Children’s social workers have been urged to blow the whistle on rising child protection thresholds in teams rather than individually.
The call, from the BASW – the College of Social Work, follows a Community Care survey that showed more than half of all social workers had been pressurised to downgrade children from child protection plans to child-in-need plans.
Pressure had also been put on a significant number to return children already in care to birth parents in order to save money.
Nushra Mansuri, professional officer at BASW, said social workers could be breaching their code of conduct if they caved into management pressure to downgrade child protection cases against their judgement of risk in a case.
“I share the consternation of social workers about what is a deeply worrying and serious situation,” Mansuri said.
“Often those who attempt to raise their concerns within their departments can sometimes face a very negative response. Rather than being the complainant, they end up subjected to procedures themselves in relation to some weakness that suddenly comes to light in their practice or an irregularity in their expense claim – usually something spurious.
“There is strength in numbers and I would encourage teams of social workers to make joint representations with the backing of their representative bodies to mitigate against being easily picked off.
“All social workers in this position should actively use the code of practice to raise their issues in terms of potential breaches to services users.”
Mansuri called on social workers to inundate the General Social Care Council with complaints about unethical practice, even though the body “does not have the teeth to deal with errant employers”.
The College of Social Work agreed that social workers were bound by their code of practice to highlight to their employer any resource or operational difficulties.
Interim co-chair Corinne May-Chahal said: “The College is clearly in favour of this but recognises the fear that many social workers might have about doing it. The College asks employers to listen to and be supportive of social workers who raise these issues, as they do so in the interest of service users.”
Penny Thompson, chief executive of the GSCC, said the welfare and interests of a child should always guide the work of a social worker. “That is non-negotiable,” she said.
“The Code of Practice stresses the need for social workers to take referrals seriously and to respond to these or pass them on to the appropriate person. A failure to act could leave the member of public at continued risk and could be considered a breach of the code of practice.”
Last week the government urged social workers to use Ofsted’s whistleblowing hotline if managers were pressurising them to leave children in abusive family situations under the less rigorous child-in-need plans.
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