Social Work England has defended its impartiality and commitment to human rights, and called for further discussion about social workers’ use of social media, after warning a practitioner over posts it concluded were discriminatory towards transgender people, Community Care reported.

The case, concerning a social worker who shared dozens of posts on Facebook that were found to constitute “an extended pattern of discriminatory behaviour”, has sparked fierce online debate over the past week.

In a statement, SWE England said:

We are aware of the debate that’s taken place on Twitter over recent days in relation to professional practice and individual social workers’ positions on gender identity.

We want to be clear that as an independent public body we are committed both to upholding human rights and to maintaining impartiality– as must social workers on our register who support some of the most vulnerable people in society. We cannot comment on individual fitness to practise cases other than with the people directly involved.

We recognise that as qualified and registered professionals, social workers have a responsibility to draw on many theories, research and evidence and the views, wishes and experiences of the people they are supporting, including children and families, in order to exercise well rounded professional judgement.

It is important to continue to debate the issues that impact on professional practice, however we remind social workers that our professional standards state that their personal views must not impact on their work. These standards were developed in partnership with the social work profession, together with people with lived experience and promote the human rights of all people.

The use of social media can be a supportive tool for sharing ideas, knowledge and experience in social work. We are clear in our professional standards guidance that conduct on social media should in no way harm the public or compromise the support social workers provide to people. This includes undermining public confidence in the profession.

This debate shows that a much broader conversation is needed on how best to support social workers to engage respectfully and professionally online when areas of ethical tension arise. We want to work with the sector to expedite this work to ensure any further guidance we offer, alongside individual employer codes of conduct, remains useful and firmly grounded in the reality of what it means to be a social worker in 2021.

We will be reaching out shortly to encourage participation from across the sector and include people with lived experience to help take this work forward.

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