The General Social Care Council’s code of practice details the social worker’s duty of care. But how many people know how it can be applied in their daily work?
The Association of Professionals in Education and Children’s Trusts recently issued What If?, a handbook that details how the code can be used to challenge managers to ensure workloads are fair, to ensure the duty of care to users is met, and to ensure practitioners can do their job safely. The following advice is adapted from that guide.
KNOW THE CODE
Roger Kline, author of What If, says that social workers need to study the code of practice. “One of the problems is that the code of practice is relatively new.Many social workers don’t see it as something that they were trained in.”
The GSCC code of practice details the general statutory obligations of social work, while the British Association of Social Workers’ code provides more concrete (albeit non-statutory) details of the job.
IDENTIFY THE PROBLEMS
Knowing the code properly makes it easier to detail what a given problem is and why it matters. Excessive workloads can threaten a social worker’s ability to get their job done safely, as can excessive stress and ineffective supervision.
Alternatively, changing assessment criteria may stop the duty of care for service users being met. There are templates for letters available at www.aspect.org.uk/socialcare detailing these individual issues.
It isn’t a question of competency as to whether or not you flag issues that prevent you doing your job properly – it is a professional obligation in the code (point 3.4). Even if it appears that raising your concerns cannot possibly lead to a solution, you must still do so. “The consequences of not following your duty of care are potentially much more damaging than the consequence of doing nothing,” says Kline.
WRITE CONCERNS DOWN
Formally writing down your concerns means that if a given problem becomes worse in the future then you can demonstrate that you flagged the problem. “If there isn’t a paper trail then you might as well not have raised the issue,” says Kline.
TALK TO YOUR MANAGER
Flagging your concerns with your manager in a supervision session is a good start, especially if it comes with a deadline by which to resolve a given problem. It is worth remembering that your employer has a statutory requirement to make sure you feel able to carry out the right course of action (point 6.4), and have enough time to do your work properly.
“It’s not for social workers to decide what they should or shouldn’t do. If they have too much to do, then their managers have to decide what gets done,” says Kline.
TALK TO OTHERS
Approach colleagues casually to see if they have similar concerns; if they do, then encourage them to talk to their manager too. A team meeting can also clearly demonstrate the strength of feeling on a given issue.
FOLLOW UP WITH A PLAN
Documenting your concerns is one thing, but that won’t necessarily provide a route map out of the problem. Asking your manager to commit to a timescale of agreed action from initial supervision meetings provides a clear timetable by which to judge whether a situation is improving. If that fails to resolve a problem then it may be necessary to log a formal grievance.
If your line manager is the source of the problem, then you can of course go to a more senior manager. If that still fails to provide a response, then the service director should be told. “They and the liaison councillor have a statutory duty to allow practitioners to do their work safely,” Kline says.
CONTACT YOUR TRADE UNION
Trade unions can provide useful advice on how and when to progress through these steps, and should especially be consulted if you are considering registering a formal grievance.
They can also show how to make sure that your concerns are documented in a way that shows you are not trying to create trouble but only fulfilling your contractual obligation.
IF IT COMES TO THE WORST
Managers must respond to concerns flagged by employees, and failure to do so opens them up to potential claims of breaches of statutory duties and criticism by official bodies. But if a problem can’t be resolved in-house, then the last-case scenario is whistleblowing. However, this is not a decision to be taken lightly or until all other options have been exhausted.
➔ What If? Social work Professionals and the Duty of Care is £10 or free to Aspect members. Available from: firstname.lastname@example.org
➔ The General Social Care Council’s code of practice: www.gscc.org.uk