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Fitness to Practise: A fair system for social workers?

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In 2012, the regulation of social workers in England was taken under the wing of the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC).

Since then, the number of social workers appearing before their regulator and coming away with an imposed sanction has increased. The imposition of such sanctions has left many, particularly those within the profession, to question the HCPC’s Fitness to Practise system. These questions concern the HCPC’s perceived failure to consistently consider all the factors which can lead a social worker up the HCPC’s path, for example their case load and supervision.

The caseload of the average social worker is not one that would be envied by many. They are required to work long hours and travel extensively to visit their service users and often have too many on their rota to squeeze in to a working week. That has knock on effects in that it will either mean squeezing them all in and thus spending less time with each or spreading them out with greater gaps between visits. It really is a case of damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

If timekeeping issues then result in a Fitness to Practise referral to the HCPC, pointing to a lack of supervision might be viewed as a failure by the social worker to show significant insight, regardless of how true it is. Community Care surveys have produced results which highlight the scale of these issues, showing that in July 2012, half of the social workers questioned had seen a colleague quit over high caseloads in the preceding year, and in a June 2013 survey nearly a third said they were not receiving any supervision.

As budget cuts continue to take their toll on the profession, help is unfortunately not on the horizon. What might be are further referrals to the HCPC. In that event, it becomes increasingly important that Fitness to Practise panels, all of which will contain one social worker, get a clearer picture of the working conditions of the registrant in question. Anna van der Gaag, Chairperson of the HCPC has acknowledged a need for continual learning when it comes to regulating social work, saying “We will be doing an in-depth analysis of the cases as time goes on.” Unfortunately, for now at least, the system remains the same as all of those involved continue to adapt.

By Geoffrey May, graduate paralegal in the professional discipline team

If you are a social worker facing proceedings before the Health and Care Professions Council, our specialist professional discipline team can assist. Please call 0333 344 4772 for more information.

 

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