In the history of social care few days will be as significant as
23 September, 2002.
The unveiling of the codes of practice for social care workers and
employers this week heralds the official creation of a new caring
profession alongside medicine and nursing.
It will be a profession with enormous influence – employing 1.2
million workers and directly influencing the lives of millions more
people each year.
The codes of practice are the foundation stones of the new formal
profession. They set out the standards of conduct and practice to
which all social care employers and staff should work.
For the first time in the sector, there is a statutory, nationwide
set of rules that includes the basic standards and procedures that
workers are expected to observe as well as guidelines for their
relationships with service users, carers, colleagues and
Dick Clough, chief executive of the Social Care Association, says:
“It will mean that the social care workforce is seen as highly
skilful and highly valuable.”
However, Community Care‘s online poll in January revealed
that only 55 per cent of respondents believed the codes – then in
draft form – would help them improve their practice.
Slight modifications of language and shifts in emphasis have made
the codes more accessible and more relevant to the real-life issues
and dilemmas faced in social care work.
For example, the draft requirement to “respect the independence of
service users and protect them as far as possible from harm” could
appear contradictory. The amended rule says workers must “promote
the independence of service users while protecting them as far as
possible from danger or harm”. It is a small change but
significantly alters the way social care staff are expected to view
the independence of service users.
The finalised codes also make it clear that workers must tell their
employer or “appropriate authority” about any resource or
operational difficulties that might obstruct the delivery of safe
care or about the practice of colleagues that may be unsafe or
adversely affect standards of care.
Signing up to the codes will be prerequisite for entry to the
professional register – which in time will be compulsory for all
social care workers. Registration – in effect a licence to practise
– will have to be renewed every three years and will require
evidence of professional development.
The four social care councils intend to use their legal powers to
give social care jobs “protected titles” – making it a criminal
offence for anyone not on the register to use the title.
Eventually the aim is to make registration dependent on
qualifications. But, with 80 per cent of the social care workforce
not having professional qualifications, it is likely that
“experience-based qualifications” will be accepted, at least in the
Serious breaches of the codes will be referred to the conduct
committees of the social care councils, whose powers include
suspending or striking names off the register.
Strictly speaking, the professional codes will become enforceable
only when workers sign the professional register. But the National
Care Standards Commission will ensure that employers and their
staff comply with the codes in line with the national minimum
standards, says the organisation’s chief executive, Ron Kerr. Many
employers are therefore likely to seek to introduce the codes into
employment contracts as quickly as possible
Owen Davies, national officer for social services for public sector
union Unison, says the union supports the codes but does not
believe they should be imposed on staff.
“The code should be something that staff feel they have ownership
of. When they sign up to it as part of the registration process, it
is a positive statement of intent.” Davies says.
With the Laming Inquiry into the death of Victoria Climbi’ due to
report at the end of this year, there is concern that there will be
political and media pressure for some change to the codes.
But the GSCC insists it is in contact with Lord Laming and has made
him aware of the codes and how they have been drawn up.
Ian Johnston, director of the British Association of Social
Workers, says: “We do not want the codes to be altered because of
knee-jerk reactions. We have codes that we are happy with and, as a
profession, if people tell us we must make changes we must be
prepared to tell them to get lost.”
What People Say
Michael Leadbetter, president of the Association of
Directors of Social Services: “It is absolutely crucial
that employers know what is expected of them when employing social
care staff and that staff know, without a shadow of a doubt, what
is expected of them.”
Dick Clough, chief executive of the Social Care
Association: “The public can now be aware of what is
reasonably expected from social care staff and employers in
providing quality services.”
Chris Hanvey, Barnardo’s UK director of
operations: “Here are the beginnings of a compact between
public and profession to improve practice and protect the
Anthony Douglas, director of social care and health at
Suffolk council: “The new codes are a must-read,
must-learn and must-comply with. I am convinced that they will
Rachel Wooller, outreach worker for the
Alzheimer’s Society in Cambridge: “It is important
to have employees’ rights, in respect of care and safety,
training and support, written down, as these are frequently abused
or disregarded in the workplace.”
Mary Walsh, chief executive of the Sexual Abuse Child
Consultancy Service: “These much needed, down-to-earth and
to-the-point codes of practice for employers and employees alike
must be implemented so that service users and the public may regain
confidence in the social care profession.”
Julia Feast, project manager, post adoption, care and
counselling for the Children’s Society: “The codes
will assist social care workers to increase their skills, knowledge
and confidence and ensure that the public has access to consistent
John Pierson, senior lecturer in social work at
Staffordshire University: “The codes announce a bedrock of
commitments to a diverse profession.”
Codes of practice
For Social Care Workers
- Protect the rights and promote the interests of service users
- Strive to establish and maintain the trust and confidence of
service users and carers.
- Promote the independence of service users while protecting them
as far as possible from danger or harm.
- Respect the rights of service users whilst seeking to ensure
that their behaviour does not harm themselves or other people.
- Uphold public trust and confidence in social care
- Be accountable for the quality of their work and take
responsibility for maintaining and improving their knowledge and
For Social Care Employers
- Make sure that people are suitable to enter the social care
workforce and understand their roles and responsibilities.
- Have written policies and procedures in place to enable social
care workers to meet the codes of practice for workers.
- Provide training and development opportunities to enable social
care workers to strengthen and develop their skills and
- Put in place and implement written policies and procedures to
deal with dangerous, discriminatory or exploitative behaviour and
- Promote the codes of practice to social care workers, service
users and carers and cooperate with the care councils’