GSCC launches boundaries guidance for social workers

The General Social Care Council has launched guidance on professional boundaries for social workers in England. About a fifth of all cases referred to the regulator involve inappropriate relationships with service users (pictured), according to the GSCC's data.

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The General Social Care Council has launched guidance on professional boundaries for social workers in England following concerns that some practitioners are abusing their position of power.

About a fifth of all cases referred to the regulator involve inappropriate relationships with service users, according to the GSCC’s data.

Past cases have included social workers allowing service users to visit their homes, sharing their personal phone number, buying service users gifts and failing to declare contact outside of working hours.

The GSCC commissioned Sheffield Hallam University and the charity Witness (now the Clinic for Boundaries Studies) to carry out research on the issue. The research concluded that a definitive list of acceptable and unacceptable behaviour would not be appropriate, given the grey areas encountered by social workers on a daily basis.

Instead, the GSCC’s guidance examines cases in which social workers were found to have breached professional boundaries and presents discussion points for each.

The guidance is divided into three sections: relationships, upholding public trust and confidence in social care services and challenging colleagues’ professional boundary breaches.

It also includes a list of general questions social workers should consider whenever they have concerns about their practice.

Penny Thompson, chief executive of the GSCC, said: “We have issued this guidance in the hope that social workers will engage in reflective discussion with colleagues and managers about ethical issues that arise in practice and discuss behaviours, both in and out of work, which could constitute breaching professional boundaries.”

Maurice Bates, interim co-chair of the College of Social Work, added that the College would work closely with the GSCC and its successor body, the Health Professions Council, to ensure social workers maintained the “high standards of integrity that the public expects”.

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