A fostering social worker has been allowed to work again after a tribunal criticised the General Social Care Council (GSCC) for taking two and a half years to complete her case.
Julie Duckworth was subjected to a two-year interim suspension order in September 2009 while the GSCC investigated allegations of misconduct against her. But the case did not conclude until February of this year, when she was formally suspended from the register for another two years.
If this sanction had been upheld, Duckworth effectively would have been unable to work for almost five years. The Care Standards Tribunal ruled that this was disproportionate to her misconduct.
Duckworth was a senior practitioner in St Helens Council’s fostering service at the time she was referred to the GSCC. A child protection investigation into the case of a six-year-old fostered child had revealed that Duckworth had failed to complete a fostering assessment of the family, nor any Criminal Records Bureau checks.
Duckworth did not dispute the GSCC’s findings of misconduct, but appealed against the sanction. In reaching its decision, the tribunal noted that there had been a “significant delay” in the GSCC’s case.
“We do not propose to examine the causes of that delay in detail, save to note that the case took over two and a half years to be completed, which is unacceptable,” the tribunal said. “This was not a particularly complex case and we are surprised it was not dealt with much earlier.”
Tribunal judge Nancy Hillier said she was convinced Duckworth regretted her conduct and was now better able to control her stress levels, which meant she could safely return to practice. “The misconduct must be balanced against a very long career otherwise without incident,” she concluded.
Duckworth will be reinstated to the social care register immediately. The register is now controlled by the Health and Care Professions Council, following the closure of the GSCC on 31 July.
Read the full judgement