Sexual and other inappropriate relationships: guidelines to blame

There is a “wide variation” across the country in employers’ guidelines regarding professional boundaries between social care staff and service users, practitioners have warned.

Gerrie Saunderson, an independent social care consultant from Wakefield, West Yorkshire, said this week that there were “still grey areas that need spelling out.”

“The codes of conduct within different local authorities vary considerably,” she said.

Jonathan Coe, chief executive of WITNESS, a charity which helps service users through the process of submitting official complaints about health and social care workers, said: “Many employers have no clear policy about where the line should be drawn.”

Last month Community Care revealed that more than 40% of the conduct cases heard by the GSCC – 14 out of 34 – involved social workers having inappropriate relationships with service users or their families.

In the latest case in April, St Helens social worker Alan Carr was struck off after having a sexual relationship with a vulnerable girl in a children’s home.

The General Social Care Council has announced a review on guidelines for professional boundaries in January this year, after a high proportion of conduct hearings involved inappropriate relationships between social workers and service users.

There is no date set for the publication of the review, but members of the sector believe a revision of the section of GSCC’s code of conduct, which forbids “inappropriate personal relationships with service users”, is long overdue.

The concerns were raised at the GSCC’s annual conference in London this week.

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