The Meandering Social Worker

wandering : wondering : learning

A safe working environment?

Community Care regularly provides links to further information on the outcomes of hcpc fitness to practice decisions, which can make for interesting reading.  As well as making one wonder at the absence of professional common sense in some people.

Of course, a news reporting, or even a report from the hcpc only gives the information that is publicly available.  Perhaps its the social worker in me, but unable to speak to the individuals themselves I always hold back a small portion of reserve in any judgements I make.

One social worker who garnered a little of my sympathy was struck off for faking a conversation with a vulnerable child in an assessment report.  Of course, there is no excuse for doing this and it absolutely should not happen.  The social worker pleaded on the grounds of stress and sickness, but as the panel stated, these are no excuse for poor practice, and that “A social worker has an obligation to report any personal difficulties that might affect their ability to do their job competently and safely.”

The trouble is it’s too easy to say that a social worker has an obligation to report personal difficulties.  In this case the social worker was working as a locum in Harrow.  She presumably didn’t have a permanent contract with the local authority and sick pay and provisions can vary for casual/locum work.  Who should she have reported her ‘personal difficulties’ to, what effect would that have had on her ability to work, would she have lost her agency placement in Harrow and would her agency have continued to place her in other roles in future?

Front line social work, particularly in children’s services, can be one of the most stressful jobs going.  With high caseloads, government targets, deadlines and rigid timescales, it’s inevitable that some people with resort to taking unacceptable shortcuts.  Front line social work is a job in which there’s no emotional space for coping with non-work difficulties: a partner who leaves or an acrimonious divorce, a child or parent who is sick, the death of a friend, moving house, financial worries.  But perhaps most damaging is a tendency among social work departments towards a culture of ‘coping’.  It’s not done to admit that you, a carer, in a caring profession, with a professional and responsible image, are struggling, especially with stress.  It’s just not done.  Having worked in front line child protection I know that there is a distinct lack of sympathy: everyone is too busy trying to manage their own coping skills most of the time.  Where the pressure is greatest management can often be unapproachable, similarly under stress and not able to admit to the extent of it, and certainly not wanting to hear that someone needs a relaxing of their caseload or might be going off sick.

We all need to be prepared to speak up when we are in difficulty and we need to be prepared to work alongside our colleagues to support them when they face difficulties in and out of work.  Government and the profession’s leaders need to recognise the pressures that are exacerbated by shortage of staff, the administration of deadlines and targets and the managerialist culture prevalent in social work for much of the last 20 years.

The social work environment is not always a safe environment to work in.  While the hcpc is there purely to control registration and take disciplinary actions it would be better if they could consider and campaign for a safer working environment and atmosphere, taking on a more supportive role with the profession, such as that offered by BASW.

In this case there appear to be two primary factors that clinched the decision to strike this social worker off the register: the deliberateness of her deceit and her lack of recognition of the potential serious consequences of her actions for the child and his family, something that is particularly concerning considering she had been qualified for 17 years.



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