Debate on a conscience opt out clause for social workers

We asked whether social workers should be allowed to opt
out of some cases on the basis of religious beliefs or

Two social workers from Sefton council refused to work
on a same sex couple adoption case recently. Read the news

  Read a head-to-head
discussion on the subject

These are the comments we received:

A key part of my social work training was
instilling a ‘non judgmental attitude’. A conscience clause
fundamentally undermines this tenet of social work practice. It
seems that here we are being told that these social workers cannot
put aside their personal beliefs, and make a judgement on the
ability of two adults to provide a good home and upbringing for a
child being considered for adoption. If that is the case, then can
we trust their judgement in other matters? Ability to nurture, care
for and enhance the life of a child is clearly not determined by
marital status, sexuality or other similar factors. It is deeply
shocking to see that we are having this kind of debate in

Maurice Price

If we allow the conscience clause to become a
part of social work practice, we might as well not bother training.
Roger Smith’s views beg the question “would he even pass a course
in social work today with such a value base?”.
He says: “Regardless of the personal view individual social workers
hold about same-sex adoption, it is clear that there are caring and
professional social workers who, from the best of motives, do not
think it is in the best interests of children.”
How very interesting – does Mr Smith equate same sex parenting with
bad parenting? Does he also buy into the view that all homosexual
males are paedophiles? Does he think that lesbians make bad mothers
because they are two women? 
I would like to point out to Mr Smith that most of the children who
end up in care traumatised, are from heterosexual familes. If
heteroxexual parenting is the way forward, why are our mental
institutions full of straight people? Why is the divorce rate
amongst heteroxexuals at its highest rate ever? Does Mr Smith also
negate the benefits of such organisations as the Albert Kennedy
Trust which places gay and bisexual youngsters with gay and
bisexual carers  – does Mr Smith believe perhaps, that social
workers who ‘do not think it is in the best interests of children’
should have the right to say to these young gay and bisexual
children – “No, you can’t be placed with these two women – what you
need is a good dose of heterosexuality – that will sort you
He says that to  ‘deny this discretion is to pre-judge their
professionalism’ – I ask, ‘what
Andi Chapman – Cornwall

I believe that to provide an objective service
for our users it is a fundamental right of a social worker or any
individual to opt out of cases on religious or


I do not think social workers should be able
to opt out of cases on the grounds of religion or conscience.  I
have a strong feminist perspective, and if I had on my case load a
schedule 1 offender with a disability I would not think I should be
able to opt out of working with him.

It is interesting to note that the issue which has brought this
to a head is joint adoption by gay/lesbian couples AS COUPLES. 
Have these social workers been asked how they would feel about
others refusing to work with asylum seekers because they think such
people should not be allowed in. 

Speaking as one of this reviled minority, I am aware that people
find it very easy to justify prejudice against us because we are
seen as morally corrupt and corrupting.

Had these social workers been blatantly racist would they not
have been sacked rather than redeployed?


Finally the illogicality of political
correctness comes home to roost. Political correctness sets itself
up as the moral guardian with the ultimate sin being
discrimination. However it is founded on shifting sand with no
moral framework to base its relitavist ideas on.

A religious person who in all conscience cannot agree to an area
of work, such as abortion or same sex adoption is discriminated
against themselves by the relativist dogma of political
correctness. Who is ultimately to say that an individual is wrong
to opt out of such work. And who ultimattely makes the moral
judgement that someone has to do it or lose their job?

This slippery road will lead to religious people being
increasingly discriminated be they Christian, Muslim Jewish or

The loser is truth.”

Tim Jackson

Of course they should not.

The best interest of the child needs to be at the centre of the
decision and not the beliefs, or bigotries of any individual social
worker. There will be some children for whom placement with a gay
couple is a less favoured option just as for some children
placement with a white couple might be less favoured. Roger Smith’s
conflation of the child’s needs with those of the social worker
adds nothing to the debate.


I believe it is intolerant to deny social
workers a conscience clause. Why should anybody be forced to deny
their beliefs? Using force smacks of the Inquisition. Three cheers
for the two brave women who stood up for what they believed against
Sefton Council. I know one of them, and she is a credit to her

(Mr) D.J.Stephens

If the opt out clause over adoption is
available then we’ll be worse off than before. Anyone who is
homophobic will be able to claim that they have ethical reasons for
opt out. Neither social workers nor churches nor Christian
charities should be given the opt out.
Most children that have a bad time do so in a heterosexual family
with one or both parents and sometimes a step parent and step
siblings. How could a loving gay couple be a worse option than the
many permutations of abusive relationships found in many
heterosexual homes? This is an utterly irrational objection and as
a born again Christian myself I find the arguments put forward by
Roger Smith embarrassing and reprehensible.”


Most definitely not. There should have been no
option to move to adult services either. Same sex adult couples
have social or care needs also. If in need of social worker input
they will be equally vulnerable. Will religious beliefs not get in
the way here too? These people should be removed from the
profession. They have shown discriminatory tendencies, and have
proved that they cannot meet the job requirement. A social worker’s
job is to ensure the best outcome of any social care, provided with
care and dignity without discrimination.
How can MPs’ justify discrimination?
Denise, Managing Director
Community Care Provider

Difficult one this. One evening after work
some years ago I went to my GP (a woman) for the “morning after”
pill. She told me I had to go to the family planning clinic – this
turned out to be closed. My time for using the pill was nearly
elapsed and as a single parent with two young children I was not
ready for another child at that time.  

I went back to my GP who refused to see me and made me have a
phone dialogue with her through the receptionist in the middle of a
packed waiting room. Finally she said she wouldn’t prescribe this
medication because it was against her religious beliefs- she viewed
it as a form of abortion. Eventually another doctor at the surgery
gave me the prescription. I lodged a formal complaint about how I
had been treated and was invited to change practices. Eventually,
it was agreed that this GP would make clear to her patients what
she would and would not prescribe due to her religious beliefs. So
………….  I think if GPs can have this choice then so should
we. However, in the case in question, I can’t help feeling it
smacks of intolerance and so can’t agree.


I do not think this is acceptable. Social
workers should be able to exercise their professional
responsibilities above their personal beliefs and prejudices. If
their beliefs do not coincide with the policies of the agency then
they should not accept employment with the agency. Sometimes using
the excuse of conscience or personal religious and other beliefs
can mask an underlying prejudice and unacceptable discrimination.
All sorts of professions have to provide a service to those who
share different beliefs, practices and lifestyles. This is part of
exercising professional responsibility.


In the governments own words: “marriage is
still the surest foundation for raising children”, Supporting
Families (green paper) The Home Office 1998, page 4, paragraph 8..
Marriage involves a public understanding to stay together for life.
It requires both parties to act with forethought, responsibility
and commitment.

Further, Jack Straw MP, when home secretary, said on 4 November
1998 ,on the Today programme: “I’m not in favour of gay couples
seeking to adopt children because I question whether that is the
right start to life. We should not see children as trophies.”
He continued: “Children in my judgement, and I think it’s judgement
of almost everyone including single parents, are best brought up
where you have two natural parents in a stable
relationship. There’s no question about that.  What we know from
the evidence is that, that stability is more likely to occur where
the parents are married than where they are not.”

More recently Jacqui Smith MP, health minister, quoted in
Hansard, col.383, 29 November 2001, House of Commons, said: “The
adoption law review …….. concluded that joint adoption should
remain limited to married couples on the grounds that adoption by a
married couple was more likely to provide the stability and
security that the child needed because married couples have made a
joint, publicly recognised, legal commitmment to each other.”

The government, having abandoned stability and security for
dubious social engineering, then Christian social workers should be
provided with a  “conscience clause” which allows them to express a
professional judgment compatible with ” the best interests of

David Ball, Wolverhampton

Having read the article ‘Rebels without
a clause’ we want to say without a doubt that social workers
should be able to opt out of cases on the grounds of religion or
conscience. There is nothing discriminatory about this, but it is
in line with many other professions where a person’s
conscience or beliefs are respected. We agree with Roger Smith that
it is not in the best interests of vulnerable children to be
denied, in law, even the possibility of having either a father or
mother figure. There are clearly experienced and excellent social
workers for whom the omission of a conscience clause will put them
into an untenable dilemma where they either compromise or quit. To
expect anyone to act against their conscience or belief is


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