A social worker has been suspended by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) for emailing confidential information both to a solicitors firm and to her personal email account.
The family court adviser for Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) had been on an extended period of maternity and sick leave. On her return she complained of feeling bullied and discriminated against by her manager.
She opened a complaint but the investigation into her own grievance was broadened to look into her conduct after allegations were made that she had accessed confidential information belonging to her manager that was stored on a Cafcass computer.
This information should have been password protected but had been placed in error, through no doing of the registrant’s, on a drive that was accessible to all members of staff and was designed for shared information.
The registrant sent confidential material to a firm of solicitors, as well as to her personal email address, whilst compiling evidence she might use in a case against her employers over her feelings of victimisation at work.
Cafcass’s employment policy makes it clear that employers may not email case sensitive material to personal or other accounts.
The conduct committee expressed a degree of sympathy with her behaviour since the confidential information she forwarded concerned her personal working circumstances. But the committee noted that what she also contained information relating to her cases and so compromised her service users’ confidentiality.
The panel added that “she put her own personal concerns above those of service users and in doing so she has fallen significantly below the standards that one would expect of a social worker”.
In addition to the breach of confidentiality, the HCPC panel also found that the social worker had left case plans incomplete and in some cases did not take timely action following the allocation of cases, to the potential detriment of service users.
The panel expressed concern that the social worker demonstrated very little insight into her failings, seeking to “deflect blame to the organisation, Cafcass, for her own shortcomings”.
The panel said: “Her failings are such that they are not fundamentally incompatible with being on the register and a period of suspension for 12 months will protect the public and maintain public confidence in the profession.
“This period of time will enable the registrant to develop insight into her failings and allow her time to reflect upon her practice if she wishes to return to social work.”
The social worker was suspended from the register for 12 months.