GSCC may issue guidance on sexual boundaries with users

Holding hands

The General Social Care Council may produce guidance on the professional boundaries between social workers and service users following two major research projects.

The GSCC is using its research, which looked at professional boundaries from the perspective of social workers and of people who use services, to “explore a range of practical support measures, of which guidance is one”.

Service user empowerment

GSCC chief executive Mike Wardle said the findings, due to be published later this year, would “demonstrate the importance of working with employers to help empower people who use services to understand what they should and should not expect from their social worker”.

“It is vital that service users know what to do if they feel uncomfortable in any way,” he added.

A survey of social workers by Community Care last year found that while almost 70% felt sexual relationships with service users were never acceptable, 14% said they were acceptable, at least sometimes, and a further 16% were unsure.

Social workers want code of conduct

Most identified the need for a code of conduct on sexual boundaries specific to social care.

GSCC conduct committees have dealt with 24 cases where social workers were alleged to have been involved in relationships with service users and/or had crossed sexual boundaries with service users.
Of these, 15 people were removed from the register, five were admonished, and four were suspended.

Healthcare guidance

The latest news comes after new guidance was published last week on sexual boundaries between health staff and patients.

The guidance, from the Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence (CHRE) and NHS Employers, informs patients of the responsibility of health workers to “establish and maintain clear sexual boundaries with patients and carers”.

It also tells patients what to do if they are concerned about a health professional’s actions, and explains what is defined by sexualised behaviour.

The CHRE published guidance for health professionals in January 2008.

Sexual misconduct cases

The nine regulatory bodies under the CHRE’s remit have heard 274 cases categorised as “sexual misconduct” since January 2005.

Of these, 156 of the hearings resulted in removal from the register of health professionals, 26 in suspension, and 25 in registration being maintained but with conditions attached.

More information

CHRE guidance on clear sexual boundaries

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