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Suspended social workers

Guidance for social workers who have been substantively suspended as part of our fitness to practise process.

Guidance for suspended social workers

Last updated: 16 December 2022


About this guidance

Purpose of this guidance

This guidance is for social workers that have been suspended following (either of the following):

  • an accepted disposal from the case examiners
  • by the adjudicators at a fitness to practise final hearing

If you’re suspended on an interim basis, please read the relevant section below.

The guidance outlines activities that you may benefit from carrying out. We cannot guarantee carrying out these activities will result in the revocation of your suspension order, but they should certainly help decision makers to understand (both of the following):

  • your level of insight into the impairment found
  • your efforts towards remediation at your next review

The activities referred to are not exhaustive so there may be other activities either recommended by decision makers or more relevant to your situation.

The fitness to practise process: an overview

What is fitness to practise?

There is no agreed legal definition of ‘fitness to practise’, but it is generally understood to mean you have the skills, knowledge, character and health to practise your profession safely, effectively and without restriction.

The purpose of a fitness to practise investigation

When we investigate fitness to practise, we are not trying to establish whether or not your fitness to practise was impaired at the time of the event that led to the concern being raised. Instead, we are trying to establish whether or not your fitness to practise is impaired today and going forward.

This process is about protecting you, the public and the wider public interest now and in the future. It’s not about blame or punishment for past mistakes, but we appreciate it may feel that way. A concern about fitness to practise can arise from (but is not limited to any of the following):

The question we will ask is whether you’re managing your practice and have enough insight to stop the same concerns arising again in the future. As well as physical and mental health conditions, health also covers concerns about alcohol and substance misuse.

Suspension orders following a fitness to practise investigation

Our decision makers (case examiners and adjudicators) have a range of different sanctions available to them at the conclusion of a fitness to practise investigation.

The decision makers will only choose to issue a suspension order if they feel that (any of the following apply):

  • the public are not adequately protected
  • the social worker is not safe if they return to practice
  • the conduct in question was so serious that the public would expect the social worker to be suspended from practice (which is referred to as being on the grounds of public interest)

A final order of suspension can be imposed for a maximum of 3 years at a time but is often less than this.

We understand that being suspended can be an incredibly upsetting and stressful event and it may feel like a hopeless situation. But there are activities you can do while you’re suspended that may improve your situation.

Essential information

What your suspension means

There are significant legal implications if you do not observe your suspended status. This means that it’s very important that you understand the effect a suspension has on your registration.

Your work

Suspended registration means you are no longer permitted to practise social work in England during the period of your suspension.

The register

Your entry in the public extract of the register will be clearly marked with your suspension order and this information will be visible to the public and employers anywhere in the world.

Your title

The title ‘social worker’ is a protected title which means only people permitted to practise social work can use that title. To use the title when you are not permitted to practise is illegal. You are also not allowed to refer to yourself as a social worker for the duration of your suspension.

If you breach your suspension

If we receive information or evidence that you have practised social work or referred to yourself as a social worker during your period of suspension, we are able to take you to court. These offences are subject to a conviction and an uncapped fine.

If you work as a social worker while you’re suspended, we will also inform the decision maker when your suspension is reviewed. This means the decision maker is unlikely to consider removing the suspension and may in some circumstances consider removing your name from the register entirely.

It is really important that you do not practise or refer to yourself as a social worker while the suspension order is in place. Doing so will only make your situation worse.

Support while suspended

We know that having your registration suspended is an incredibly difficult process and we want to support you as much as we can.

Shortly after receiving your suspension, you’ll be contacted by the case review team. This team works with social workers who have suspended or conditional registration to (both of the following):

  • monitor their compliance with these orders
  • provide support and guidance to those going through the process of remediation

Your case review officer

You will be assigned a case review officer who will write to you and be on hand if you need them. Please tell your case review officer if you’re in need of extra support. They will be able to offer further support themselves or signpost you to organisations that might be able to help with a range of issues.

It’s important that you feel supported so that you feel able to talk to us and carry out the activities detailed below. This will hopefully help you at future reviews of your suspension order and help you to get back to practice more quickly.

Recommendations

Our decision makers (case examiners and adjudicators) may make recommendations as part of their decision to suspend your registration.

What are recommendations?

Recommendations are suggestions of activities they believe will help the reviewing decision makers see evidence of insight and remediation.

Your case review officer will highlight any recommendations made by the decision maker when they write to you. They will also remind you of your recommendations over the course of the suspension and ask if you have any evidence or documentation related to the activities to submit for the review.

You do not have to comply with your recommendations but we would encourage you to do so wherever possible.

Why carry out recommendations?

Carrying out these activities may help demonstrate to the reviewing decision maker that (all of the following):

  • you want to regain your registration
  • you have insight into any impairment found
  • there is less risk of the same concerns arising again in the future

As discussed above, impaired fitness to practise will be reassessed on the day the review hearing is held instead of focusing on when the concerns arose. Therefore, if you undertake remediation activities your level of impairment is more likely to change.

What can you do while you're suspended?

There are number of activities that may be recommended while you’re suspended. Even if our decision makers have not recommended any of the activities below, it may still be helpful to do some or all of them (depending on the issues relevant to your case).

Reflective writing to show insight

One of the most important factors in assessing impairment is insight. Insight means having an understanding of (all of the following):

  • what happened
  • why it happened
  • the risks to service users (either potential harm or actual harm)
  • the impact on the service user, colleagues
  • the impact on the reputation of social work
  • how it could and should have been avoided

The best way to demonstrate insight is with reflective writing.

In cases where you deny allegations found to be true

If a decision maker has found that you were responsible for incidents that you denied (or continue to deny), this does not prevent you from being able to show insight. While you may not be able to demonstrate insight into the particular events that occurred, you may be able to still show insight by showing an understanding of (both of the following):

  • the need to minimise the risk of similar events occurring in the future
  • the steps that might be taken to achieve this
How to write a reflective writing piece

A good starting point is to thoroughly read the decision given to you by the decision maker so you can understand what their concerns and considerations were. Then, review the professional standards.

When you’re writing, some useful questions you may wish to focus on are (all or any or the following):

  • where did your conduct fall short of what was expected of you as a social worker?
  • why did it fall short?
  • what were the risks to service users?
  • what should you have done?
  • what will you do differently in the future?
  • how do you feel about your conduct on reflection?
  • what was the impact or potential impact on the service user, any colleagues or the reputation of social work as a whole?

You may be able to ask for help from colleagues or other social workers if you’re struggling with this. Sometimes a different perspective can be really helpful.

Continuing professional development (CPD)

What is CPD?

CPD is an essential reflection and learning activity.

You do CPD throughout your social work career to maintain and improve your practice. CPD is standard 4 of Social Work England's 6 professional standards which set out what you must know, understand and be able to do.

Why undertake CPD?

Evidencing CPD is an essential part of demonstrating your fitness to practice.

If there was a particular practice issue relevant to your case, or maybe several, you could focus on undertaking relevant CPD to try to update your knowledge and skill in that particular area.

For example, if the issue in question was that you were offensive to a service user, you might want to consider CPD around communication. CPD can be a whole range of different activities including (but not limited to the following):

  • reading
  • attending seminars or lectures
  • online or face-to-face courses

You should then reflect on your CPD and consider:

  • how it will affect your practice in the future
  • what you will now do differently

We recommend you keep a log of your CPD activity including evidence of attendance at seminars, lectures or courses and notes of your reflections. You can then submit this evidence for your review.

You may need to inform some course providers that you are currently suspended. If you’re not sure, it is better to disclose your suspension to be on the safe side.

Read more about CPD.

Personal development plan

What is a personal development plan?

Personal development plans are generally used if there have been specific areas of impairment that have led to concerns about a social worker’s practice, for example record keeping or poor communication. A personal development plan will set out (all of the following):

  • what activities need to be undertaken
  • how activities should be undertaken
  • when activities need to be undertaken by
  • what difference the activities have made to your practice
Why create a personal development plan?

Creating a personal development plan while you’re suspended will:

  • help you understand how those areas of practice can be improved
  • give you some structure and timescales to work on making improvements to your practice
Carrying out a personal development plan while suspended

There are some activities that may be difficult to carry out as you will not be working in a social work registered role due to your suspension.

You may need to think creatively about other ways in which you can evidence your learning.

For example, issues with record keeping could be remediated by (all of the following):

  • reflective writing
  • retraining on record keeping standards
  • reading on the subject
  • demonstrating improvement by auditing new records you have completed since your reflection, retraining or learning

In this example, you may not be able to implement your learning as you may not be working with social work records. But you can undertake the reflection, retraining or reading while you’re suspended and may be able to use audits of record keeping in a different employment setting to demonstrate some of your new skills.

This type of positive action may help to reassure decision makers at reviews that you have sufficiently remediated to be in a position where conditions of practice may be a safe and suitable option.

You may be able to ask for support from a social worker to help you with your personal development plan while you’re suspended.

You may find this template personal development plan useful.

Testimonials or references

Testimonials or references from people who know you can be helpful for demonstrating your current fitness to practise at a review hearing or meeting. They can be written by (any of the following):

  • your employer
  • previous employers
  • other social workers you have previously worked with

If you’ve taken up non-social work employment or voluntary work during your suspension, testimonials from your new employer or work colleagues may still be helpful providing they are relevant to the fitness to practise concerns. For example, if the fitness to practise concerns related to issues with professionalism, communication and record keeping, a testimonial from a new employer talking about how you have demonstrated good communication, professionalism and administration skills in your new or voluntary role could be helpful.

Testimonials must be signed and dated by the author and ideally on headed paper where appropriate. The author should explain what their relationship is to you. A testimonial or reference will hold more weight with a decision maker where it is clear the author was aware of the fitness to practise concerns.

Retraining or further training

You may want to use the period of your suspension to carry out some retraining on a specific area of social work or carry out advanced courses. Provided the course is relevant to the fitness to practise concerns, this may be helpful evidence of remediation.

Be aware that you’re likely to have to disclose your suspension to course providers or higher education institutions. They may decide (under their own processes) that they’re unable to offer you a place at that time.

You must always be honest about your suspension to those that ask about it. Even if people do not directly ask, it might still be relevant for you to tell them about it.

Toxicology tests or other test results (for health concerns only)

If you’ve been suspended on the basis of impaired physical or mental health, depending on the impairing condition, it may help the reviewing decision makers to see evidence of test results that show an improvement in your condition during your period of suspension.

Free testing

You may be able to get a free toxicology (or other health-related test) from (any of the following):

  • your GP
  • an NHS drug or alcohol misuse service
  • a charitable drug and alcohol misuse service
Private testing

Alternatively, there are private companies that can carry out testing for you for a fee but it can be quite expensive.

If you think this might be relevant for you, speak to your case review officer who will try and direct you to the right place. Social Work England would not pay for this testing unless the case examiners or adjudicators decided that (both of the following):

  • it is necessary under a conditions of practice order
  • we should cover the costs

Evidence of attendance at support groups or counselling (for health concerns only)

Drug and alcohol concerns

If you’ve been suspended because of drug or alcohol concerns, it may help to provide evidence of attendance at support groups. This could include (but is not limited to any of the following):

  • Alcoholics Anonymous
  • Narcotics Anonymous
  • other drug and alcohol groups
  • individual therapy
Mental health concerns

If you have any form of mental health issue, counselling or support group attendance may be helpful evidence of remediation if your GP or treating doctor feels that would be beneficial for you. You should seek and follow their advice before doing so.

How to evidence attendance

You could evidence your attendance and the activities you have undertaken at support groups or counselling by providing a statement or testimonial from the group leader, therapist or medical professional involved in your care.

There may be a cost associated with obtaining some of this evidence but support groups will usually confirm attendance for free.

Engaging with medical advice and treatment (for health concerns only)

If you’ve been suspended due to any type of physical or mental health concern, it may help to provide evidence that you’ve (both of the following):

  • attended regular appointments with your GP (or other treating doctors)
  • followed any medical advice that has been given.

You can often ask for reports from your GP or a letter or report from a consultant you may already be under the care of.

There’s often a cost associated with medical reports, but a GP report is usually cheaper than a report from a specialist.

Reviewing your suspension

There are several ways for us to review your suspension. Any information you choose to provide will be used in these reviews to make informed decisions.

You do not have to do anything while you’re suspended, but if you’re proactive and do provide information:

  • it will help the decision maker make an informed decision
  • it should help you return to practice

Review hearings or meetings

In every case where registration has been suspended, there will be a review hearing or meeting.

When will a review take place?

The review takes place several weeks before the suspension order is due to expire.

Where will a review take place?

A hearing is usually held in public and takes place remotely using video conferencing technology.

A meeting takes place in private and you, your representative (if applicable) and our legal representative will not attend.

What happens at a review?

The objective

Our adjudicators will decide whether there are still concerns about your fitness to practise and to what level. At both a review hearing or a meeting, the decision makers will produce a written decision that will be published on our website.

Your attendance

Remember, a meeting takes place in private and you, your representative (if applicable) and our legal representative will not attend.

You can attend the remote hearing and give evidence about what you have been doing since your registration was suspended. We would always recommend that you attend and use the opportunity to show the decision makers what progress you have made.

Reviewing the evidence

Whether it’s a meeting or a hearing, the decision maker will review all the information you’ve provided as part of their assessment as well as anything you have to say in writing. If the review takes place as a hearing, they will also consider anything you have to say verbally.

The decision

As a result of the review, the decision maker may choose to (any of the following):

  • continue with the suspension and extend the length of the order
  • replace the suspension with a conditions of practice order
  • replace the suspension with any other final order (warning or removal)
  • return you to full unrestricted practice by revoking the suspension or allowing it to lapse

Deadlines and activities

If the decision maker decides to change the suspension order to a conditions of practice order, they will impose deadlines and activities that you must comply with as part of the conditions. If you do not comply with the conditions of practice order, you could be suspended again. The activities outlined in this guidance are optional. They set out what you could do while suspended if you wanted to demonstrate remediation. However, the deadlines and activities set by decision makers as part of a conditions of practice order are mandatory.

Your case review officer will write to you after the review to set out what those deadlines are and what information you will need to provide and by when, in accordance with the order.

After the review

If your suspension is revoked, you can return to social work employment and can refer to yourself as a social worker (as long as you have kept up with your registration renewal requirements). This is another reason why it is advisable to keep up to date with your CPD while you are suspended from practice.

Early reviews

We may need to review a suspension order early because of a change in circumstances that would mean the original order is no longer (any of the following):

  • proportionate
  • workable
  • sufficient to protect the public

We may also call an early review if you breach your suspension by working while you’re suspended.

An early review may also be appropriate if you’ve remediated the concerns ahead of time, if there is a change in circumstances or if there is new evidence that would mean that a review of the order may be necessary. The decision makers may decide to change your order to conditions of practice or to revoke the order entirely.

At an early review, a decision will be made as to whether the suspension should be (any of the following):

  • continued
  • revoked
  • changed to another final order (warning order, conditions of practice or a removal order)

Interim suspension orders

A social worker may be referred to an interim order hearing or meeting at any stage of the fitness to practise process prior to a final hearing. This will happen if there are concerns that indicate they may be a risk to members of the public or to themselves.

Adjudicators hearing the interim order application or review do not decide whether the concerns against the social worker are true. Instead, they consider whether to restrict the social worker’s practice on an interim basis by considering the level of risk posed by the alleged concerns.

Adjudicators will decide (any of the following):

  • to impose an interim conditions of practice order
  • to impose an interim suspension order
  • no order is necessary

An interim order can be imposed for a maximum of 18 months and will be reviewed every 6 months until the order ends or is revoked. We can also apply to the High Court for an extension to the length of this order if absolutely necessary.

You may still benefit from carrying out some of the activities mentioned above if you’re suspended on an interim basis, but you should be aware that at this stage, no decision will have been made about the concerns against you.

Getting representation

While fitness to practise proceedings can be carried out without representation and our processes are designed to be accessible, we would always advise you to get independent advice or representation wherever possible. This is because managing your case on your own can be complicated and can be an emotional burden.

Fitness to practise is a legal process and being supported and represented by an experienced person can put you in the best possible position.

Unions and membership bodies

If you’re a member of a trade union or membership body such as the British Association of Social Workers (BASW), Unison, Unite, or any other trade union, you may already be entitled to representation as part of your membership fee. You should contact them as soon as you’re notified of fitness to practise proceedings.

Legal protection

You may also have family legal protection as part of your home, mobile phone or car insurance. This may entitle you to support with fitness to practise proceedings, but you would need to check with your provider as every policy will be different.

Free representation and advice

If you do not have access to support under either of those avenues, you may be able to source free representation or advice via a law centre or from a charity, such as Advocate. You can still pay privately for legal advice or representation, but we appreciate that can be very expensive.

If you’re unsure about anything in this guidance or want to speak to someone about your suspension, please contact your case review officer as soon as possible.

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