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BASW: turning social workers into criminals will worsen recruitment problems

Plans to criminalise social workers by charging them with ‘wilful neglect’ will set recruitment to the profession back years.

The warning came from Guy Shennan, Chair of the British Association of Social Workers, who added that the proposal showed a failure by Government to understand the complexity of social work.

Speaking in the wake of David Cameron’s announcement that social workers could face five years for failing to protect children from sexual exploitation, Mr Shennan said the Prime Minister showed a lack of appreciation of front line practice.

“Social workers are tasked with protecting society’s most vulnerable children, and they need support in carrying out this complex and demanding role. What they really don’t need is to be doing this complex work with the threat of jail sentences hanging over them.  

“Social workers need and deserve appreciation for what they do and not to be cast as potential criminals. How on earth are we going to retain experienced social workers in such a climate, or recruit new people to the profession? We already face a recruitment shortage in social work and this will set us back years.”

Mr Shennan added it was extra resources that would help protect children better, not the threat of prison for social workers.

“Rather than making such announcements shortly before an election, Mr Cameron should be pledging to reverse all the cuts that have been made over the past five years and commit to proper investment in children’s services. These services are under severe strain due to large increases in child protection workloads, coupled with the underfunding, and social workers are bearing the brunt of this.”

BASW England Manager Maris Stratulis added: “The threat of prison sentences will create a ‘legal minefield’ and will not help tackle the very complex issue of child sexual exploitation. Rather than focusing on the criminal law we should be looking at constructive ways to review organisational processes and practices, and investing in specialist training and multi-agency working to deal with these serious issues.”

Mr Cameron announced a raft of measures to tackle child sexual exploitation (CSE) in the wake of failings exposed in Rotherham and Oxford.

These included extending the criminal offence of ‘wilful neglect’ introduced in the Criminal Justice and Courts Act this year; making CSE a national threat and setting up a new whistleblowing helpline for public sector workers.