Thursday, 23 October 2014

Poor practice. Don’t blame and shame; support and retrain.

Community Care reports that the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) has suspended a children’s social worker for failing to keep clear and accurate records.

I agree with Unison’s representative, who is quoted in the article as expressing reservations about employers referring this type of case to a public disciplinary panel.

Indeed I would go further and say that the HCPC should confine its deliberations to intentional wrongdoing, not under-performance. I think employers need to look at retraining and supporting people who have difficulties meeting expectations, not setting out to show them a hard time.

Some people might accuse me of being soft; of too easily tolerating poor practice. But my argument stems not from undue sympathy for the social worker, but from concern that this is precisely the wrong way to deal with poor practice.

You only need to ask yourself what the effect of the tribunal’s judgement will be on the small minority of social workers who are out there struggling at the margins of competence. Are they going to rush off to their managers and confess that there are files lurking in the back of filing cabinets that have some serious omissions? You can bet your bottom dollar they won’t because they will have read what happens to people who get found out – sacked, suspended, possibly ruined. They will keep quiet and hope they are not discovered.

I would like everybody who has some doubts about their own competence to readily ask their managers for help. Particularly with an issue like recording, the sooner the problem gets tackled the easier it is to deal with. It is far better to take action early, before the backlog becomes irremediable.

This case sends out all the wrong messages. Putting fear into the workplace doesn’t result in good practice. It is much more likely to result in people hiding bad practice, which is the worst of all possible worlds.