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Campaign targets incompetent social workers

SCANDALS involving the sexual abuse and ill treatment of children and elderly people in care and the unjust treatment of families wrongly accused of child abuse, have led to a campaign for a national council to protect the public against dangerous, incompetent or over-zealous social workers.

The proposed General Social Services Council would revolutionise the way social services staff are trained, qualified and monitored in their work. There would be a compulsory register for all 800,000 social services workers and a code of practice laying down national standards for training and practice, guaranteeing public safety and well-being.

The council would investigate complaints from any person with a grievance, and misconduct would result in disciplinary action, including possibly being struck off the register and banned from working in social services.

Supporters of the council plan argue that it could have prevented some notorious cases of abuse in residential homes, such as that of Frank Beck, who was given five life sentences in November 1991 after he was convicted of four charges of buggering children under 16 and raping a girl at the children's homes he ran in Leicestershire. Complaints from children had been ignored for years and even after he was removed from his job he was allowed to take up a new post and continued to abuse children in his care.

The proposal, which would require legislation, was put yesterday to Virginia Bottomley, Secretary of State for Health, in a report by the National Institute of Social Workers (NISW) on behalf of an action group representing organisations interested in the future of social services.

The action group is asking for a government grant of about pounds 3m over five years to help to launch the council but if that is refused they would ask for a loan to be underwritten. Eventually the council would be self-financing through fees of pounds 15 to register and pounds 45 every three years. It would be an independent regulatory body, which could prosecute local authorities for employing non-registered staff, would be up and running by 1995 and phase-in registration of all staff over 10 years.

The plan is supported by social workers and carers in residential homes. Tim Yeo, Health minister responsible for social work, said: 'We see the advantages in codes of practice . . . however, we have reservations and believe wider analysis is necessary.'