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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: 6 March 2020


About this guidance

Purpose of this guidance

This will provide guidance to social workers that have been substantively suspended as part of Social Work England’s fitness to practise process. 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, but they should certainly help decision makers to understand your level of insight into the impairment found or 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 guidance contains links to other relevant guidance. We will update the guidance when there are changes to our processes or legislation, so please always refer to the latest version online.

The fitness to practise process: an overview

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.

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 any situation, whether from professional duties or from personal conductor physical or mental health. 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.

Our decision makers (case examiners and adjudicators) have a range of different sanctions available to them, but a suspension will be issued if they feel the public are not adequately protected or if the social worker is not safe if they return to practice. Suspension will also be issued if it’s felt that the conduct in question was so serious that the public would expect the social worker to be suspended from practice. This is referred to as being on the grounds of public interest.

A suspension can be imposed for a maximum of 3 years at a time. This is because we need to be satisfied there is no risk to the public for the social worker to return to practice before the suspension is revoked.

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

It’s very important that you understand the effect a suspension has on your registration status because there are significant legal implications if you do not observe your suspended status.

Suspended registration means you are no longer permitted to practise social work in England during the period of your suspension. Your entry in our register will be clearly marked and this information will be visible to the public and employers anywhere in the world.

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

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.

The best advice we can give you is to make sure 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 monitor their compliance with these orders and to provide support and guidance to those going through the process of remediation.

You will be assigned a case review officer who will write to you and will 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.

Read more about dedicated support services. 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 and help you to get back to practice more quickly.

Recommendations

Our decision makers may make recommendations as part of their decision to suspend your registration. Recommendations are suggestions of activities they believe will help the reviewing decision makers see evidence of insight and remediation.

You do not have to comply with them, but we would encourage you to do so wherever possible. Carrying out these activities may help demonstrate to the reviewing decision maker that you want to regain your registration, you have insight into any impairment found, and that there is less risk of the same concerns arising again in the future.

As discussed above, impaired fitness to practise is always assessed on the day the decision is made, not when the events took place. Therefore, if you undertake remediation activities, your level of impairment is more likely to change.

Your case review officer will highlight any recommendations made 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.

What can you do whilst you are suspended?

There are number of activities that may be recommended while you’re suspended. Even if our decision makers have not recommended one or all 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

One of the most important factors in assessing impairment is insight. Insight means having an understanding of what happened, why it happened, the risks to service users (either potential harm or actual harm), and how it could and should have been avoided.

The best way to demonstrate insight is with reflective writing. 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 and assess where your conduct fell short of what was expected of you as a social worker.

  • Why did it fall short?
  • What was the risk 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?

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.

Continuous professional development (CPD)

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, such as reading, attending seminars or lectures, or online or face-to-face courses.

You should then reflect on your CPD and consider how it will affect your practice in the future and 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.

You can then submit this evidence for your review as well as your reflective CPD log. 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

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.

Creating a personal development plan while you’re suspended will help you to understand how those areas of practice can be improved. It’ll also give you some structure and timescales to work on making improvements to your practice.

Obviously, this may be difficult for some activities as you will not be in the workplace and therefore may not be able to carry out some remedial activities. For example, issues with record keeping could be remediated by reflective writing, retraining on record keeping standards, reading on the subject, and finally, demonstrating improvement by auditing new records you have completed since your reflection, retraining or learning.

In this example, you would not be able to implement your learning as you will 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. View a template personal development plan that you may find useful.

Testimonials or references

Testimonials or references are written by other people who know you. They may be written by your employer, previous employer, or 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 talking about the issue at hand.

For example, if there were 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 still be helpful.

Testimonials must be signed and dated by the author and ideally on headed paper where appropriate.

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 issues at hand in your case, 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 (health 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.

You could ask your GP if they are able to help you with these tests. Alternatively, there are private companies that can carry out testing for you for a fee. 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.

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

If you’ve been suspended because of drug or alcohol concerns, it may help to provide evidence of attendance at support groups. This could be Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, or other drug and alcohol groups or individual therapy.

If you have any other 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.

Engaging with medical advice and treatment (health 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 attended regular appointments with your GP (or other treating doctors) and 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 through any of the activities mentioned above 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 and ultimately, should help you return to practice.

Review hearings or meetings

In every case where a social worker’s registration has been suspended, there will be a review hearing or meeting. The review hearing takes place several weeks before the suspension order is due to expire.

The hearing is held in public and our adjudicators will decide whether there are still concerns about the social worker’s fitness to practise and to what level. The social worker can attend the hearing and give evidence about what they have been doing since their registration was suspended.

We would always recommend the social worker attends and uses the opportunity to show the decision makers what progress they have made.

A review meeting takes place in private and the social worker, their representative and our legal representative will not attend.

As a result of the review, the decision maker may choose to:

  • continue with the suspension and extend the life span
  • replace the suspension with an order for conditions of practice
  • replace the suspension with any other final order (warning or removal)
  • return the social worker to full unrestricted practice by revoking the suspension

The decision maker will review all the information you’ve provided as part of their assessment as well as anything you have to say either verbally or in writing. If the decision maker decides to change the order to conditions of practice, the case review officer will write to you after the review to set you deadlines and request certain pieces of information from you.

Unlike the activities above that you could carry out while suspended, you must comply with the deadlines and activities set by the decision maker as part of conditional registration. If you do not comply with conditions of practice, you could be suspended again.

If, at the review, the suspension is revoked, you will be free to practise again and can return to social work employment as well as being able to refer to yourself as a social worker. If you’re not up to date with your CPD or annual registration payment, you may be asked at this point to make a payment and complete or update your CPD declarations. This is another reason why it is advisable to keep up to date with your CPD while you are suspended from practice.

Early reviews

If you breach your suspension by working while you’re suspended, we may call an early review. At an early review, a decision will be made as to whether the suspension should be continued or whether (in some specific scenarios) you should be removed from the register.

An early review may also be appropriate if you’ve remediated the concerns ahead of time. The decision makers may decide to change your order to conditions of practice or to revoke the order entirely.

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 if there are concerns that indicate they may be a risk to members of the public or to themselves.

Interim order adjudicators 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 concerns.

They can either impose conditions of practice or a suspension for a maximum of 18 months or decide no order is necessary. An interim order will be reviewed after the first 6 months and then every 3 months until the end of the order. 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.

We would recommend that you seek independent legal advice before completing any remediation for an interim suspension if you have not got representation already.

Getting representation

While fitness to practise proceedings can be carried out without representation, 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. 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. You may also have family legal protection as part of your home or car insurance and 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.

If you do not have access to support under either of those avenues, you can still pay privately for legal advice or representation, but we appreciate that can be very expensive.

You may also be able to get support for free in some limited situations or get support from voluntary organisations. Visit the support section for more information on getting representation.

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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