What do the cases that the General Social Care Council (GSCC) has taken to conduct hearings or tribunals tell us about the state of social work practice? How should professional boundaries be managed, especially in the sensitive area of sexual relationships? How are complainants supported and how are conduct issues assessed?
The GSCC is the social care workforce regulator and “guardian of standards” for the social care workforce in England. It is responsible for regulating the codes of practice, the Social Care Register and qualifying and post qualifying social work education and training.
The Codes of Practice for Social Care Workers and Employers describe the standards of conduct and practice within which employers of social care workers and staff should work. The codes require that employers adhere to the standards set out in their code, support social care workers to meet their professional responsibilities and take appropriate action when workers do not meet expected standards of conduct. The codes mean that the social care sector has similar regulation to doctors and nurses.
Registered social care workers who breach the codes could be removed from the Social Care Register, while employers who break them could face sanctions.
A workshop at the recent GSCC Annual Conference gave an interesting insight into what happens when social workers breach the code and are reported for misconduct.
The work of the GSCC’s Conduct Group centres around maintaining and raising professional standards to ensure that applicants to, and people on, the Social Care Register:
are suitable to be a registered social worker
work safely in social care
are held accountable for their practice and conduct
Is the regulation of Conduct working?
Between 1st April 2003 and 31st March 2008 the work of the Conduct Group has led to:
214 refusals to join the Social Care Register
60 registrations with conditions
14 removals from the Social Care Register
16 admonishments placed on the registrants’ public record
39 Interim Suspension Orders
Almost half of all referrals from employers relate to professional practice
Although there are proportionately fewer referrals relating to professional boundaries a high percentage of Conduct Committees held relate to this matter
Sections 2(striving to establish and maintain the trust and confidence of service users and carers) and 5 (uphold public trust and confidence in social care services) are the sections of the codes of practice most commonly breached.
(source GSCC 2008)
Download the full Codes of Practice here
WITNESS supports people who use services who are reporting abuse by social workers. This includes:
Emotional support to help deal with the impact of conduct proceedings
Helping communications and providing support at meetings with lawyers and the GSCC
Preparation for and support at Conduct Committee hearings
Post hearing follow up/debriefing
Reporting to the GSCC on client experiences
WITNESS is the professional boundaries charity and aims to promote safe boundaries between professionals and the public. They provide a range of services for professionals and the public and work to improve public protection through policy and influencing work. http://www.popan.org.uk/
Professional boundaries are high on the list of issues reported to disciplinary hearings
Skills around boundaries are not currently taught to social workers
Many employers have no clear policy about professional boundaries
Workers often do not know where the line should be drawn.
(source GSCC 2008)
Social services department, services registered with the Commission for Social Care Inspection (CSCI), and further types of services are expected to be in a position to comply with the Code of Practice for Employers of Social Care Workers. The GSCC suggest that employers:
Use the code for employers as a ‘tick list’ for a comprehensive audit of policies.
In larger organisations, make sure relevant senior colleagues such as the human resources manager, training manager and elected members or board are aware of the codes and their potential impact on the organisation. In smaller organisations, make sure all senior colleagues are aware of the codes and their potential impact.
Ensure that sufficient copies of the code are available for all staff, make sure they have received and read them, and try to have a session where the issues are discussed.
Introduce the codes to new staff at induction and have a discussion with them then about what they mean. The codes contain nothing that cannot be put into practice straight away by social care workers.
The codes can be used in the performance appraisal process as a measurable target for staff and managers. Incorporating the codes into people’s work plans and objectives will be a good way of getting them to think about the codes.
Get staff to carry the credit card-sized codes around with them and ask staff to explain to service users what the codes are, at an appropriate moment.
People who use services should have access to the codes, which are available for download and to order by post in a variety of formats from the GSCC.
It remains to be seen how employers, who do not adhere to the codes of practice, will be sanctioned through the Conduct process.