I am a social worker in a child care team in a busy city office. I am uncomfortable about some of the actions of the social worker at the next desk to me. Specifically, the way he speaks on the phone to one of the parents of a child he deals with gives me the impression that his relationship with this mother may be more than professional. I don’t have any evidence, however, so will I get into trouble if I report it and it’s all entirely innocent?
This is clearly a very difficult issue for you, and you are right to question what you should do. If your concerns are warranted and you are sure this person is speaking to a service user inappropriately, you could report this to your line manager and agree a way forward. You should ask for some feedback and make a judgement at that point. You may want to contact the A&R duty service at that point to seek further advice.
Every employer has to have a procedure for whistleblowing. You should check that procedure and if you remain sufficiently concerned you could then report it via the whistleblowing process. Under the whistleblowing procedure, sometimes known as a Public Interest Disclosure, your identity is normally protected. However, you must be willing to attend an investigation meeting if necessary.
The Public Interest Disclosure covers six categories:
a) that a criminal offence has been committed, is being committed or is likely to be committed;
b) that a person has failed, is failing or is likely to fail with any legal obligation to which he is subject;
c) that a miscarriage of justice has occurred, is occurring or is likely to occur;
d) that the health or safety of any individual has been, is being or is likely to be endangered;
e) that the environment has been, is being or is likely to be damaged; or
f) that information tending to show any matter falling within any one of the preceding paragraphs has been, is being or is likely to be concealed.
In order to whistleblow, you don’t have to prove the existence of any of the above state of affairs; you only have to show you had a reasonable belief that this was so. The disclosure has to be made in good faith. As long as you report it in good faith, reasonably believe that the information is substantially true, and don’t make the disclosure for any personal gain, you are protected in law from any detriment for reporting it. If you don’t report it, you could be in breach of your obligation to the care council with which you are registered.
The fact that you cannot be entirely sure of your suspicions should be part of your disclosure – don’t give the impression that you know any more than you have heard. If you can, be specific about why you are uncomfortable. Have you heard him using words which signify endearment? Does he ever switch to whispering? Does he change his tone or what he appeared to be saying when you walk into the room or return to your desk? Is the particular discomfort you feel always associated with him speaking to the same service user?
We advise strongly not to try in any way to investigate it yourself and not to delay at all in reporting it in some way. Also, although you may report it by telephone, always make sure you follow it up with a confirmation email memo or letter just so that you have some record.
And finally, please remember that if you are asked to attend a meeting, as long as you have been a BASW member for more than three months you are entitled to ask for an A&R officer to come along to support and represent you.