Whistle-blowing social workers disillusioned as concerns about abusive or dangerous practice are ignored

Two Community Care surveys find social workers now turning a blind eye because of the price paid for raising concerns

Social workers fear repercussions for speaking out Photo: Alisha Vargas/ flickr

Over half of social workers have witnessed dangerous systems in their workplace, yet less than 15% feel they would be supported if they raised concerns, according to Community Care’s whistle-blowing survey.

An online survey of 327 social workers found high numbers  had witnessed abusive (40%), unethical (58%), illegal (24%) or dangerous (65%) practice.

Almost all of the survey’s respondents said they had reported their concerns but the majority (57%) said their concerns were not investigated or taken seriously while 73% said no effective action had been taken.

In 60% of cases, the concerns they raised still continue today.

A high cost

One social worker responding to the survey said: “Unfortunately, in my experience it was made impossible for me to remain in post and I had to leave. I would never whistle-blow again due to the very high personal and professional cost.”

Another said: “I don’t believe organisations are interested in properly investigating whistle-blowing claims because they  would then have to acknowledge bad practice and do something about the allegations made.  I think they find it easier to gloss over things.”

One social worker believed that “whistle-blowing will always ultimately punish the person raising the concerns.”

Bullied and ignored

A large number of respondents said whistle-blowers in their authority were bullied, ignored, victimised or had their practice called into question.

Social workers were most likely to report concerns to a manager, a colleague or a union in that order. A small number had reported concerns to the police, or a regulatory body such as Ofsted or the CQC.

President of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS), Alan Wood said: “It is worth bearing in mind that there are more than 87, 000 registered social workers in this country when looking at the results of this survey.

“If respondents are reporting that genuine concerns are not being acted upon then this is very worrying, however all local authorities do have established whistleblowing procedures which allow members of staff to safely raise concerns in the public interest without fear of discrimination.”

Malcolm King, a Wrexham councillor who was fired from his position as lead member for raising concerns about social work caseloads, among other issues, said he had never come across a whistle-blower who had not suffered as a consequence of their actions.

“I’ve taken heart in recent years from the institution of whistle-blowing policies, but in so many cases they are empty words,” he said.

Disciplined for raising concerns

Despite a relatively small sample size, the results of the survey are backed up the results of Community Care’s stress survey, in which a number of the 2,000 respondents said they had had disciplinary action taken against them for raising concerns. Some said they had stopped raising safeguarding concerns for fear that they would be threatened with capability measures .

Association of the Directors of Adults’ Services (Adass) president David Pearson said: “Reports of poor or potentially abusive practice are always a matter of great concern.

“It is particularly important that whistle-blowing arrangements are sufficiently robust to ensure that workers who witness poor practice can feel assured that their complaint will be treated sensitively, carefully and, where appropriate, with guaranteed confidentiality.”

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16 Responses to Whistle-blowing social workers disillusioned as concerns about abusive or dangerous practice are ignored

  1. Julie January 14, 2015 at 1:07 pm #

    I myself had to use the whistle blowing policy as I had witnessed bad practice. I feel that I was victimised by the company for raising my concerns therefore losing my position, I still feel bitter due to working in care for a number of years that any bad practice should be highlighted for the safety and well being of clients we support.

    • Kim January 14, 2015 at 1:47 pm #

      I am with you Julie this environment of bullying and payback makes me no longer want to work in Social Care. We have no one to turn to when they don’t want to do anything about the issues.

      • Sally January 19, 2015 at 1:04 am #

        I am in an impossible situation where my concerns are being ignored –
        I feel I am being pressurised to leave as working time is so unpleasant most of the time because of the people I have raised concerns about expecting me to be discredited so concerns and their bad practice can be discounted. I am worried that bad practice is so entrenched, and concealed in full view. My family and friends who have children would not believe some care practice I have witnessed..i feel ashamed…
        I feel I cant give in and leave as they will be successful in their powerful positions to continue-many have left as this treatment makes you ill.

  2. Patch January 14, 2015 at 2:28 pm #

    President of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS), Alan Wood said:

    “… all local authorities do have established whistleblowing procedures which allow members of staff to safely raise concerns in the public interest without fear of discrimination.”

    “…without fear or discrimination.”

    It is quite obvious form this statement that Alan Wood has never been through the complaints procedure himself, and is totally out of touch with complaints to what he is supposed to oversee. He has just trotted out a pat statement without any real research or knowledge – and in this regard, is a fine representative of many social workers in practice today.

    I invite him to contact me with regard to the malfeasant manner in which our families complaint was dealt with, which included many lies and misrepresentations at Stage 2, altering the IP Report, and providing false evidence to the LGO. If he should request my email, please supply it.

    • G January 16, 2015 at 10:42 pm #

      Association of the Directors of Adults’ Services (Adass) president David Pearson said: “Reports of poor or potentially abusive practice are always a matter of great concern.
      Maybe he should have added ‘but that doesn’t mean we will do anything constructive about it ‘?

  3. John Stephenson. January 14, 2015 at 3:58 pm #

    As a Social Care Complaints manager for a Local Authority for 13years sadly I have to agree.I in the end felt intimidated to raise issues and that was the whole purpose of my role.I used to have management support,but due to changes I was brought under Corporate Control and on several occasions was told I should not be raising issues.

    If I felt intimidate I can only imagine how Social Workers must feel.

  4. Poppy January 14, 2015 at 5:47 pm #

    I think once you have seen for yourself the lies and deceit that exist in local government you are naturally very wary.

    I qualified as a social worker over twenty years ago and I was proud to be entering a profession that upheld the rights of individuals and where people acted with integrity. Things are very different now as LA’s seem to be increasngly run by people who seem to have scant regard for fairness or humanity, and take delight in victimising people who dare to raise concerns.

    My honest advice to anyone faced with whistleblowing (or comlaining about anything come to that) would be to try to ride the storm and try to keep your head down. Yet I still hear that voice saying ‘if you are not part of the solution then you are part of the problem’.

    It really is very true. Social workers are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

    • John Stephenson. January 14, 2015 at 6:09 pm #

      Poppy agree with your views entirely I have seen it as part of the management team,ethics are now a dirty word.

  5. Christine Lake January 14, 2015 at 7:54 pm #

    i am a little concerned about this. I am a Grandparent who has tried to report bad practice in an Assessment team and Adoption and permanency team. it is my own opinion based on 35 years working alongside SW’s that there are far too many taking shortcuts and using cavalier practice regardless of the mayhem that is handed to families. This article almost goes to prove that corruption within the system and an pold pals netwrok is alive and well. There are families being torn to pieces as a result. Unless those who want to speak out do so they are complicit in the actions the ones who need removing from your register. My complaint to the HCPC seems to be a waste of time. For them to be the safeguard for the public too is worrying

  6. caroline henry January 14, 2015 at 9:04 pm #

    I totally agree Poppy. I was so proud in becoming a SW, I quickly became so disillusioned. I have re-trained but have for over 14 years campaigned for the awareness of CSE and set up a group. If i’d have been employed by the local authority i’d have been sacked for what i have said. Still victims and families are let down. At last CSE is on the agenda now but all the info has been known for years and years

  7. John Thomas January 14, 2015 at 9:40 pm #

    whistleblowing is a joke, you wreck your career and future job prospects, you only need to read this to see the cost of whistleblowing. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2469475/Orchid-View-care-home-whistleblower-exposed-neglect-killed-job.html or http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2864216/I-turn-sister-killed-says-brother-care-home-abuser-facing-jail-horrendous-cruelty-dementia-sufferers.html

    It doesn’t matter what you say or you do to protect whistleblowers, companies will find a way to get them out, or will put them under pressure to leave. This is why bad practice isn’t reported, who can afford to lose a job and then not be able to get another one as they’re seen as a troublemaker?

  8. Ellie January 15, 2015 at 12:46 pm #

    When I trained to become a Social Worker, several years ago, it was with real enthusiasm, and a desire to help people less fortunate than me. I genuinely hoped to make a difference.

    Nowadays, I feel disillusioned and cheated – as though the reality of the job did not match with what I had been taught. I found that, when actually employed as a Social Worker by a Local Authority, the message I was given was NOT to care, NOT to try to help people, NOT to work to secure funding or packages of care for vulnerable people.

    I witnessed some utterly appalling practice during my time with a Hospital Discharge Team. Colleagues who used the office phone to make personal calls, and who took innumerable “cigarette breaks” during working hours. Colleagues who called patients unpleasant names behind their backs – one even told me I was wasting my time trying to get a care package for an elderly lady, because she had “refused care before” and was “hard work”! This same colleague also stated that “all elderly people are confused and doddery when in hospital”, telling me not to concern myself with whether signs of confusion might represent dementia, or an undiagnosed infection.

    In addition, my Line Manager told me only to do the minimum necessary to get people out of Hospital, “don’t make work for myself”, I was warned! I was not to bother about unmet needs!

    Basically, the message I got was to do as little as possible. My colleagues seemed more bothered about costs and statistics than about humanity and caring. Some of my colleagues’ practices were dubious; some were looking at patients’ notes without their consent (my manager even tried to get me to do this). People who came up with good ideas regularly got their heads “bitten off” in staff meetings. The status quo was not to be challenged, and the working environment was highly cliquey. We were ALWAYS short staffed, and I felt that as soon as I started the job I was just expected to be up and running with a caseload. I noted, too, a complete lack of facilities and resources – I had hardly any training (I wasn’t even signed up for vital fire-safety lectures!), and I didn’t even have my own desk or computer. HOW was I supposed to do my job?

    I eventually made a whistleblowing complaint. This never felt properly investigated, or taken seriously. I remember a computer being plonked on a desk, almost like a joke, for me – it wasn’t even wired up, and running!

    I would honestly say that nowadays, I feel that whistleblowing brings the whistleblower nothing but misery. It guarantees that you will be smeared, besmirched, hounded and bullied until you are fired, or leave the job of your own accord (and they will throw in a bad reference, too). It guarantees that you will be frustrated as you see no effort at all be made to investigate, or to rectify any problems. Instead, you will see guilty staff gang together to oust you, and to protect their own backs. They will fabricate “evidence”, or deliberately “mislay” any incriminating stuff. They will lie – in meetings, behind your back, to your face. They will discredit your work and question your practice. They will try to label you “incompetent”, “insubordinate”, “rude”, “bad” or “mad”. basically, THEY will PROJECT all their own shortcomings onto YOU.

    Call me ignorant, but when I trained, I believed that Social Workers had a duty to CARE for people – and that reporting malpractice was part of this. That in order to do the best for clients, workers had to strive to provide the best possible service; and if this meant learning from mistakes, and trying to improve, then that was what happened. In reality, I found that some people clearly DO NOT want this. Instead, they complacently want an “easy ride”.

    If you don’t care, then why are you working in a caring role? This I shall NEVER get my head around!

    • Sally January 19, 2015 at 1:21 am #

      I am in this situation right now I am ashamed to say. I thought the stress would be from the clients not the my colleagues we count on for support. Abusive practice can never be ignored, the facts are there if managers choose not to act on these facts and are complicit that will be revealed. We are told transparency, where is this if abusive practice is so concealed in full view?

  9. G January 16, 2015 at 10:27 pm #

    When I first qualified ,I joined a mental health team in Essex .Unable to drive at that time I was banished to ward rounds for months . I raised concerns to my supervisor about a psychiatrist whom I’d watched in ward round almost everyday and who had requested some strange requests from patients that I felt were far from ethical .
    For raising such concerns ,The bullying and intimidation I faced was horrendous . I had my manager come in on a Saturday to trawl my files , make inferences I may have been sexually abused even wrote in supervision notes that my own perfectly well loved and cared for children faced care ! I had kept records of complaints made to me by patients ( in those days we wrote by hand and numbered our pages and I kept carbon copies) pages had been removed from the complaining clients files , I was refused a reference and after several months after training for four years decided to throw the towel in! I was disgusted and horrified to the abuses of vulnerable people and ashamed to be any part of social work. Some 18 months after my ordeal the said psychiatrist was exposed publicly on the Cook Report . I felt an anchor had been lifted from my shoulders . He had been struck off in New Zealand for gross sexual misconduct towards male and female clients , took off to South Africa where he lasted only several months before his references caught up with him but had been working for Essex health authority for 4 years and although they knew about his history BECAUSE THERE HAD BEEN NO COMPLAINTS ,he had continued to remain employed . Only when publicly exposed did they make the decision to dismiss him . But no one could say I dint try I I tried I really tried to whistle blow and suffered significant distress ,trauma and a complete lack of faith in systems I’d truly believed in . Unfortunately I still feel you have to be prepared to loose your job ,even profession now should you choose to whistle blow ,as the corridors of power tend to fold in on you . Higher management never want to admit mistakes ,that’s if you even steer your way past middle management .
    I will continue to report poor practice and the bullying that accompanies whistle blowing but never again will I work as a local authority SW , preferring to vote with my feet when I witness the SW code of ethics being stumped all over and no one batting an eye lid ! This has left me in a position of great insecurity in respect of long term employment and its frills ,however it also allows me to do a job I love ,challenge the things that are wrong and leave without the three month bullying session . Being a SW means we are public servants ,we should be striving to provide the best service we can with whatever means available . The mis-treatment of vulnerable people or our co-workers is totally unacceptable and the managers compliant in this type of behaviour should be held fully accountable .

  10. Helen January 19, 2015 at 9:09 pm #

    Hi All
    At the moment I am waiting for my disciplinary on 22/1/15. My practice has been called into question. I have been a good and effective nurse for 24years+ but the last three months it seems I have become a “bad nurse” and that I am therefore dangerous and have committed gross misconduct. It all started when my boss gave us all a new form to report any problems to her. Then I got my supervision that said my collegues thought I was telling tales. Two months later I am suspended and treated like the worse thing on earth. My point is to say that it happens in my sector too and all they are going to be left with is the dregs of both our professions. Take heart and remain strong even when you are at your weakest, we can’t let them win for the sake of the persons we all clearly care about.

  11. LD January 22, 2015 at 12:19 am #

    Agree with all of you. i ended up out of work for the same. For agency workers its an awful position to be in as speaking up can mean you get sacked with a bad reference, which makes getting another role very hard. I have known people be out of work for months when this happens as mostly all employers want a reference from your last post. Also as an agency worker, from my experience, even though i was with a Union, they would not help with a claim of defamation or support me when i attended court against the LA. Low and behold, complaints were made about me after i came forward and i was investigated by the LA. i know understand the LA asked the agency to investigate my SW practice, the agency gave a report on their findings. i now understand the LA should never have asked a job agency to do this. I was out of work for some 4 months without pay and then found out nothing had been found against me. Nearly lost my home, but would i do it again; YES ! i will not be what i believe to be morally corrupted by the system !