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Social Work England has defended its impartiality and commitment to human rights, and called for further discussion about the use of social media by social workers, after warning a practitioner about posts he concluded as discriminatory against transgender people.
The case, about a social worker who shared dozens of posts on Facebook that were found to constitute “an extensive pattern of discriminatory behavior”, has sparked fierce online debate over the past week.
Questions were raised about the regulator’s decision-making and sanctioning, which the social worker accepted, if holding so-called ‘gender-critical’ views impacts people’s ability to exercise as social workers, and the broader freedom of the case. discourse implications.
The regulator said in a response that the reaction “shows that a much broader conversation is needed about how best to help social workers engage respectfully and professionally online when areas of ethical tension arise”.
Social Work England’s warning to the social worker about his future behaviour, which remains in effect for 12 months, came after officers decided there was no reason to proceed with a formal fitness hearing. exercise. This follows a recent High Court victory for a woman who lost her job after tweeting that transgender women cannot change their biological sex, with a judge-led panel finding that ‘gender-critical’ beliefs are protected by equality law.
The report on the Social Work England investigation and its outcome were withdrawn by the regulator, which a spokesperson said was “while we review a matter of factual accuracy raised with us”. The report has since been republished online.
“Derogatory and potentially discriminatory”
Social workers have already been sanctioned following opinions published online.
In 2019, a social worker received a practice order, one of the factors considered regarding Facebook posts deemed racially insensitive. Meanwhile, in 2017, a social work student was expelled from a university course for calling homosexuality a sin – a decision that was later upheld by judicial review, although overturned on appeal .
In the latter case, officers acting in response to a complaint from a member of the public reviewed “more than 70” posts captured from the social worker’s Facebook account. These included supporting a petition against a charity supporting young people of diverse gender identities providing training to public sector organisations, and sharing comments appearing to confuse being transgender with paedophilia.
‘Case reviewers’ – who review evidence from investigations – said the social worker’s messages ‘could be perceived as derogatory and potentially discriminatory’ to members of the transgender community.
“They further consider that others who may not be from this community would also find these views offensive,” said Social Work England’s report into the complaint, filed by a member of the public in June 2020.
The social worker claimed she “did not fully read or analyze their content before posting” – which case reviewers said “worried them” – and since the investigation she has undergone training “to broaden their understanding of working with gender and trans people”.
The social worker said in her memoir that she supported a feminist perspective and said: ‘On reflection, I feel I have been influenced by the misguided view of other prominent feminists who felt that promotion transgender rights would impede women’s rights. This was a gap in my knowledge base and this training showed me how to work in a much more inclusive way.”
The social worker manager said he was satisfied that the social worker had never practiced in a discriminatory manner and that she was competent and capable of practicing.
“No public interest” in full hearing
Case reviewers considered whether the social worker violated professional standards requiring social workers to:
- Using technology, social media, or other forms of electronic communication in a manner that is illegal, unethical, or in a way that brings the profession into disrepute.
- Behaving in a way that would call into question my ability to work as a social worker on or off the job.
“There is a realistic prospect of adjudicators establishing the statutory ground for misconduct,” the Social Work England report said, based on the social worker’s posts damaging the public reputation of the profession.
But case reviewers concluded that the social worker’s actions were not so serious that a full hearing would serve the public interest.
“[Case examiners] also considered the social worker’s observations on how to learn from mistakes and move forward,” the report states. “They are confident that the social worker can continue to practice safely without restriction, so a speedy resolution of the case is best.”
The social worker deleted the Facebook posts and accepted a warning, which reviewers deemed appropriate after considering whether or not her fitness to practice would continue to be impaired.
The issued warning will remain for a year, with the regulator saying “any similar conduct or matter brought to the regulator’s attention is likely to result in a more serious outcome”.
“Conduct must not harm the public or undermine trust”
In its statement this week, Social Work England said: “We are aware of the debate that has taken place on Twitter in recent days in relation to the professional practice and individual positions of social workers on gender identity.
“We want to make it clear that as an independent public body we are committed to both upholding human rights and maintaining impartiality – just like the social workers on our register who support some of the most vulnerable people in society”.
The statement adds: “We make it clear in our professional standards guidelines that conduct on social media should in no way harm the public or compromise the support that social workers provide to people. This includes undermining public confidence in the profession.
Announcing a new look at social media and social work guidance, the statement concluded: “We will reach out soon to encourage participation from across the sector and include people with lived experience to help move this work forward. “