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Public protection and conduct

Assessing risk and taking steps to minimise it is something that social workers do every day. It can be a complex and difficult task. Social workers need to weigh up a wide range of factors before deciding on a course of action that is both proportionate and ensures the safety of service users and those around them.

Protecting the public from harm is also at the centre of what we do as social work regulator, and risk assessment is a daily activity for our investigations staff too.

We currently receive around 83 complaints each week relating to conduct and registration matters, and risk assess all information within 24 hours, using our Risk Assessment Framework. Where cases are classed as high risk (those that have resulted in harm or risk of harm to people who use services or the public), we apply for an Interim Suspension Order to take the social worker out of the workforce whilst we investigate. Sometimes the case will be closed following further investigation, but we have to make an assessment based on what we know at the time of the allegation coming into us: does this case pose risks to public safety? If the answer is yes, we must take action to address this.

"Protecting the public from harm is also at the centre of what we do as social work regulator "

The decision to suspend the social worker on an interim basis is taken by an independent committee. It is important that these decisions are taken by people independent of the GSCC, given the implications for the social worker and, crucially, for public protection. To ensure impartiality, the majority of panel members are not from a social care background, but there will always be one member who is from the profession.

Protection of the public is our number one priority and, although we balance this with fairness to the social worker, where we identify a potential risk to the public we must take immediate action to apply for suspensions. Like social workers, we have a duty to put people who use services first.

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Support and assistance to independance of vulnerable people has historically been the remit of social workers. Increasingly the term public protection is utilised within social work practice and to justify interventions and scrutiny of both service users and professionals, suggesting a move towards a more enforcement based approach and away from traditional social work values. Increasingly Social Work seems to be scrutinised from a perspective more consistent with the politics of fear than it does an approach which considers how people can be supported and understood. This public protection era is more of a tragedy to social work than it is a blessing, it justifies a myriad of big brother tactics, on service users and staff on the basis that something might go wrong and is often based on very flimsy (if any) evidence. The ethical implications of such far reaching tactics should be given more thought and consideration. The words self fulfilling prophecy come to mind, how sad.

Paula Donohoe
12 Mar 2010

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