Social workers afraid to blow the whistle

Whistleblowers need greater support and more impartial mechanisms to encourage more widespread reporting of abuse in residential care, according to social workers’ representatives.

Ruth Cartwright, England’s manager of the British Association of Social Workers, said members had a duty to report any concerns about care standards, but that the process carried professional risk for the whistleblower, with no guarantee of effective action.

Her comments coincided with a BASW survey showing that 81 per cent of 230 social workers questioned had seen abuse in care homes, and more than half were aware of extreme abuse.

English Community Care Association chief executive Martin Green said the figures did not tally with numbers of referrals to regulators or the police, and suggested that “social workers are failing in their responsibility to protect vulnerable adults”.

However, Cartwright insisted that social workers routinely highlighted concerns, but faced dilemmas about whether to pursue a complaint or protect themselves from blame in any subsequent inquiry.

She said: “It is not clear whether people are raising complaints and simply not getting anywhere, as happened at Winterbourne View. We urge social workers to report incidents, but also to document anything that they see that is bad practice or worse, as evidence, if the facts come out later.

“The perception is that if you raise concerns you are rocking the boat and senior managers may not want to hear about extra problems, but we would hope the majority of social workers would stick at it.”

She added: “Service users and their families also find it very difficult to complain for fear that the person receiving care would be badly treated. There seems to be a lack of faith in the impartiality of the systems in place for raising concerns, as well as clarity about the process, because the social care sector is such a mixed economy.”