Show trials for social workers

The professionals “guilty” of failing to accept the medicalisation of vulnerable children

This article is taken from the November 2021 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issue for just £10.

Social work is not something one enters into lightly. It requires commitment, intelligence, emotional strength and the zeal to do the right thing but also the humility to know that solutions will never be perfect. Social workers are the life support for the most vulnerable of our society, and are individually held to account for systemic failures when tragedy occurs. Free and open debate is therefore essential.

Towards the end of 2020, a number of social workers in the UK established the Evidence-Based Social Work Alliance (EBSWA) because of the widespread adoption of policies based on transgender beliefs without discussion or an evidence base.

It’s hard to tell where the capture of governmental agencies hasn’t taken place

EBSWA was concerned at the possible implications for safeguarding, and about the implications for social workers who do not support the adoption of policies such as unquestioning acceptance of self-identified gender and automatic “transitioning” of children of any age and with or without parental consent.

EBSWA wrote an open letter on 9 February to the chief executives of Social Work England (SWE) and the comparable care councils in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as the British Association of Social Workers, and the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service requesting a policy review and practice guidance related to the “current policies and practices regarding sex and gender identity that have been adopted throughout the social work profession”.

The letter goes on to note: “We remain anonymous because of our concerns as to how social work professionals who question gender identity policy and practice are treated. This is reflected by our awareness that social workers are being investigated by regulatory bodies for engaging in discussion on this topic.”

The EBSWA letter expresses concern with the “affirmation model” adopted by regulatory agencies including SWE when there is “insufficient knowledge to support the current policies and practice”. They write:

Of immediate concern is the increasing numbers of children and young people with gender dysphoria who are presenting to the profession. The welfare of gender-dysphoric children is increasingly being discussed within the child-protection context, and yet our attempts to explore alternatives to the affirmation model are being met with accusations of hateful conduct and referrals to our regulator for investigation. We are being silenced in our attempts to understand and discuss the evidence-base[d] approaches to exploring this phenomenon.

EBSWA concludes its letter with four requests for these regulatory bodies: to review the policy and “update of practice guidance for social workers who are working with gender dysphoric children, their families, and schools”; produce evidence upon which the policy and practice guidelines on sex and gender issues are based; “facilitate respectful and considered debate on the topic of sex and gender identity in social work practice”; and create a zero-tolerance policy regarding threats, bullying and intimidation towards social workers who explore evidence for practice in this field.

The agencies’ response was interesting, especially this part, “There is a range of UK-wide and national-level guidance, produced by central government and devolved administrations respectively, aimed at child-centred safeguarding activity.”

It is already well documented that charities have been influencing government agencies with training to inculcate gender ideology in all levels of society — from schools to the workplace, youth projects, therapists and counsellors, to professional societies, academia and the judiciary, whose Equal Treatment Bench Book references Stonewall 27 times. It’s hard to tell where the capture of governmental agencies hasn’t taken place.

As a result, gender-critical views are increasingly coming under fire from the private and public sectors, irrespective of the recent High Court decision in the case of Maya Forstater guaranteeing that gender-critical views are a protected belief.

Two social workers licensed through SWE have been investigated for their “fitness to practise”, in 2019 and 2020. While both were cleared of accusations made against them — both took their cases to a public hearing within SWE — one was investigated twice and lost a job because employers don’t necessarily want to keep individuals under investigation. These investigations have a chilling effect not only on individual social workers, but on the wider profession.

In June 2020, a social worker was accused by an unnamed member of the public of having “used social media to share posts that were discriminatory in nature, signed petitions and donated funds to organisations that discriminate against specific groups”. The eight-month investigation concluded with a decision on 8 July 2021. On 17 August, SWE published a full report and summary — though three days later it pulled the report from its website.

The report claimed the social worker “used social media unethically” by sharing posts, petitions and links to fundraising sites on Facebook for “people and/or organisations which appear to hold and/or have publicised discriminatory views” and “signed petitions” and “donated money to organisations which appear to hold discriminatory views”. In July the SWE ruled the social worker’s fitness to practise was “impaired by way of misconduct”.

Yet the report presented no evidence of discrimination. Indeed, it stated, “no evidence has been offered that would suggest that the social worker acted in a transphobic manner whilst at work”. Her line manager provided a testimonial stating, “I am confident [the social worker] has never practised in a discriminatory way.” It therefore appears the ruling was entirely based upon screenshots of her private social media posts, including “multiple posts which could be considered discriminatory”. The report then gives examples that are vague and not accompanied by evidence.

Among these alleged posts, she is accused of sharing the “Thank you to Glinner” fundraiser on Facebook, adding, “This appears to refer to Graham Linehan who publicly denounces the rights of transgender people.” The report then makes spurious accusations directed at Linehan, the Irish television writer who co-created Father Ted. While it is of great concern that social workers must account for the actions of strangers whose posts they share online, it is of greater concern how the “quality” of a social worker’s social media postings even fits into the mandate as social work.

Linehan wrote to SWE and asked that they remove reference to him and apologise. The SWE responded that it would temporarily remove the case examiners’ determination from its website while “considering your concerns carefully”. However, “the decision made by our Case Examiners stands, and our website will continue to record the warning order made against [name of social worker].”

It becomes clear that one is reviewing the documentation of what can be described as mobbing and intimidation in the professional sector

Linehan tells me, “even though it’s exhausting to be defamed by people who ought to know better, I’m glad it came to my attention because it enables me to do everything I can to clear this woman’s name. She did nothing wrong, her beliefs and mine are protected by law, and I will be taking this further with my solicitor unless I receive a full apology.”

The decision then moves to an examination of the virtue and quality of this social worker’s feminism, whereby it is asserted that by sharing posts by Linehan she is “arguably unlikely to be considered in support of feminism given some of the discriminatory language/posts he has levelled against a number of high-profile women. The case examiners also note that this individual has been cautioned by the police because of their behaviour.”

Reading through the report it becomes eminently clear that one is reviewing the documentation of what can easily be described as mobbing and intimidation in the professional sector. It is clear she is frightened of losing her job and caught in the headlights of a powerful structure that has the ability to destroy her professional life. It is uncomfortable to read her forced mea culpa, which comes across as a confession made under duress: “May I take this opportunity to express my regret for any unintentional upset that may have been caused to anyone affected by the issues on social media. It has been a sharp lesson for me and one I will not repeat.”

How is it that a seasoned social worker critical of gender ideology is forced to grovel and apologise for perfectly legal, rational utterances and behaviours in the absence of evidence to the contrary to save her livelihood? The report outlines the social worker’s atonement and what it might mean:

The social worker has reflected on their learning and has provided the regulator with evidence of their continued professional development. The social worker has given some thought to the gaps in their knowledge base, they state “I have always felt that I embraced LGBT issues but this training has enabled me to reflect on my reduced understanding on gender diverse and trans people. I have always been a feminist and on reflection I feel that I may have been swayed by the mistaken view of other prominent feminists who felt that promoting transgender rights would impede on women’s rights. This was a gap in my knowledge base and this training has shown me how to work in a much more inclusive way.”

But the report questions why she undertook this training only after she was informed that she was under investigation. Later on, however, it states, “Given that this training was completed recently it could be argued that the social worker has not had sufficient opportunity to demonstrate that they can put their learning into practice.” This social worker was given a one-year “warning order” and “accepted disposal” which means that she has agreed to the warning (akin to a police caution). Still, her employment might have been put unnecessarily at risk from this investigation since the SWE is a regulatory body and private employers have fired social workers under investigation.

Social workers should be concerned that disciplinary action will be launched against them too, where their online posts are scrutinised, their lives upended, and silence procured. I have spoken to many social workers in recent months over this issue and only Maggie Mellon of EBSWA would agree to be named. “Many can’t speak out because they are dependent upon their income,” she explains. “There have been other members who have faced investigation. I work independently and I am older so I am not reliant on employment income.”

Mellon has started a Twitter campaign for registered social workers to declare their support and demand that SWE stops disciplining social workers for stating their beliefs. While many retweeted her post, an “I am Spartacus” response commenced with social workers tweeting their concerns over the medicalisation of children with gender dysphoria while expressing their support for women’s groups.

Other social workers expressed the need for “evidence-based support and resources” and many wrote from accounts that hid their identity writing, “I too am a registered social worker. I am gender critical. I fully agree with the sentiments below but cannot risk suspension from my job by going public.”

Mellon tells me that there are still other battles to be had beyond this latest case: “The Regulator should reconsider in the light of the widespread protest, and withdraw the judgment. They should uphold the right of social workers to hold and express gender-critical beliefs. This would allow us to then address the legitimate child protection and associated professional concerns without the threat of investigation and sanction.”

Social workers should be concerned that disciplinary action will be launched against them too

“You can’t just pick up an ideology and impose it onto the profession,” Mellon protests: “Social workers know that lots of people hold beliefs that are not supported by evidence. They have a right to hold the belief that people can belong to the opposite of their own sex, or can change sex. They do not have a right to insist that others accept and act on their beliefs. What concerns us about the SWE authorities and the government in Scotland is that what we see as irrational and unevidenced beliefs have been accepted without evidence.”

Many social workers feel SWE is in the wrong and that there will be wider implications for their recent decision. The 2019 “Ngole versus the University of Sheffield” legal case regarding the right of a social work student to express his religious views on homosexuality on social media demonstrated that free speech was protected in social work. The court ruled, “the University wrongly confused the expression of religious views with the notion of discrimination,” making the argument that the “mere expression of views on theological grounds (e.g. that “homosexuality is a sin”) does not necessarily connote that the person expressing such views will discriminate on such grounds.”

Nevertheless, many social workers feel constrained by their professional regulatory bodies, which reward or punish employees according to certain beliefs while adhering to training programmes from the well-funded gender lobby. The situation is indefensible as a proposition for social work — a profession with rapidly evolving social policy shifts — if there is no freedom to raise questions and concerns where the rights of the most vulnerable are at stake.

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