Enhancing professionalism of social work


Head of the School of Social Work Associate Professor Kieran O’Donoghue.


New research from Massey University’s School of Social Work highlights the impact of the Non-Government Organisation Study Award scheme on recipients and their organisations.

The research follows the decision from the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) to stop funding the awards from 2017. Massey University’s Head of the School of Social Work, Associate Professor Kieran O’Donoghue, says the decision is disappointing, because the programme has been highly successful.

“The current inquiry into the Social Workers Registration Act before the Social Services Select Committee is likely to result in mandatory social worker registration, with implications on the NGO workforce which has the lowest percentage of registered and qualified social workers,” Dr O’Donoghue says.

The NGO Study Awards were established in 2005 under the MSD’s Community Investment fund, targeting employees of non-government organisations delivering social services for vulnerable children and their families. They offer financial and pastoral support for the student and their organisation in order to study towards a degree level qualification in social work.

So far, more than 700 people have received assistance and more than 400 of these students have graduated with a recognised qualification in social work. Almost half were Māori working in iwi-based services.

In 2013, a team from Massey’s School of Social Work, Dr Polly Yeung, Ms Hannah Mooney, Dr Awhina English and Dr O’Donoghue, made an agreement with Community Investment to conduct independent research, funded by the Massey University Research Fund.

Dr O’Donoghue says the study investigated the impact of the awards on helping recipients complete their study and how becoming qualified enabled their social work practices to contribute positive outcomes for family, whanau, children and community.

“The mixed-method study consisted of interviews conducted with 13 past award recipients, seven managers of organisations who have supported recipients, and a survey of 142 recipients’ perceptions on how the awards have helped them to complete their qualifications, increase their self-perceived social work competencies, resilience, reflective ability, job opportunities and job satisfaction,” Dr O’Donoghue says.

Findings from the interviews indicated the award impacted on recipients’ social practice by:

  • Providing the opportunity to study and work in order to implement theories in to practice
  • More understanding of Social Work Registration Board competencies as a result of NGO
  • Study Award workshops
  • Having a ‘wrap-around’ support system and a collective approach, involving managers, students, institutions and NGO staff together through pastoral care and relationship building

Dr O’Donoghue says the award is not just a financial tool but has enabled recipients to receive high quality social work education. “The awards have been vital for students to gain a critical understanding of how social workers can support disadvantaged populations and make changes in the political, social, economic and legal infrastructures and institutions to benefit their clients.”

Key findings:

  • 88 per cent indicated more commitment to finish their training
  • 85 per cent reported more confidence in becoming a practitioner
  • More than 80 per cent reported less financial concerns and less debts when completing the training
  • More than 75 per cent reported high competence in self-reflection, empathetic reflection and reflective communication skills contributing to their practice
  • More than 80 per cent reported high job satisfaction and enjoyment in their current role
  • More than 81 per cent continued working in the NGO sectors even after job changes
  • Most recipients reported the success of the awards was underpinned by the excellent support of the people managing the award at MSD, with 99 per cent rrecommending the award to others.

The final report can be accessed here.

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