Black and ethnic minority social workers disproportionately subject to fitness to practise investigations

Social Work England promises action as figures show disproportionately low number of ethnic minority panel members making decisions about social workers' suitability to practise

A Black social worker looking downcast
Photo posed by model (credit: digitalskillet1/Adobe Stock)

Black and ethnic minority social workers are over-represented in fitness to practice cases in England but face adjudication panels that are disproportionately white compared with the profession.

Social Work England has vowed to tackle both issues, including by considering the use of decision-making processes that are blind to ethnicity, and using different recruitment methods to secure more representative fitness to practise panels.

The issue of disproportionate representation of Black and ethnic minority practitioners is longstanding, with former regulator the General Social Care Council reporting that Black practitioners were significantly over-represented in the referrals it received from 2004-11.

In an interview with Community Care, Social Work England’s executive director for fitness to practise, Jonathan Dillon, said that it was clear from looking at the referrals it received that “social workers from minority backgrounds are disproportionately represented in our caseload”.

He said the organisation, which took over responsibility for regulating the profession in December 2019, did not have precise data on this, nor did it have evidence on whether Black and ethnic minority practitioners were treated differently within the fitness to practice system from white counterparts.

“That’s a different question that needs a different assessment that looks at the quality of our decision-making. Other regulators have done some really good work piloting blind decision-making where the identifiers are removed.”

He added: “This is a really important issue for us and something that we are absolutely committed to work on in fitness to practice and at all levels of the organisation. Crucially, we need to get to the point that we can evidence that our regulatory processes do not impact disproportionately on people from a minority background. We are still in the process of developing a system that allows us to do that.”

Under-representation on fitness panels

The issue is particularly significant as figures obtained under the Freedom of Information seen by Community Care show that 80% of independent adjudicators sitting on the regulator’s fitness to practice panels are white, with 18% from Black, Asian, mixed-race or other backgrounds.

While this is above that of the general population, it falls short of the representation of non-white practitioners within the profession in England, which is 22% for children’s practitioners and 25% in adults’ services. The gap was bigger for Black staff, who represent 12% of children’s practitioners and 15% of adult social workers, but just 5% of panel members. The data follows news that staff from minority groups – and Black staff in particular – were significantly under-represented within Social Work England.

Dillon said that, in recruiting its bank of adjudicators, Social Work England had, on the advice of a recruitment company, sought to base decisions on expertise, rather than experience, in order to avoid replicating existing inequalities.

However, he said: “That was our strategy but it still delivered to us the figures that you’ve seen which is an over representation of white British adjudicators. What we did last year didn’t have the impact we intended. I do believe that the role of adjudicator should be representative of those who we seek to regulate. We will look at this and hope to drive through a process that will deliver a diverse group of panellists.”

Need to shed light on potential bias

He said tackling this was likely to involve increasing the number of panellists it used, as currently it had only just enough to support current levels of work.

In devising a new recruitment approach, he said that the regulator would consult its advisory forum – which consists of social workers, people who have used services, students and academics – and staff representative bodies such as the British Association of Social Workers (BASW), Unison and Unite.

In response, Lien Watts, head of advice & representation at BASW, said: “We have long since been aware that colleagues from BAME backgrounds are over-represented in employment related issues including referrals to the regulatory bodies. The problem is that no accurate data has ever been collected to formally evidence this.

“It is true that sometimes members/registrants do not wish to disclose their personal attributes especially around race and ethnicity and also sometimes other ‘protected characteristics’. Nevertheless, empirical intelligence should not be ignored and BASW would support a formal process of collating data around this issue, which could potentially shed more light on any potential bias in the sector.”

18 Responses to Black and ethnic minority social workers disproportionately subject to fitness to practise investigations

  1. Another one July 31, 2020 at 6:07 pm #

    Probably not allowed to say ‘ no shit Sherlock ‘

  2. Elaine July 31, 2020 at 6:26 pm #

    It would be interesting to know the culture make up of the advisory forum that will be consulted regarding recruitment of panellists. Also where does SWE advertise these panellists roles, what and what are the requirements in order to apply?

  3. Wayne Reid July 31, 2020 at 9:37 pm #

    This evidence needs to be categorised and scrutinised in the context of social work employer organisations (public, private & 3rd sectors). It’s obvious that institutional and structural racism is not just confined to the Police. 🤨

  4. Chandi Patel July 31, 2020 at 10:20 pm #

    How much more data do we need? From CCETSW to GSCC to HCPC and now SWE the problem of differential treatment remains it is time for some action.

  5. Daniel Taylor August 2, 2020 at 9:52 am #

    This ties in very much with an article I wrote for the online edition of Professional Social Work on the high failure rate for BAME students on placements and academically, and for newly qualified social workers undertaking ASYE, and some suggestions as to how to overcome the under representation of BAME tutors and practice educators.

  6. Andy August 2, 2020 at 10:35 am #

    Social work is arguably THE most enlightened profession imaginable with regard to issues of social justice (the result of the critical theory hegemony which has been at the heart of social work learning and education for at least a few decades now). Yet reading through this and many other articles in Community Care which raise issues of inequality and discrimination within social work itself, one can be forgiven for mistaking the oppressive and discriminatory experiences of many minority ethnic social workers in twenty first century England for those of their counterparts negotiating the employment quagmire extant prior to the race relations legislation implemented from the mid 1960s!
    This apparent failing suggests one of two things: either a huge proportion of social work graduates are deliberately ignoring, not absorbing or unable to internalise large parts of anti oppressive and anti discriminatory learning OR the theoretical principles underlying anti oppressive and anti discriminatory practice lack any foundational credibility or any effective application in the workplace.
    On the basis of decades-long academic reinforcement to the contrary, we should not still be reading these sorts of articles where minority ethnic social workers appear to be experiencing such unequal treatment at the hands of SUCCESSIVE social work regulatory bodies.
    I would also add that any profession which has an 86% gender (im)balance (DoE Experimental Statistics, Feb 2019) is fundamentally ill equipped to address issues of diversity and equality within its own ranks.

    • Maharg August 3, 2020 at 5:19 pm #

      Yep all down the line on this. Flawed article, is not the best evidence to win a argument for change.

  7. Ms Yoni B Ejo August 2, 2020 at 11:23 am #

    How can you know the extent of the problem of you dont measure it? Mandatory ethnicity monitoring is the only solution.

    Irrespective of how SWE deals with the complaints if BME staff are more likely to be reported than white staff, putting a few more black staff in panels will not solve the problem.

    I don’t believe that black are more likely to be unfit. Just more likely to be reported. Due to unconscious bias, stereotyping and racism.

  8. Janet McTeer August 2, 2020 at 12:32 pm #

    “On the advice of a recruitment company”. Perhaps that’s the problem. If a supposed professional organisation does not itself have an idea of the skills, competences and indeed the experiences required to regulate professional standards, its not fit for purpose. To not know that recruitment companies rely on algorithms, with all of the inherent bias programmers lock in, is astonishing. How much of our ‘membership’ fees have been paid to such companies? How about a recruitment process that recognises the differences between what regulating energy providers requires and that of social workers? Surely not that difficult a task. If you rely on a recruitment company to advise you on competence, it might explain why the CPD process is the useless and dispiriting experience it is for social workers.

  9. Tony J Doulabi August 2, 2020 at 1:50 pm #

    It is not unusual for black social workers to be subjected to personal and institutional racism. I have been working as a social worker and every time I made a point on training and to go further with my job, I have been very covertly turned down the opportunity and at the same time other colleagues have been promoted. Within the organisation that I work there is no black manager and I believe only 1 senior social worker.

    • Win Escallier August 3, 2020 at 10:03 am #

      Tony Doulabi…… you make a point of something which I suspect is experienced by many, including myself. Often there is a lack of faith in the mechanisms put in place to address this situation, as historically these mechanisms have made little or no difference.

  10. Jenni Barnett August 2, 2020 at 7:58 pm #

    And what are we all going to do about it ? Absolutely nothing because inequality keeps those that have safe and sound.

  11. Black Diamond August 3, 2020 at 1:03 pm #

    As I have already stated in previous articles social work England has made a pledge/commitment to supporting the Black Lives Matters movement and dismantling systemic racism. They have stated they themselves need to make improvements to their own organisation in terms of their recruitment of Black staff.

    They are clearly aware that Black, Asian And other ethnic minority groups are disproportionately subject to fitness to practice processes so they need to lead by example and really do deep analysis of each individuals case when they are referred by their employer. There are many cases where senior managers will lie to elevate their cases against a worker and even fabricate/ falsify information. This is a fact white Social Work managers do this and have done this, I have seen this first hand and other workers have reported this racist behaviour to me. These managers believe their White privilege takes precedence and that any information they present to a panel would be seen as truthful and honest even when the information is fabricated and false. These people continue to get promoted.

    They really need to get the balance right when it comes to fitness to practice. For example they need a racial mixture of investigators , panels members and their rules need to be added to. As Social Work England remit isn’t to look at the employer or employee who makes the referral about Black Social Workers.

    It’s also important because some white social workers/managers or worker are unable to leave their own personal values behind which are prejudice about particular racial groups and this become a serious problem if they sit on regulator panels etc.

    Where there has been wrongdoings carried out by individuals within those social work organisations who have made referrals or involved in building a case against a social worker then Social Work England should be calling this out and should make recommendations to their employer to deal with those employees, just like judges do when Social work managers and social workers lie in child care proceedings. Or deliberately mishandled an employees cases during grievance or disciplinary process we know it’s not there remit but to ignore it, is seriously damaging. Or they become aware of wrongdoings during the course of their involvement/investigation that the employer has clearly operated in Racist, unethical or illegal way. Or brought a case that has no merit causing a impact on a social worker mental health.

    If the employer isn’t aware of what these White Managers /social workers were doing then the employee need to be dealt with by the employer. This should be then reported back to Social Work England to deal with.

    If Social Work England do not call these matters out they are also part of the problem and not part of the solution of systemic racial discrimination.

    Social Work England need to have Black And Asian Workers And other Ethnic groups recruited at all levels of their organisation. Not two years from now it needs to start straight away. I’m not just talking about 1 or 2 tokenistic People of Colour either.
    Finally we are not one racial group either, our experiences will be and are different.
    Racial and Ethnic monitoring should be mandatory, we are clearly sick of excuses.

  12. A Man Called Horse August 3, 2020 at 3:32 pm #

    Does anyone know what qualifications are required by people who are sitting on judgement of Social workers in these cases? Are they qualified Social Workers? Exactly how are they recruited? Since they have the same powers as the Spanish Inquistion we need to know how they decide which witches should be burned at the stake?

  13. Black Female Social Worker. August 4, 2020 at 9:55 pm #

    Hcpc was very racist to Black Social workers. They would take side with the Organisation. Most black workers reported to Hcpc were struck off and lost their registration. There needs to be a balance and a fairness in Panel members. Hcpc was not fit for purpose they used to have hearing without any black Social Workers on the panel. There was institutional racism within Hcpc. Social Work England needs to be aware that most black Social Workers were not treated fairly by Hcpc. Hcpc would provide the Local Authority with a Barrister and the Social Worker would have a Union Representative from BASWA to represent them at the hearing. How can this be fair when the Social Worker is paying for their registration.
    Social Work England is a much more fairer regulated body and they should ensure they have an inclusive and robust system which represents the community as the Social Work profession is made up of different communities.
    All Social Workers including BAME who have been struck off by Hcpc should have they’re case re-opened and re-investigated.
    This needs urgent action taken by Social Work England as Hcpc should not be allowed to get away with institutional rascism, they should be held accountable for they’re actions.
    Thank you.

    • Win Escallier August 7, 2020 at 5:02 pm #

      I wonder if these responses will be blown away in the wind like dust particles, or will any of them find their way to SWE.

    • Geneve August 12, 2020 at 9:16 pm #

      Sorry this is off the tangent question but I am really trying to find out if sws subjected to hcpc proceedings have been able to get back into social work again:

      Can social workers get back into social work after being subjected to hcpc proceedings ie conditions on their registration ect. Once when sws goes through this intimidating process (hcpc proceedings) you are basically made to feel that you are the only person who is going through this process and you feel further humiliated and isolated. And one feels very isolated and lonely. There is no one to guide you on employment after your conditions come off and when you try to register as a locum sw and you tell them that you had conditions on your registration but they have been all cleared now but despite all this one gets a cold response from the agency. Is there a life after the ordeal?

      Have sws been able to conduct themselves back into social work after the ordeal? There is no support groups for sws who go through these investigations. Its a very daunting and lonely process. One is made to feel like a criminal whilst your employer is laughing. There is no compassion left in this world anymore. People who refer sws to regulators they dont think about how this is going to impact on health and wellbeing. They dont care how you are going to manage financially. They dont look at the age of the person, health issues etc. That is a very callous way of doing things – come on where is the compassion????? Or is compassion just one sided thing?

      It will be nice if people knew how other sws have gotten on after their involvement with hcpc etc.

  14. Philip August 5, 2020 at 2:11 pm #

    I find that I am judged more critically than peers. I’m observed at work by colleagues more than others too. This critical observation comes from peers as well as from managers. This is due to perception and stereotypes of Black people particularly men.

    The issues are that institutional racism is prominent in all of social care; children and adult services. Just like in the police force.

    Anyone reading this whether Black or White will feel that I am being paranoid. I’ve been a social worker and worker in other social care provisions for nearly 30 years.

    I’ve never experienced fitness to practice but I’ve had managers looking for ways to undermine my skills when I’ve been in the service longer than they have. I have peers reporting me to managers for the most trivial of reasons.

    I’m nearly 60 so I know what I feel and what I have experienced.