RSS Feed

Hippocratic Oath and the Brownie Promise

The Argentinian writer, Jorge Luis Borges (who once described the Falklands conflict as “like two bald-headed men fighting over a comb”) once observed that despite the Koran being set entirely in the Middle East, there is not one reference to a camel within its pages.

 In a similar vein, the Children Act 1989, which governs what we do when conducting care proceedings, makes no reference to social workers at all (and the much bandied about word ‘cooperation’ appears only once, in section 27, which relates solely to two Local Authorities co-operating with one another).

 In large part of course, that’s because the Children Act addresses itself to Local Authorities, and puts the duties and powers on them as a corporate and administrative body, and occasionally speaks of ‘officers of the Local Authority’

 And of course, social workers have not only to answer to the duties and obligations that fall on the Local Authority under the Children Act 1989 but also to their terms of employment, their line manager and their professional code of conduct. They have very firm guidance on Best Practice – there are reams and reams of guidance and strictures and stipulations they have to follow. And the profession is much more introspective and committed to doing the job well than the media would ever give them credit for.

 But it did get me musing on whether one could import something like the Hippocratic Oath (or the Brownie Promise) into social work  – one fairly short, pithy and clear statement of what society expects of a social worker and the code by which they should live.

 [I did not realise until I began looking at this, that around 50% of UK doctors don’t actually ever swear the Hippocratic Oath – which is the common name for what is actually the Declaration of Geneva 1948 . Looking at its terms, I sort of wonder what Doctor would have an issue in swearing it, other than Harold Shipman. And weirdly the major omission in this from the Hippocratic Oath was that under that, the doctors also swore to refrain from seducing their patients or members of the patients household during visits…



  • I  SOLEMNLY PLEDGE to consecrate my life to the service of humanity;
  • I  WILL GIVE to my teachers the respect and gratitude that is their due;
  • I WILL PRACTICE my profession with conscience and dignity;
  • THE HEALTH OF MY PATIENT will be my first consideration;
  • I WILL RESPECT the secrets that are confided in me, even after the patient has died;
  • I WILL MAINTAIN by all the means in my power, the honour and the noble traditions of the medical profession;
  • MY COLLEAGUES will be my sisters and brothers;
  • I WILL NOT PERMIT considerations of age, disease or disability, creed, ethnic origin, gender, nationality, political affiliation, race, sexual orientation, social standing or any other factor to intervene between my duty and my patient;
  • I WILL MAINTAIN the utmost respect for human life;
  • I WILL NOT USE my medical knowledge to violate human rights and civil liberties, even under threat;
  • I MAKE THESE PROMISES solemnly, freely and upon my honour. ]



Also, in looking at this, I see that some social workers have of their own accord devised a similar Hippocratic Oath for social workers and signed up to it themselves.  A quick google search will turn some up. They are, for my tastes, a bit long and wishy-washy   (and frankly, do parents and children care that “My colleagues will be my sisters and brothers” ? ), though I admire the spirit of them.

 So, if you were writing, from scratch, a Hippocratic Oath for social workers, with what you wanted the professions ideals to be, what would you have in it?

 I will pre-empt some of the responses that I might get  (ha ha, the Oath should be “I promise to bully, intimidate, lie, cheat and deceive, and be a jackbooted nazi wherever possible” )    – let’s look at what we would want the ideals of the profession to be, and to have something fairly short and simple that would allow the public to know what was expected of social workers.

 For my part, I think a starting point would be  “I will always be honest and open with families, and my starting point will be to keep families together if I can”

 I would also want  “I will respect the people I am working with, and respect that I am intruding in their life and may have to say things that are hard to hear. Where they have problems, my starting point will be to try to help them.”

 And “I will listen to the child and their welfare will be my paramount concern, and I will always remember that where it is safe to do so, the best place for them is with their family”

 Would that be a decent start?

Or, in even snappier form  “A social worker should Be nice, be truthful, be fair, be patient,  be understanding, be sympathetic, be alert, be there”


About suesspiciousminds

Law geek, local authority care hack, fascinated by words and quirky information; deeply committed to cheesecake and beer.

18 responses

  1. I solemnly swear that I will respect the human rights of birth families and be dedicated to truth, and at all times respecting the human life regardless of gender, age, disability, creed, ethnic origin, religion or social standing.
    I swear on oath not to abuse the powers bestowed on me.
    I promise to respect both my employer, my team and equally the lives of the clients with whom I have been trusted with making life changing decisions.
    Therefore at all times I will be open, honest and trustworthy, in person, my record keeping, statements and presentations to court.
    I assure all that I will work with no hidden agendas, be transparent at all times and will not falter from the path of both human rights to a family life and the ultimate protection of the child.
    I will work at all times to maintain the birth family unit, protect it and nurture and heal it where possible.
    Only when the finding of facts has proved the rights of the parents are secondary to the safty of the child will I present a case to court to remove a child.
    For the reason above I promise to work honestly, accuratly without malice with all other agencies involved in the protection of children
    Again confirming that I will also keep all communications both in person, writen or electronic to the upmost accuracy.
    To protect the title and profession as social worker, I also find it my duty to whistleblow on any other social worker, agency member, employer or involved person who fails to respect the powers bestowed upon them and causes harm to either a team member or client.through malice, dishonesty, inaccurate records or by failing to work within due process.

    , ,

    • Thank you Sheila, exactly the sort of thing I was looking for. I would only have a quibble with timing of finding of fact hearings (since these often come 2-4 months after the serious injury to the child), but think thats a legitimate public debate – should removal hearings require the Court to make much more detailed findings than they need to at present?

      • Finding of FACT should start on the first alert, which really is a police matter if a serious injury is obvious. The social services really have no excuse for the deaths as ALL the warning signals have been there but not acted on.
        Lets be honest here, if a social worker had the choice of entering a house where there was potential danger (to them) to investigate a danger to a child most social workers would not attend and prefer to put it on the back burner so to speak.
        Hence the many child deaths and why the social services target the more vulnable parent/s filling their diarys to excuse themselves.
        As the social services also have the powers of EPO, why is this not used in cases of obvious abuse and why are the children so often put with poorly trained or non specialist trained foster carers who can only muddy the waters further.
        And why are there cases where the parent has requested an EPO to protect the child against a violent or unstable ex only to lose the children herself when she has clearly done all to protect the children.

    • ” I also find it my duty to whistleblow on any other social worker, agency member, employer or involved person who fails to respect the powers bestowed upon them and causes harm to either a team member or client.through malice, dishonesty, inaccurate records or by failing to work within due process”

      Agree. This is a much more appropriate statement than “My colleagues will be my sisters and brothers”, this last one more suitable for the Holy Inquisition than a public body.

    • You wrote: “if a social worker had the choice of entering a house where there was potential danger (to them) to investigate a danger to a child most social workers would not attend and prefer to put it on the back burner so to speak”.

      In Norway, the local child protectors (barnevernet), to my knowledge, have the power of entering homes any moment they choose. They just need to have the police with them, but the police always accommodates. They use this right with great gusto; perhaps because of this (as well as some other factors) Norway is one of least family-friendly places in the world.

      True, Norway has a very good record in children’s healthcare and some other quality of life aspects, but the official attitudes to family life there are appalling, the social workers’ right to enter homes any time being one of the issues.

      • You are so right Alice, They have far too much power which leads to corruption. Local to here was a recent case of ‘social worker knows best’ which lead to a elderly mother to a local buisnessman being removed from his home against both their wishes. She later died alone in a nursing home and the son was sent a bill just after his mother’s death. He was forced to pay for something neither of them wanted which also finished his buisness. During all of it his only concern was for his mother who he believed was not being given the time or care that she would have received at home. It was so upsetting to witness his pain and that of his mothers.
        But having worked in these homes I have seen time and time again the wrongs of social services decisions which devastate people’s lives. I have also witnessed first hand in a couple of them abuse towards the clients.
        Once when campaigning on family rights, door to door I came across a very elderly lady who had pleaded with the social services to give her home support to enable her to bath once a week. Sadly the social services did not give her the support she needed. The lady had no bath for over a year.
        It seems that both in children’s cases as well as the elderly the social services are more intent on becoming voyuers untill such time there is some financial gain for the better off or govenment. i.e. Children in foster care, private children’s homes, (where charges can average £3.500 per week per child in private children’s homes)
        Elderly care can average £450 per week for the basic care.
        These children and elderly homes are springing up all over the place. One area I lived in campaigned for NO more children’s homes.
        Yes, and I understand the last paragraph of your letter, the Liverpool Care Pathway. Easier to hand out when the patient is in an alien placement.
        Holocaust was never branded about lightly concerning the vast removal of children into care, nor sadly when it concerns the elderly and vulnable.
        The social services have become the mere puppets of the county halls and govenment just as the Nazi was to Hitler.
        My father (ex soldier of WW11) will be turning in his grave.

      • Here they can enter a home with force by order with police attendance and remove children.
        But should be used in cases of obvious abuse, the problem with the child deaths here is that a social worker has failed to realise (even though it was obvious to everyone else) the child was in serious danger.
        At the same time these sort of idiot social workers involve themselves with innocent people’s lives. Like I say it fills their diary and makes their day simpler.
        In Norway it shows that even more ‘powers’ just leads to more abuse.
        The question should be, “Should these social workers have such powers”. The problem here is that no-one in the govenment wants to deal with it. You always see an almost empty ‘house’ when the subject is brought up by a family rights campaigning MP

      • Thank you all, very interesting debate. It is certainly right that we in England still have something of a patrician attitude towards the State knowing best and not so much on respecting people’s autonomy and ability to live their lives and do so in unorthodox or even mistaken ways, as long as there isn’t danger to themselves or other people. I think the spirit of the legislation (especially the Mental Capacity Act, touched on here) is to respect autonomy, but it doesn’t get translated always into action.

        And yes, where the law hands a great deal of power to agents of the State, it also should hand down responsibilities and obligations to exercise that power fairly and proportionately, and put in place proper checks and balances to make sure that where it isn’t, such decisions can be challenged and put right. Sadly, that doesn’t always happen, and the changes coming forward (particularly the changes to access to free legal advice coming from 1st April 2013, and probably the changes that have been made to cut down the funding for solicitors doing family work and thus their ability to spend the time it takes to do it well) all put that in further jeopardy.

        Thank you all for your contributions. And the Norweigan slant on things was very interesting.

        [I can vouch for the child protection legislation being woefully underscrutinised by the MPS we elect to do this sort of thing – I once had to search for something specific in the Adoption and Children Act parliamentary discussions and 80% plus of it was about the provisions for same-sex couples being able to adopt because that was something the Mail and Telegraph were vexed about, and very little on the need for proper safeguards and fairness, resulting in a system where parents can theoretically oppose an adoption application, but don’t get to ever do it in practice)

  2. If only they could follow the oath it would be helpful,
    From experience this is not always the case, mainly open and honest,
    It would help the families they are there to help!!!

  3. Edna Fletcher

    A good try ‘Suess’ to try and deal with the derision with which social workers are held- not just by the media who portray public failings. Private failings, which are more numerous, go unrecorded.

    Perhaps the starting point is the recognition that social work has no specific body of knowledge or special skills that anyone who is interested and works well with people to help them could not undertake/ learn.

    Social work has been around for hundreds of years in forms of local ‘do-gooding busybodies’ or even more distant philanthropic sorts. In many parts of the world these ‘informal’ non government paid individuals are still more common, as were in the UK ‘unqualified’ social workers before statutory legislation gave rise to approved mental health social work and child protection work. Adult social work directors are now trying hard to give the same footing to adult social work. It is statutory work which as elevated them in their own group.

    Unlike many professions which are the domain of the children of middle class and professional parents, social work actually has less of this group and often you will find their backgrounds are not less messy than their clients. My theory: this makes them more prone to spouting about ‘values’ but actually unable to do other than work in extremes of behaviour. No doubt there are good individual social workers- but their belief in their goodness, above the rest of the population, lacks credibility. But there are more who have used becoming a social worker to gain some standing they would not have otherwise- with power to abuse. And indeed they do this with some hidden regularity. So hence you get the tirades against them.

    No code of conduct or reams of guidance on practice makes a jot of difference. Most after 7 years are still misusing the Mental Capacity Act- this is well reported. researched. They are highly incompetent- that is what makes them lie and cover up.

    • Nice try, you have engaged the opposition. What I would like is that SOCIAL WORKERS do the most humate and courageous thing to do and that is WHISTLEBLOW. I mean how many care homes does it take?.

      • Sorry I meant `humane` and not `humate`. Being a lawyer you might pick over the bones of my typing; instead of looking at the justice of the situation.

    • Couldnt have put it better, so when are the solicitors and Judges going to realise what is going on right under their noses and stop it happening. Especially now adoption is being fast tracked, I can see a rise in child deaths and abuse while the LA plays with this one and targets even more vulnable but decent parents.

  4. Sociial workers should be whistle-blowers without fear.Unfortunately those that have blown the whislte about the terrible care of childre have been harassed and then sacked.

    Jack Straw was there when the new law came out. It did not matter if a child was abused or felt distressed, it was unlawful for that child to bring these matters out.


    And where were you?

  5. Whistle blowers are the ones who joined up to work in the REAL interests of children to nurture, heal and give support, protect the children and the birth family framework. But they are also the ones who can see real abuse and act on it. They are also the ones who know where the failings are in protecting children at real risk. But they are a minority striving to highlight the failures against the almighty powers of the LA.
    Just as the many hundreds of parents crying out to be heard who have lost their children through social worker negligence, failure in duty of care, false record keeping and perjury.
    It really needs the family courts to NOT take the words of the social worker but insist on their own fact finding and police investigation (police investigation where signs of serious abuse have been reported) There also needs to be less of court ‘experts’ who more often than not just muddy the waters further due to the experts working on wrong information given by the social services departments.

    • Edna Fletcher

      Personal and professional experience of ‘paid’ social workers over decades has shown they are uncritical of self with too great a belief in their ability to change around the lives of others or support them (of course only in the 9-5 context of a 5 day week, not when the majority who need help might need it- as is the case also with the NHS staff).

      I have found the police, in spite of the clear failings they too have, more ‘on the ball’ and better at grasping evidence or lack of it- their training equips them to gather information / evidence as part of their job. No social worker is so equipped, relying entirely on classroom theories, and if lucky some experience, to make personal (often very wrongful) judgements on the situation they enter into. E.g. I have seen a APMH social worker shout out ‘ I am acting in your best interests’ having been informed by NHS colleagues that the client does not lack mental capacity for major decisions and not having first assessed capacity either. This goes to show control, power and bad behaviour.

      • If you look at Social Work involvement in the care of the elderly, it will become more apparent that these people are agents of the State. The Government has a problem because there is a growing number of elderly people and there are costs involved. Never mind that these elderly people helped to build up the society we not live in, and have paid into it with their lives, their taxes, their work, and their national insurance. Government sees these people as a nuisance.

        This is where Social workers come in. They have powers introduced recently, to go into a a person`s house – just because they have concerns – and they have powers to take that person away into a care home. They also have the power to judge that person as lacking capacity to make their own decisions. They then have the power over their lives and put them on the LIVERPOOL CARE PATHWAY, which is a pathway to death.

        Do not underestimate the powers these social workers are given, and yes, given their role, do not expect one truthful statement in their hearsay reports.

  6. Why quote that stupid and ignorant remark of Borges about the Falklands? Britain and Argentian may be the two bald men – but there are human beings on the comb, whom he and many of his nationality prefer to ignore.

%d bloggers like this: