Most people in Scotland will experience contact with social services at one time or another in their life - from arranging child care to assistance in securing a care home placement.
Like most other publicly funded professions such as medicine, nursing and teaching, those working within the Social Services industry must now register with their own regulatory body - the Scottish Social Services Council - to allow them to work within their chosen field.
This compulsory registration aims to provide a higher standard of service to service users by offering education and training to registrants.
The SSSC also deal with matters of complaint raised against registrants. This can be a very difficult time for those who find themselves and their professionalism questioned. The potential for damage to reputation that can be caused by allegations of misconduct and the internal and/or external disciplinary proceedings that may follow must be carefully considered and in all cases, independent legal advice is strongly recommended.
The Scottish Social Services Council was established by the Regulation of Care (Scotland) Act 2001. It's first responsibility is to register people who work within the social services industry. They also offer education and training for social service workers. Secondly, it is responsible for the regulation of social service workers and deals with complaints or concerns brought against them.
In order to ensure the best service, safety and welfare of those who utilise social services, the SSSC must be assured their workers are of good character, conduct and competence. For this reason, registration with the SSSC is compulsory and investigations are made into any complaints of misconduct by Registrants or concerns raised against them.
You must be employed within a relevant service before you can apply to register with the SSSC. The requirement for registration is function based as opposed to qualification based which means you must be in a service registered by the Care Inspectorate. Registration is now compulsory for all social service workers.
In order to register, you must meet the criteria for registration which includes holding the appropriate qualifications for the job you currently do or agreeing to work towards those qualifications.You must also show evidence of good character.
If you do not hold the necessary qualifications but can prove eligibility of all other criteria, you may be granted registration with the condition that you achieve your required qualification.This will normally be within a fairly strict timescale.
Section 2 of the SSSC Code of Conduct lists key principles which must be adhered to. In short, these are:-
In registering with SSSC, you accept that you will adhere to the Code of Conduct.
Failure to adhere to that Code may result in a complaint being made by an employer, service user or fellow employee.
If you do not adhere to the Code of Conduct or are believed by the SSSC to have committed an act of misconduct, the Council will investigate matters. The Council can take action against social services workers they believe not to be adhering to the standards expected of them.
If a complaint is made against you or it is believed you have done something or failed to do something which calls into question your suitability to remain a registered member, the SSSC will begin an investigation.
Your case will be assigned to a case officer who will find out if matters are being investigated by other agencies such as the police or your employer.There may be a deferment on the part of the SSSC to do their own investigation if this is the case.
You are entitled to have a solicitor, trade union or other professional body represent you at this stage and you should make known to the case officer in writing if you wish to be represented.
Once investigation of the matter has been completed by the case officer, they will report their findings to a senior manager with a recommendation on what action, if any, should be taken.The options available to senior managers are:
The SSSC may take action in the form of seeking an Interim Suspension Order against you. This has the effect of temporarily suspending your registration, usually for the purposes of further investigation or until a full hearing can be assigned.
In certain cases, the SSSC will seek such an application to be heard before the Preliminary Proceedings Sub-Committee (PPSC). Normally such an application will be served upon you with 28 days notice but in certain cases, the SSSC will give much shorter notice, claiming that the matter is urgent. Notice can be as little as a few days.
The procedure followed at a PPSC and all SSSC hearings is formal and you are entitled to be legally represented at such a hearing. It is recommended that you seek legal representation ahead of the hearing and for the purposes of the hearing.
The PPSC board will consist of 2 lay members and a member who is a registrant in the same area as you or has experience or knowledge of the area in which you work. There will also be a Legal advisor to the PPSC board and the case will be presented on behalf of the SSSC by The Presenter who is a solicitor employed by the SSSC.
If the PPSC decide to grant the interim order, the maximum period an ISO can cover in the first period is 6 months. After 3 months you or the SSSC can apply for a review of that order. At that stage, the order can be removed or extended. The maximum period for Interim Suspension is 24 months.
After the ISO has been dealt with, the SSSC will continue to investigate your case. It will consider during that process if the matter should then be set down for a full hearing before the Conduct Sub-Committee.
If it is decided that your case should be heard before the Conduct Sub-Committee (CSC), you will be given a Notice of transfer. This Notice will set out the allegations against you as claimed by the SSSC. Again, it is highly recommended that you seek legal advice if you find yourself in this position. A number of outcomes can come from these Hearings (dealt with below) which could have a significant impact upon your career.
The clerk to the SSSC will then send you a letter which will set out the charges against you. The Charge will set out the allegations brought by the SSSC, similar to those intimated in the Notice of Transfer. The procedure at this stage will take the form of submissions in writing or at an oral hearing conducted by the Legal Adviser. You and The Presenter will have the opportunity to indicate:-
Thereafter, the Legal Adviser will write to you advising what they expect you and the Presenter to comply with at the CSC Hearing. This document is called a Record of Directions.
The matter will then progress to a full hearing before the CSC. A Notice of Hearing will be sent to you advising where and when the Hearing is to take place and inviting you to attend.
The CSC is again made up of a panel of 3 Members. There are 2 lay members, one of whom will act as Convener. The 3rd member is again a Registrant registered on the same part of the Register as you. They are known as The Due Regard Member. The Legal Adviser will also be in attendance along with the Clerk. You are entitled to be legally represented and it is recommended that you are.
Most Hearings will take place in public which means that members of the public are entitled to attend. In addition to your legal representatives, you are entitled to bring along members of your family or someone to support you. However, if they are to give evidence at the Hearing they will not be allowed into the Hearing room until they have completed that.
You are entitled to lodge documentation and call witnesses that may assist you to the Hearing. However, these must be intimated the Clerk 14 days before the Hearing and the names and addresses of all witnesses should have been intimated by you and the Presenter at the PHR.
The Hearing will commence with the Convener reading out the Charge. The Presenter then has the opportunity to present evidence before the Hearing. This can be in the form of documentation or by leading witnesses. If they lead witness evidence, you or your legal representative will have the opportunity to cross examine them. If you take that opportunity, the Presenter has the chance to re-examine them.
Once all the evidence has been led by the Presenter, they will ask the CSC to conclude that the facts, as presented by them, have been proved. They ask the CSC to make Findings of Fact. The Presenter will also ask the CSC to find that the facts they have presented prove you have committed misconduct.
If you have witnesses or documentation lodged, you then have the opportunity to lead them in evidence. In the case of witness evidence, the same procedure applies as for the Presenter. You lead them in evidence and the Presenter then has the opportunity of cross examining them with you having the final chance to re-examine.
After all the evidence has been led, you will have the opportunity to make submissions to the CSC. You will be asking them to conclude that the facts have not been proved and that you have not committed misconduct.
The Members are advised throughout the process by the Legal Adviser.
The Members then decide in private
If they consider that the facts have not been proved, the case will be dismissed. Even if they consider the facts have been proved but do not consider them to amount to misconduct, the case will be dismissed.
However, if misconduct is found, the Presenter will then makes submissions on how they believe the matter should be disposed with.
You will also have an opportunity at this stage to make submissions to the Members. You will be given the chance to articulate what you think should happen to your registration. You may also take the opportunity at this stage to put forward any information in mitigation.
This might include:-
There are a range of sanctions open to the Members of the CSC following a finding of misconduct. The Members must take into account the circumstances of the findings of fact and any mitigation put forward by you. They must balance the interests of the service users and public with fairness to you.
Possible sanctions to be imposed by the CSC are:-
(i) Warning - a warning may seem to be the least severe sanction but it can remain on a Registrant's entry for up to 5 years. It does not affect a Registrants ability to practice.
(ii) Conditions - these may relate to specific areas which the Registrant must address. They are designed to protect service users. The conditions must be met by the Registrant or could lead to further procedure being brought against you. You can seek a review of conditions if your circumstances have changed significantly since the imposition of the conditions.
(iii) Suspension - this may be imposed for behaviour which is considered to be very serious but not at the most serious end of the spectrum of unacceptable behaviour.
(iv) Removal - a Registrant would be removed from the Register if it was considered they had committed a serious, deliberate and/or grossly negligent or reckless act or omission. Also, if there was a breach of trust or a failure to recognise the seriousness of their actions, a Registrant may be removed. Finally, significant departure from the standards set out in the Code of Practice may merit removal.
A number of legal challenges have been raised by legal representatives as to the fairness of SSSC hearings, claiming them to be contrary to the Human Rights Act. In particular, there exists concern that the various Sub-committees of the SSSC and the procedures they utilise are not impartial due to the manner in which they are formed and remunerated. The test as to impartiality is that of the fair minded and informed observer. Challenges have focused on whether such an observer would consider the Sub-committees or procedures to be impartial.
Members of the SSSC Sub-committees are appointed from a pool selected by the Council. The Clerk and Legal Advisor are also appointed by the Council.
The Council is responsible for investigating, preparing and presenting a charge against a Registrant and indeed in certain circumstances, may itself be the Complainer.
The rules provide that most decisions, including interim suspension orders are appealable to the Sheriff.
Challenges of this type must be raised as a Preliminary Issue so it is important to seek legal advice at an early stage.
Nothing in this guide is intended to constitute legal advice and you are strongly advised to seek independent advice on matters that affect you.