HCPC sanctions social worker over Facebook posts

Mother in child protection case complained after finding the social worker's Facebook comments about the case via Google

A social worker has been given a 12-month conditions of practice order by the HCPC after posting comments on Facebook about a child protection court case.

The social worker posted on the social networking site: “I’m in court tomorrow for a case where there is a high level of domestic violence amongst many things…” and after the trial finished posted: “It’s powerful to know that…children’s lives have just massively changed for the better and now they are safe and protected from harm and have every hope for the future…”

One of the posts was accompanied by a small map, pinpointing the location of the court.

The HCPC’s conduct and competence committee found the comments to be “disrespectful and insensitive” in tone and could have led to a breach of confidentiality for the family involved in the case.

The social worker told the HCPC committee that “she had believed that her Facebook page was accessible only to her ‘friends’, not the wider public as a result of her privacy settings”. However the post was publicly available and was found by her manager through a Google search of her name.

The social worker was informed after posting the comments that Facebook privacy settings can be affected by software upgrades and she acknowledged that her privacy settings had been “materially altered” during the months leading up to the offending posts. As a result any member of the public was able to see her posts.

Mrs A, the mother of the children in the case, made a complaint after she searched for the social worker on Google and found the posts, which she said she was “disgusted” by.

A number of the social worker’s 100 Facebook friends worked within the social work profession and the panel said they may have been more able to identify the family from their professional knowledge. The HCPC committee also considered the maintenance of public confidence in the profession after the comments were covered in the local press.

In its conclusion the panel said that the maintenance of public confidence in the profession would be undermined if a finding of impairment were not to be made in this case.

It concluded that standards about acting in the best interest of service users, respecting the confidentiality of service users, high standards of personal conduct and behaving in a way that does not damage the public’s confidence in the profession had been breached and as such the social worker’s fitness to practice was “impaired”.

As it was the first serious failing in the social worker’s 15-year career, the committee concluded that a suspension order would be disproportionate.

The panel reasoned that whilst the family in question were not named, sufficient details were made public that could have led to their identification and said it was not reassured that, even now, the social worker “fully recognised the unacceptability of her misconduct” because she did not demonstrate full insight into her sole responsibility for it.

“She said that if her manager, sitting next to her when two of the comments were posted, had told her to take them down she would have done so immediately,” the panel said in its decision. “She also decried the general lack of support and professional supervision available to her during this time and the long working hours needed to manage her caseload.”

Nonetheless, it concluded that as the social worker was being accompanied by a manager meant supervision and support would have been available, and that it was her responsibility to seek it out.

The panel imposed a 12-month conditions of practice order, which requires the social worker to be under the supervision of a social work line manager registered with the HCPC, with whom she must meet on a monthly basis. She will also be required to submit two reflective overviews in the 12-month period that contain evidence of what she has learned from these meetings.

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29 Responses to HCPC sanctions social worker over Facebook posts

  1. Martin Porter September 10, 2014 at 3:45 pm #

    But if she did not name the client in the post, what rule was she breaking?

    Here is an article in The Guardian suggesting that Social Workers should use social media more. The HCPC clearly does not agree.

    http://www.theguardian.com/social-care-network/2014/sep/05/social-media-essential-part-new-social-workers-toolkits

    • Pamela September 11, 2014 at 8:14 am #

      Bottom line, confidentiality is paramount: any Social Worker of worth will know this. One certainly would not discuss any aspects of a case on a social networking site. Poor show to try and blame her manager or lack of supervision. We are individually responsible for our actions. I think that the HCPC were rather lenient. The basic and fundamental practice principle of a social worker is to uphold confidentiality and not discuss cases outside of the work environment. If an individual worker feels that they do not have sufficient supervision then it is their responsibility to raise this issue through the appropriate process and act as a responsible professional. Perhaps if one can’t behave in such a way then perhaps some thought needs to be given as to whether one is suitable for that career.

  2. Ezzie September 10, 2014 at 3:47 pm #

    I was rather shocked that after 15 years of being in the profession, that the sw involved has actually done this. I thought this was an inexperienced worker. I think the punishment fits the crime. How awful for this family to have to experience this.

  3. Deona Hooper, MSW September 10, 2014 at 5:25 pm #

    Unless this social worker only had one case on her caseload, there should not have been any discipline. There was no breach of confidentiality by defining the case as “DV among other things”. I would argue over half of the cases on my caseload had a DV element. There does not appear to be anything said about the client. The remarks do not signify any race, gender, nor religion. The court house is a public place with a court docket. Anyone wanting to know who is in court only need to show up monitor whose coming and going in the event of a closed hearing.

    The decision was based on “what could have lead to a breach of confidentiality” instead of the social worker actually breaching confidentiality. “Could lead to a breach of confidentiality” is so broad that uttering a word about any case could fit into this criteria. If this stands it will create an unrealistic expectation of confidentiality. Discussing cases with students “could lead to a breach of confidentiality”. I don’t agree with this. I do feel social workers should be more careful and exercise caution on social media, but this example is an over reach.

  4. TheMother September 10, 2014 at 6:30 pm #

    Should have been sacked and removed from register. Family could have been identified by others so this is a breach of data protection law and a criminal offence.

  5. rosemary brierley September 10, 2014 at 8:46 pm #

    This social worker appears to demonstrate a serious lack professional integrity. Work issues are not compatible with use of social media. How would she feel if she read a post from her GP about her health issues? I think she deserved to be suspended, at the very least.

  6. Hebegebies. September 10, 2014 at 8:53 pm #

    It seems a double standard to me that a judge can order video footage taken by parents of SW’s removing children without the consent of the said SW’s can remain in the public domain via social networking sites etc. when the confidentiality of all those concerned in the video footage could also be identified even though faces may be pixelated.

    I agree SW’s and all professionals should be respectful of families and not put identifiable information on social networking sites but shouldn’t this work both way’s?

  7. Rita September 10, 2014 at 9:12 pm #

    I find it quite hilarious that the SW almost tries to pass the buck by saying her supervisor was present. Give me a break! I’m a newly qualified social worker and full well know that you are accountable for your own actions. She might have been able to play that card if her supervisor also has access to your Facebook, Instagram and Twitter account – which I highly doubt! Sick of incompetent professionals. If you screwed up, admit your faults instead of trying to drag other people down with you.

    • Judith September 14, 2014 at 11:12 am #

      Rita – If you took the trouble to read all accounts of this incident properly you will see that the Manager was among the social worker’s friends on Facebook and not only that, replied to her post. Your status as newly qualified is clearly obvious. Only a newly qualified worker – who no doubt has a protected caseload – could be quite so pompous and “holier than thou”. You also have a lot to learn in that you need to read all available information before making an assessment, something which you clearly have not done, so before you call someone incompetent please have a look at your own abilities. If you read everything you will note that the social worker had a 15 year unblemished career before this. She was regarded as efficient, competent and highly committed to social work. She had also been working long hours, was tired and elated that a difficult case had reached a positive conclusion and as a result, she made an error of judgement. Nothing more, nothing less. Most experienced social workers know what that feels like. They also carry very heavy caseloads and get very stressed out at times. No-one died, no child was put at risk and had the family not “stalked” her on Facebook and then chosen to go to the press, then they would not have been at risk of identification. No, the social worker should not have done it but then neither should the family. There was no need to involve the HCPC. This could have been dealt with by disciplinary procedures. The social worker made a mistake because she is human, just like the rest of us, and when you get a bit more experience under your belt, then perhaps you will understand that. All of us are capable of making mistakes – even you – and if you don’t realise that, then I really fear for the people on your caseload.

      • 56 Cases September 17, 2014 at 3:34 am #

        WELL SAID! This is a thankless job and those small victories sometimes are all that keep me going when I feel like I cant do the job another day.

      • Rich September 23, 2014 at 1:11 pm #

        Completely agree, such a complete overblown procedure for what is really nothing more than an error of judgement. There was no breach of confidentiality as nothing the SW stated could be considered not already in the public domain. Should have been an internal procedure with a stern warning on the risks social media poses to your career. Especially with malicious SU’s.

  8. Kathy MSW September 10, 2014 at 11:47 pm #

    I agree with Deona Hooper. Social Workers should be very careful on social media. However, there wasn’t a breach in confidentiality. Sufficient details that the family could be identified? What were those? A family with a history of DV who was having a child taken away in court with a social worker? It probably describes all families in court for child protection reasons. And I am 100% certain this social worker will never ever post on FB again after this ordeal even without the sanctions. My goodness I once made a FB post about work and my facebook postings were only shared amongst friends, not for public view. I said I was having a very hard day, after working with a client with borderline personality disorder who cut herself. A colleague at work (and the only one of my colleagues who was my FB friend) reported it to my supervisor. I promptly de-friended her. And no one else could read this post. However the damage was done. My supervisor asked to see my facebook page. I thought that was inappropriate he would ask that. I refused at first. We went back and forth, finally I showed him my page, of course, after I deleted the post. But it was all rather juvenile and I couldn’t believe it was happening. I later deleted my FB page. I’m back, but now my privacy settings are at the highest possible and no one I work with do I become FB friends with. Also now I don’t post on FB about anything to do with work. But for Christ’s sake social workers are human beings, too. You think you can let down your guard a little bit with your family and friends, but you can’t on FB. Okay, I get that. But when you are mistaken, the level of punishment seems over the top. This was a harsh punishment for what it was. 15 years of working as social worker and this gets you sanctioned, a vague comment on FB about a client without naming him/her? It was too harsh, much too harsh. I think this has to do more with the culture of villifying social workers as much as possible. Any tiny thing done is going to be seized upon and punished severly especially in Britain.

  9. Nancy September 11, 2014 at 6:35 am #

    They should have addressed the REAL problem here…. the SW is ignorant to think she did a favor or saved the children from anything. She should wake up and drink the coffee, she just put the children in unknown danger rather than with parents who have a dysfunctional relationship. If being truthful she should say “hey, I just took the only thing left that mattered in this family and aside from witnessing domestic violence I really messed up and traumatized the children for life and I’m proud of it!

  10. Beth September 11, 2014 at 7:20 am #

    Social media should not be used to comment on cases. If the social worker practiced in a very small rural community thenthecasr could be easily identifiable.
    The public image of social work must be maintained. If a teacher talked about my child via social media I would be livid and indeed take them to task.
    For those social workers who think this is acceptable conduct think long and hard about this issue. I am concerned that if social workers can not see the issues then they risk failing to be able to think from others point of view including the vulnerable people they work with.

  11. Dave September 11, 2014 at 10:04 am #

    Why would you even consider putting work related info on your on F/B page, at best ill conceived, at worst, what an idiot who brings down the whole social work profession, this just gives the press another reason to knock the profession, as if they needed an excuse at the moment. And this was an experienced Social worker. In a word an idiot.

  12. Smashy September 11, 2014 at 10:20 am #

    While this was inexcusable, foolish and naive on the part the worker involved. However, l have to play devil’s advocate and say this is a thankless job with unrealistic expectations and perhaps this worker wanted to vent after a hard’s work but used the wrong forum. That is what supervision is for to debrief and reflect. How about quiet reflection and meditation? I think Local Authorities should invest in the mental wellbeing of workers by providing staff care and support services. I know they do not have a bottomless pit of money but this may help alleviate these blips. On this note l rest my case and am sure this worker will never do it again. I suppose the punishment is proportionate as any of us would be embarassed, disgusted and violated if our G.P’s went on social media and put details of our consultation with them. Perhaps empathy for the family is in order.

  13. Nic JA September 11, 2014 at 11:25 am #

    Surely if the manager was with her they SHOULD have said something and acted accordingly.
    Sadly I do not as a SW have time to go on FB during working hours and if I did would certainly not make any comments about work or work practice. Even out of work hours I do not comment on my work role-it is just not professional and there are no guarantees about your privacy status/settings on FB-they can be adjusted without your knowledge and frequently are (or so I am led to believe)

    It is sad that reflects badly again on all social care workers who do a tough job in difficult circumstances.

  14. Snowha September 11, 2014 at 1:46 pm #

    I dont think the tone was disrespectful necessarily but facebook is definately not the place to comment about work.
    It doesnt matter what you think your privacy settings are, facebook regularly shakes things up so that it changes to all be public. We are not in control of it. I think that seeing as the post gives the time and place then it does potentially compromise confidentiality.

    • Jazz September 11, 2014 at 11:06 pm #

      Facebook is a SOCIAL MEDIA site which means ones posts are shared with the public even if it’s just ones “friends”. (But let’s face it (excuse the pun!) who in reality has hundreds of real friends?). Learn a – don’t post anything on Facebook you don’t want, potentially, the whole world, to know. Please, have a little common sense. And incidentally, if the manager witnessed the posting but said nothing that is collusion. I’m afraid too many managers ‘pass the buck’ being in a position of power but they also need to be taken to task – they are social workers, too.

  15. Cliff September 11, 2014 at 8:26 pm #

    With years of experience in social work this person got off extremely lightly. It contravenes all the fundamental rules taught and is totally inexcusable. I am am a retired child protection social worker and believe, from the little facts given, that it is a case that warrants removal from the register.

  16. Rachel September 11, 2014 at 10:36 pm #

    It’s a difficult one this. But as a social worker that adheres to professional conduct clear guidance I do not mention my work on Facebook at all. I do not swear. I do not put anything on there that people may find offensive. A healthy discussion with friends and colleagues about the perils of domestic violence would be potentially more acceptable. But being in court and dropping a pin does put service users at risk of being exposed to the public eye. We all sign up to say that we are held professionally accountable for our actions and words. In my humble opinion the ruling of supervision is a strong acceptance that as social workers this is a valuable tool to use in an emotive job. Managers and supervision exist and case discussions should be limited to there. My family know nothing about my work and neither do my friends. Because it’s inappropriate. I would not want personal details anonymously shared without my explicit consent. That’s why we have agency policies and why we adhere to the code of conduct

  17. Harold ferris September 11, 2014 at 10:43 pm #

    At the end of the day the families in the first place are in the wrong, and working with such a complex underfunded, thank less task.

    At the end of the day so what, no confidentiality was breached.

    These families should have the truth, instead of us hiding behind complaints.

  18. nqsw September 12, 2014 at 9:35 am #

    I agree with those saying there isn’t a breach of confidentiality here, unless we don’t have the full information saying a risk factor was dv can’t be seen as identifying information.

    I also think there’s a dangerous double standard. One of the letters I wrote to a mother was posted in full to her Facebook this had my name, work number and address. Manager advice was that I contact our legal team who said they couldn’t do anything to help. If this is the case, I think legally we shouldn’t be stopped from posting the small amount of job satisfaction that we can find especially (and only if) there is no breach of confidentiality.

    Regardless facebook is so dangerous, I know a lot of people in many different professions who have lost jobs/been suspended as they make comments on Facebook meant for friends but seen by everybody – the only lesson is don’t post work related stuff to Facebook.

  19. CK September 12, 2014 at 2:39 pm #

    I read the Guardian article mentioned in the first comment and would contend that the reluctance to embrace social media and new technology in health and social care is not to do with the technology itself but rather with the provenance and ownership of it. In other words, sharing data on platforms such as Google and Facebook is to effectively cede ownership of that data to these very large, very shrewd organisations who have made it their business to find ever more creative ways to profit from the information which we apparently increasingly feel compelled to share with them. With that in mind, I would argue that Facebook is not an appropriate platform to talk about cases, no matter how dilligently anonymised, because they cannot be trusted to honour users’ wishes re privacy settings. I find it frankly concerning that many commenters feel there has been no breach in the case discussed when the fact remains at least one individual – the children’s mother – was able to identify the case from the worker’s comments, the clear implication being that her feelings no longer count.

    Hardly in keeping with the core social work tenet of unconditional positive regard, is it?

  20. Anonymos September 13, 2014 at 1:15 am #

    I cant believe this social worker thought it was ok because they thought only friends could see it. I’m sure he had training on HIPPA and confidentiality and it clearly talks about not sharing client with anyone even if family or friends.

  21. Roselyn Thompson September 13, 2014 at 10:47 pm #

    I agree that some double standard is happening but it was wrong of the social worker to place event of the case on Facebook especially if the case is live she has breach confidentiality, the individuals’ human rights and professional conduct. This social worker is very lucky, God was on her side as HCPC conduct officers struck off a social worker for talking about her home life in the present of service user. I hope she learn from her mistake and don’t put service users’ business on social media.

  22. Kevin September 15, 2014 at 9:38 am #

    Protection of title and recognition associated with this, links in to our registration and associated codes of conduct.
    This demonstrates a reminder of the need to be very clear that we should exercise our core professionalism throughout our lives not just when we are work with colleagues or our Customers.
    I am sure that this is a situation which will (or at least should) lead to reflection and learning.

    However pressurised the working environment we need to maintain our own resilience to ensure thoughts and feelings (these can be moral judgements) have no opportunity to be conveyed to others.
    Use supervision and opportunities to share issues professionally.

    Seek advice and support if you need to from your organisation or other professionals if so required- but please do not undermine the recognition given to our role through protection of title- we face inappropriate media amplification of negative situations- we all know this- so lets do everything we can do to take away the opportunity for them to do this.

    • Joanna Silman
      Joanna Silman September 17, 2014 at 2:33 pm #

      We asked the HCPC about social workers’ use of Facebook, Twitter etc and they gave this advice. Across the professions they regulate, they say there have only been occasional fitness to practise cases relating to use of social media.
      They included a paramedic posting x-ray pictures on Facebook where the date, location and nature of the injuries could make the patient identifiable, and a healthcare practitioner who repeatedly tweeted offensive comments about patients and colleagues in a way that would undermine public confidence in their profession.
      The message seems to be that the HCPC accept that social media is here to stay as part of many professionals’ lives and if you follow good practice regarding confidentiality and whether what you’re saying should be made public (however high your privacy settings), then there should be no problem and it can even be a tool for elements of CPD. Perhaps the issue is whether people have enough opportunities in the ‘real world’ to share successes (as in this case) and frustration and stress?

  23. CK September 16, 2014 at 11:21 am #

    “At the end of the day the families in the first place are in the wrong. . .”

    I trust you’re not a socialworker, then?