Incompetent social workers risk being struck off under code of conduct

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The Independent Online

Social workers will join doctors and lawyers in being struck off for bad conduct under long-awaited reforms unveiled yesterday.

Social workers will join doctors and lawyers in being struck off for bad conduct under long-awaited reforms unveiled yesterday.

Incompetent or negligent staff will be forced out of the profession by a new governing body, which is setting up the first register of 1.2 million social workers in England. The General Social Care Council is also introducing a draft code of conduct to improve standards in the profession, which has suffered from a poor image and repeated scandals. In future, all 80,000 social workers and other care workers will have to sign up to the code before being allowed on to the register.

Those deemed incompetent or negligent will then risk being struck off the register, which should prevent them being re-employed as social workers. A second code for employers will oblige managers to make checks before recruiting social workers, including checks of police records.

Lynne Berry, the council's chief executive, said the regulatory framework was long overdue and would help to reduce the likelihood of a repeat of the failings that led to Victoria Climbie's death. Many people would be shocked that nationally agreed standards did not already exist, she said.

"It is very important that we do something that addresses the concerns of the public and raises the esteem and morale of the workforce. Many people have been hoping for a long time for these codes to be developed," she said.

The code says social workers must safeguard the interests of their clients, respect their independence, strive to maintain trust, balance the rights of service users and carers with the interests of society, take responsibility for their practice and learning, and justify public trust.

It is likely to come into force next summer, after which it will form a basis for disciplinary hearings in the workplace. But the council will not be ready to run full-blown inquiries into malpractice, similar to the disciplinary hearings for doctors and nurses, until the register is completed in 2003.

Baroness Pitkeathley, the council's interim chairman, said the body would provide a "champion" for social workers and "reinforce the public's trust by keeping unsuitable people out of the workforce".

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