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BASW presses for suspended workers to be allowed to re-register

BASW’s Advice and Representation Service has urged social workers to be allowed to re-register while they are suspended from duties as news emerged that the two social workers at the centre of the Baby Peter case will face conduct hearings more than 17 months after investigations were launched.

The GSCC confirmed that Baby Peter’s allocated social worker Maria Ward and her line manager Gillie Christou will face conduct hearings. The regulator revealed back in November 2008 that it would be conducting enquiries into the actions of the social workers involved with the case.

Both workers had been given Interim Suspension Orders (ISOs) [see link below] until earlier this month which bans them from practising as a social worker or re-registering with the GSCC.

An ISO is typically only imposed if the basis of a suspension means a registrant is considered a potential risk to the public. However, the head of BASW’s Advice and Representation Service, Marcia Lawrence-Russell, said BASW has had to challenge some cases in the past, resulting in an ISO not being imposed and casting doubt over the decision-making process.

She added that the investigatory process can be extremely stressful for the social workers involved as investigations take, on average, around 12 months to complete. “The system has improved, but it is still not good enough. It was double that before,” she said.

Although the person involved is banned from practising as a social worker, some employers may place the person being investigated into an alternative role during the investigation, such as administrative work or on a specific project so they have no direct contact with service users. However, there is no obligation on employers to do this.

Independent social workers have no chance of continuing to work during investigations, Ms Lawrence-Russell added. She warned that for all social workers, if misconduct is not found, there is no form of compensation available and no way of recouping lost earnings. Their reputations are often left in tatters as they have to tell people, including prospective employers, why they are not registered.

“It is not in keeping with natural justice – innocent until proven guilty,” she added. “They are restricted from earning an income and we know of cases where social workers have lost their homes because they cannot afford the mortgage.

“Doctors, who also have a job dealing with the public, just don’t seem to go through the same sort of scrutiny as social workers,” she said. “The public has rights, but so do social workers.

“They should be able to continue to register until a case is found against them. “We are going to be keeping this issue on the agenda,” she concluded.

The GSCC responded to the concerns by emphasising that although social workers subjected to ISOs are not able to register, they can expect a speedy restoration of their status if cleared. “Where the investigation is closed with no further action or an ISO is lifted, we will prioritise getting the pending renewal application form processed,” a spokesperson commented.

The GSCC also confirmed that the interim suspension order placed on Ms Ward and Ms Christou was lifted on 8 April, adding that ‘the cases are now progressing towards a hearing’.