Social workers in Scotland accused of misconduct could be suspended for an unlimited period while investigations are carried out, under proposals from the national regulator.
The Scottish Social Services Council wants to scrap the maximum period for an interim suspension order, now two years, to allow any related criminal investigations to run their course. Interim suspension orders (ISOs) are a public safety measure used by conduct committees to prevent social workers practising while official inquiries take place.
A consultation document published by the SSSC states: “There are occasions where a conduct investigation may take longer than two years due to an ongoing criminal investigation. In such circumstances, the SSSC is often unable to obtain the evidence or speak to witnesses until the criminal investigation is completed.”
However, under a separate proposal, social workers accused of misconduct could also be allowed to continue practising away from the frontline or under certain conditions.
The SSSC is planning to introduce a new power of “interim conditions order” in which practitioners would be allowed to continue practising as long as they do not carry out certain tasks, such as child protection duties.
The British Association of Social Workers backed the proposal to extend the maximum limit for ISOs, saying it would ensure safety for the public.
“I do not have a problem with this amendment to the rules. It is a very specific recommendation to fit very specific circumstances,” said Ruth Stark, manager of BASW Scotland.
A spokesperson for the SSSC confirmed there had been no cases so far where ISOs were imposed that have exceeded the two-year period since the conduct system began in Scotland in 2005. However, she emphasised that extending the maximum limit would allow the order to remain in force where public protection was an issue, or if it was in the interests of the individual concerned.
A consultation on the proposals is due to close in February.
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