Government sets out timeline for decision on controversial proposals to jail social workers

The government is planning to launch its consultation on extending the crime of 'wilful neglect' to children's social workers later this year

Man in handcuffs
Photo: Rex/West Coast Surfer/Mood Board

The government will make a decision by September 2016 on whether to go forward with proposals to jail social workers for up to five years for failing to protect children from sexual exploitation.

In its response to a report into the Rotherham sexual exploitation scandal, the government confirmed that a consultation on the controversial plan to extend the crime of wilful neglect to children’s social workers, teachers and councillors will be held this year and a final decision will be made by September 2016 at the latest. Wilful neglect is a crime that carries a maximum jail sentence of five years.

Failure to take action

“The consultation will seek views on sanctions for failure to take action on child abuse or neglect where it is a professional responsibility to do so,” the government said.

“‘Wilful neglect’ would impose criminal sanctions for those who are found guilty of deliberate, wilful or reckless neglect or mistreatment of children. It would cover inaction, concealment and/or deliberate cover ups and would ensure that those responsible for the very worst failures in care can be held accountable,” the response said.

The proposals received fierce criticism from the social work sector when they were announced in March, with an online petition opposing the announcement generating more than 11,000 supporters.

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16 Responses to Government sets out timeline for decision on controversial proposals to jail social workers

  1. Fred August 26, 2015 at 11:10 am #

    This government cuts funding for child protection services, support for very vulnerable adults and the benefits for the disabled in order to pay for the tax cuts given to the hedge fund managers that bankroll the Tory party.

    Then they announce plans to jail social worker for failing to protect the vulnerable.

    Splendid.

  2. alison grant August 26, 2015 at 12:46 pm #

    The government would be better cleaning up their own act first regarding the sexual abuse of young people . Are they then going to arrest police officers for failing to protect public servants that are assaulted by members of the public on a daily basis ?

  3. Mary August 26, 2015 at 3:04 pm #

    The goverment needs to start from the grass root before proposing to jail Social Workers. They need to have some respect for the profession by investing more money into the councils so that they can employ enough Social Workers to look after vulnerable Children. Case loads that are not manageable can contribute to Children or Adults been put at risk not because the Social Workers cannot be bothered to do the work, but due to the fact that they are stressed out. The goverment should be working towards helping people who want to be Social Workers get into the profession with a guarantee that they will get support and the training needed to do the job. So what will the goverment do when we have a shortage of Social Workers due to fear of been jailed….surely somebody in goverment need to have a brain to think about what they are proposing to do.

  4. Jo August 26, 2015 at 4:34 pm #

    Who on earth would want to do that job now??? this would leave more vulnerable individuals and more of a short fall, have they really not considered that?

    This Government are not living on this planet their heads are in space, they never seem to look at the bigger picture and never seem to see the consequences of their actions….. maybe we should invoke a prison sentence to them for being so inadequate…

    Really come on get a grip on reality!!!

  5. Soupy August 26, 2015 at 10:24 pm #

    Who is going to take serious responsibility for the wilful neglect of front line social workers under the stress of guidelines, protocols, regulations, legislation, aggressive and sometimes violent service users, high case loads, bureaucracy, staff shortages, incompetent supervision, funding cuts and no work life balance … Who in this government is going to be ‘man’ enough to take on our plight … It feels like we are being hung out to dry. Sexual exploitation is a ticking time bomb that this government needs to address through proper internet and phone security eg through stricter safety measures for any e-devices bought BY PARENTS for a child’s use. In the words of a Beatles song, HELP, Social Workers NEED SOMEBODY!

  6. Phil Welton August 27, 2015 at 9:49 am #

    When I became a Social Worker (1976) I was able to assist or support service users in a variety of ways, from holidays to helping families function better and thus reduce pressure. As I approached retirement virtually all of that was gone, including helping families function better to reduce the risk of abuse. All that was left (broadly speaking) was the pre-proceedings letter setting out what the parents should do to avoid care proceedings. (I exaggerate – a little). Now that most of the actual support to families has been squeezed out of the system and The Service-Using Family becomes the enemy, the obvious next step is to reinforce the need for Social Workers to do 60 hour weeks with the threat of Imprisonment if they miss something. Lots of good memories from way back. So happy to be out of it now. Good luck, colleagues.

    • Jane August 29, 2015 at 11:35 am #

      It certainly is an additional way to prevent Social Workers from revealing the flaws in the system that prevent the job to be done as intended. Lock them up, shut them up, and put abusers in jail with the Social Workers who tried to protect the vulnerable. What better way to demotivate an abuser from cooperating with a Social Worker, when they know they can take them down with them ? Great way to spend taxpayers money too, jailing highly qualified and trained Professionals will really help their colleagues left behind in a depleted service, terrorised by the government.Deal with negligence systemically but don’t jail Journalists and Social Workers for doing their job. Whoops, which ‘ democracy’ am I in?

  7. George Bragan August 27, 2015 at 12:24 pm #

    It would be good for the goverment to UP thier standards and be accounted for, the goverment appear to get away with murder, and have leave of the courts to do what they like. Kettle and pot come to mind!!!

  8. Sheila Lewis August 27, 2015 at 12:39 pm #

    I’ve been retired 3 years thank goodness. Appropriate and flexible support for families is no longer provided. Social work changed beyond recognition during my career – not to the benefit of children and families. Case loads are usually too high and are unmanageable. Sadly I wouldn’t recommend the job to anyone, but people who want to make a difference will become social workers and I hope they survive.

  9. Chris Sterry August 27, 2015 at 12:54 pm #

    While I agree that people should take responsibility for their actions or inactions and be accountable, but this should firstly be applied to those who create laws on which others will be judged.

    This is namely the Government, how can they create laws that will jail Social Workers who they feel are not acting correctly in their role, when the Government is actively reducing the funds for the Social Workers to do the work for which they were trained.

    While the Government is not doing this directly, they are greatly reducing the total grant to Local Authorities, who in turn are then reducing the individual budgets to their respective departments. The management of these departments then have to budget accordingly throughout their respctive departments.

    This ineviably means that there will be guidance in social work that will not only curtail some of the work which social workers will wish to do, but also their recruitment.

    So in effect there is less funds to do the work, while there will be less social workers to do the work.

    The extent of Judical reviews will be on the increase, thereby creating more work for an area which is considerably now over worked.

    Who would still wish to be a Social Worker?

  10. Nick Johnson August 27, 2015 at 1:00 pm #

    If this goes ahead, I look forward to the defence cases when these people come to court – then the shortcomings behind the social worker will be truly exposed. That is why this is such a flawed proposal – on a par with Dangerous Dogs Act for implementation potential!

  11. Penny Roberts August 27, 2015 at 8:32 pm #

    What about setting a timeline for politicians and government to provide an increase in funding to provide enough trained social workers to help the numerous people in need of social care. Should they miss that timeline, then they should be jailed on the grounds of wilful neglect.

  12. Sandy beach August 27, 2015 at 8:48 pm #

    Social workers set deadline to leave social work leaving government struggling to implement ridiculous ideas with only the influx of newly qualified workers from frontline to answer telephones, many resort to ‘phoning a friend’……..

    Well what kind of sense can you actully feel after reading this?

  13. elaine mcgroarty August 28, 2015 at 2:18 am #

    Aye…very good !! lets look at the cutbacks in funding causing reduced staffing…vacancies not being filled, limited resources etc etc and the responsibility of front line managers, middle tier and senior tier mangers who instruct/order social workers on what cases to focus on…..Dear Government, watch and learn ! Social workers will leave risk filled stressful posts in the droves, who will you prosecute then ?? Rant over !

  14. Kristen Henderson August 28, 2015 at 9:41 am #

    I qualified in 2011 hoping to do what the Munroe report suggested… 3 years I worked in a CHILDREN IN NEED TEAM and still too high case load, no real support for families, lack of supervision, too much court work with high case load…. I could go on! When I saw this new law proposal that really was it for me! Social work is a failure because the government do not find it properly! Social workers are under too much pressure! I left in July and unless serious changes are made I will never go back to frontline social work ever! Now I’m starting a job in a school as a family support work (traditional social work in my view) I hope I can help families like I was trained to do!!!

  15. Anita Singh August 29, 2015 at 9:00 pm #

    If the government wants to drive more social workers away from Child Protection then implement these ludicrous plans. Is the government going to mete out the same treatment to the Police. In my experience most of the time it is organisations like the Police who are disinterested and unresponsive to the problem. This attitude remains the same today as it did twenty years ago. Only very recently I tried to pull together a Child Protection Network Strategy Meeting on this very kind of case and despite all of my efforts it was the Police who did not want to attend and argued there were no grounds for officers from two different areas to attend to share information with social workers. They seemed to be unaware of the information that was provided by their own evidence. So if something goes wrong, who is going to get it in the neck, probably me and my line manager, as the government is only too quick to blame the social worker.

    A pity that the government did not give the same zealous response to the state’s wilful neglect during major failures. For example what has the government done about the wilful neglect during Hillsborough, wilful neglect of MPs in relation to Cyril Smith, wilful neglect of the NHS and Police in relation to Saville and the list goes on. I have not seen any prosecutions for wilful neglect by governments and far more powerful and high ranking figures. The government has nothing but contempt for the social work profession.