An agency social worker who fell asleep at a child protection conference and who behaved incorrectly towards colleagues has been suspended from the register for a year.
Maria Austin admitted being “drowsy” and “nodding off” during the conference in September 2009.
At a hearing last week, the General Social Care Council’s conduct committee found Austin had committed a further eight counts of misconduct during her time as a locum for Hertfordshire Council.
This included failing to interview one child in a “suitable manner”, by neglecting to put the child at ease and inform them of what was happening, the committee heard. This led the child’s deputy head teacher to complain to the council.
The committee also identified a repeated pattern of inappropriate behaviour that called into question Austin’s suitability to remain on the register. She had a “tendency to overreact” and behave inappropriately when she found herself in stressful situations or under pressure.
This had manifested itself in a number of incidents, including one in which she refused a request from her line manager to go to her computer and get information for a supervision meeting because she claimed she had a sore back.
The committee said: “In each of the instances in which the registrant had behaved inappropriately towards colleagues, the circumstances involved the kinds of stresses or pressures that would inevitably arise in the working environment of a social worker.”
Austin had shown some insight into the consequences of her actions, but it was “very limited”, the committee concluded. However, it acknowledged that she did not appear to have any harmful or deep-seated attitudinal problems, and seemed to genuinely care about children.
Austin had been working on short-term contracts since arriving in the UK in 2000 and, as such, had not had access to proper continuing professional development opportunities.
The committee decided to suspend her for a year and recommended that she avoid the more stressful environments of social care work in the future.
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