A set of criminal offences for social worker misconduct could be introduced under powers handed to the government in new legislation.
Measures in the Children and Social Work Bill allow the government to create offences in connection with:
- A social worker’s registration
- Failing to comply with restrictions on their registration
- Failing to provide documents to the regulator, or attending and providing evidence, in a fitness-to-practise hearing
- Providing “false or misleading information” to the regulator
At present the only offence linked to registration is if someone falsely represents themselves as a registered or qualified social worker.
The legislation also allows for the introduction of measures on “social worker discipline” as well as the fitness-to-practise process. This marks a shift from the current regulatory system where the “primary purpose” of fitness-to-practise proceedings is to secure “public protection rather than to punish” practitioners.
Any offences introduced under the Children and Social Work Bill must be ‘summary-only offences’ and cannot be punishable with imprisonment, the bill states.
Summary-only offences are almost always tried in the Magistrates’ court. Examples include motoring offences, common assault, harassment and criminal damage.
Details of any changes to offences will be set out in a set of regulations underpinning the bill. The government has a duty to consult on the regulations.
The measures are part of an overhaul of social work regulation set-out in the bill. The legislation includes new powers for the government to directly regulate social workers, or create a body to regulate the profession on ministers’ behalf.
The move would make social workers the only health and social care profession to be directly regulated, and have their professional standards set, by government. Social workers are currently regulated by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), which is financially and operationally independent of government.
The HCPC operates under the Health and Social Work Professions Order 2001. This states the regulator’s main objective is to “safeguard the health and wellbeing of persons using or needing the services of registrants”.
Read more on the Children and Social Work Bill: