A guest post about the issues around whistle-blowing in a modern care world ……
I am surprised to find myself writing a blog post, but maybe this is actually perfect for me; the modern day alternative for the middle aged woman who for some unknown reason suddenly feels compelled to write letters of concern once they hit 40.
On a more practical stance I am using this blog to provide advice, highlight new helplines and initiatives, and to aim to explore my own protection over concerns that I myself have raised.
Could doing the right thing actually be perilous? And as Edmund Burke once wrote, ‘No passion so effectually robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear (1792). Could fear stop us voicing our concerns and stop us trying to improve safeguarding? Hopefully, a new NSPCC helpline can be used to protect us all, and encourage more people to speak out.
This month the NSPCC officially launched a ‘whistleblowing helpline to provide free advice and support to professionals wanting to raise concerns about how child protection issues are being handled in their own or other organisations. The advice line was commissioned by the Home Office as a firm commitment made by Government in its response to failures to protect children from sexual exploitation in Rotherham and the Government’s subsequent ‘Tackling Child Sexual Exploitation report.’
‘As a whistleblowing body, we seek to protect callers against unfair treatment should they make a disclosure relating to child protection. Callers are protected by law – they shouldn’t be treated unfairly or lose their job because they ‘blow the whistle’. People can raise their concern at any time about an incident that happened in the past, is happening now, or they believe will happen in the near future.
Unfortunately, at present this protection is applicable in England only, although the whistleblowing advice line can be accessed for support and advice from professionals across the UK.
If anyone reading this feels inspired (or spookily compelled if over 40) then write to your Welsh Assembly member and / or candidates and ask then to act to introduce the same provision for Wales.
Peter Wanless, NSPCC Chief Executive, said. “If an employee thinks a child is in danger or has been failed by their organisation then nothing should stand in the way of them speaking out. Too often people with concerns have kept silent because they have been fearful of the consequences for their jobs, and this can have devastating consequences for the children involved.
A feature of the child abuse scandals of recent years has been people who said they thought something wasn’t right but were unsure whether they could discuss their concerns confidentially outside their organisation. The new whistleblowing advice line is a vital new initiative and will provide a confidential, safe place for anyone who has concerns and wants support or advice.” (Wanless, 2016).
All this led me to think what happens when the person raising concerns is actually self employed by a larger organisation? Do they receive the same level of protection? Obviously, most foster carers, Shared Lives carers and agency workers are categorised as ‘self employed’ – so if these individuals raise a concern that they feel has not been adequately or appropriately addressed could there be consequences for them should they raise the matter at a higher level, or ‘whistleblow’ outside the organisation? The most obvious consequence being referrals to them suddenly ‘drying up’ or their Service Users being moved elsewhere for tenuous reasons.
We are all aware of the negative outcomes for whistle blowers – loss of work / revenue, bullying, isolation and stress, to name but a few of the potential consequences.
Zimbardo (in Smith, 2014) stated that, “Ideally, whistleblowers should always form a small team, because when you’re a whistleblower against a powerful system, the system dismisses you as a fanatic. But if you have three people, what you’re saying becomes a point of view.”
The good news is that whistleblower support and advocacy groups are springing up everywhere, in the UK and abroad (Smith, 2014).
Personally, I have raised the same concern on more than one occasion, as have others, and have never been reassured that the reasoning procedures, or lack of, stay the same are reasonable; and have never had a response in writing. Recently, I have had enforced time my on hands and have kept busy on some writing projects, artwork and, naturally being over the ‘40’ threshold, documenting and corresponding about my concerns.
I have researched my persistent concern around inequalities in safeguarding in my area of work. My very basic advice would include –
- Raise the concern informally initially. If you are not satisfied with the response, or do not even get one then record this with dates and times.
- Fill in an incident form if your organisation has one – for all incidents, concerns and ‘near misses’. This is an excellent way to inform on and improve practice in any industry.
- Try an find out if the issue been raised before? Can you get any documentation on this, or was in all verbal? What does the organization’s’ policies say on the matter?
- Ensure all your future concerns / questions are all documented as correspondence. Emails are great as they can be accurately timed and dated if questioned at a later date. Questions answered this way also ensure that the person replying has to consider the matter fully.
- Is there a more senior manager / management group that could be approached?
- Regulatory bodies and commissioning organisations are a great source of advice and information. And, of course, helplines.
Basically, document, document, document.
Just voicing a concern with colleagues or relying on others to act doesn’t incite change. Doing nothing could lead to the very thing you were concerned about.
Even small concerns, niggling doubts and things that do not ‘sit right’ with you must be recorded, reported and explored further. Sadly, just talking over concerns with colleagues, or even managers, is sometimes not enough.
As far as my actions are concerned they have not constituted whistleblowing as per the organisation’s policy; the policy concerns itself only with malpractice. My aim has been to increase current safeguarding procedures and to gain as much official advice and guidance as is available to all who choose to ask. Encouraging minuted discussions will hopefully be the result. If I am not alone in my concerns then change can be implemented. If I am alone then at least the issue has been fully discussed, recorded and risk assessed; and I can rest easy.
Safeguarding policy should never rest with one individual; there should always be multiagency collaboration to ensure that the needs of all are equally, effectively and consistently met.
I will end with a very old quote, ‘Early and provident fear is the mother of safety’ (Burke, 1792). As true today as it ever was.
25th February 2016
Burke, Edmund (1790) Reflections on the Revolution in France
Burke, Edmund (1792) Speech on the Petition of the Unitarians, volume vii, page 50.
NSPCC (2016) New whistleblowing advice line for professionals – Advice line for anyone concerned about how workplace child protection issues are being handled.
Smith, A. (2014) ‘There were hundreds of us crying out for help’: the afterlife of the whistleblower. The Guardian. 22.11.2014
Wanless, P. (2016) New whistleblowing advice line for professionals – Advice line for anyone concerned about how workplace child protection issues are being handled.