Behind the headlines

If doctors can refuse to carry out abortions as a matter of
principle, should social workers have a corresponding right to
steer clear of tasks to which they have moral objections? The
question of whether there should be a “conscience clause” for
social workers arose when two Sefton practitioners said they would
not work with same sex couples who wanted to jointly adopt
children, even though the new Adoption and Children Act 2002 allows
it. As a result the two workers have been moved to adult services
by the council.

Some MPs and the tabloid press called for a conscience clause to
be inserted in the new legislation after it emerged that the Sefton
workers had initially faced the possibility of disciplinary action.
They had commented to colleagues that their Christian beliefs made
it difficult for them to feel that same sex couples could provide
the right environment for adoption. Some of the tabloids accused
the council of political correctness. Sefton Council said that any
prospective adopter is treated the same regardless of their
religion, sex or race.   

Phil Frampton, national chairperson, Care Leavers

“This case is not about freedom to follow religious convictions but
about prejudice and discrimination. We do not advocate the
toleration of people applying their racist or sexist prejudices in
the workplace and neither should unions or employers tolerate
prejudice against lesbians and gays. What is required is education
and training to make those staff that have such prejudiced views
aware of the real issues. If the problems persist, it is in the
interests of both unions and employers to take decisive

Martin Green, chief executive, Counsel and Care for the

“It is totally unacceptable for social workers to refuse to work
with same sex couples. The law and the internal procedures of their
authority regard this as part of their job and in refusing to work
with this group it is my view that the social workers have breached
their contracts and should be treated accordingly. This case
highlights the need for anti-discrimination law on sexuality that
can protect this minority group from bigotry.”

Felicity Collier, chief executive, Baaf Adoption and
“The answer is laid down by the General Social Care
Council. It requires all workers to protect the rights and promote
the interests of service users and carers and requires social care
employers to have in place policies and procedures to deal with
discriminatory behaviour. The national adoption standards, which
have been mandatory since April, state that adoption agencies must
have written eligibility criteria and no one will be automatically
excluded except for certain criminal convictions. All local
authorities already consider applications to adopt by single gay
and lesbian people, some living with partners. Individual social
workers cannot exercise their own prejudices.”

Karen Squillino, primary prevention co-ordinator,

“Whichever way you look at this, it is a clear cut example of
discrimination. I wonder if the ‘conscience clause’ will extend to
social workers working with women who have had abortions or those
who have sex outside of marriage. Religion is religion and
professional anti-oppressive practice should not be compromised by
one’s religious beliefs.”

Bill Badham, development officer, National Youth

“Homophobia remains the last great area of ‘acceptable’ prejudice
and discrimination in society. The Adoption and Children Act 2002
is a great step forward for children and same sex couples. A
‘conscience clause’ for objecting social workers is as stupid as
male Anglican clergy being able to stay in their jobs while opposed
to women priests. If they don’t like it, they should leave.
Meanwhile, the National Youth Agency is fully behind the abolition
of section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 which forbids local
authority promotion of homosexuality.”

More from Community Care

Comments are closed.