Social workers may have unrealistic expectations of the protection
on offer if they blow the whistle on an employer or colleague, the
British Association of Social Workers has warned.
Figures from the TUC released last week reveal that 1,500 employees
who blew the whistle about work between 1999 and 2004 were sacked.
No specific figures on whistleblowing in social care are compiled
but the General Social Care Council’s social work code of practice
sets out the responsibilities social workers have to raise concerns
over bad practice.
Social work students are being taught about the code. It is
anticipated that adherence to it will be linked to a social
worker’s registration to practice.
But Ian Johnston, director of BASW, is concerned it will afford
little protection to social workers, especially younger ones. “It
is clear from the code there is an expectation for employees to
blow the whistle if they come across bad practice. It will be
interesting to see how robust that is when tested.
“The reality is there can be repercussions for whistleblowers but
trying to prove they are related to the act of whistleblowing is
difficult and often if someone makes a claim against a council and
they reach a settlement there is a gagging order as part of the
agreement,” Johnston said.
Despite the code of practice now encouraging whistleblowing, there
are cases of social workers who have exposed what they believe to
be poor practice, only for the decision to cost them their job.
Judy Weleminsky, former board member at the Children and Family
Court Advisory and Support Service, was one of the most
high-profile whistleblowers when she highlighted problems at the
organisation to a parliamentary committee.
Deborah Rees was sacked from her job as a social worker at Swindon
Council after she set up a website criticising the performance of
her employers. The council justified her sacking because it
believed she had not exhausted the internal complaints procedure.
But Rees said managers were unwilling to listen to her concerns
over a culture of bullying, discrimination and victimisation in the
housing and social services departments.
Helen Cosis Brown, social work curriculum leader at Middlesex
University, said the social work code of practice gives more
protection than the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998. The act
sets out when it is appropriate for employees to blow the whistle
and what protection they can expect.
She said: “If someone wants to raise something there is now a
framework and policies that back them and a structure to make them
feel more secure.”
The Commission for Social Care Inspection’s chief inspector David
Behan sees whistleblowing as a key weapon in improving standards in
social care services, and wants more employees to tell the
commission of their concerns.
“A lot of people will be reluctant to go to their employer so they
can come straight to us,” a CSCI spokesperson said.
Guy Dehn, director at Public Concern at Work, said it was important
for social care workers to have more faith in whistleblowing
because the sector was “a long way behind even the health
Dehn continued: “The important thing is to try to develop a culture
of accountability where people are more likely to speak out.”
He said this was mainly about leadership among managers and clearly
explaining the responsibilities of staff and employers, adding:
“This will only get more important in the future and social care
will have to catch up.”