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Whistle-blowing social workers disillusioned as concerns about abusive or dangerous practice are ignored

Two Community Care surveys find social workers now turning a blind eye because of the price paid for raising concerns

Social workers fear repercussions for speaking out Photo: Alisha Vargas/ flickr

Over half of social workers have witnessed dangerous systems in their workplace, yet less than 15% feel they would be supported if they raised concerns, according to Community Care’s whistle-blowing survey.

An online survey of 327 social workers found high numbers  had witnessed abusive (40%), unethical (58%), illegal (24%) or dangerous (65%) practice.

Almost all of the survey’s respondents said they had reported their concerns but the majority (57%) said their concerns were not investigated or taken seriously while 73% said no effective action had been taken.

In 60% of cases, the concerns they raised still continue today.

A high cost

One social worker responding to the survey said: “Unfortunately, in my experience it was made impossible for me to remain in post and I had to leave. I would never whistle-blow again due to the very high personal and professional cost.”

Another said: “I don’t believe organisations are interested in properly investigating whistle-blowing claims because they  would then have to acknowledge bad practice and do something about the allegations made.  I think they find it easier to gloss over things.”

One social worker believed that “whistle-blowing will always ultimately punish the person raising the concerns.”

Bullied and ignored

A large number of respondents said whistle-blowers in their authority were bullied, ignored, victimised or had their practice called into question.

Social workers were most likely to report concerns to a manager, a colleague or a union in that order. A small number had reported concerns to the police, or a regulatory body such as Ofsted or the CQC.

President of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS), Alan Wood said: “It is worth bearing in mind that there are more than 87, 000 registered social workers in this country when looking at the results of this survey.

“If respondents are reporting that genuine concerns are not being acted upon then this is very worrying, however all local authorities do have established whistleblowing procedures which allow members of staff to safely raise concerns in the public interest without fear of discrimination.”

Malcolm King, a Wrexham councillor who was fired from his position as lead member for raising concerns about social work caseloads, among other issues, said he had never come across a whistle-blower who had not suffered as a consequence of their actions.

“I’ve taken heart in recent years from the institution of whistle-blowing policies, but in most cases they are empty words,” he said.

Disciplined for raising concerns

Despite a relatively small sample size, the results of the survey are backed up the results of Community Care’s stress survey, in which a number of the 2,000 respondents said they had had disciplinary action taken against them for raising concerns. Some said they had stopped raising safeguarding concerns for fear that they would be threatened with capability measures .

Association of the Directors of Adults’ Services (Adass) president David Pearson said: “Reports of poor or potentially abusive practice are always a matter of great concern.

“It is particularly important that whistle-blowing arrangements are sufficiently robust to ensure that workers who witness poor practice can feel assured that their complaint will be treated sensitively, carefully and, where appropriate, with guaranteed confidentiality.”