Why Regulation of Social Workers Matters

Every profession has people who do not perform as they should and for the public to have confidence there must be a mechanism for the appropriate handling of these situations, writes Ginny Hanrahan, CEO Health and Social Care Professionals Council and Registrar for the Social Workers Registration Board at CORU.

Over many years Irish people have become accustomed to hearing about “systems failures” which have let down the most vulnerable people in our society, from the ill-treatment of older people in nursing homes, to very sick people sitting on hospital trolleys in corridors for days on end, to the failure of social services to respond to families in distress and place children in care in situations where it proved absolutely necessary.

Ginny Hanrahan
Ginny Hanrahan

A number of health and social care professions including the Social Work profession have been subject to critical media attention. For example, the media coverage of the recent publication of the report of the Independent Child Death Review Group highlighted unacceptable practices by some of the social workers involved.

Advertisement

And yet, the vast majority of social workers are doing a good job supporting the most vulnerable and distressed people in our society. Their role is crucial and their commitment and dedication to their profession is admirable, working as they do in a climate of constraints/limited resources and organisational change similar to all working in health and social care. Indeed, although it reported a litany of failures, the Independent Child Death Review Group also highlighted many examples of good practice by social workers.

The Government has committed to a reform of the State’s support for families. During the summer, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs gave details of the new Child and Family Support Agency which, from January next, will assume responsibility for the protection of children.

As the Registrar for Social Workers, my view is that regulation of social workers is a central part of this reform.

Social Workers have unsupervised access to children and vulnerable people and they must have a thorough grounding in the relevant law, social justice and be able to develop and build co-operative relationships with people and their families, often in difficult circumstances where their involvement might not be welcome. As a society we place a great deal of trust in social workers and we must have confidence that they can intervene appropriately and judiciously in difficult situations.

Similar to the Medical Council and An Bord Altranais, we at CORU have put in place a framework to regulate the 12 professions who come under the Health and Social Care Professionals Act 2005 in order to protect the public.

Similar to the Medical Council and An Bord Altranais, we at CORU have put in place a framework to regulate the 12 professions who come under the Health and Social Care Professionals Act 2005 in order to protect the public. This is achieved through fostering high standards of professional conduct, professional education, training and competence among those registered.

This is a positive development for the profession. The publication of a Code of Professional Conduct and Ethics provides a helpful professional framework for Social Workers and will support them in ethical decision-making.

Inquiries into conduct and/or competence are, of course, the most publically visible face of regulation. Once that part of the Act is commenced by the Minister for Health, Social Workers registered with CORU may be subject to Fitness to Practise, as will the other regulated health and social care professions, as their registers open, ensuring that those who are not competent will be appropriately sanctioned.

Every profession has people who do not perform as they should and for the public to have confidence there must be a mechanism for the appropriate handling of these situations. We live in a society where trust and confidence in a profession is entirely dependent on accountability through regulation. While many of us will never have cause to interact with a social worker, those who do, the service users of the social workers, are entitled to know that the profession is regulated.

We know from feedback that the profession is anxious about the introduction of these disciplinary procedures. What’s important for them to know is that the process will be fair and transparent with a “triage” system to weed-out vexatious or groundless complaints.

Furthermore, international experience suggests that only a small percentage of social workers will have to answer a complaint made about them and an even smaller percentage will have an adverse finding made against them. This is similar for all of the professions to be regulated by CORU.

As with all other regulated professions, there is a cost which is borne by the regulated professionals. The fee is €295 a year for each registered professional. While we accept that this is not an unsubstantial amount for people to pay, it is the minimum fee which will allow CORU to fulfill our legislative responsibilities as a self-funded body, and is based on reports by financial specialists. The fee is tax deductible when required to work and is based on an each individual’s position. It will be equally  applicable to the other 11 professions who will be regulated by CORU.

We encourage Social Workers to apply for registration as soon as possible, as everyone must have applied for registration by the 31st May 2013. For existing practitioners applying to get onto the register now, the initial fee will cover registration until 31st May 2014

The Radiographers Registration Board is currently preparing to open its register in the near future. Minister Reilly announced in the Dáil on the 2 October that he will be appointing the Speech and Language Therapists’, Occupational Therapists’ and Dietitians’ Registration Boards shortly with the Physiotherapists’ Registration Board to be appointed by the end of the year. The other professions; social care workers, psychologists, podiatrists, medical scientists, clinical biochemists and orthoptists are progressing to regulation over the next couple of years

Through the fee, we must raise sufficient funds to administer the 12 Registers, approve 56 education and training programmes for the 12 professions and, where necessary, conduct fitness to practise inquiries. This work, which is for the long term benefit of the professions and the general public, has to be undertaken without direct cost to the Exchequer.

From 31 May 2013 any Social Worker who wishes to practise using the title “Social Worker” must have applied to be registered with CORU. That is the law. By applying now Social Workers can ensure that their application for registration can be processed and approved, allowing them to continue to work and making sure that there is no impact on the delivery of services.

For more information please visit www.coru.ie