Regulating an ‘InvisibleTrade’: Lessons Learned about Social Work Practice from Complaints made by Service Users to the Northern Ireland Social Care Council (2006-2015)

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


The Northern Ireland Social Care Council (NISCC) is the statutory regulator of social workers in Northern Ireland. The NISCC investigates complaints made about social workers with the threshold for regulatory action being that there is ‘admissible, substantial and reliable evidence to prove misconduct’. A substantial number of complaints do not reach this threshold and are closed at the investigation stage. It is, however, important that lessons are learned from these complaints which, whilst not meeting the threshold for regulatory action, do highlight issues in relation to good practice.

Complaints from service users make up approximately half of all the complaints received and have highlighted particular concerns about how social workers interact and communicate with service users. Learning the lessons from such complaints is increasingly important for social workers given that the Codes of Practice have recently been replaced by new Standards of Conduct and Practice for Social Workers and that the NISCC is moving from a model of regulation based on misconduct to one based on fitness to practice.

This presentation will discuss an ongoing research study involving analysis of all complaints received from service users about social workers over a ten year period. The objectives of the study are to:

• Provide detailed data relating to the source of complaints, the characteristics of social workers about whom complaints are made, and the outcome of complaints;
• Provide a detailed analysis of the nature of the complaints made;
• Set this analysis within the context of national and international literature on service user expectations of social workers and the importance of relationship within social work practice;
• Produce informational and training materials for social work registrants in order to transmit the learning from the study and assist their ability to link the standards of conduct and practice to their day to day work
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2017
EventBuilding Trust in People and Places: Professional Standards Authority Academic and Research Conference - Cumberland Lodge, Great Windsor Park, Berkshire, United Kingdom
Duration: 09 Mar 201710 Mar 2017


ConferenceBuilding Trust in People and Places
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


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