Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC) Lawyers Glasgow
ALMOST 200,000 are employed in the care sector in this country and by the end of next year almost all will require to have a professional registration with the Scottish Social Services Council. It's a body with substantial legal powers to restrict the right to practice. Solicitor Louise Bain, who regularly attends their hearings, explains what can be involved.
FROM those in nurseries to the very elderly, the care sector provides help and support for all ages and stages of the population in Scotland. It's a growing industry and those who work in it are coming under greater scrutiny than ever before.
Until recently only managers in care homes or nurseries had to be formally registered, but by 2016, all support workers will require not only to be registered, but to follow a code of conduct to ensure they are allowed to continue to work.
The body which has overseen this revolution is the Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC), which since its inception in 2001 has been developing a set of legally-enforceable rules and procedures.
With the aim of increasing protection of the most vulnerable, the SSSC works alongside the Care Inspectorate to raise standards across the industry. The SSSC now require all those work in childcare with adults in care homes to register with them, including details of any previous convictions. They also have the power to carry out their own, independent investigations of any complaints made by service-users or other members of staff.
They have the power to prevent employees from being able to work in the sector, either for a limited time or indefinitely. They can also require that employees are supervised, or prevented from carrying out certain jobs, while an investigation is ongoing.
On the basis of The Glasgow Law Practice's experience, the investigations can take many months, which means the suspensions can remain in place for the same length of time.
The rulings are published online, and include names and where the employees worked, so any future potential employer will be able to carry out checks.
Centrally funded by Government, the SSSC have their own legal advisors and increasingly those who are investigated by them are insisting on having their own legal advice, as well as representation at conduct hearings held in their offices in Dundee.
Anyone who is asked to attend a meeting before the body has the right to be accompanied by solicitor of their choosing, who can put forward evidence and make legal submissions to the decision-making committees which decide whether any restrictions should be imposed.
Although there is a right of appeal against decisions of the SSSC's conduct sub-committees to the Sheriff Court, in practice there are very few grounds which can amount to a valid challenge. The law allows the SSSC, as a fact-finding body, considerable discretion to decide whether or not someone should be allowed to continue in their job.
Suspension by the SSSC can be for various reasons but two of the most common are because a complaint has been made – either by a colleague or a member of the public – or on health grounds. The SSSC rules on suspension mean that they don't need to have been given proof that a care worker has acted wrongly before they suspend. A "prima facie" or "on the face of it" set of circumstances are all that is required, and a firm denial or explanation may not be enough to prevent suspension being imposed.
However, at the same time, there are important legal steps that can be taken to put across the real difficulties that could cause to the individual – most obviously, putting employment at risk.
Issues about health can also require considerable care and skill in how they are presented to the SSSC as there may be an issue of a very short-term nature which should not have a damaging effect on a professional career. The committee will require disclosure of records and possibly expert reports before they take a decision.
While some care staff will have access to a solicitor through membership of a union, this does not always guarantee legal representation and those who are not in a union would require to find their own lawyer, as the SSSC do not provide advisers. Funding from legal aid is not available for hearings, but many insurance policies now provide cover for solicitors' fees in the form of "legal cover" for employment disputes.
It's an area of law that has grown over the past few years as the care sector has gradually come under the control of the SSSC with registration gradually becoming compulsory for all.
Another factor is that the SSSC publish Codes of Practice for Social Service Workers and Employers which set out the standards social workers, social care, early years and young people's workers and their employers should meet.
By setting out clear standards of conduct for workers, they are keen to let those who use care services and their families know what they can expect – and what they can do about it if they are not happy.
Professional colleagues are also encouraged to raise issues with the SSSC independently or with their sister body, the Care Inspectorate, if they do not believe that raising these matters with their employers will be taken seriously.
It's reasonable to assume that everyone in Scotland will use social services at some time in their lives whether it's a care service for a family member, such as your child going to nursery, or a parent or a grandparent going into a care home.
Add in that over the next few years more than 50,000 social service workers will register with the SSSC for the first time, it's easy to appreciate that it's an industry where the law is going to have an increasingly important role to play.
What the Codes of Practice mean for workers
The Code of Practice for Social Service Workers describe the standards of professional conduct and practice required of social service workers as they go about their daily work.
The Codes of Practice form part of the wider package of legislation, practice standards and employers' policies and procedures that social service workers must meet. Social service workers are responsible for making sure that their conduct does not fall below the standards set out and that no action or omission on their part harms the well being of service users.
Social service workers must:
- protect the rights and promote the interests of service users and carers
- strive to establish and maintain the trust and confidence of service users and carers
- promote the independence of service users while protecting them as far as possible from danger or harm
- respect the rights of service users while seeking to ensure that their behaviour does not harm themselves or other people
- uphold public trust and confidence in social services
- be accountable for the quality of their work and take responsibility for maintaining and improving their knowledge and skills.
The SSSC expects social service workers to meet the Codes of Practice and may take action if registered workers fail to do so.
What the Codes of Practice mean for employers
The SSSC Code of Practice for Social Service Employers sets out the responsibilities of employers in the regulation of social service workers.
Employers are responsible for making sure that they meet the standards set out in Codes of Practice, provide high quality services and promote public trust and confidence in social services. Relevant regulatory bodies in Scotland will take the Codes of Practice into account in their regulation of social services.
To meet their responsibilities in relation to regulating the social service workforce, social service employers must:
- make sure people are suitable to enter the workforce and understand their roles and responsibilities
- have written policies and procedures in place to enable social service workers to meet the SSSC Code of Practice for Social Service Workers
- provide training and development opportunities to enable social service workers to strengthen and develop their skills and knowledge
- put in place and implement written processes and procedures to deal with dangerous, discriminatory or exploitative behaviour and practice
- promote the SSSC's Code of Practice to social service workers, service users and carers and co-operate with SSSC's proceedings.
Contact our Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC) Lawyers Glasgow