Professor Sarah Wendt, a social work expert with a strong national and international reputation, has been appointed to establish and lead South Australia’s Social Worker Registration Scheme - the country’s first.

Sarah Wendt

As Director of the scheme, Professor Wendt will be responsible for its establishment, development and implementation, including appointing a registrar and board.

Once set up, the seven-member board will develop and maintain a social workers’ register, and prepare and endorse codes of conduct, professional standards and ethical guidelines for registered social workers.

Professor Wendt, who has worked for Flinders University since 2016, worked in the field of domestic and family violence before becoming an academic. She has been a teacher of social work for more than a decade and has researched and been published on violence against women and children as well as on social work practice.

The registration of social workers was progressed by the former State Government to support higher standards of conduct and accountability with mechanisms for complaints and review, and improved professional development opportunities. Introduction of the scheme was supported by both major political parties and the Greens.

The Malinauskas Labor Government committed $4.7 million to support the establishment and introduction of the scheme for social workers in South Australia.

A Bill will be brought to Parliament this year to amend the commencement of the scheme while Professor Wendt and her team recruit a registrar, establish robust guidelines, policies and procedures and appoint a registration board.

Professor Wendt will work closely with the many different representations of social work across government and non-government agencies to implement the scheme in a staged approach.

Minister for Child Protection Katrine Hildyard said the Government supports and values social workers – one of the biggest professional working groups in South Australia.

"Their work touches most areas of social policy including child protection, health, disability and education," she said.

"Social workers must demonstrate a high level of expertise and professional standards when working – often under great pressure – with people in our community experiencing disadvantage or injustice.

"The introduction of the Social Worker Registration Scheme will give the community more confidence in the critical role of social workers, reinforcing the framework for professional standards and ethics.

"I am so pleased to see Professor Wendt heading up this important piece of work, forging a path for South Australia as a national leader in this area.

Professor Wendt said: "I believe in the registration of social workers."

"It will build identity and drive quality practice," she said.

"I think it’s important in terms of how we understand risk and protection for the people we work for, to look at our practice – that’s what attracted me to this job.

"Personally, I have been a social worker on the ground, a teacher of social work and a social work researcher. I look at this role with enthusiasm and excitement.

"I think the public perception of social workers is that it is a helping profession. However, when you look at complexity, advocacy and social justice that often enters the terrain of practice, social workers definitely give back to a bigger cause for the community.

"The registration of social workers is an important next step in establishing respect, quality and professional identity in the community."