Scottish government consults on plans to jail children’s social workers

A consultation on extending wilful neglect to children's social workers in England and Wales is also expected this year

prison-door
Photo: Action Press/Rex Features

The Scottish government has launched a consultation on whether children’s social workers who wilfully neglect children should be jailed for up to five years.

Published last week, the consultation document on extending wilful neglect into health and social care services for children asks for views on how to define the crime, who can be liable for it, and what the penalty should be for those convicted.

Plans to introduce a crime of wilful neglect for professionals working in adults’ health and social care services in Scotland were confirmed in the Health Bill earlier this year, although provisions were not included for an offence regarding children as there were still issues which needed exploring, the document said.

Five years

The latest consultation asks whether the wording and definitions of the offence for adults’ health and social care – regarding the types of professionals and corporate bodies which should be included – should apply to children’s services.

Wilful neglect by adults’ services workers will carry a maximum jail term of five years, and the proposals for children’s services outline that the punishment for conviction on indictment would be five years, or an unlimited fine.

Conduct

The offence for children’s services would be based on the conduct of the individual or organisation, and not any harm caused as a result of their actions, the document proposed.

“If a threshold of harm was set out in legislation then this could give rise to a situation where two children were subjected to the same ill-treatment or neglect by the same care worker but because one was more seriously harmed than the other, a prosecution could only be brought in respect of the more seriously harmed individual. Furthermore, setting a harm threshold may give rise to uncertainty about when the offence would apply,” the consultation said.

Vague

Trisha Hall, manager of the Scottish Association of Social Workers, said there needs to be more information about how the proposed offence would add to what offences there are already.

She said there is legislation in Scotland that “already covers” if a child is being abused or neglected by a professional.

“We want to get people’s views on what would be the added value, if any, of this offence before we respond in detail,” Hall said.

Hall said it’s important to clarify this proposal would work across the whole of children’s health and social care services, and described the proposals as “vague”.

“It talks about the health and social care settings in a really wide context… social work is very heavily regulated, if there is any conduct that is in question it will be dealt with by criminal law already. We want to find out what it will add… I’m not clear about what the difference is,” Hall said.

The consultation will close on 28 October.

Children’s social workers in England and Wales are awaiting a consultation on wilful neglect announced by Prime Minister David Cameron earlier this year.

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7 Responses to Scottish government consults on plans to jail children’s social workers

  1. Freeman September 24, 2015 at 10:47 am #

    So…not carers or parents of wilfull neglect? Are politicians included? Commissioners? Or juts whichever professional is at hand to be the scape goat. I assume it wuill include the managers, and their managers, and… (ad finitum)?

  2. C Del September 24, 2015 at 1:28 pm #

    As s social worker I work extremely hard every day trying to do the very best for the children I am employed to protect. It’s a dynamic role with ever changing priorities, to introduce such measures would be damaging for the profession, I certainly would be rethinking my future career. Perhaps consideration should be given to the cuts to these essential services which put the whole profession under pressure and lead to unmanageable workloads which had been raised in previous inquiries as an issue for workers… Where does this lead to… Should capped caseloads be introduced with penalties for employers who exceed this which results in less time with each case??

  3. T De September 24, 2015 at 8:53 pm #

    Perhaps government ministers that cut Children Service funding to the point of inadequacy could be jailed for neglect.

  4. graeme donnelly September 26, 2015 at 9:20 am #

    Parents do go jail if they neglect to a point of danger. Social workers as they have powers along lines of police officers and can completely destroy a childs and a parents life in many ways,doing wrong,neglecting lieing or even just doin ya job properly, should have the same rules as police officers Nd b subject to charges if misconduct in a public office wich I though ss wud have already. As teachers and that do now????

  5. alison ruddock September 26, 2015 at 10:28 am #

    This is a really good way to help recruit new workers!!! Why would anyone put themselves at risk of prosecution when anything can go wrong when people are under so much stress?

  6. THX1138 September 26, 2015 at 6:47 pm #

    Just about time, but this should apply to all public officials.

  7. Rona Gray September 29, 2015 at 2:23 pm #

    The solution is not criminalising workers and imprisonment but proper support and resources to do their work. I am a training officer at the moment overwhelmed by the work I have to do to try and keep workers up to date and skilled in their practice….they also struggle to take this on board with their workloads. After cuts to the staffing 18 months ago (over 10% of front line staff) they have less capacity to keep having cases allocated. Vacancies are sometimes not filled (even where that is an admin post it has an impact- we have no receptionist at the moment) or take 3-4 months for worker to come into post.No one lets neglect happen intentionally…we need good will from govt and public and we need all services working together rather than isolating social work/care staff