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Social workers warned to keep their private lives clean

Social workers have been warned by the Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC) to ensure they do not do anything in their private lives that could call into question their suitability to practise.

The caution came in an address to the Scottish Association of Social Work’s (SASW’s) World Social Work Day celebration in Perth by Ann Moffat, conduct case manager for the SSSC, who said work was ongoing in ensuring social workers better understand the risks they can take with their careers.

“The key message is that what you do outside of work can affect your suitability to register as a social worker. If people know you are a social worker then they have the right to complain about you. It’s your behaviour inside and outside of work that affects your registration. I despair at coming in to work on a Monday morning and finding that registered workers have been getting into fights at the weekend – fights over parking spaces in front of a house or fights in pubs.”

Ms Moffat said the safe use of social media was another notable issue that many social workers still need to come to terms with: “If you are putting something on a public website about the fact you don’t like your boss, or your service users are just awful, or you’re working in child care setting talking about ‘these little beasts’ in your care, then you are creating a situation where your position in the social services workforce may not be tenable.

“We are feeding this back to employers, and back to universities too, to help them to help employees and students to maintain safe practice – it’s about professionalism and what that actually means.”

The SSSC will soon be issuing renewed guidance, Ms Moffat said, to advise first line supervisors “to talk to their social workers about social media – what is it and what are the boundaries”.

In a wide ranging presentation on the impact of registration, Ms Moffat also revealed that out of a register of 50,000 social work and social care practitioners, just 53 have been removed from practice by conduct committees – “so you are doing a good job”, she added.

In the question and answer session that followed a social worker asked the SSSC representative about the situation for social workers charged with misconduct but who have only found themselves in difficulty because of a lack of support from employers, or because they are working under excessively stressful situations. “Some employees feel that they raise it [their concern], they raise it again but it doesn’t get anywhere and it isn’t dealt with. Workers could be in breach of the code of practice but only because of the conditions they are working under.”

Ann Moffat responded by emphasising that it was not the responsibility of the SSSC to investigate working conditions but that there are instances where it does recommend that the Care Inspectorate carry out an inspection of a particular local authority or service. “[Apart from that] all we can do with such cases is pass the concern back to the employer as that is not a responsibility we have,” she offered.

“However, we do not routinely accept that any misconduct by a worker is automatically their fault. Also, there is a requirement for a worker to raise an issue of concern to their employer and there is a requirement on the employer to act on that.”

SASW manager Ruth Stark told delegates that “whistleblowing is not an easy or comfortable place to be in and if you are facing issues in that area, then come to SASW – join us as that is what we are here to help social workers with”.