Nature of the beast

The social care councils, which celebrate their first birthdays
on 1 April, have an interesting dual role. Like the lions of myth
and fable, they will be noble protectors of the innocent, ensuring
high standards of social care for vulnerable people, as well as
courageously defending those who provide that care.

But these particular lions will also be expected, on occasion, to
savage the hands that feed them. As guardians of the register, the
councils will be responsible for investigating misconduct by those
who fund them through their registration fees.

The GSCC and its UK-wide counterparts officially came into being on
October 2001, and went live in April 2003. This marked a major
change for all who work in social care, although the councils’
first major watershed will be next April’s deadline for all
qualified social workers to be registered.

For nearly 25 years, the social care world lobbied for a regulatory
body along the lines of other professions: doctors have the General
Medical Council and nurses have the Nursing and Midwifery Council,
while social care staff had nothing. The government finally
conceded to their demand and the Care Standards Act 2000
established such a body.

The GSCC’s first year has been “exciting”, according to its chief
executive Lynne Berry. “We are delivering on all the important
targets of getting the three-year social work degree off the
ground, establishing the register and sending out a million copies
of the codes,” she says.

Berry’s response is unsurprisingly a ringing endorsement of the
council’s work but what do others think of its performance? Owen
Davies, Unison’s senior national officer for social services, says
although the council has done “a fair job” the union is still
waiting for “reassurances that it will strike the right balance
between protecting the public and treating staff fairly”.

Simon Hart, co-chairperson of the Association of Directors of
Social Services’ human resources and training committee, says the
council had “a difficult task in its first year” but was effective
in developing governance arrangements and establishing
communication methods.

The social care sector has wanted its own regulatory body so public
confidence in its services improves and its workers’ status
compares to that of other professionals. Hart believes the GSCC is
on the way to achieving this: “It will lead to better recognition
of the social work profession and the growing importance of the
work carried out by social workers.”

Janet Foulds, British Association of Social Workers’ chairperson,
says the changes brought in by the GSCC will not occur overnight.
“We hope to see moves towards greater personal ownership on the
part of social workers for ethical standards of practice and
professional development.”

Hand-in-hand with the council’s creation was its commitment to
establishing a social care register of all professionals working in
England, a dramatic change to how the sector has operated
previously. Registers have helped regulate many other professions,
but social care has been a marked exception.

With an estimated 60,000 social workers in England, is the deadline
achievable? So far details of fewer than 5,000 social workers have
been recorded by the GSCC. This does not put off Berry, who is
confident they will all be registered if social workers apply early
and do not leave it until the last few months. “If it does all
happen at the end we will have to deliver on the target and
logistically that will be a tricky task.”

Owen says the registration deadline will only be reached with some
“speedy guidance” on some of the key issues, namely, whether
certain jobs will be restricted to staff with qualifications and
who will pay the £30 fee to join the register. At present it
is up to individuals to pay it.

It takes about 45 minutes to complete a registration form and the
same time for GSCC staff to input it. Berry admits the take-up rate
was slow initially but, since the council launched its advertising
awareness campaign last month, she says there has been a tenfold
increase in the number of social workers applying.

Foulds would like the process to move faster, but not if corners
are cut in checking staff suitability.

At the end of last year, the government announced it would
introduce protection of title powers, already enshrined in the Care
Standards Act. From April 2005, it will be a criminal offence –
with fines of up to £5,000 – for individuals to call
themselves a social worker unless they are registered with the

The powers follow calls from social workers “to have their
professional status better recognised,” according to community care
minister Stephen Ladyman in Community Care (letters, 18

Foulds says such a step will have the greatest impact in those
areas with higher numbers of unqualified practitioners, namely in
England. She adds: “It will make things much clearer for users to
know when they are receiving services from a qualified social

Protection of title powers will help enormously to “raise
self-esteem and recognition of the profession”, says Berry.

The cloud hanging over the GSCC is the Department of Health’s
review of about 40 government bodies, which may lead to some being
amalgamated or cut. There are concerns that the GSCC could be
merged with the equivalent health body, the Health Professions

Foulds argues that the government’s review -Êafter some bodies
have been up and running for so little time -Êgenerates
“unhelpful publicity” that undermines attempts to encourage a
positive response to the registration initiative.

Is there a chance that the GSCC will go the same way as the
National Care Standards Commission which, days after its launch,
was told it would eventually become part of the Commission for
Social Care Inspection? Berry says the GSCC’s sponsors in the
Department of Health have told her they do not believe the council
will be diverted from “the very important work” the government has
set it. And she argues that it would be difficult for the GSCC to
continue its work if it were amalgamated into another agency.

Hart says the GSCC will have a role in maintaining the distinctions
between social care and other professions. “There is no reason why
this need get in the way of more effective integrated working,” he

The next step for the GSCC is to consult the sector over which
staff should be in the second round to join the register. The
GSCC’s post-qualifying review consultation will close on 21 May and
Berry says the results will be published this summer.

Hart says the GSCC’s task is to “maintain progress in both
promoting and regulating the social care profession”. It’s a tough
job, but at least now somebody has to do it.

– The GSCC is holding workshops on registration and education at
Community Care Live this year, and Berry will be on our
Question Time panel there. For details go to

Codes of conduct

The GSCC was charged with drawing up nationally agreed UK-wide
codes of conduct and practice for the sector, developing a register
of social care professionals in England and taking over
responsibility for training from CCETSW. In September 2002 it
issued the first codes of conduct for social care workers and codes
of practice for employers and in April last year it launched the
register and began registering qualified social workers.

Registration facts

  • The social care register is a list of people assessed as fit to
    be in the workforce and who have agreed to abide by the social care
    councils’ code of practice. For the first time staff will be
    subject to regulation similar to that for doctors and nurses.
  • Qualified social workers are being asked to register now.
  • Registration will become compulsory by April 2005 when
    protection of title will be introduced. It will be an offence to
    call yourself a social worker if you are not registered.
  • An application form is available for staff in England by
    phoning the helpline on 0845 070 0630 or e-mailing
    This applies to self-employed and unemployed social workers. See
    contacts box for details of the other UK councils.
  • Registration covers three main areas: qualifications, good
    character and health.
  • Applicants need to hold one of the recognised social work
    qualifications, such as DipSW, CSS and CQSW, or a degree in social
    work approved by one of the UK social care regulatory
  • To confirm good character applicants are asked to disclose
    disciplinary history and criminal convictions. Employers have to
    endorse the application and the applicant’s manager must
    confirm their identity.
  • Disclosing criminal convictions or health conditions need not
    prevent someone being registered but if you disagree with the
    decision you can appeal to the care standards tribunal.
  • Registration for social workers costs £30 a year
    throughout the UK.
  • Registration lasts three years and then must be renewed.
    Applicants must prove they have completed 15 days or 90 hours of
    study or training in that time.
  • Everyone registered must be physically and mentally fit to
  • After qualified social workers are registered, social work
    students, residential child care workers and care home managers
    should be next. Other categories will follow.

The GSCC expects to start registering social work students
studying a GSCC-approved social work degree course in England from
autumn 2004. Similar moves are afoot in the rest of the UK.



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