Social care professionals are contractually obliged to challenge their employers over poor working conditions which may prevent them from meeting their duty of care to service users.
That is the key message from a handbook for practitioners in England published this week by trade union the Association of Professionals in Education and Children's Trusts.
Aspect, which represents around 500 social workers in the UK in children's and adult services, said practitioners are often faced with circumstances which hamper their ability to comply with the General Social Care Council's code of practice and their common law duty of care to users.
Challenge caseloads and poor supervision
The handbook, entitled What If?, says professionals should challenge managers over excessive caseloads, poor supervision or unreasonable eligibility criteria, in order to comply with the code.
It says this is an implicit requirement every social worker's employment contract, as the GSCC can bar or suspend practitioners for breaching the code.
The code requires social care workers to promote users' rights and independence, while safeguarding them from harm, and be accountable for the quality of their practice and professional development.
Protection from accusations
By raising concerns in writing, or initially through supervision, staff can seek to uphold standards of care and in the event of shortcomings, protect themselves from accusations that they were personally responsible.
Professionals are advised to consult their union and consider invoking formal grievance, whistleblowing, or health and safety procedures if there is no satisfactory response.
Aspect's general secretary, John Chowcat (pictured), said: "Social workers with excessive workloads too often fear the consequences of complaining, and end up going off sick or making mistakes.
'Contractual obligation' to raise issues
Instead of being worried about being seen as a troublemaker, raising this issue with your employer and upholding professional standards is something you are contractually obliged to do."
The British Association of Social Workers welcomed the guidance. Professional officer Ruth Cartwright said: "As social workers we can be guilty of becoming so bogged down in a situation or a culture where unfeasibly heavy caseloads and low levels of service have become the norm that we do not protest."
GSCC chief executive Mike Wardle said it welcomed "any initiative that seeks to promote [the code of practice] to the social care workforce, as it laid out what service users should be able to expect from staff.
The UK government has accepted a recommendation in Lord Laming's child protection review to place the GSCC's code of practice for employers in England on a statutory footing, making it enforceable. It calls on employers to support staff to meet their own code responsibilities.
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