All social workers need to be aware of the requirements of the job. Although soon to be replaced, you must still register with the GSCC and adhere to its code of conduct. The GSCC will investigate any breaches of the code. Sally Gillen reports
The General Social Care Council
The General Social Care Council (GSCC) will regulate the social care workforce in England until 2012, when the function will be transferred to the Health Professions Council (HPC). The GSCC was set up in October 2001 under the Care Standards Act 2000 to register social care workers and to regulate their conduct and training.
The GSCC has a majority of lay members who have experience across the spectrum of social care, whether as users of services, carers, or service providers from the public, private or voluntary sectors. There are equivalent bodies in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
By law, qualified social workers and those training to become social workers must be registered with GSCC. Since 1 April 2005 “social worker” has been a protected title under section 61 of the Care Standards Act 2000, which means anyone not registered and using the title or carrying out the tasks of a social worker can be fined up to £5,000. Only those on the GSCC’s social care register can practise.
Social workers must renew their registration every three years and currently pay a fee of £30. The cost of registration under the HPC has not yet been set. Although it is the individual’s responsibility to pay for registration, some employers will foot the bill. In order to renew registration, social workers must be able to demonstrate they have carried out 90 hours or 15 days post registration training and learning (PRTL).
The HPC does not register students, suggesting there is “insufficient evidence” that it is necessary to protect the public. Yet this is an important part of the GSCC’s remit, because social work students can be placed in frontline teams within weeks of beginning a course, with access to vulnerable children and adults. Details on the registration requirements expected of students under the HPC are yet to be announced.
Post registration training
The GSCC places an emphasis on continuing professional development for social workers. A wide range of activities can be count towards the 90 hours’ PRTL, including attending conferences, job-shadowing the work of a colleague in a related team or profession, negotiating protected time to research latest policy and good practice developments in your field of practice or undertaking a piece of research related to your practice. The HPC currently approves only a small number of post registration qualifications but it’s PRTL requirements for social workers have not yet been set.
Under the GSCC’s registration rules, every social worker registered with the GSCC shall complete either 90 hours or 15 days of study, training, courses, seminars, reading, teaching or other activities which could reasonably be expected to advance the social worker’s professional development, or contribute to the development of the profession as a whole. The GSCC expects training activities to reflect the following:
• Will benefit your current employment;
• Will benefit your career progression;
• Reflect your preferred learning style and make the most of the learning opportunities available to you to form part of your professional development.
The GSCC expects to see evidence of 90 hours’ PRTL and advises those on the social care register to keep an ongoing record of activities they have undertaken.
As part of registration, social workers agree to abide by codes of practice, designed to improve professionalism and public protection. The codes, which were launched in 2002, brought social workers in line with other professionals such as doctors and nurses. There are two sets of codes, one for social care workers and another for social care employers.
Social workers who breach the codes of practice can face a conduct hearing and will be penalised if they are found to have committed misconduct. The GSCC has a Conduct Group that is responsible for investigating complaints from employers, service users and higher education trainers about the conduct of student and qualified social workers.
Among the types of complaints that would be investigated are ones involving abuse of service users, repeated mistakes by a practitioner and behaviour inside or outside work that could cast doubt on their suitability to work as a social worker. The Conduct Group does not look into issues such as timekeeping and sickness records.
If the Conduct Group decides the social worker has breached the codes of conduct, a preliminary proceedings committee will be convened. At this stage the social worker can be placed under an Interim Suspension Order by the GSCC if the nature of the alleged misconduct is deemed to place service users at risk, which prevents them from practising.
ISOs can be put in place for up to six months initially but they can be renewed, although overall they must not last for more than two years. Those placed on an ISO, who are still employed, may not receive a full salary but matters of pay are decided by their employer, not the GSCC.
A committee of lay and non-lay membershears evidence connected to the case, usually in public, although there may be compelling reasons why the hearing needs to be held in private. A registrant can apply to have their case held in private, although this is rarely granted.
The committee uses the civil burden of proof to decide if misconduct has been found and then has powers to impose a range of sanctions: an admonishment; a suspension or removal from the register. Those who are removed from the register are no longer allowed to practise. Practitioners can appeal the GSCC’s decision at the Care Standards Tribunal.
The HPC uses a fitness to practice system which looks at professional competence as well as conduct but details about the system as it might apply to social workers have not yet been published.
Do you have questions about social work registration or conduct?
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The Student Zone social work careers guide is supported by Unison.