). By providing a single framework for the registration of health and human service professions, the NRAS is intended to:

  • Help health and human service professionals to move around the country by, for example, ensuring a single registration process for them;

  • Provide greater safeguards for the public by ensuring that practitioners found to have committed serious misconduct are prevented from practicing in jurisdictions across Australia until the relevant penalty and redress has occurred;

  • Promote consistency in educational and professional standards of practitioners across all jurisdictions in Australia.

Importantly, the national law act under which the NRAS operates has strict provisions for protecting the titles of the registered professions. Hefty penalties apply to those found to have used the titles of any of the 14 registered professions without being qualified and registered with the NRAS. Under section 113 of the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law Act, an individual faces a fine of up to $30,000, and a corporate body, such as a health care practice, can be fined up to $60,000 for the use of professional titles without being registered within the specified discipline (Commonwealth of Australia, 2009). One consequence is that an individual practitioner who uses the title of “psychologist” without being registered as such can be subject to a hefty fine. By comparison, there is no penalty for an unqualified individual to use the title of “social worker” or “dietician” because these professions are not protected under national law.

The NRAS scheme was established in 2010 to, among other things, address some of the workforce challenges associated with unique aspects of the Australian geographic and demographic context. Australia is one of the most sparsely populated countries on earth. With a population of 24 million people and a land mass almost 80% that of the United States, Australia has a population density of 3 persons per square kilometer compared to the United States, which, with a population of over 322 million, has a density of 35 people per square kilometer (World Bank, 2015). Yet Australia is also highly urbanized, with over two thirds of its population located in capital cities. These geographic and demographic characteristics have significant implications for the health and human services workforce, where movement of health and human service professionals between state and territory jurisdictions is important to managing service delivery needs.

At the time of its introduction in 2010, the NRAS scheme covered ten professions, each of which had its own national regulatory board. The ten professions are: chiropractors; dental practitioners (including dentists, dental hygienists, dental prosthetists, and dental therapists); medical practitioners; nurses and midwives; optometrists; osteopaths; pharmacists; physiotherapists; podiatrists, and psychologists. An important factor determining whether the professions are included in NRAS is whether the individual profession was regulated by at least two states or territories at the time NRAS was being established, between 2008 and 2010. Government has supported the inclusion of these professions in the NRAS scheme on the grounds of cost saving to government by replacing two or more state-based boards with one national body.

In 2012, a review of NRAS led to the inclusion of four additional health professions in the scheme: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health practitioners; Chinese medicine practitioners (including acupuncturists, Chinese herbal medicine practitioners, and Chinese herbal dispensers); medical radiation practitioners (including diagnostic radiographers, radiation therapists, and nuclear medicine technologists); and occupational therapists.

Many health and human service professionals such as social workers, paramedics, audiologists, speech pathologists, and dieticians are not included in NRAS and, as such, are largely unregulated by government. Remarkably, social workers are not included despite being the largest allied health profession in Australia (AASW, 2011, p. 9). This fact is not well known to the public. A public survey conducted on a representative sample of Australians found that more than 90% of people believe that counseling professionals, including social workers, can be prohibited from practicing if they are found guilty of a serious issue (AASW, 2011, p.11). This public confidence in the availability of safeguards to prevent misconduct is misplaced.

In 2013, the Australian Health Ministry Advisory Council agreed in principle to introduce a National Code of Conduct for all unregistered health care practitioners, including social workers (Standing Council on Health, 2013). The Code of Conduct involves a form of negative licensing through which members of currently unregulated health professions such as social workers can be subject to disciplinary action through various state and territory complaint tribunals. The National Code of Conduct for unregistered health practitioners will strengthen the power of government health authorities to investigate alleged breaches of conduct by health care practitioners and to issue prohibition orders. The Code also allows for mutual recognition state and territory-issued prohibition orders, thus preventing health care workers issued with a prohibition order from practicing in any state or territory of Australia While the National Code of Conduct goes some way toward addressing professional misconduct, it does not provide a framework for educational preparation and professional workplace support and monitoring of professionals that could assist in preventing malpractice and misconduct (AASW, 2013). The National Code is not yet in place in all states and territories of Australia.

In 2015, further political pressure emerged for the inclusion of social workers in the NRAS. In March 2015, the South Australian Coroner called for the regulation of social workers either through inclusion in NRAS or through the establishment of a state level regulation scheme (Johns, 2015). The Coroner made this recommendation following his investigation into the death of Chloe Lee Valentine, a four-year-old child who died at the hands of her mother and stepfather, after years of neglect and after what the Coroner concluded were inadequate systemic and professional responses to the child by social workers. The Coroner’s report indicated that regulation was needed to ensure that all social workers were adequately prepared and supported in their work with vulnerable people and, further, that there were regulatory mechanisms in place to hold social workers accountable for their practice. The South Australian government has committed to implementing the Coroner’s recommendations and will need either to champion the inclusion of social workers in NRAS or establish state-based legislation for the registration of social workers.

During 2014-2015, a national independent review of the NRAS scheme was initiated by the Council of Australian Governments. The reviewer, Mr. Kim Snowball, was instructed to consider a range of issues regarding the extent to which the scheme was meeting its original objectives, such as enhancing public safety, and to consider the operational efficiency of the scheme (AHPRA, 2014). As Mr. Snowball (2014, p. 3) described it, the core objective of the NRAS is “to achieve a balance between safety and quality through protection of title, without restricting competition or limiting access to health services.” Of particular relevance to social workers was that the review was to consider the situation of unregulated professions, such as paramedics and social workers. Though completed in December 2014, the review report was only released to the public eight months later in August 2015.

The Review did not recommend the inclusion of currently excluded professions into the national regulation scheme. Indeed, the report appeared to recommend a retraction of the scheme through its proposal that the nine professions with a low regulatory load, meaning those with relatively few complaints, be regulated by one board rather than nine boards within NRAS. The report did acknowledge, however, the concerns of many stakeholders to the review of the unintended consequences of exclusion of some health professions from the NRAS. The review recommended that action should be taken to ensure that professions excluded from the scheme should not be disadvantaged professionally, for instance through access to relevant employment or funding opportunities. It was also recommended the establishment of a system of quality assurance for voluntary registers of self-regulated professions. On August 7, 2015, the Australian Health Workforce Ministerial Council (COAG Health Council, 2015, p. 12) issued a communiqué rejecting this recommendation but stating it will further clarify that that the NRAS is “for the purpose of additional regulation of specified professions only, and it is not to be used for any other purpose.”

Australian Social Workers Quest for National Regulation

At various times over its 70-year history, the AASW has campaigned for social work registration (see AASW, 2011). Registration involves the government in defining and monitoring the role of a profession, including standards of professional knowledge and skills as well as providing for sanctions for professional misconduct (DeAngelis & Monahan, 2008). As a voluntary body largely reliant on membership fees, the AASW’s capacity to regulate professional practice is limited to members who agree to abide by the AASW code of ethics and code of conduct. The AASW has no jurisdiction to regulate the practice of social workers who are not members of the association. Within Australian law, members also have the right to seek judicial review before the courts where individual members have been subject to adverse professional misconduct findings by their professional association. In such cases the professional body may incur substantial legal expenses in defending the use of its regulatory power.

There are several reasons why the AASW has fought for registration of social workers. First, the association is aware of the risks for the profession and the people who use social work services of locating all aspects of education and professional standards with a voluntary professional body. While the advantage is that the profession has a substantial influence over its own standards, there is also a significant risk that if the association fails to recognize or properly fulfill its responsibility to uphold standards, or if the organization winds up, then professional education and practice standards may be diminished.

Second, registration will promote public safety. Registration and title protection involve defining who is qualified to perform particular activities and, in so doing, create a mechanism for preventing people without requisite qualifications from practicing and for providing sanctions for incompetent practice.

Third, registration is important for supporting service quality. This is achieved through defining and monitoring of educational and professional practice standards. For example, the NRAS compels registered professionals to maintain a program of continuing professional development. In a recent study of social work registration in New Zealand, Beddoe (2015) found that registration had a positive impact on social workers’ sense of entitlement to, and engagement with, continuing professional development.

Fourth, registration facilitates professional accountability and recognition. Registration and some forms of title protection and self-regulation incorporate mechanisms for investigation and sanctions for professional misconduct. Registration and title protection also provide a basis for public recognition of the scope of practice in which professions are engaged.

Finally, exclusion from the NRAS has had unintended consequences for government, employers, and for the self-regulated professions. One consequence is confusion among employers and the general public about which professions are registered and which are not. This has contributed to situations in which self-regulated professions have been unable to compete for government funding or employment opportunities because these opportunities were limited to registered professions. A second consequence is the development of a patchwork complaints mechanism, where a client’s capacity to raise concerns about professional misconduct is limited to the 14 professions included in the NRAS. Over time the National Code of Conduct may provide better national coverage for addressing complaints, but in 2015, the Code had only been introduced in two states of Australia.

The AASW actively campaigns for national regulation registration, and there is strong support among its membership for pursuit of the goal of registration. For many social workers, registration is seen to promote professional recognition and public safety through monitoring professional standards and ongoing professional development and currency of knowledge (Beddoe & Duke, 2009). Yet for some, the professional association and its goal of regulation of social work is viewed as “elitist and antithetical to the social justice and social activist foundations of social workers” (Lonne & Duke, 2009, p. 386; McDonald, 2006). Similar concerns about the perceived elitism of the quest for professional registration have emerged in other comparable countries, such as New Zealand and Canada (see for discussion, Healy & Meagher, 2004; van Heugten, 2011). The highly diverse nature of the Australian human services workforce raises some concern about the implications of registration of social workers for the many social welfare practitioners without social work qualifications (Chenoweth & McAuliffe, 2011). From the viewpoint of the AASW, the argument for professional registration remains one of promoting public safety by ensuring that practitioners are appropriately qualified and monitored to provide professional services to vulnerable individuals.

Barriers to Registration

In Australia, the profession faces several barriers to achieving professional regulation, either through NRAS or any other mechanism. The first set of challenges relates to the Australian political environment. Governments across Australia are mindful of the financial costs of the existing regulatory scheme, and this concern is reflected in the recent independent review of the scheme, which was concerned with increased efficiency of the scheme (Snowball, 2014). In a recent communiqué, the Australian Health Workforce Ministerial Council (COAG Health Council, 2015) asserted that the National Code of Conduct for unregistered health professions is sufficient to manage the risk of professional misconduct without further extension of what is perceived to be a costly regulation scheme. The second challenge is that Australian governments appear committed to maintaining an open market place in many fields of health and human service provision with low levels of State regulation being the norm for many professions. Some concerns exist that any further regulation of professions may lead to unreasonable closure of occupations on the basis of professional elitism rather than on genuine concerns about public safety (Snowball, 2014).

The second challenge relates to the legal dimensions of the regulatory environment. In New Zealand and the United States, for example, the social work profession is registered under distinct legal acts addressed specifically to the social work profession or, as is the case in the United Kingom, is protected by a legal order within an overarching legal act for health and social care professions (see Beddoe & Duke, 2009; van Heugten, 2011). The advantage of this approach to regulation is that professional social workers are regulated regardless of their specific domain of practice. In Australia, there is no existing regulatory framework to cover the diverse fields of practice. The NRAS is intended for health professions, and social workers working outside traditional health settings do not easily fit within this framework. For social workers to be registered under their own distinct act would require either that the federal government passed such legislation or that such legislation was passed under each state and territory parliament. It is unlikely that governments would have the appetite for new legislation covering social work as an individual profession, given that one aim of the NRAS scheme was to overcome state and territory professional Boards.

A third challenge relates to the diverse nature of social work practice. The NRAS is primarily focused on health professionals and is overseen by the Federal Health Ministry and the Health Ministries of the state and territory governments. Psychologists are included within the NRAS even where they do not practice in traditional health settings. Even though social workers are the largest group within the allied health workforce, various informal communications to the AASW have indicated that Health Ministers are concerned about extending the scheme to the many social workers who practice in other government agencies or in not-for-profit services funded by a range of government agencies. It is unclear how public safety concerns related to social workers practicing with another government agency would be managed under the NRAS. There is the additional issue that many of the publicly aired concerns about social workers’ conduct occur within child welfare services, and it is unclear whether Health Ministers would accept responsibility for managing professional misconduct issues related to the child welfare field. Alternatively, it may be divisive to the profession were the NRAS be extended only to cover social workers working in traditional health settings.

A fourth challenge relates to the diversity of the human services sector workforce in Australia. Social work is, numerically speaking, a minority profession in the Australian human services sector, where people hold a broad range of qualifications from trade level certificates and diplomas, to people with a range of degree level qualifications in applied social science and other human services, such as nursing (see Meagher & Healy, 2005). Even so, student and graduate numbers in social work programs have increased substantially since the accreditation of Masters qualifying programs in 2007. These postgraduate programs have provided an alternative to the four-year undergraduate program as way for people already holding bachelor degrees to become professional social workers.

A fifth challenge relates to the perception that social work is already subject to sufficient levels of regulation to protect the public from harm (see COAG Health Council, 2015). Governments propose that national code of conduct is sufficient to protect the public. In addition, in Australia, the government requires that social workers seeking eligibility for health rebates must be accredited with the AASW. In this sense, the Government supports the regulation of some fee for service practitioners through the AASW’s own regulatory measures, including its codes of ethics and conduct and its professional and educational standards documents. Further, government decision makers have proposed to the AASW that social workers mainly work in organizational settings and thus their employer has responsibility for monitoring and addressing professional misconduct. Finally, weaker regulatory measures, such as government watchdogs operating in health services in each state and territory, can also manage complaints of misconduct against individuals.

Working for Regulation of Social Workers

In 2015, the AASW was continuing to pursue three strategies for the improved regulation of social work in Australia. The first strategy is a continued campaign for inclusion in the NRAS. The AASW continues to lobby health ministers at federal and state and territory levels, both in personal meetings and through various opportunities to submit information about the importance of social work regulation to those overseeing the NRAS. To build employer and public support for registration, the AASW works through the media and other public forums to present the case for social work registration. In 2015, the AASW is lobbying ministers and other decision makers within the South Australian government to ensure that the South Australian Coroner’s recommendation, that social workers be included in the NRAS or that the government introduce an alternative regulatory mechanism, is implemented.

The second strategy for regulation achieved by the AASW involved the introduction of a collective trademark for AASW registered social workers. In 2013, the AASW applied to the Australian Trade Mark Office for a collective trademark; use of the AASW logo by accredited members has now been approved by the Australian Trade Mark Office. Following approval of our request by the Australian Trade Mark Office, in 2013, the collective trademark was available to all members with the additional words “accredited social worker,” reserved for members who have maintained their continuing professional development record. Members are encouraged to use this trademark on their business cards, letterheads, webpages, emails, and the like, wherever possible, toward building a recognized brand of professional social work service. The AASW has made contact with employers across the country to introduce them to the trademark as a signal of service quality. All members holding the trademark are registered on a public list of AASW social workers. Approximately 20% of AASW members have registered for use of the collective trademark.

The third strategy is that of working collaboratively with other unregulated health professions to achieve an authorized self-regulation model. The term authorized self-regulation refers to the development of a single model of self-regulation among unregulated professions who share similar educational and professional standards and to be authorized by government to practice. Currently, the AASW is a founding member of the National Alliance of Self-Regulating Health Professions (NASRHP). NASRHP is a network that involves many allied health professionals who are currently excluded from NRAS, such as audiologists, speech pathologists, and sonographers. The NASRHP has drafted a set of standards related to educational preparation, ethics, fitness to practice, and continuing professional development obligations, to which all members of the alliance will be accountable. The intention is that this model will be endorsed by government to enable the professions to achieve a recognized standard of self-regulation. While the AASW remains hopeful of government recognition of this model, it is concerning that the Australian Health Workforce Ministerial Council rejected the independent reviewer’s recommendation for the establishment of a system of quality assurance for voluntary registers of self-regulated professions.

A fourth option would be to seek a social worker registration Act in the individual states and territories. A social worker registration act would be consistent with the way the profession is registered in other countries, such as the United States and New Zealand. In addition, it is would be equivalent to the way other human service professions, such as teaching, are registered in Australia. The advantage of this approach is the potential to achieve coverage for all domains of social work services. Unfortunately, it is unlikely this approach will be greeted with enthusiasm in the current political climate, particularly given the move away from state-based registration legislation for health professions since the advent of NRAS. Furthermore, the diverse workforce employed within many fields of human service practice in Australia means that government agencies are unlikely to champion the registration of professional social work without a clear path for regulating the many human service workers who hold other qualifications. Still, the steps the AASW is taking to draw boundaries more clearly around title protection and to promote the inclusion of social workers in a national regulation scheme, preferably NRAS, are important for the better regulation of the profession and may provide the foundation for a distinct Social Work Registration Act in the future.

Conclusion

The Australian social work educational and professional regulation environment is unique in two key ways. First, the lack of any legal framework for the protection of title or regulation of social workers is unique. This sets the Australian context apart from many other comparable countries such as the United Kingdom, New Zealand, the United States, and Canada, each of which have some form of legislative protection for the title of social workers and for professional practice standards (see van Heugten, 2011). Within Australia, many health and human service professions, such as occupational therapists and psychologists, experience some level of title protection. Indeed, the national law for regulated health professions allows for the imposition of substantial fines on individuals or corporations who inaccurately portray themselves as members of any of the regulated professions. This is a major disincentive for title misuse. No such protections exist for social workers. The profession’s capacity to advocate for public safety in social work services is compromised because of the lack of legal protections requiring that practitioners recognize agreed-upon minimum standards in professional qualifications, currency of practice, and engagement in continuing professional education.

Second, due to the absence of government regulation, the AASW has become central to the monitoring and regulation of both educational and professional standards. The centralization of this albeit limited regulatory authority provides some opportunities but also many challenges. The main opportunity is that members of the profession have a strong voice in determining education and professional standards. The challenges include the centralization of power in a professional association, which can make the professional vulnerable in several ways, including lack of recognition or acceptance by governments and other employers of the professional standards deemed necessary by the AASW. For example, for several years during the mid 2000s, one state government child welfare authority pursued a policy of broadening the workforce beyond social workers, citing a perceived dissonance between social work professional standards and the demands of child welfare work (Healy, 2009). A further problem can arise when the AASW fails to champion educational and professional standards. In 2010 and 2011, the then board of the AASW proposed a broadening of the membership criteria to the AASW to include people without social work qualifications. This proposal led to heated debate and much concern among the membership, because in the highly de-regulated Australian context, eligibility for AASW membership is the key way a professionally qualified social worker can indicate to employers and to the public that they hold, or are studying for, accredited social work qualifications. Ultimately, the continuing recognition of professional education and practice standards is largely, and possibly inordinately, dependent on the willingness and capacity of the professional association and its national board to promote educational standards commensurate with international norms and with professional standards required of other allied health professions in Australia. While the Australian social work profession is part of the international federation of social workers, the specific conditions in which social work education and practice occur differ markedly from those in many comparable nations. The limited involvement of government in regulating either education or practice standards has contributed to a situation in which responsibility for establishing and monitoring these standards has become centralized in the professional association. One benefit is that the profession itself is highly involved in setting standards that strongly reflect our professional values, knowledge, and skill base. The challenges include that this regulatory function falls to a largely volunteer association and volunteer board, which operates in a constrained environment. The capacity to regulate the profession is limited largely to those educational institutions and practicing social workers who agree to abide by the standards set by the professional association. This unregulated environment poses potential threats to both educational standards and to public safety. The AASW is working to extend the role of government in regulating the profession, as this is an important step toward promoting national consistency in educational standards, high quality in social work practice, and public safety when using social work services.

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