“To be accountable is literally to be liable to be called upon to give an account of what one has done or not done. The account may include all or some of descriptions, explanations, excuses or justifications. ” (Banks, 2004, p. 150). Within my current agency context I have a professional accountability which appoints me a duty to carry out and justify my work through; informed theoretical knowledge, professional judgements and legal frameworks which govern the social work profession in the field of criminal justice (Kleinig, 2008).
To date I have carried out my ‘supervised direct practice placement’ within a third sector agency whose aim within the ideal of social care and protection is to promote the economic and social welfare in Scotland in working with ex-offenders and young people deemed ‘at risk’ to provide them with the transferable skills they each require to help them find or stay within employment or education (Agency Policy, 2010a).
The variety of settings and engagement styles I worked within over this period of time, although diverse, all aimed to uphold the organisations statement of purpose which defines that, “our work adheres to the use of the organisation’s employability model to; identify, assess and tackle barriers faced by our service users such as debt, family problems and offending. This service delivery should reflect upon the relevant techniques and guidance which focus on reducing re-offending and providing both guidance and advice on conviction relevance and disclosure” (Agency Policy, 2011b).
As a social work student I have accountability and adherence to various bodies and individuals whom govern my professional practice. This duty to the work within the lines of multiple accountabilities which are often in tension with each other pose complexity on the work I deliver, which in turn both represents thus public bodies whilst safeguards and promotes the welfare of service users.
This statement is agreed by Ingram (2011) who indicates that social workers within Scotland have “complex interdependencies and relationships in delivering safe, effective, accountable and professional practice” (Scottish Government, 2011). This comment also expands on the crucial professional partnerships I have with other agencies and statutory services. In the purpose of my professional practice I have worked together with the appropriate officials and agencies that all have the common purpose of tackling and delivering practice of various degrees to service users within the criminal justice field.
Our service users are the key components of our interest focus and have brought us together to work with a common purpose; their welfare (Banks, 2004). Knowledge of the remit in which other agencies work within is vital, allowing for the reduction in both overlaps and voids in our service delivery (Glasby and Peck, 2004). In my current agency I have used partnership working as a tool to both source information and gather professional opinions from those working with individuals in a different capacity.
This has marginally been in liaising with social workers for developed background information on the service users I have worked with and informing their professional decision making with regard to each individual’s progression with the organisation following referral. This multi-disciplinary style of working, although beneficial to my development and progression of work with individuals is additionally a legal standard of conduct which governs my professional performance (Pycroft and Gough, 2010).
The Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC) is the regulatory body whom describes and governs the standards of conduct which I am accountable to deliver in my work with individuals. Through my essential registration to them it is their guidance that outlines those standards and values I must adhere to in my professional practice. It is this Council that foresees the essentiality of; “Recognising and respecting the roles and expertise of workers from other agencies and working in partnership with them” (SSSC, 2003: 6. 7).
This code of conduct influenced my role of with a number of service user during practice placement in collecting data both verbally and in the form of documentation from professionals, most commonly their social workers, whilst elaborating on the underlying goals I had in terms of developing ‘employability skills’. This in turn reflected upon my code’s of practice in contributing to the learning of others in improving and developing my knowledge of our each specific; accountabilities, powers and skills within our contrasting roles of working (SSSC, 2003: 6. ). Various research and informative legislation outlines my upheld values and duties within the Scottish context of social work. It is this legal writing alongside academic literature that influences my ‘need’ to act in particular ways and deliver ‘required’ services.
It is in balancing my duties and accountabilities outlined by this published guidance that I am obligated to make my informed decisions and professional judgements with regard to my service user group (Lishman, 2007). Alongside this is additionally my duty o service users and my practice organisation, they may both have expectation from the practice I deliver, however striving to compliment this by working closely within the remit of my allowances as a trainee practitioner is what I have aimed to evidence to date (Fraser and Matthews, 2008). “It seems that the balance of accountabilities of social work practice has become somewhat skewed, with too much emphasis on accountability to the employer and not enough on individual professional accountability” (Scottish Executive, 2006, p. 30).
This argument agrees that the delivery of effective practice is often focused more heavily upon one group or organisation. My working has aimed to display professional accountable to all those individuals and appropriate agencies during this practice learning whilst still implementing and working within the legislation that governs my work as a student social worker. Within my individual working with service users I have used both theory and ‘skills’ derived from the professional context such as active listening and open ended questions.
These ‘skills’ are essential in portraying my professional competence as a social work student and beneficial to the forming of effective professional relationships and information gathering. As well as displaying my ability to practice these methods within my working I am accountable to do so by the SSSC who state that I must ; meet the outlines standards of practice whilst working in both an effective and safe way whilst within the boundaries of current legislation (SSSC, 2003: 6. 1). This has been displayed most commonly been through the initial contact assessment meetings I have both conducted and participated within.
The main purpose of these meetings is to; inform, assess and discuss available routes and options available to each service user whilst anticipating their offending behaviour and criminal convictions and other relevant factors which could influence the sustaining of current or future employment (Agency Policy, 2010b). A common example of my working in this service delivery is in collaborating a disclosure letter with an individual, this document details their criminal convictions and gives an account for their occurrence; whilst drawing on the influences that were apparent for them to have happened.
In order to complete such a letter with a service user I have had to obtain signed authorisation from them in order to access their charge sheet which is in the possession of their social worker. This element of work is governed by Shedule 20 of the Data Portection Act 1998; which outlines that the social worker has the authority as an official worker to supply confidential information if requested whilst permitted by the individual who is specified within the data (Gibbons-Wood, 2008).
Upon receiving a copy of this official summary of convictions, I then calculate what convictions are ‘spent’ and ‘unspent’ under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. This legislation governs the provision of the ‘employment and guidance’ service the organisation delivers. I worked within the remit of its legal guidance by calculating what convictions need to be disclosed to an employer and what ones do not in each service user’s case. This calculation is made dependant on; nature of conviction, time in between offending and reoffending and the length of sentence/probation period they served (Croall, et al. 010).
The outcome of supporting service users to write a disclosure letter is ultimately to have a paper document that will support their job applications and interviews. The letter, in accordance with the relevant legislation provides the information that will allow an employer to assess the relevance of an individual’s convictions to the post being applied for (McLaughlin, 2008). Within this work I was mindful to be honest in my recommendations with regard to service user’s wishes towards employment whilst respecting their decisions and desires towards work.
I did not at any point wish to be seen as discouraging or negative about their ambitions but had to be realistic about how the nature of their convictions could affect the post they want. One example of this lies within my working with Stacey*; she was eager to learn about the most appropriate way to disclose your past to en employer including her criminal convictions with the help of the organisation. Stacey wished to pursue a career in child care however had four convictions of ‘assault causing permanent disfigurement’ and several pending charges of theft.
Although she may have been deemed as having the ambition and caring nature which is required for this work her convictions would most likely put a barrier on working with children and those within a vulnerable people grouping. I had to convey this information to her appropriately whilst being sensitive to her feelings. Ultimately I explained that I could not provide a factual answer to whether or not employment in this field would be possible as it is always at the employers’ discretion, however had to be realistic in terms of how these convictions may influence er working with children. Delivering this information in the most; open honest and accurate way I could posed complexity on the relationship I was building with Stacey through this discussion as I was unable to determine how she would respond although I aimed to not allow any false pretences within her expectations. This honesty to service users is a factor governed by my professional duty to practice and uphold the appropriate ethical decision making and values for social workers (Walker and Crawford, 2010).
My values and ethics although in part derive from some personal beliefs and experiences are governed within my professional practice through my accountability to the British Association for Social Workers (BASW*). This association defines my responsibility to service users alongside the ethics and values I must adhere to within my work with them. It is within this guidance that my obligation and duty to respect service user’s backgrounds and beliefs are outlined as well as valuing their thoughts and wishes whilst working at all times to meet their needs and interests (BASW, 2002).
The dilemma I faced in working with Stacey came following the discussion we engaged in about her criminal convictions posing limitations on her desire to work with children. She told me that she understood why she may not be able to work in this sector and how limitations to other jobs in the care and support field may also be a result of this. Despite Stacey acknowledging and showing understanding to this information she disclosed that if she thought within any job application that she would not be considered due to her criminal record she would simply claim that she has no criminal convictions or pending charges.
This left me with a an ethical decision to make; although I felt that Stacey had many personal attributes and the passion to make a success of a career within child care her not disclosing this information could ultimately put individuals including the children she may come to work with at risk. I was both duty bound and accountable to convey this information to employers or other professionals in this instance for the purpose of both public and child protection if she were not to do so herself and I made this clear to Stacey.
Although I encouraged the importance of being honest with employers when it comes to the criminal history of service users I am bound by governmental policy in relation to child protection to share any information that may put the welfare or safety of children in jeopardy (Scottish Executive, 2002). Parallel with my accountability to service users are my additional accountabilities to my organisation and practice of the social work profession in which I represent as a student.
I upheld this obligation through adherence to and practice within the diverse organisational policies which were in place and abided by the local and national policy that administers work within the field of criminal justice. A key document which outlines my learning requirements and elements I must both adhere to and demonstrate is The Framework for Social Work Education in Scotland. It is this document, set out by the government, which displays thus guiding principles I am expected to uphold and practice through my work with service users.
One of which is my ability to demonstrate within a practice setting a “high level of transferable skills” (Scottish Government, 2003). This in turn defines my obligation to put my learning of theory and a range of; modules, skills and information I have studied from the social work context into practice within my practice organisation and demonstrate it to a competent standard. An obligation I have which is outlined in sections within the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968 is to record with respect to each individual; what I did, why I done it and the outcomes or professional judgements I made in each instance (Davis and Gordon, 2011).
In relation to my organisation I fulfilled this duty by keeping records up to date and accurate, documenting only information that was relevant to the welfare of the service user and purposeful regarding their employment needs. Most of my work with the organisation has been with young people aged between 16-25 years who are in contact with social work. A large proportion of my working with them has been influenced by conditions/orders or convictions they have incurred through the Crime and Punishment (Scotland) Act 1997 and Care and Protection (Scotland) Act 1995 (Gibbons-Wood, 2008).
However it is dependent on the nature of conviction which deems what legislation most heavily influences the sentencing of each service user and also the diverse nature and aims of the working style being formed with them. In my working with convicted sex offenders I was aware of the relevant legislation and guidance in place a national level which governs my working objectives and outlines my duty to be proactive in sharing information with external organisations and local authority teams.
The Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA’S) framework was formed following the Management of Offenders Act 2005. It is this framework that governs my professional working with those convicted of a sexual offence making me “obligated by a statutory duty to cooperate, all relevant agencies including local authorities, voluntary organisations and, crucially, health services are jointly charged with the ‘management’ of such offenders (Gibbons-Wood, 2008, p. 232).
Prior to my first assessment meeting with an individual charged with a sexual offence I used supervision from my workplace supervisor to discuss my concerns over my lack of experience in dealing with those service users convicted of schedule one offences. I felt I required more information on the individual’s circumstances and convictions prior to this arranged contact to aid my preparation and knowledge of his criminal history. I explained to my supervisor that I wished to contact his social worker to collect this information, which would ease my concerns on this occasion with respect to his referral information being extremely brief.
This allowed for more relevant preparation to be conducted and a strengthening in partnership working with his social worker as we shared professional opinions and other information relevant to the purpose of his referral to the service. This professional partnership working adhered to the MAPPA framework in assisting our delivery of effective and applicable practice (McNeill and Whyte, 2007). The preparation on this occasion also included me independently requesting a risk assessment to be carried out before meeting the individual via one-to-one engagement.
As I have to date had no sex offender or collusion training I requested this be carried out with support from my colleagues. My workplace supervisor explained to me that this is not mandatory within the policies and procedures of the organisation however I explained that I felt it to be necessary on this occasion and how I felt it would positively assist future practice. Following the expression my concern I was forwarded risk assessment paperwork from my superior in which I passed onto the individual’s social worker to be completed.
The risk assessment paperwork aimed to allow his social worker to; “Make professional judgement on the level of risk this individual may pose onto staff members whilst detailing their conviction and victim group and showing what they recommend for risk management for the named individual” (Agency Policy, 2011a). I felt in my request for such an assessment to be carried out I displayed competence in my ability to use resources to aid my working relationships and support a ‘safe’ working environment.
Although it was not essentially common practice within my agency is proved to be good practice in assisting my readiness for initial contact. Conclusively, a dilemma I faced throughout the duration of my practice placement was that the agency was not a statutory organisation. This meant that my work on a day to day basis was not always governed by national guidelines and government legislation, instead by organisational policies and procedures which were in certain cases only influenced by this relevant legislation.
I responded to this by working as well as I could within the provisions set from both my organisation and those in place for me to best utilise my skills as a social work student. Working in the closest relation to the obligations I have as a trainee practicioner from the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968 I acknowledged that; “the need to have an understanding of legal issues which service users may face even though there may not be a direct social work responsibility involved in the issue” (Brammer, 2010, p. ). I understand that I am not a qualified or approved social worker therefore I am not yet liable for to make individual decisions without the input of supervision from colleagues (Lackey, 2006). However, I aimed to show my accountability to the vast array of individuals and organisations I came into contact with over the duration of direct practice learning despite my obligations lying mostly with the organisation I was practicing within.