As family court transparency charity the Transparency Project today publishes guidance about the recording of social workers by parents where there is local authority involvement, BASW Vice Chair Maggie Mellon said social workers should allow such recording and be happy to put their practice “on the record”.
The guidance is intended to be used by families and professionals and was prompted by discussion at a Transparency Project conference, which led to a FOI request to all local authorities in England and Wales on the issue of parents making recordings. The charity says the FOI responses demonstrate that “the attitude and approach of local authorities varied considerably” and reasons given for refusing to permit recording were “not always underpinned by a correct understanding of the law”. The charity believes the responses also provide some evidence of “a culture of suspicion, fear or hostility by professionals towards parents who wished to record their interactions, particularly where such recordings were covert (or suspected)”. Lucy Reed, Transparency Project Chair, said the current lack of guidance on this topic “has the potential to exacerbate misunderstanding between parents and social workers, and is not helpful in promoting good communication and constructive working relationships”.
Commenting on the guidance, BASW Vice Chair Maggie Mellon, who also chairs the Association’s Policy, Ethics and Human Rights Committee (PEHR), said: “We welcome this guidance, which follows on from concern the Transparency Project had when it surveyed local authority practice in this area. It is going to be very helpful to our members, as it offers a straightforward explanation of why various pieces of legislation, often cited as barriers to transparency, are no such thing. It offers clarity that data protection legislation about recording, storing and sharing of personal information by social services and other agencies does not apply to parents and families in relation to their own personal information. There is a clear explanation of the difference between the right to make a recording, and what an individual can do with a recording they have made.
“Also to be applauded is the explanation of both why parents might find themselves wanting to record their interaction with professionals and how professionals might properly respond to being recorded. When parents do make recordings, social workers must not allow themselves to be distracted from acknowledging the emotional painful issues being discussed. We also need to consider why families may feel so powerless in their interaction with professionals that they seek both protection and power from recording conversations.
“As social workers, the more we do to be open, the better. Some forums such as child protection case conferences use language that is so inaccessible to parents that we should not be surprised if some parents do record the discussions that take place covertly. Social work agencies need to look at their recording policies to ensure they are family friendly. Social workers and their agencies should be happy to record what is said at meetings with parents. We need to be absolutely transparent and be prepared to put our practice on the record. Unfortunately, there is a good deal of mistrust by parents out there and media coverage of cases where parents’ rights have been breached will only fuel concern. We need to build trust and confidence and if recording helps to do this, we should encourage and welcome this.
“There are laws which prevent breach of children's confidentiality and also protect social workers from abuse or threats. The FOI responses from local authorities show that many councils have incorrect policy and procedures, so the responsibility really is on social workers themselves to question whether guidance used in their workplace is fit for purpose and where necessary we would encourage members to use BASW's endorsement of this guidance to encourage a change of policy by their agencies.'