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British Journal of Social Work (2010) 40, 311–327

doi:10.1093/bjsw/bcn136 Advance Access publication October 4, 2008

The Social Worker versus the General Social Care Council: An Analysis of Care Standards Tribunal Hearings and Decisions
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Kenneth McLaughlin
Kenneth McLaughlin is a senior lecturer in social work at Manchester Metropolitan University. He has experience in the homeless families sector and as an Approved Social Worker in a statutory mental health team. His research interests are in the construction of risk and vulnerability and of how these influence contemporary social policy and practice. Correspondence to Kenneth McLaughlin, Manchester Metropolitan University, 799 Wilmslow Road, Didsbury, Manchester M20 2RR, UK. E-mail: K.McLaughlin@mmu.ac.uk

Summary
The General Social Care Council (GSCC) is the regulatory body for the social care workforce in England.1 It maintains the Social Care Register and has the power to refuse an applicant entry onto the Register and to instigate proceedings to have those on the Register removed if they deem the social worker in question has committed misconduct. As it is a criminal offence for anyone whose name is not on the Register to call themselves a social worker, the GSCC has extensive powers in relation to the social care workforce. This paper analyses cases in which social workers have been through the GSCC’s regulatory process, disagree with the decision and have exercised their right to appeal to the Care Standards Tribunal. Using a critical content analysis, several themes are identified that give cause for concern about the workings of the GSCC, its Committees and the Care Standards Tribunal itself. It is noted that there is an inherent imbalance of power in the proceedings, which heavily favour the GSCC and are detrimental to the social worker’s chance of receiving a fair hearing. In addition, areas in which social workers’ ‘out of work’ lives have been considered to be within the remit of GSCC investigation and censure are highlighted. It is pointed out that a new morality of appropriate behaviour is being overseen by a government-appointed organization. The findings and areas of concern identified are of particular concern to social workers and social care professionals who find themselves increasingly subject to surveillance and censure by the GSCC. The conclusion considers some key points that require further discussion within social work and indeed the wider political realm. Keywords: GSCC, Care Standards Tribunal, registration, appeals process

# The Author 2008. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The British Association of Social Workers. All rights reserved.

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Introduction
The General Social Care Council (GSCC) is the body responsible for the regulation of the social care workforce in England. It has a statutory duty to promote high standards of conduct and practice among social care workers. In 2002, it published the national Codes of Practice for Social Care Workers and Employers, and, in 2003, the Social Care Register was introduced. It is now a criminal offence for anyone not included on the Social Care Register to call themselves a social worker. Student social workers must also apply for registration when starting their professional training. The implications for an applicant of being refused registration or of being struck off post registration are therefore severe. The person in question could not undertake social work training, apply for positions that they were otherwise qualified for or continue in their present job if that was as a social worker. Interestingly, posts that require the worker to hold a social work qualification but do not contain the words ‘social worker’ in the job title would not require the ‘social worker’ to be on the Social Care Register. It has been pointed out elsewhere the way concepts of risk and vulnerability have been used in justification for the increase in regulation and surveillance of social workers, such as in the expansion of both criminal record and health checks, and in the scrutiny of social workers’ private lives (McLaughlin, 2007a, 2007b). Alongside the 2006 Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act and the newly formed Independent Safeguarding Authority, which will hold a list of those authorized to work or come into contact with children, it can be argued that we are in a situation in which ever more aspects of human interaction must be officially sanctioned by a centralized state authority. This marks a shift from the 1990s, when protection of the public and professional regulation tended to be seen as the employers’ responsibility—a situation that was criticized for leading to diverse approaches to the management, supervision and censure of staff (Statham and Brand, 1998). However, the issue of diverse approaches to professional competence and conduct has not gone away with the setting up of the Social Care Register and related Codes of Conduct. With the growth of multidisciplinary and multi-agency teams, the workers within them can be subject to the regulation of diverse bodies. For example, social workers will be beholden to the GSCC, health professionals to the General Medical Council or the Nursing and Midwifery Council, education workers to the General Teaching Council. There is also the issue of support staff whom one would assume would not be expected to work to the same professional standards and codes of conduct as qualified staff (Cornes et al., 2007). However, in the case of social care, they are required to conform to the same code of practice as qualified social workers.

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This paper does not intend to revisit that debate. Instead, it looks at the end of the investigatory/regulatory process by way of a review of cases to date in which applicants have either been refused registration or been removed from the Register by the Conduct Committee, and who have exercised their right to appeal against the decision to the Care Standards Tribunal (CST). For those refused initial registration, it is the decision of the Registration Committee that is being appealed. For those already on the Register but subsequently removed or suspended from it, it is the decision of the Conduct Committee that is being appealed. In practice, the CST, in many instances, effectively re-hears the original case. Each committee is made up of members who are ostensibly independent of the GSCC. The right of appeal to the CST is contained under section 68 of the 2000 Care Standards Act.

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The legal position
The GSCC was established by virtue of Part IV of the 2000 Care Standards Act (CSA), and part of its function is to maintain a register of social workers (s. 56). The process of registration is governed by the General Social Care Council (Registration) Rules, which set out in detail what information is required for registration (GSCC, 2008c). Section 58(i) of the CSA establishes that a person may be registered as a social worker only if he or she is of good character, is physically and mentally fit to perform the whole or part of the work to which the application relates, and also satisfies the provisions of section 58(2)(a) in relation to training and satisfies certain requirements as to conduct and competence. An application for registration should be made in writing and the applicant must provide details of any criminal convictions, including ‘spent’ convictions, formal cautions issued by the police and any pending criminal proceedings. In addition, where the applicant is a already a social worker, evidence as to their ‘good character’ as it relates to their fitness to practise the work expected of a social worker (including endorsement from an employer) must be submitted. The GSCC will include the applicant on the Social Care Register if it is satisfied that all requirements are met. The GSCC has four independent committees to which it can refer cases of concern, each of which has between three and five members who are selected from a ‘pool’ of independently appointed people. Each committee must comprise a majority of ‘lay people’, with at least one member having experience or understanding of the area of social work practised by the social worker under investigation (GSCC, 2008b). Given the complexities of many social work issues, the fact that a panel of five could contain only one person with social work experience or understanding is a matter of concern.

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The four committees are: (i) Registration Committee, which considers cases in which a question has arisen over an applicant’s suitability to be registered; (ii) Preliminary Proceedings Committee, which, in reality, consists of two separate committees with different functions,2 mostly concerning whether cases of concern should proceed further along the regulatory route and which can also impose an Interim Suspension Order; (iii) Conduct Committee, which ‘decides whether the facts outlined in the allegations are proven on the balance of probabilities; whether the facts proved amount to misconduct; and the appropriate sanction to be imposed’; and (iv) Restoration Committee that considers applications from social workers who were previously removed or refused registration but wish to reapply (GSCC, 2008b, p. 15). This paper is concerned with the workings of the Registration and Conduct Committees.

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Cases considered
According to statistics published by the GSCC, as of 1 May 2008, 214 people who applied to join the Social Care Register have been denied access to it, with a further sixty having conditions placed upon them at the point of registration. Thirty-six social workers have been taken before the Conduct Committee, sixteen of whom were subsequently removed from the Register, three suspended and seventeen admonished. Approximately 40 per cent of the conduct hearings to date have involved social workers having ‘inappropriate’ relationships with service users (GSCC, 2008a, 2008b). Thirty social workers have been denied registration on health grounds (Community Care, 2008). In the same period, only one employer has had major concerns noted against it, with the sanction being merely a referral to the Commission for Social Care Inspection. This would suggest that an earlier concern that the regulatory process would focus more on individual workers than on wider issues of service delivery has proven correct (McLaughlin, 2007a). At the time of writing, only two social workers have been cleared of misconduct by the Conduct Committee. The GSCC considers that this is evidence that it ‘has not taken social workers through the stress and disruption of a Conduct Committee without just cause’ (GSCC, 2008b, p. 33, para. 147). This may indeed be the case, but it may also be due to the structure of the proceedings themselves. For example, the onus is on the social worker to prove their suitability rather than on the GSCC proving the worker’s unsuitability. Also, the Conduct Committee works to the ‘balance of probabilities’ legal threshold rather than the more stringent ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ criterion. Add to this the legal expertise that the GSCC can call on compared to that which the social worker can afford and it is clear that these proceedings do not take place on a level playing field.

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The GSCC then has been granted unprecedented powers over social workers. Given such jurisdiction, any failings in the exercise of such power need to be highlighted. My intention therefore is to undertake a critical review of the decision-making process and conduct of the GSCC. Unfortunately, this is not an easy thing to do. Conduct Committee hearings are open to the public, but, after the event, it is only the decisions and very brief details that are published. The Registration Committee’s refusal details and deliberations are not publicly available. However, when social workers have appealed against an initial decision of the Registration or Conduct Committee to the Care Standards Tribunal (CST), the CST makes available on its website its findings and the rationale for them. Therefore, I decided to focus on those cases in which social workers had appealed to the CST, looking for an earlier decision to be overturned. This would provide fuller material for analysis, allowing not only scrutiny of the GSCC’s deliberations, but also those of the Registration and Conduct Committees, and indeed those of the CST itself. The social worker or prospective social worker must prove to the GSCC’s satisfaction that they have the integrity and competence to fulfil the role of a social worker and abide by the Code of Practice. As will be shown below, this can lead the regulatory body to concentrate only on the negatives in someone’s past or present behaviour—something they clearly did in the case of DH, where the CST was scathing about the GSCC’s assumptions and procedures (CST, 2005). This paper adopts a similar approach towards the GSCC. Given the power the GSCC has, anything that gives concern as to their ability to fulfil their role needs to be highlighted. Therefore, there is a focus on identified areas of concern and on issues that warrant further discussion. Additionally, wider issues around autonomy, privacy and equality in the procedures of the GSCC are discussed.

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Methodology
According to the GSCC, from 1 April 2003 to 31 March 2008, there were a total of sixty-eight appeals to the Care Standards Tribunal. Of these, fiftysix were appeals against the decision of the registration committee not to register, the remaining twelve concerning suspension or removal from the Register (GSCC, 2008b). In order to obtain more information about such cases, I conducted a search of the Care Standards Act website on 11 April 2008. This provided detailed reports relating to thirty cases, the earliest being held in August 2005 and the most recent in March 2008. Of these, seventeen were concerned with equivalency of qualifications, mostly achieved abroad, with registration being refused due to the GSCC deeming that the specified award did not meet the requirements of professional social work training and registration in the UK. As I was not interested in the technicalities of

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which international awards are deemed relevant for the purposes of GSCC registration, I did not look into these cases in detail. This left thirteen cases that were to do with more behavioural issues, fourteen after being informed of an additional case. For some reason, this case, which was the very first appeal to the CST and which is perhaps the most critical of the GSCC, is omitted from the section of the CST website where the others are located. It is worth a detailed read and can be accessed via the website address given in the reference list (CST, 2005). The CST findings with decisions and the reasons for them were printed off in full and subjected to qualitative content analysis. I was concerned to identify any underlying themes and principles that were either implicit or explicit in the workings of both the GSCC and the CST. The following themes were identified: power imbalance re representation; health issues; criminal convictions; inconsistent employment or conviction information; work-related issues; non-work-related issues; intent; and denial. There is, however, much overlap between these thematic categories, especially in the blurred line between work and non-work-related behaviour. As such, I do not discuss them all under specific sub-headings but bring them up where relevant to allow a more coherent narrative.

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Findings
A fair hearing?
It was noted above that, to date, the GSCC had an almost 100 per cent success rate when bringing social workers before the Conduct Committee, with the point being made that this could be partly due to the recourse to legal expertise that the GSCC enjoys. For example, information released by the GSCC under the 2000 Freedom of Information Act reveals that, in one case, they spent £34,551.62 plus VAT on legal representation—a cost way beyond the finances of the vast majority of social workers (personal communication, 19 February 2008). Similarly, there is a clear power imbalance regarding representation in person before the CST. Of the fourteen CST appeals studied, two were paper hearings, with neither the appellant (social worker) nor the respondent (GSCC) present. Of the remaining twelve cases, only two social workers were represented by a solicitor, one by a union rep, one by the British Association of Social Workers and one by a named person whose occupation/status was not given. The other seven social workers represented themselves. The GSCC was represented by counsel in ten of the full hearings and by solicitors in the remaining two. It should also be noted that in cases in which registration has been refused on the basis that the person in question is not of good character, the onus is

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on the applicant to prove their good character. This is made clear in the case of AI, the CST findings specifically making this point:
It was not a case of the Appellant’s character being challenged but his failure to appreciate that it was up to him to establish his good character by presenting evidence to support what he told us and by giving a full, frank and consistent account of his history (CST, 2006b, para. 24).

A similar point is made by the GSCC in the case of CT (CST, 2007f). Given the legal expertise, court/tribunal experience and professional standing of barristers, the social worker is facing a formidably equipped adversary as they attempt to have the GSCC decision overturned. This is highlighted by looking at the CST decisions. The CST found in favour of the GSCC in eight hearings, thereby endorsing the decision not to register a prospective social worker or to remove someone who was already registered. The social worker’s appeal was allowed in the other six cases. Of the six successful appeals, four of the social workers had representation. Of the eight cases in which the appeal was dismissed, two were paper hearings. In the remaining six, only one social worker had representation, the other five representing themselves unsuccessfully. These figures would suggest that professional representation is of benefit to the social worker, and that if they enjoyed the same access to counsel as the GSCC, their chances of success would be increased. The problem of self-representation has been noted by the CST. The Tribunal, in the case of Skervin, was concerned about the social worker’s lack of legal expertise and was ‘particularly mindful of the Appellant’s difficulties in representing himself’ (CST, 2008a, point 4). Likewise, the Tribunal, in the case of Adu-Darko, noted that ‘It was apparent to the Tribunal that he has been and remains seriously disadvantaged by the complexity of the legal process’ (CST, 2006c, para. 18). Nevertheless, it would also appear to be the case that the chances of a successful appeal are relatively high, with six out of the fourteen appellants winning their case, although it may also be that those proceeding to the CST were those with the strongest cases, and this may not in itself indicate that a similar percentage of original Registration or Conduct Committee decisions would be successfully appealed.

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Health and non-disclosure
The GSCC is required under the 2000 Care Standards Act to be satisfied as to the physical and mental health of potential social workers before allowing them onto the Social Care Register. It has written to the Department of Health calling for the removal of this stipulation, believing that it is ‘an unnecessary and discriminatory barrier and is calling on the Government to remove it’ (GSCC, 2008d). Whilst the GSCC is certainly correct on

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this point, its conversion to an anti-discriminatory stance regarding disability is not solely the result of delayed enlightenment within the organization. On the contrary, at times, the GSCC has vigorously pursued those who have declared health issues. For example, one social worker had to resort to legal action, winning a disability discrimination case against them for delaying his registration due to issues raised by his HIV-positive status. The GSCC was ordered to pay him £2,166.02 compensation (Community Care, 2007a). In another case, a social worker with thirty years’ experience was refused unconditional registration on account of his declaration that he had a diagnosis of bi-polar affective disorder. The GSCC subsequently dropped the conditional requirements, although this was not until he had lodged an appeal to the CST. The stress of the investigatory process led to the social worker in question taking early retirement—an experienced social worker effectively hounded from the profession by an over zealous bureaucracy (Community Care, 2007b). The Tribunal in the case of DH was highly critical regarding the GSCC’s view of mental health issues (CST, 2005). It was not so much a commitment to the principles of anti-discriminatory practice that led to the GSCC’s petition to the Department of Health. In reality, it was as a result of adverse legal decisions, much criticism by various people, and the intervention of the Disability Rights Commission that was the catalyst for the GSCC’s change of heart. Given what can happen following the disclosure of a mental health problem, it is not surprising that some people are reluctant to declare such issues. The stigma surrounding mental health problems is a real societal concern, and it would appear that the GSCC itself is not immune to the influence of such societal prejudices. Nevertheless, in the CST cases analysed, it is clear that the GSCC takes the issue of non-disclosure very seriously. The case of de Almeida concerned the issue of good character regarding convictions and cautions for criminal damage, drunk driving and being drunk and disorderly. In addition, the GSCC was also concerned that Mr de Almeida had not declared that he suffered from depression in the health declaration section of his application. The GSCC received a medical report that disclosed past consultations and medication for depression, and, under ‘significant past’ details, there was a diagnosis of Alcohol Dependence Syndrome in 1997 and incidents of self-lacerated wrists and drug overdose. It would certainly appear that Mr de Almeida has had some serious problems in his personal life over the years, but it is worth noting that the medical report also notes that he had no recorded time off work. Registration was initially granted on condition that Mr de Almeida informed future social care employers of his history and that he was to abide by any advice given to him by his employer’s occupational health

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department to help him in his role. However, one month later, he was informed that the Registration Committee had decided to refuse his application for registration. This was due to concerns about his honesty and integrity, particularly his failure to disclose his health conditions and relatively recent drug overdose. The Tribunal disagreed with the GSCC’s interpretation, because:
. . . the question is relatively vague and requires a subjective judgement by an applicant. It does not give examples of the type of information that should be disclosed. We find the Appellant’s reasons for ticking the ‘No’ box subjectively justified and in view of the width of the question, objectively justified in that there have been no demonstrated or evidenced difficulties relating to his employment arising either from his underlying medical problems or their treatment. We accept that the Appellant’s response as explained was acceptable in the light of his then circumstances. Had the question asked for absolute disclosure, we might have taken a different view; it did not. It is unrealistic to expect that individuals who do not feel that matters affect them in the way requested should be disclosed. Once the information surfaced, we are satisfied that the Appellant gave appropriate comments and took sufficient steps to provide further and fuller details (CST, 2007e, para. 29).

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Here, we see the GSCC being concerned with matters that had no direct impact on the social worker’s ability to undertake his professional role. This blurring of the public/private life of the social worker is a recurring theme in the workings of the GSCC’s regulatory procedures. The Tribunal in this case also made another very pertinent point. In this and other cases, the GSCC has made much of inconsistencies in applicants’ versions of events, suggesting that this casts doubt on their honesty and integrity. However, such inconsistencies may not be significant and could be explained simply by being due to repeated requests to revisit the same ground, some of which may have happened many years previously. This links to the issue of intent to deceive that has also been a theme within the regulatory proceedings.

Intent
In the case of Henry, the GSCC refused registration in part because she had not informed her employer that her registration status had yet to be determined. Whether there was any intent by the applicant to mislead the employer was considered irrelevant, as, according to the GSCC, the result was actually to mislead (CST, 2007b, para. 15). In this case, in which the appeal was allowed, the Tribunal was ‘not satisfied that the appropriate investigations have ever been fully carried out in this case’ (CST, 2007b, point D)—a serious finding, given the implications for workers of being refused registration. It also noted that the GSCC had put the worker in an invidious position, given that her application had been with them for thirteen months. In addition, concern was expressed

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at the lack of opportunity for the social worker to question witnesses/ accusers. The ambiguity surrounding intent is further complicated by confusion over definitions. In the case of Hollingsworth, the GSCC was concerned that the applicant had not informed them he was subject to ‘disciplinary action’. The Tribunal found that there was a crucial distinction between being subject to an investigation and being subject to disciplinary action, noting that ‘whilst the applicant was the subject of a disciplinary investigation he was never subject to any disciplinary action by the council’ (CST, 2007c, point 31). In this case, the GSCC was also criticized for putting ‘the most sinister interpretation on untested evidence’ (CST, 2007c, point 23). The issue of clarity of definition, or lack of, was also discussed in the case of XY. The social worker here was insistent that as they were under disciplinary investigation, and not action, they did not feel obliged to notify the GSCC. In this case, the Tribunal thought that someone in XY’s position would be expected to inform the GSCC of the disciplinary investigation to which they were subject (CST, 2007d). With the respective Tribunals interpreting the requirements differently, it is no surprise that social workers are confused by the regulations. Unsurprisingly, both Tribunals agree on the need for clarity, the former specifically asking the GSCC to consider whether it would ‘expect all investigations to be notified as “disciplinary actions”, however trivial the matter, however malicious the original complaint and particularly if not pursued beyond the investigative stage?’ (CST, 2007c, point 31). If the answer to this question is an unqualified yes, the GSCC should expect a deluge of referrals that would have a massive impact on it’s workload.

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Out of work issues
Article 8(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights declares the right of individuals to a private life. This would appear to limit the extent to which regulatory bodies such as the GSCC can rule on an individual’s out of work behaviour. However, article 8(2) allows such intrusion if it is in accordance with the law and is:
. . . in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic wellbeing of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others (www.hri.org/docs/ECHR50.html#C.Art8).

This caveat would appear to allow the GSCC enormous scope to regulate the private life of the social worker in order to protect the public, although it is less clear where justification on the basis of maintaining public

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confidence in social workers or of establishing professional standards for employees can be found. Nevertheless, the GSCC is concerned with issues that do not primarily affect someone’s ability to due their job properly. The eroding of the private life of the social worker was a recurring theme in the cases looked at. In one case, in which the GSCC refused registration primarily on the basis that the applicant had not been open and honest with them, they list three areas of particular concern. The first two were work-related; the third was that:
(3) It appeared in a note of a telephone conversation with [GSCC employee] on 8 November that the applicant left his own children at home unattended (CST, 2006b).

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The Tribunal’s findings in this case also state that ‘A drink driving disqualification as recently as 2002 is undoubtedly a serious matter’ (CST, 2006b, para. 23). As the worker in question applied for registration in August 2004, and the CST was held in June 2006, it would appear that a two or even fouryear gap between offence and registration/appeal was not considered sufficient. On a similar note, the GSCC, in the case of Skervin, makes clear that testing positive for cannabis is considered a very serious matter (CST, 2008a). In the case of YD, who had been suspended from the Social Care Register for two years due to misconduct (she had advertised herself as an escort), the CST, following on from the GSCC and Conduct Committee before them, considered the sex life of the social worker an appropriate area of investigation. This case raises several issues. Although YD had been dismissed from her previous employment, this did not raise concern about her suitability to remain on the Social Care Register. The case was solely concerned with her escort work and how it related to her as a person of professional standing and on how she would be perceived by the public. It should be noted that working as an escort is not a criminal offence. It is prostitution, or, more precisely, soliciting for prostitution that is the illegal activity. The Tribunal fails to make this distinction, using the terms ‘escort’ and ‘prostitution’ interchangeably. It states that ‘advertising oneself as a prostitute is in breach of the Code of Conduct’ (CST, 2006d, para. 22). In fact, she advertised herself as an escort, not as a prostitute—an important legal distinction. The Tribunal does, however, conclude that, on the basis of some suggestive e-mails, YD had sex with someone she met in her work as an escort. For them, this constitutes misconduct because ‘We have come to the conclusion that misconduct is about lack of integrity and how an individual is perceived by others’ (CST, 2006d, para. 13), ‘Prostitution involves deceit. The use of a false name by the woman, for example’ (CST, 2006d, para. 16), and that as they are, in effect, a role model, the social worker must be ‘whiter than white’ (CST, 2006d, para. 18).

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Leaving aside the fact that many within social work would object to the term ‘whiter than white’, the reasoning behind the Tribunal’s decision is questionable. ‘How an individual is perceived by others’ implies that the intent of the social worker is of less significance than the subjective view of others. This risks the registration process being influenced by adverse media campaigns or moral panics. And, whilst the Tribunal can clearly state that some aspects of an individual’s life, such as sexual orientation, would not call into question an individual’s suitability to work in social care services, it may be that had the GSCC been around in the early 1970s, homosexual activity would indeed have led to concerns over the worker’s integrity and of how they were perceived by others. After all, the British Journal of Social Work published an article in 1971 that advocated aversion therapy for gay men (Graham, 1971). Public opinion and many newspaper reports of this time were also not very favourable to homosexuals, and the influence of the media in current decision making has been noted. The Tribunal in the case of CT found that the GSCC placed too much stock on an unattributed newspaper article regarding a fire at a care home than it did on the formal incident report prepared by the fire brigade on the day of the incident (CST, 2007e, para. 56). Also, is it fair to link prostitution to theft, which the Tribunal, in the case of YD, does, likening it to stealing money from an employer? Whatever your personal view of the exchange, and also acknowledging that prostitution can involve both vulnerability and abuse, both parties were in full agreement with it, which is not the same as the ‘thief/victim’ scenario of a theft. It is clear that there is a variety of behaviours that do not directly impact on the work of the social worker that the GSCC considers to be within its regulatory remit. At a time when the moral authority of the Church has been weakened, our drinking, drug taking, sex lives and child-care practices are now subject to the surveillance and regulation of the GSCC.

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Inappropriate relationships
As noted above, a significant number of cases (40 per cent) taken to full Conduct Committee hearings have involved social workers who have had relationships with service users (Lombard, 2008). This is in breach of rule 5.4 of the GSCC’s Code of Practice that states that the social worker must not ‘Form inappropriate personal relationships with service users’ (GSCC, 2002). Most such cases concern social workers forming a relationship with someone for whom they were the allocated social worker, either for that person or their children. In such instances, it is usually clear that professional boundaries have been broken. For example, the case of Bradford was clear-cut in that he had sexual intercourse with a depressed woman for whom he was the current allocated social worker. He lost his

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job, was jailed and subsequently removed from the Social Care Register. Unsurprisingly, his appeal was dismissed (CST, 2007a). However, many cases are not so clear-cut and when social workers challenge the allegations against them, their defence is to argue that the relationship is/was not inappropriate. This can be on the basis that the person was not a direct client of theirs, or that they were unaware of the person being a service user. For example, in the case of DSH:
The Appellant had argued strenuously in his internal disciplinary hearing and before the Registration Committee of the GSCC that J had not been a service user in that she had never been a patient or client of his or of the clinic where he worked and that therefore he had not breached the code (CST, 2008b, para. 22).
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It is not at all always clear just who is classed as a service user. DSH’s employers accepted that J was not his client, as did the GSCC. The difference was that the GSCC considered J’s attendance at a local MIND facility and the fact that she received input from her local NHS Mental Health Service as meaning she was out of bounds for any social work professional. It is interesting that a MIND service is involved. MIND routinely informs us, inaccurately in my view, that one in four people will develop mental health problems. If, however, we assume for the moment that they are correct and that this figure will also apply to professionals, then there is going to be considerable overlap between users and deliverers of services. Also, if someone has not used services for some time, are they still a service user? If this is the GSCC’s viewpoint, it is dangerously close to the ‘Once a schizo always a schizo’ argument of yesteryear. Add to this the expansion of the concept of vulnerability and it is not beyond the realms of possibility that, in future, more and more of our personal relationships may require the sanction of the GSCC. Relationships between professionals and service users can and do develop. This reality is acknowledged by the British Association of Social Workers (BASW), whose Code of Ethics is clear that certain relationships are out of bounds, instructing the social worker:
Not to engage in any form of intimate or sexual conduct with current service users, students, supervisees, research participants, or with others directly involved in a professional relationship which involves an unequal distribution of power or authority in the social worker’s favour (point 3.4.2.7, my emphasis).

However, BASW also acknowledges that there is a difference between direct and current provision and indirect or past involvement. It is not unaware that this can still be a complex area, advising the social worker:
Not to enter into an intimate or sexual relationship with a former service user without careful consideration of any potential for exploitation, taking advice as appropriate’ (point 3.4.2.8) (www.basw.co.uk/Default. aspx?tabid=64).

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The GSCC’s seeming favour for a form of apartheid between professionals and service users may be seen as necessary to protect the latter, but can also be seen as demeaning those it is intended to protect, by viewing them as forever lacking the ability to make appropriate decisions in their lives. Unsurprisingly, given the number of referrals regarding this issue and the complexities it gives rise to, the GSCC sees it as a matter for further discussion.

Denial
A recurring theme that the GSCC, its Conduct Committee and the CST take a dim view of is cases in which the social worker either denies responsibility for an alleged misdemeanour or, if admitted, they do not show sufficient remorse and insight to the satisfaction of the panel members. In the case of YD, the escort, the Tribunal was concerned that ‘she did not see what she was doing was inappropriate and seemed to see no difference between right and wrong in it’ (CST, 2006d, para. 32). Likewise, the decision to refuse Mr de Almeida registration was partly influenced by his failure to show ‘significant acknowledgement of the seriousness of the offences or adequate remorse’ (CST, 2007e, para. 16). Mr Skervin was deemed to have ‘demonstrated a lack of insight’ (CST, 2008a, point 46) and did not take up a lot of opportunities to ‘redeem himself’ (CST, 2008a, point 48). On the other hand, the Tribunal in DSH noted favourably that the appellant ‘showed remorse for his actions’ (CST, 2008b, point 55). It would appear that the best course of action for the social worker brought before such committees is that of confession and remorse. Salvation, it would appear, even in today’s secular society, only follows after full submission to a higher authority.

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Conclusion
The introduction of the Social Care Register and the powers of the GSCC to have someone removed from it raise many issues. The centralization of power in the hands of a government-appointed bureaucracy for what is a very large and diverse workforce is one concern. As seen in the case of DSH, whilst the employer was happy for him to remain at work, the GSCC was not. It is possible to argue that the employer has more awareness of the needs of their service users and the strengths of the employee than does the GSCC. In this case, the CST was also happy to have him included on the Register, reversing the decision of the original Conduct Committee. There is a clear imbalance of power in access to legal expertise when the social worker challenges the GSCC. This needs to be highlighted, as it is certainly possible that many workers would have fared better during the conduct process if they had enjoyed the same access to counsel that the

Social Worker versus the General Social Care Council 325

GSCC enjoys. It may be worth considering whether employers, unions or the GSCC itself take steps to fund appropriate legal costs for social work staff caught up in the regulatory process. The British Association of Social Workers (BASW) provides an advice and representation service to its members and has certainly got social work knowledge and experience, so perhaps it needs to promote itself more actively in this regard. It is not clear why relatively few social workers are members of BASW, though this may not necessarily be a reflection on BASW; after all, even fewer wished to register with the GSCC until they effectively had no choice if they wished to keep their jobs. What is clear is that there is a definite lack of clarity in the way many of the requirements of the GSCC can be interpreted and any move to redress this would be welcomed. The danger is that the more things are codified, the more formal our relationships and working practices become. In the name of upholding the social work profession’s integrity, the social worker’s professional autonomy and private life are in danger of being further compromised. This risks the informal area of life being evermore regulated by government agencies, and it would be naive to think that this will not also contain a moral and social conformist element to it. There is certainly a similarity to religion in the way that the GSCC has taken to censuring our sex, drink and drug habits, its hostility to denial and favouring of confession and repentance. In some respects, it could be argued that the GSCC is replacing the priest or imam as the contemporary arbiter of morally ‘correct’ behaviour. It is unfortunate that in order to undertake a critical review, only cases appealed to the CST were available for analysis in any detail. The GSCC makes much of the transparency of its procedures but if it is serious about this, it should endeavour to have all its decisions, and the reasoning behind them, made available for public scrutiny. After all, an organization that has no qualms about scrutinizing the health, behaviour and thoughts of a significant section of the population can hardly hide behind the banner of privacy. There is, to date, no evidence that the activities of the GSCC have improved the quality of service that social workers provide, or that the expansion of criminal record/health checks and the introduction of the Social Care Register have improved public safety. There is, however, evidence that the GSCC’s procedures are not as benign as we are led to believe. Perhaps it is time for the social work profession to hold the GSCC to sustained scrutiny.
Accepted: September 2008
1. Similar bodies cover the rest of the UK: the Scottish Social Services Council, the Care Council for Wales and the Northern Ireland Social Care Council, respectively. 2. It is important to note that the registrant has no right to appear and make representations at the PPC1, which effectively determines whether there should be a case to

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326 Kenneth McLaughlin answer. When he or she does have the right to appear at the PPC2, where the imposition of an Interim Suspension Order is being considered, the seriousness of the case has escalated. If these separate processes were the responsibility of the same committee, the registrant would have the opportunity to argue the case should not be escalated to the second stage.

References
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