RELEVANT GUIDANCE AND INFORMATION
- Aims of the Policy
- Key Principles
- Safeguards for Staff
- Anonymous Allegations
- Untrue Allegations
- How to Raise a Concern
- Provisions for the Protection of Individuals
- Procedure for Managers Receiving Concerns
- Procedure for Investigating Officers
- Outcomes of the Investigations
- Child Protection Concerns
- Reporting back
- Annual Report
Where any employee, volunteer or service provider (for the purposes of this procedure, the term staff is used) has any concerns whatsoever that a colleague is acting inappropriately and/or in a way which may cause Significant Harm to a child, then it is that person's responsibility to report that concern.
In the first place they should contact their line manager; unless they believe the manager may be implicated, in which case they must report the matter to another relevant manager who may not be.
If staff are not sure who to talk to they should contact the Designated Manager for Complaints or, if Significant Harm is suspected, the Independent Review Unit.
Coventry Social Services Department relies on the dedication, professionalism and skill of its staff. However, our work with vulnerable children and families places staff and volunteers in positions of power. In order to retain the trust of those we are trying to help it is essential we take all reasonable steps to ensure this power is exercised responsibly.
Employees are usually the first to know when something is going seriously wrong within the workplace. However, they may not express their concerns because they feel that to do so would be disloyal to their colleagues or to the Department. They may also fear harassment or victimisation. In these circumstances they may feel it would be easier to ignore the concern rather than report what may just be a suspicion of malpractice. The culture of turning a blind eye and an aversion to "informing on others", means that all too often the alarm is not sounded on such malpractice. In addition, employees wondering whether to raise concerns often fear they won't be listened to, or that they will be putting their jobs at risk. The result is that the people in charge do not get the chance to take action before real damage is done.
Whistleblowing policies aim to ensure that serious concerns are properly raised and addressed in the workplace and are increasingly recognised as a key tool to deliver good practice. An effective whistleblowing policy will help:
- Deter serious malpractice;
- Ensure staff play their part and feel valued;
- Promote accountability throughout the organisation;
- Uphold the reputation of the organisation and maintain public confidence.
Coventry Social Services Department is committed to the highest possible standards of openness, probity and accountability. In line with that commitment we expect employees, and others that we deal with who have genuine concerns about any aspect of the Department's work to come forward and voice those concerns. This culture recognises some concerns may prove unfounded. We believe, however, that it is better to raise a genuine unfounded concern than to take the risk of an unreported concern causing serious harm to a service user.
This policy document makes it clear that employees can raise concerns without fear of victimisation, subsequent discrimination or disadvantage. It is intended to encourage and enable employees to raise serious concerns within the Department rather than overlooking a problem or "blowing the whistle" outside.
The policy applies to all employees and those contractors working for the Department on Departmental premises, for example, agency staff, builders and drivers. It also covers suppliers and those providing services under a contract with the Department in their own premises, for example care homes.
Concerns may be raised about:
- Coventry Social Services staff and volunteers;
- Seconded and other local authority staff involved in partnership projects (N.B. It is desirable for the Whistleblowing Policy to be referred to within Service Level Agreements);
- Students on practice placements.
This policy and procedure is additional to the Department's procedures to deal with complaints from the public, the harassment of staff and matters of staff grievance and discipline. Employees are expected to use the provisions of those procedures when appropriate. There may be times, however, when the matter is not about a member of staff's personal employment position and needs to be handled in a different way. Examples may be where an employee witnesses, or has reasonable grounds to believe that, another member of staff is undertaking the care of service users in such a way that:
- Is clearly an infringement of their personal, human and basic rights;
- Falls below established standards of practice; or
- Results in the misappropriation of a service user's property or income.
In these circumstances the whistleblowing policy should be invoked.
3. Aims of the Policy
- To encourage staff to feel confident about raising serious concerns and to question and act upon concerns about practice;
- Provide a way for staff to raise those concerns and receive appropriate feedback on any action taken;
- Ensure that staff receive a response to their concerns and that they are aware of how to pursue them if they are not satisfied;
- Reassure staff that they will be protected from possible reprisals or victimisation if they have made any disclosure in good faith.
4. Key Principles
- All members of staff have a moral obligation, a right and a duty to raise with the Department any instance of malpractice, negligence or unprofessional behaviour towards a service user. The Department has a duty of care to users which in part is met through staff undertaking their proper obligation of reporting bad practice;
- Every Manager has a duty to ensure that staff are easily able to express their concerns through all levels of Management in the Department. Managers must ensure that any concerns raised are dealt with thoroughly and fairly and in accordance with the legal rights of the employee;
- Employees who express their views in accordance with this procedure will not be penalised or suffer adverse consequences including informal pressures, unless there is evidence of criminal or malicious intent. As a result, it is recognised that where a complaint is made in good faith, it may nevertheless have no foundation;
- The Department expects openness to be fostered so that staff are encouraged freely to contribute their views on all aspects of the Department's activities, especially the delivery of care and services to users and carers. Such a culture combined with adherence to proper management, review of service and client consultation, should minimise the need for such a procedure. Moreover, staff must feel that their legitimate views will be welcomed, appreciated, kept confidential where possible and, where appropriate, acted on positively.
5. Safeguards for Staff
This policy and procedure has been written to take account of the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998, which gives legal protection to workers making disclosures about certain matters of concern, where those disclosures are made in accordance with the Act's provisions.
The Department recognises that the decision to report a concern can be a difficult one to make. If what is said is true the informant should have nothing to fear because they will be doing their duty to their employer and those for whom they are providing a service. The Department will not tolerate any harassment or victimisation (including informal pressures) and will regard any attempt to discriminate against employees for raising genuine concerns or to prevent such concerns being raised as a serious disciplinary matter.
Coventry Social Services Department will make every effort to protect the anonymity of the informant if requested. In some circumstances this may not be possible, for example, if evidence has to be given in criminal or civil proceedings or in a disciplinary investigation. In such circumstances we will protect anonymity for as long as possible and the staff member will be informed prior to disclosure and appropriate support offered.
Because issues raised under the Whistleblowing Policy will often be of a sensitive nature, those participating should agree not to discuss the matter outside of the enquiry until an outcome has been reached.
7. Anonymous Allegations
This policy encourages staff to put their name to their allegations whenever possible. Concerns expressed anonymously are much less powerful but will be considered at the discretion of the Department. In exercising this discretion the factors to be taken into account would include:
- The seriousness of the issues;
- The credibility of the concern;
- The likelihood of confirming the allegation from attributable sources.
8. Untrue Allegations
If a member of staff makes an allegation in good faith, but it is not confirmed by the investigation, no action will be taken against them. However, the Department will view very seriously any unsubstantiated allegations, which prove to have been made maliciously or knowing them to be false and will regard this as a serious disciplinary offence.
9. How to Raise a Concern
Staff may raise a concern with their line manager, or where they feel unable to speak to their manager with any other member of staff who they feel would be in a position to assist them. Such staff may include a more senior line manager, Service Manager, Employee Development Officer, Human Resource Officer, Complaints and Customer Service Officer or directly with the Head of Group, Children's Services.
If staff are unsure about who to talk to they should usually contact the Designated Manager for Complaints, who may re-direct them to another relevant person. Any concerns about Significant Harm should be raised direct with the Independent Review Unit.
Concerns may be raised verbally or in writing. Those who wish to make a written report are invited to use the following format:
- The background and history of the concern (giving relevant dates);
- The reason why they are particularly concerned about the situation;
- The extent to which they have personally witnessed or experienced the problem (providing documented evidence where possible).
Although members of staff are not expected to prove beyond doubt the truth of an allegation, they will need to demonstrate to the person contacted that there are reasonable grounds for their concern.
If anyone feels unable to raise their concern under the Whistleblowing Policy, they may seek advice from Public Concern at Work, a charity which offers free, confidential legal advice on serious concerns in the workplace on 020 7404 6609.
10. Provisions for the Protection of individuals
The need to safeguard the interests of children and the duty of care toward staff present difficult dilemmas for any organisation. Ultimately, however, under the Children Act 1989 the welfare of the child should be paramount.
In carrying out its duty to safeguard the welfare of children by taking seriously and investigating allegations of bad practice, the authority must, at all times, act reasonably and fairly to the individuals concerned, giving them access to appropriate support and preventing undue stress through inefficient implementation of procedures.
Therefore, the following standards must be observed, particularly when whistleblowing procedures are invoked, which can lead to particular tensions between the employees concerned:
- The children
If young people are aware of the concerns for any reason, they must be offered the independent support of the NCH Children's Rights Service and encouraged not to discuss the concerns outside this facility.
Young people may have genuine worries about the ultimate impact upon them of the inquiries. These should be taken seriously and receive prompt and practical responses without prejudice to the outcome of the investigation;
- The person reporting concerns
Members of staff who raise concerns will be offered independent support through the Employee Services' Counselling and Support Service or from their Trade Union representative.
It must be acknowledged that regardless of the outcome of any inquiry under this procedure, there is likely to be some resultant tension between the person reporting the concern and the staff member about whose practice issues have been raised. This is best dealt with openly between the parties involved (if anonymity allows) and their line manager(s). Formal mediation may be offered in situations where there is a serious likelihood of relationships permanently breaking down. Escalation of such matters cannot be tolerated and must be attended to promptly by appropriate management action.
The grievance and disciplinary procedures should be invoked if needed;
- The person complained about
Regardless of the outcome of a whistleblowing inquiry, the process will inevitably be painful for the subject of the inquiry. Adherence to the timescales and procedures set out will minimise the uncertainty and discomfort for all parties, most particularly the person complained about.
Members of staff in this position will be offered independent support through the Employee Services' Counselling and Support Service or from their Trade Union representative.
11. Procedure for Managing Receiving of Concerns
The person receiving the concern should refer the matter to the Head of Group, Children's Services, or where there is concern about involvement or collusion of the Head of Group, the Director of Social Services and Housing.
Initial inquiries will take place to decide whether an investigation is appropriate. Some concerns can be resolved by agreed action without investigation.
Within 10 working days of a concern being raised, the Head of Group will usually write to the person reporting the issue, (obviously this will not be possible if they have chosen to remain anonymous):
- Acknowledging that the concern has been received;
- Stating whether any initial inquiries have been made;
- Indicating how they propose to deal with the matter;
- Supplying information on staff support mechanisms;
- Advising whether further investigations will take place and if not why not;
- Confirming the name of the investigating officer, if appropriate, and stating the process to be followed;
- giving an estimate of how long it will take to provide a final response.
If an investigation is required, the Head of Group will ascertain the level of independence required and appoint an appropriate investigator. The Head of Group, unless of the opinion that this may compromise the inquiry, should ensure that the appropriate Service Manager is aware of the case. The advice of the Director should be sought in any case where a senior manager is potentially implicated in allegations of bad practice.
Any concerns about the actions or behaviour of employees of partner organisations or students on placement, should be reported to the employer or placing college of the person about whom concerns have been raised. The Head of Group will ensure this is done.
12. Procedure for Investigating Officers
Following the decision to proceed with an investigation, the investigating officer will hold a meeting with the person reporting the concern within 5 days at an appropriate venue (this may be away from the workplace) in order to:
- Take details of the concerns;
- Identify and take account of the member of staff's views on how the concern might be resolved;
- Ascertain whether the member of staff wishes their identity to be disclosed and how much they wish to be informed about the process of the investigation;
- Establish whether the member of staff wishes to make a written or verbal statement.
The meeting will be recorded by the investigating officer and the accuracy of the record agreed with the person reporting the concern. The member of staff may, at their own request, be accompanied at this meeting by a friend or colleague, or a representative from a Trade Union or professional association.
The investigation may need to be carried out under the terms of strict confidentiality i.e. by not informing the subject of the complaint until or if it becomes necessary to do so. In certain cases, however, such as allegations of ill treatment of users, suspension from work may have to be considered immediately. Protection of users is paramount in all cases.
The investigator should aim to complete the inquiry and provide a report making recommendations for action to the line manager, with copies to the Head of Group and Service Manager within 28 days of the concern being raised. Where the inquiry cannot be concluded within this timescale, a progress report will be provided to the Head of Group and a date given for completion, which will be agreed with the Head of Group.
13. Outcomes of Investigations
If the issue appears to be of a relatively minor and straightforward nature and clearly does not involve a disciplinary or formal Child Protection Investigation, the investigator will meet both with the individual who is the cause of the concerns to address the matter and separately with the individual's line manager.
The line manager will be responsible for ensuring that any action recommended by the investigator is carried out e.g. training, additional supervision, support to the person who has reported the concern.
Where concerns are disputed, the investigator and the line manager should agree a plan of action to try and resolve the disputed areas, calling upon the expertise of other staff e.g. Human Resources and operational staff as necessary.
When the matter appears to have implications under the disciplinary procedure, the investigator should seek guidance from Human Resources before approaching the person about whom there is concern.
This discussion will lead to a decision about whether to invoke the disciplinary procedure. If this is the route through which the matter is to be progressed, consideration must be given to:
- The process of further investigation, including the order in which witnesses and colleagues will be interviewed by the investigator and the timescales in accordance with the disciplinary procedure for its conclusion;
- Whether it is appropriate for the appointed investigator to continue to lead the investigation (in most cases a change will not be called for);
- What measures if any are needed to support the person reporting the concern.
14. Child Protection Concerns
If the concern appears to involve ongoing abuse (of any sort) to a child, the investigator must consider what immediate action is necessary to protect the needs of the child, including referring the matter under the child protection and/or disciplinary procedures.
The investigator must discuss with the Service Manager (if appropriate) and designated Human Resource Officer, the relationship between the disciplinary procedure and these other investigative strands before taking any action.
When the matter has been referred for a child protection inquiry the investigator's own inquiries will be superseded by the external inquiry.
Where the child protection and/or disciplinary inquiries reveal no cause for concern the investigator will complete their inquiries according to the provisions above.
15. Reporting Back
Following any inquiry, the person who reported the concern will be informed of the outcome of any investigation into the concerns raised. Sometimes it may not be possible to reveal the full extent of the investigation where this relates to personal issues involving a third party. Where action is not taken an explanation will be given.
If the person who raised the concern does not agree with the way it has been addressed, they may, in the first instance, notify the Director of Social Services and Housing. Thereafter, they may seek advice from Public Concern at Work.
A record of the inquiry and the outcome will be retained on the Human Resources file of the person complained about for as long as those files are retained. The record on the file of the person complained about will exclude the identity of the complainant in cases where anonymity has been maintained.
Where the concern is found to be unsubstantiated, the person complained about may attach their own comment regarding the investigation on their personal file and the concern will not be referred to adversely e.g. in appraisal or for a job reference. Where the concern is upheld, reference to it will be determined in the light of Human Resource's standard policy.
17. Annual Report
An annual report showing the use of the policy will be submitted to the Cabinet Member for Social Services by the Head of Group.