The public relies on us to make sure social workers, social work students and social care workers are fit to practise. We investigate cases to ensure registrants are suitable to be on our Register.
If someone raises a concern with us, about you, we will gather all the relevant information in relation to the circumstances of the concern.
We will investigate your case with an open mind and will only progress the investigation if there is sufficient evidence. We understand that having a concern raised about you can be a stressful and worrying experience so we try to make our processes as open and transparent as possible.
Information can come from:
– People who use services or their carers
– Member of the public
– Employer, manager or colleague
– The police or other authorities.
The Social Care Council Fitness to Practise Rules set out the process which must be followed when a concern is raised about a Registrant.
The investigation stages
1 – Screening and risk assessment
All information we receive about you is screened and we will apply the Standard of Acceptance to decide whether to investigate the concerns raised.
We will consider:
– If the information suggests that your fitness to practise might be impaired
– Any risk of harm presented by the behaviour and the risk of it being repeated
In some cases it will be clear from the start that it is not appropriate for the Social Care Council to be involved. This could be because the concern is about a service provided by an employer or a decision made by another body, e.g. the Courts rather than the actions of a registrant. In these circumstances we will direct the person raising the concern to the relevant employer or service provider.
If we consider that the Standard of Acceptance has been met, we will open a case and allocate it to a Fitness to Practise Officer, who will make preliminary enquiries and gather all relevant information. The Fitness to Practise Officer will manage the progress of your case and act as a contact for everyone involved. The Fitness to Practise Officer can give you information on the process but cannot give you legal advice.
We will complete our enquiries as quickly and efficiently as possible. Our enquiries very much depend on the nature, complexity and seriousness of the concerns raised. We might have to ask for further documents from an employer following a disciplinary process or confirm the circumstances of a conviction with the PSNI. If you have more than one employer we may contact them for information.
When we have gathered enough information to make a decision on future action, we will write to you. We encourage you to respond and engage with us. You may want to get advice from your union or professional body (if you are a member) or a solicitor before you respond.
If we close your case with no further action, that is the end of the matter. Where your behaviour has fallen short of the Standards of Conduct and Practice, but does not merit regulatory action, we may issue a ‘Letter of Advice’ regarding future behaviour. We may also invite you to consider ‘Consensual Disposal’ or we may decide to progress through a Committee process.
There are 2 types of interim measures that can be taken while our investigation is ongoing, an Interim Suspension Order and an Interim Conditions of Practice Order. These measure are only taken in serious circumstances.
Interim Suspension Order (ISO)
If the Social Care Council considers the allegation against you is so serious that you need to be prevented from working in social work or social care while the case is being investigated, we will seek an Interim Suspension Order. An ISO means that you will be suspended from the Register on a temporary basis, without prejudice, while the allegation is being investigated. It also means that you will not be able to work as a social worker or social care worker until the Order is removed.
Interim Conditions of Practice Order (ICPO)
An ICPO is an Order that temporarily places conditions upon your registration while investigations are ongoing. You can still work if an ICPO is imposed. Condition examples include undertaking specific training or providing monthly reports signed by your employer.
2 – Investigation and decision
We will gather information from a variety of sources to understand the circumstances.
In most cases we will write to:
– You to explain any allegations and ask for your comments.
– The person or organisation who raised the concern with us (we might ask them for more information or clarification).
– Your employer.
Depending on the particular type of case we are investigating, we may do the following:
– Request investigation or disciplinary paperwork. This may include any hearing minutes, copies of statements or interviews and relevant policies.
– Contact potential witnesses to request independent witness statements.
– Contact health professionals to confirm or provide information. We may request reports from your GP or other health professionals who know about your health condition or treatment.
The duration of an investigation depends on the complexity and seriousness of the concerns. The following can also have an impact:
– How long it takes other people to provide us with information.
– In most cases where you are being investigated by a third party, for example, the PSNI, your employer, other regulatory body, we will wait for the outcome of their investigation before starting ours.
When our investigation is completed the information will be reviewed and a decision will be made. The decision will be made on: (a) the availability of supporting evidence and (b) if there are concerns about the registrant’s fitness to practise being impaired.
We are required to prove our cases on the civil standard of proof. This means on the balance of probabilities that an event is more likely to have occurred, than not.
3 – Outcome
When making a decision, we take into account public protection and seek to maintain public trust and confidence in the workforce.
– Take no further action and close the case.
– Issue a written reminder to the Registrant about their responsibilities under the Standards of Conduct and Practice.
– Dispose of the case by consensual disposal means through either issuing a warning, agreeing undertakings or removal by agreement.
– Forward the case for consideration by the Preliminary Proceedings Committee.
– Transfer the case directly to a Fitness to Practise Committee.
We understand that being investigated by us may be stressful. However, it is important that we have all relevant information. This includes your comments and views and we encourage early communication with the Social Care Council.
We expect you to respond to our requests for information as part of your responsibilities as a social worker, social work student or social care worker. This is something that you may wish to take independent advice about.
If we don’t receive comments from you, our investigation will continue and we will make a decision on the matter without the benefit of your point of view.
We also expect that you will be open and honest with your employer or any future employer about the status and progress of any investigation.
Publication of Information
The Social Care Council Disclosure Policy provides details of what information we will publish, when we will publish and how long it will be retained.
It also sets out the circumstances in which some types of information will not be made public. For example, information about a registrant’s health matters or information that could lead to the identification of child will be redacted.