Cafcass has been accused of putting “a dishonest spin on the scale of the problems it faced” in a row with an employee over working conditions.
The General Social Care Council criticised Cafcass for its handling of a dispute between a social worker and managers at the family courts body’s Bristol office, which centred on comments left on a private discussion forum.
Charles Place, a practitioner and union representative, was accused of breaching the code of practice in a GSCC conduct hearing last week after he joined in the discussion with colleagues online.
In a thread started by the then head of communications at Cafcass, Takki Sulaiman, Place raised concerns about delays in filing court reports within the local judicial system in Bristol.
Cafcass managers responded by denying Place’s allegation that court reports were taking up to six months to complete.
But a GSCC conduct committee found his actions did not amount to misconduct and criticised Cafcass for “dishonest spin on the scale of the problems it faced”.
“Although [Place] did not have access at that time to comprehensive evidence to support his views that Cafcass was wrong, he had been able to obtain such evidence subsequently in the form of emails from judges and lawyers practising in the family court arena in Bristol. They made it very clear that delay was a real problem,” the committee said.
“Accordingly, it was legitimate for the registrant to be critical on this private forum.”
The GSCC concluded that the posting of messages were the honestly held views of a practitioner “clearly passionate about his work”.
Also on the forum, Place alluded to concerns about working conditions at Cafcass, which he had heard about through his capacity as the elected representative of trade union Napo.
And he implied that at least one member of staff at Cafcass was dishonest and referred to a colleague as “this unfortunate”. At the hearing, Place promised to be more cautious about how his opinions came across in future debates.
Place was cleared of all charges of misconduct and continues to work for Cafcass.
Cafcass chief executive Anthony Douglas said: “We are concerned about some aspects of the GSCC process but Charles carries out valuable work for us to a good standard and this is what matters to us most. We do require our staff to abide by our code of conduct but this is not draconian and is in place so that, as a large national organisation, we manage our relationships internally and with the external world coherently.”
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