Recording Social Workers

Posted on Tuesday, 1st Sep, 2015 at 08:31:01 PM
Prepare to be very shocked. And then very angry.

At the Transparency Project Conference in June 2015, a question was asked about whether parents should be allowed to tape record discussions and conversations.

Social work can involve an imbalance of power with a parent, and where a parent feels that they want their own record of what was said, or to be able to go back to it later to hear it again, they should be able to.

It is easier and easier for a parent to record conversations, and I can absolutely see why they might want to do it. I have always said to social workers that they should never say or write anything that they would not be happy hearing being read out loud in Court. Good social workers have nothing to fear from a parent recording them. It is awkward, it feels uncomfortable, but if you put yourself in the parents shoes for a moment, that must be how they feel all of the time. If it levels the playing field a little, that may be a good thing.

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According to a precedent-setting court case, Re J, parents have the right to tell their story as long as they do not identify the child. But there is a clear statutory law in place that prevents anyone from publishing information identifying a child as being the subject of care proceedings. If a parent were to publish recordings or even an account of their case in a way that identifies their child, local authorities could get an injunction to stop that happening.

However, understandably, many councils have erred on the side of caution and tried to prevent parents from making recordings in the first place to avoid the risk of this happening, rather than waiting until information was shared that could potentially harm the child.

In guidance given by councils to The Transparency Project under the Freedom of Information Act, several referred to data protection and human rights as reasons not to permit parents to record meetings.

The Data Protection Act 1998 does not prevent parents recording meetings. It was designed to apply to organisations processing data, not individuals, particularly if the data is collected for personal use.

The Transparency Project has now published its own (non-binding) guidance which states that what a professional says at a social work meeting is not personal data for the purposes of the Act, although the personal data of others may be contained in what is said at a meeting. It is the social workers own record of any meetings which falls under the provisions of the Act. The same applies to the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA).

Similarly, family members do not owe a duty to one another or to the social worker under the Human Rights Act. When it comes to matters of human rights it is the social worker, as an agent of the state, who owes a duty to the family and must act with a respect for the rights of privacy, family life and expression.

The rights of the social worker to privacy do not apply since a meeting attended by someone in their role as a social worker is unlikely to contain information about the social workers private life.

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