Social workers should be able to complain without being sacked, and be allowed make practice mistakes in a supportive learning environment, says Liz Davies
I recently visited Maria Ward and Gillie Christou the social worker and team manager, respectively, for Baby Peter. It was how I imagine it might be visiting someone under house arrest. Shutters drawn, secret venues, sneaking out at night when no one would recognise them, and jumping at every sound. I've also spoken to Lisa Arthurworrey this week, social worker for Victoria Climbie.
Nearly 10 years on from Victoria's death and having presented evidence at the criminal trial of the murderers, the serious case review, the Haringey disciplinary hearings, employment tribunals and appeal, the appeal against the General Social Care Council (GSCC) for refusing her social worker registration, and the appeal to the Care Standards Tribunal against her name being placed on the Protection of Children Act list, Lisa is also mainly confined to her house. She is also 10 years older and still awaits GSCC registration three years after a judge said she was fit for practice "as of today".
This is a very depressing picture to paint for my social work students who fear that when they make a mistake, which is inevitable in a profession that works with the complexity of human beings, they may also be subject to such relentless punishment.
Maria and Gillie have just begun these legal processes with three sets of investigations ongoing. They have already given evidence at two serious case reviews, the criminal trial, and the GSCC and Haringey disciplinary hearings. Thanks to a recent House of Lords ruling, no social worker can be placed on the Protection of Children Act list without a hearing. It is also to be hoped that the legal decision in Lisa's case about the use of the list for professional mistakes as "an unusual occurrence, to be used only in the most clear cut of cases" will bode well for them in this respect.
Nevres Kemal, social worker and whistleblower, was sacked by Haringey council but fought it at employment tribunal and won an out of court settlement. She remains out of work, despite still being registered. Who wants to employ a whistleblower? These are four ex-Haringey social workers who have no salaries and no professional employment, and three who fear public recrimination every moment of every day.
What can be done to end this misery? None of these social workers acted maliciously in any way. They all worked very hard, often late into the night, struggled with massive caseloads, lack of quality supervision and essential child protection training and practiced in the midst of service uncertainty and restructuring. All of them had previous spotless employment records; in fact Maria was made into a permanent worker after Baby Peter's death. Having supported Lisa through her various hearings I wonder where Maria and Gillie will have got to in nine years time. There has to be another way.