Not fit to work for social work regulator?

In 1995, the Report of the Inquiry into the Management of Child Care in Islington included a confidential Appendix naming 32 staff who were defined as unsuitable for work with children. My efforts to expose crimes against children in Islington’s care had helped considerably to promote the establishment of a regulatory protocol for social workers managed from 2001 by a new fit for purpose body – the General Social Care Council (GSCC). This Council was responsible for maintaining a compulsory Register of social workers and for enforcing a code of practice which set out the standards of conduct required. The code helped employers, colleagues, people who use social work services, carers, and members of the public know what standards they could expect from a social worker. The Council conduct panels heard evidence against social workers who it was alleged had committed misconduct and where necessary removed social workers from the Register to prevent them practising.

This was a positive development I had long fought for. It brought social work in line with other regulated professions such as doctors and nurses and would be very important in striving to prevent abusers resigning from one post and moving into another area, as we knew they had done many times across the country. The introduction of social work regulation was the result of information gathered from numerous child protection investigations of the 90s and was long overdue. In 2009, the GSCC published an interesting report about its work in holding social workers to account.

In 2012, as part of a government curb on public bodies, the responsibility of the GSCC was transferred to the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), a body new to the world of social work,  which had previously regulated some health professionals such as podiatrists dieticians and physiotherapists. I complained bitterly at the loss of our specialist, hard won, social work regulator.

Last year, I supported an adult victim of alleged sexual abuse by a social work professional throughout a very distressing HCPC hearing. I had not expected to discover that two out of the three panel members did not have a social work background and  was astonished at their reasoning in allowing the professional to continue to practice – reasoning which, in my view, did not equate with my understanding of good social work practice. Last July, I left my teaching post and gained an honorary University position. I decided, with more time on my hands, I might contribute positively my experience to being a member of the HCPC fitness to practice panel and duly applied for a post which involved just a few days commitment per year. I applied late on the afternoon of the deadline and as a result admit that my form completion was a little rushed.  However, sadly I was not even shortlisted for interview.

I was informed that the score from the application form to enable shortlisting for an interview was 35 and I had only scored 33. The feedback then stated 5 criteria on which I had failed. Simple addition told me that I had failed each of these criteria by just a fraction of a point.

The selection panel noted that whilst there were some good examples of achievement of criteria  the following  were not sufficiently addressed;

  1. Commitment to the seven principles of public life which are as follows: Selflessness, Integrity, Objectivity, Accountability, Openness, Honesty and Leadership.
  2. Proven ability to grasp the detail of a wide range of issues and contribute to objective decision-making by exercising sound judgement.
  3. Demonstrable ability to explain and justify decisions in language appropriate for a broad range of interested parties.
  4. Clear understanding of the importance of upholding public interest in high quality, efficient, consistent and fair regulation.
  5. Demonstrable experience of contributing to and encouraging ways of working that support public accountability.

For anyone interested – my CV is online for all to read on this website together with details of all my publications, conference, media presentations and all other social work and academic practice since 1969.

In my first social work post, I worked in a local authority mental health team managed by doctors. In the 70s, Directors of Social Services managed new Local Authority departments for all forms of social work to adults and children. My work then became ‘generic’ responding to all kinds of social need and much of the work was community-based. My Islington team in the 90s was situated in a shop front and covered just a few streets around Hornsey Road – which is how so many children and adults called by and brought child abuse to our attention. Now social workers are in highly secured ivory towers with open-plan offices, hot-desking and alienated from each other and the communities they serve. They have become increasingly inaccessible to the public. Over time, Children’s social work and Adult social work were split and Directors of Social Services posts were abandoned leading to a less powerful social work base within both central and local government. Amongst other changes, Children’s social work then became conflated within Education services and mental health social work was once again managed mainly within Health services.

Social work is endlessly tossed from pillar to post in a pretence of  politically appropriate responses to tragic events. At this late stage of my career I had hoped to put my specialist expertise to good use but my initiative was not welcomed by a primarily health regulatory body which has never convinced me that it has social work at its heart.

Nicky Morgan, Education Secretary, has now announced that a new body will replace the HCPC. She says, ‘we need a body that will genuinely uphold rigorous professional standards’. The HCPC expressed surprise at the mention of new legislation planned to push this development quickly through parliament but I shed no tears.