GSCC took six months to seek suspension of abuse suspect

The General Social Care Council has been criticised for taking six months to apply to have a social worker facing child sexual abuse allegations suspended.

GSCC officials were aware that a male practitioner had been accused of sexually assaulting a 12-year-old girl in September 2008, but did not apply for an interim suspension order until March 2009.

By this stage the social worker, known as Registrant A, had been acquitted of the charges in a criminal court. Nevertheless, the GSCC obtained a three-month ISO in April, and despite failing to obtain an extension to the ISO from its own preliminary proceedings committee last month, is continuing with the investigation.

Backlog of cases

The news follows the suspension of chief executive Mike Wardle last month over the regulator’s failure to process 203 conduct referrals involving social workers within appropriate timescales. Public protection concerns were identified in 21 of the cases, and an urgent review of the GSCC’s conduct function by the Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence has been ordered. It is due to report next month.

The barrister representing Registrant A, David Dadds, believes the case was among the backlog. “The GSCC has to become more professional in dealing with these investigations, not only on behalf of the public but for social workers as well,” said Dadds, of Essex-based law firm Liddell and Company.

“What if the allegations against practitioners are vexatious and unfounded? Delays within the GSCC are creating an infringement of their civil rights.”

Rise in referrals

When asked to explain the delays in the Registrant A case, a spokesperson said the GSCC had alerted the Department of Health to a “steady rise” in conduct referrals which preceded the backlog.

“We have begun to reform our conduct processes and the policies that underpin them to ensure we are dealing with cases as effectively and efficiently as possible, without compromising public protection and fairness,” she said. “The conduct team now immediately risk-assess each case as it comes in and, if necessary, will apply for an ISO within 24 hours of receiving the referral.”

The GSCC announced last month that it was drawing up plans to increase its capacity, including by recruiting more investigators to its conduct department, which has 51 staff.

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