VICTIMS OF THE ABUSERS : Action on four fronts is key to new standards Disciplinary body and code of ethics urged for care workers

y How disciplinary body and code of ethics can restore confidence
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The Independent Online
Action on four fronts is needed to prevent the abuse of children, according to childcare experts and social services directors.

They say that a General Social Services Council is needed to act as a professional and disciplinary body for social and care workers. Improved inspection and registration of children's homes is needed. A central index should be created of individuals convicted of offences against children. And improved training should be introduced for care workers, a requirement which could go hand in hand with the creation of a social services council.

Robin SeQueria, immediate past president of the Association of Directors of Social Services, said: "The issue of who should and should not be working in these sensitive occupations can only ever properly be solved by the establishment of a General Social Services Council. Nothing short of that is going to be effective. It needs to be statutory, with clear regulation and uniform national standards. If it can be done for lawyers and doctors, it can be done for social services."

The Government has been considering introducing a code of ethics and standards and has papers from the National Institute of Social Work proposing a general council, along with an assessment of how one might be created, by the management consultants Price Waterhouse.

Mr SeQueria, however, said that there had been only "a deafening silence" from ministers on the issue. Voluntary action would not in the end work, he said, because "the issue is as much about who you register into the system as about who you register out".

Inspection is clearly still not working properly, according to Allan Levy QC, who wrote the Staffordshire pin-down inquiry report in 1991, with the Government favouring deregulation.

And while the Department of Health maintains an index of those considered unsuitable to work with children, social services directors say it has many failings. Local authorities act inconsistently in placing names on it; some do not do so for fear of legal action where child abuse cannot be proved and the department does not circulate the names.

Improved training and possibly improved pay is also needed. Even qualified residential care workers typically receive only between pounds 15,000 and pounds 16,000 a year, according to Brian Waller, Leicestershire's director of social services, but he says "we're still putting unqualified people to work in children's homes with some of the most difficult people in the community".

Alan Milburn, Labour's health spokesman, said his party is now "in favour, in principle", of creating a General Social Services Council under which social and care workers would not be able to work unless they were registered. The council would have power to take disciplinary action, including striking care workers off.

However, Labour is saying that its creation must cost no public money - which is a difficulty when many unqualified care workers earn too little to pay a substantial subscription for the right to work - and the party is undecided about precisely which workers a council should cover.

Mr Milburn said his own view was that such a council should include care workers, not just qualified social workers. On some calculations, however, it might need to cover a million people in the United Kingdom, if the growing army of paid carers working in the homes of the elderly and disabled were included, as well as people working in residential settings.