31 October 2012

Social workers find it difficult to challenge unsafe practice in the UK

Many social workers and care professionals in the United Kingdom are reluctant to come forward when they witness unsafe practices, because they fear how their employer may react, according to a recent article in Community Care magazine.

A recent survey by the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) found many social workers talking about a climate of fear and intimidation in many social work agencies.  Almost half of practitioners surveyed saying they would be reluctant to speak up if they had concerns.

The organisations of directors as well as trades unions and representative bodies all agree that local councils and other agencies providing social work should have a whistleblowing policy which should help social workers to speak up about bad practice.  The secretary of the Association of Directors of Adult Services’ workforce development network commented that “whistleblowing is a key element in safeguarding networks and services where staff are confident over this issue are probably safer for their recipients”.

There are worries that cuts in funding for services in the difficult financial climate will make it more difficult for staff to blow the whistle, especially where this challenges senior managers.  However the chair of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services’ families, communities and young people policy committee, commented that “Listening to staff should be a fundamental part of continuously improving all services, not just those with serious problems. […] This is even more important when services are facing budget reductions, as frontline staff will have a good idea where savings can be made without damaging service quality.”

IFSW approved a new policy on Effective and ethical working environments for social work: the responsibilities of employers of social workers at the 2012 General Meeting in Stockholm.  This sets out how employers, managers and social workers should work together to create safe and effective services.

The Global Agenda for Social Work and Social Development has a commitment ‘to ensuring an appropriate environment for practice and education’.

The IFSW/IASSWStatement of Ethical Principles is clear that social workers have an ethical and professional duty to challenge unsafe and unethical practice: ‘Social workers should foster and engage in ethical debate with their colleagues and employers and take responsibility for making ethically informed decisions’.

‘IFSW encourages social workers to speak out about poor practice’, said Rory Truell, IFSW Secretary General.  ‘This is a basic responsibility in any profession.  We know that this can be difficult for social workers.  There are many examples around the world where professionals have been ‘punished’ for speaking out about bad practice.  Social workers need strong representative bodies to support them in these difficult situations’, Rory Truell continued.  ‘IFSW member organisations are all committed to keeping up high professional standards and IFSW will support them when this is helpful’, he concluded.