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Social workers under the spotlight : an analysis of fitness to practise referrals to the regulatory body in England, 2014–2016.

Banks, Sarah and Zasada, Magdalena and Jago, Robert and Gallagher, Ann and Austin, Zubin and van der Gaag, Anna (2020) 'Social workers under the spotlight : an analysis of fitness to practise referrals to the regulatory body in England, 2014–2016.', British journal of social work., 50 (2). pp. 326-347.


This article examines the nature of, and reasons for, the disproportionately high rates of fitness to practise referrals of social workers in England to the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), compared with other professions regulated by HCPC during 2014–2016. In 2014–2015, the rate of referrals for social workers was 1.42 per cent of registrants, compared with an average for the sixteen professions regulated by HCPC of 0.66 per cent. Drawing on published statistics and unique analysis of a sample of 232 case files undertaken as part of a research project in 2016–2017, the article highlights relatively high rates of inappropriate referrals from ‘members of the public’ (mainly service users) particularly in relation to child placements and contact. A detailed picture is offered of the variety of referrals dealt with at each stage of the fitness to practise process (from initial triage to final hearings), with recommendations for how to prevent inappropriate referrals, whilst focusing concern on the most serious cases of incompetence and misconduct. This research is of significance at a time of increasing pressure for social workers, social services and service users under conditions of austerity and managerialism; on-going concerns about standards in social work; and recent changes in social work regulation.

Item Type:Article
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Publisher statement:This is a pre-copyedited, author-produced PDF of an article accepted for publication in British journal of social work following peer review. The version of record Banks, Sarah, Zasada, Magdalena, Jago, Robert, Gallagher, Ann, Austin, Zubin & van der Gaag, Anna (2020). Social Workers under the Spotlight: An Analysis of Fitness to Practise Referrals to the Regulatory Body in England, 2014–2016. The British Journal of Social Work 50(2): 326-347 is available online at:
Date accepted:27 October 2019
Date deposited:23 January 2020
Date of first online publication:20 December 2019
Date first made open access:20 December 2021

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