We have been looking at transparency issues in connection with the regulation of social workers, in light of a case where a family court made very serious findings against 3 social workers. On the face of it, these findings would amount to serious professional misconduct. The social workers have not however been subject to any hearing or sanction by their professional regulator the HCPC. Our interest in this relates directly to the HCPC’s decision not to publish information about how they concluded that there was no credible evidence of impaired fitness to practice in respect of the social workers named in the judgement. We have been in communication with both the HCPC and the Professional Standards Authority, who oversee the HCPC, and have published this communication as we’ve gone along.
This is the latest instalment. We are left with serious concerns about how transparent the system of social work regulation is, and how meaningful or informed public debate about regulation and social work practice can be in light of the approach taken by the PSA and HCPC.
We today also publish a letter from a concerned reader of this blog who, having seen our blog posts has taken the decision to take the matter up with his MP. He wishes to remain anonymous. You can read that letter here. That author of that letter had not seen this latest response from the PSA, but the issues of “regulatory capture” that he raises seem highly pertinent.
Earlier blogs can be found here :
We wrote to the PSA on 23 February to provide them with the link to our blog containing the response from the HCPC, and to invite them to make further comment on how the issues raised can be more transparently dealt with in this instance or generally in future. In the meantime we’ve storified some of the ongoing twitter debate about this topic :
The PSA have today responded to our email as follows :
Dear Ms Reed,
Thank you for your email of 23 February.
We note your suggestion that the Authority should provide guidance for regulators in these circumstances. Our view is that it would be inappropriate for us to do so. We recognise there can be significant problems for regulators in providing reasons why they do not pursue particular cases in the initial stages of their fitness to practise processes. Such decisions are often made for a number of reasons which may involve personal or confidential information from third parties or concerns about the strength of the evidence which it would be wrong to make public. It also appears to us that it is wrong for registrants, where a regulator has found that there is insufficient evidence to pursue the matter, to have their conduct subject to further public debate and scrutiny.
As part of our review of the performance of each of the health and care regulators we do consider how the initial stages of the fitness to practise process operates, and will report on our findings. We are currently reviewing the HCPC’s performance, and will publish our report later this year. Our most recent report can be viewed here, http://www.professionalstandards.org.uk/publications/detail/performance-review—hcpc-2015-16
Concerns and Appointments Officer
We are disappointed with this response. From the storify above, and from comments on articles published in the social work press (see Community Care here) it is clear that these 3 social workers ARE the subject of further public debate and scrutiny. However, this public debate is distinctly lopsided and not very well informed because we do not have any way of grasping why the regulator took such a starkly different view from the Family Court Judge. We are not sure what protection this affords to the social workers in question in practice – if there is evidence that can explain the decision that they are fit to practice it would probably be useful to them if that were somehow fed into the public debate that will quite properly be ongoing in any event. We recognise that there may be issues of confidentiality that may apply in individual cases, but think that in most instances it should be possible to produce a summary or some information that enables better understanding without encroaching too much upon privacy – just as Family Court Judges are now more frequently doing when they publish judgments about very private matters with appropriate redaction and with certain details excluded. We recognise also that conduct proceedings are highly stressful for the individuals concerned (see coverage of study on this point today), but again, this is not a bar to publication of some information in other contexts, nor does it answer the public interest in understanding and promoting confidence in the regulatory process.
We had hoped that raising this issue would lead to some better information reaching the public domain in this case, but find ourselves rather discouraged as to the level of public scrutiny and debate that is currently possible around the twin issues of the conduct of individual social workers and the effectiveness of the regulatory body.