Registered social workers have a code of ethics, which was drawn up by the BC Association of Social Workers. This code is fairly general and open to interpretation, but it does provide some sort of guidelines. When the social workers act was first passed and registration started, a good number of registered social workers were employed in child protection and related work. One children’s aid society urged all eligible employees to become registered. The registrar recently told me that they do not need to devise practice standards for protection workers because no members do that work any more. The director of the BCASW told me the same thing.
This situation came about after years of registered social workers having a rocky relationship with the children’s ministry. When an ethics complaint was filed against an employee, they found barriers to them giving information to the registrar that would help their defence. It seems that the managers regarded registration as serving two masters and blocked communication under an interpretation of protecting confidentiality. Many other registered professionals work for government and it is usually accepted that their registrars have a right to professional accountability from their members.
A problem that began to plague the complaints process was that the board decided to hire a lawyer on a regular basis. Immediately the registrar became more adversarial. All complaints were treated with the same heavy hand, however trivial. An example of this aggressive approach happened after the Gove report came out. The registrar initiated ethics complaints against all registered social workers who had handled the Matthew Vaudreuil file. They were accused of breaching various standards of practice. However, there were no specific standards of practice and so the registrar had to resort to making them up retroactively. (For years I offered to form a committee to draw up standards of practice in child protection, but the registrar declined the offer.)
The end result was that most of the registered social workers involved just resigned their registration, because it became too stressful to deal with it. This started a general trend. The registrar was usually so aggressive in handling complaints, that most people just gave up their registration. It became too difficult to defend oneself and as registration was voluntary it made no difference to employment. Most registered social workers nowadays keep their registration because it is important to their livelihood.
Social work is not a rigorous profession and does not have the sort of objectively framed standards of practice that so many other professions have. They do not undergo the same examination of applied skills that goes into all the medically related professions and other science based professions. So any practice complaints must be based on the general clauses of the code of ethics. If we look at the case examples that I quote in the earlier pages, it is easy to see numerous examples of blatant breaches of the code of ethics from a number of social workers and other officials employed by the children’s ministry. There were examples of untruthful and misleading statements, distortion of the facts, abusive behaviour, neglect of duty, denial of right, downright malice and more. Often one was led to wonder if there was any moral or ethical sense at all. How does one make any systemic sense of this sort of thing? How does one find a systemic remedy?
I suggest that it is high time that the senior administration construct a code of ethics for protection staff at all levels and make it a vital part of core training and retraining. It is high time that the senior staff set the example instead of supporting and defending the bad behaviour of field staff.
Ferris retired after a career that included significant years with the MCFD. He has written a book entitled 'The Art of Child Protection.' This is the first in a series of pieces Ray will write here. You can order Mr. Ferris' book entitled 'the Art of Child Protection' by contacting the author directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.