Social worker sanctioned over Facebook posts reflects on feeling abandoned amidst a media storm

Siobhan Condon talks to Community Care about her first mistake in a 15 year career and the media "hate" that forced her to move house

Photo: REX/WestEnd61 (Posed by model)

“I get this email and I didn’t even need to open it up to know it was about me. I ran and I hid in the toilet.”

Siobhan Condon is retelling the moment she received Community Care’s weekly email which led with the story about her being sanctioned by the Health and Care Professionals Council (HCPC) for posting comments about a case on Facebook.

She read the article, eventually. With the story being viewed more than 42,000 times, shared more than 550 times on Facebook and attracting 29 comments, there must be few social workers who did not.

However, Community Care was not the only news outlet to cover the story – the local media and the Daily Mail both gave the case extensive coverage.

And whilst she lost her original agency position because of the comments and the complaint which was subsequently filed, Siobhan says it is the media attention given to the verdict which forced her out of her second job. She has also had to move house after her personal details were published online and she received threats.

The Mail Online story alone attracted 652 comments, many of which, she says, displayed “absolute hate for social workers, and social care, and social work”.

“Maybe I’m naïve but I was so shocked at the hatred and the degree of it.”

 

The Daily Mail's coverage of Siobhan's hearing was commented over 650 times

The Daily Mail’s coverage of Siobhan’s hearing was commented on over 650 times

 

Why then does she want to speak publicly, despite the advice of several of her close friends telling her to leave it alone?

“I can’t take it back, but if there’s anything from what’s happened over the last 16 months that I can share, to help a social worker ever going through that; ever going before a HCPC panel that’s what I’ve got to do.”

Her first action, whilst sitting on her sofa talking to Community Care, is to apologise for making publicly available comments about a case on her Facebook page.

“To both the family and to social work. It was never my intention, ever. I didn’t think about what I was doing and I didn’t think about the impact of it. I’ve lived with that.”

Whilst the 16 months after the incident have been incredibly difficult, Siobhan says it has also been the first time in a 15 year career in child protection that she’s been able to take stock of the life she was leading as a social worker in the lead-up to her “huge, huge, stupid mistake, absolute mistake”.

It featured in the HCPC verdict of her hearing that Siobhan felt extremely burned out. Expanding on this, she speaks more about her way of living that “really wasn’t quite conducive” to social work.

She acknowledges how she was caught trying to balance a difficult personal life along with a number of extreme cases, allocated to her because of her knowledge and experience.

The day she took on the case she made the comments about, she recalls telling her manager that she had just finished dealing with a very high risk and tough case and she was feeling exhausted.

“But my manager said: “Siobhan I can’t give it to anyone else, this is too high risk.” … “So I said ‘Okay then’ … I really regret saying that now.”

The new case meant inheriting 8 years’ worth of case notes and felt, Siobhan says, like a hurricane.

The comments that followed the case ending were an expression of relief: “Relief that this whole thing was over, exhaustion was thrown in with that and I felt proud.”

She still, however, looks back distastefully on the comments she made, admitting she finds it hard to read them now, especially the use of the phrase ‘monumental moment in my career’ which she has spent 16 months trying to explain to herself: “It was all so big. That job was so big and I think that’s where the monumental came in. Completely in the wrong context, completely.”

However, Siobhan also says she feels she was abandoned at the moment she made her first mistake in 15 years.

“The biggest lesson I learned was when you’re an agency social worker, no-one has a duty of care to you. And I’d never needed to think about that because I never thought I could make such a foolish mistake that would lead to what happened for the whole of the following of that year.”

“No-one has a duty of care to you, so if you make a mistake, you have nowhere to go. I wasn’t a member of the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) and I didn’t belong to a Union as I had never had that time,” she says, reflecting on being so focused on working and parenting that other areas never became a priority.

Early media attention, and a lot of that which followed both before and after the hearing, described Siobhan’s comments as ‘gloating’, and when addressing the role the media reaction played in her hearing, she states she doesn’t think the sanction would’ve been as severe if the media hadn’t got involved.

“The panel hit on the fact that because of the press interest a sanction was required, because it had attracted so much press attention it was in the public interest that I should have a sanction.”

Siobhan still has questions about her hearing and the outcome. For example,the panel found that she lacked insight into her sole responsibility for the posts, she says hearing that nearly made her fall off of her chair.

There were suggestions that she tried to apportion blame to her managers, but she denies ever bringing that up – those were questions asked by the panel and were misinterpreted, she claims.

The panel also said that it was her responsibility to seek out management support about the comments, yet she points out her direct manager commented on the posts on her Facebook page.

She does, however, admit how the enforced step back has allowed her some perspective. When she rejoined the workforce for a brief period she says she was suddenly struck by “social workers running around… the stresses, and the burden they carry is massive.”

“There’s no self-care. If you don’t look after you, no-one is going to look after you, and that’s what social work is about at the moment.”

The experience, she says, has also helped her see first-hand the terrible relationship between the profession and the media- with its willingness to try and destroy people who do their best to protect children.

Focusing particularly on the comments in the Daily Mail, she says there were some which defended her; said she had done her job to protect children and that she had simply made a mistake. However, she is left questioning why there isn’t a body that does this, not just for her, but for the whole of social work.

“We’re at this point in time where there needs to be a social work revolution. Social work is an excellent career to be in, we get to change people’s lives. We get to change children’s lives, families lives. And that’s really powerful.

“If social work isn’t proud of what it does then that gives a really negative message to the public… What the press are doing, and what social work is doing in itself is just annihilating itself.”

Animated and flamboyant (she knocked the dictaphone out of my hand when showing how she hid from Community Care’s news story), Siobhan is adamant that, despite a mistake which she regrets immensely, she is steadfastly proud of what she has done as a social worker, pointing to a highly complementary audit report about her practice whilst she worked at Essex Council.

Above all else, for the future, Siobhan says she wants to return to the profession that she loves and felt married to. But she concedes that “no-one will touch me with this bubbling in the air, I know that; I respect that.”

But as for now, she’s done hiding away in the toilet.

More from Community Care

25 Responses to Social worker sanctioned over Facebook posts reflects on feeling abandoned amidst a media storm

  1. AdamP October 15, 2014 at 1:34 pm #

    I had the pleasure of training and working with Siobhan for a period of time. The HCPC imposed a reasonable & proportionate sanction on what was, “a huge, stupid mistake” (Siobhan’s words). She was neither disbarred nor suspended, as it was apparent that she is a very competent, devoted and courageous social worker.
    Time to move on. I wish you all the best for the future.

  2. Kevin T October 15, 2014 at 4:16 pm #

    There has clearly been evidence of both learning and development as an outcome of this situation both for Siobhan and also many colleagues out there who will have considered this situation and reflected upon this. I hope Siobhan is able to move forward sucessfully.

  3. M.Miranda October 15, 2014 at 4:32 pm #

    It’s so easy to make a mistake, cannot imagine what life for youhas been like since. But thanks for sharing your reflections on it al, it was good to read something from the heart. I have been a social worker in an agency role previously, great experience, but a bit lonely yes. I think social work is a wonderful professional, great people working really hard wherever I work. Lets be proud, lets own our mistakes like you have, social care rocks and so do its wonderful workers. My safeguard is pay for private supervision when you are agency, it helps. I am out and proud to be a social worker, lets have a campaign of positivity about the wonderful work we do, in very difficult circumstances.

  4. Poll J October 15, 2014 at 4:56 pm #

    Whilst not for a second condoning Siobhan’s actions, which she clearly regrets herself, I was astonished to find that two social workers in a case I was involved with some years ago had an exchange on Facebook about the court proceedings. This was brought to the attention of the court, and as far as I know there was no comment made on this by the Judge and no action taken. Seems somewhat unjust that two professionals should be treated so differently.

  5. Matthew A October 15, 2014 at 5:40 pm #

    A professional Footballer is found guilty of rape, is given a prison sentence and they get offered their job back. A Social Worker makes a mistake and no-one wants them. That’s the society we live in at the moment…

    • CK October 27, 2014 at 8:41 pm #

      A simplistic and unhelpful comparison – the footballer is not responsible for safeguarding the welfare of vulnerable people. The social worker is, and with that comes the responsibility to act professionally and with respect and compassion for all involved.

  6. Louise W October 15, 2014 at 5:47 pm #

    The problem with online sites is one must check every privacy feature and even then never ever discuss work issues online that can then be used in such a public way especially if it may also not only breach confidentiality, but potentially endanger people involved. Experience would teach you that but online sites are a trap.

  7. Deona Hooper, MSW October 15, 2014 at 5:58 pm #

    Anyone who has lost both their first and second job as well as had to move will feel they made a huge mistake whether they actually did or not. Her entire lively-hood has been stripped away for a comment that did not rise to a breach of client confidentiality. This case saddens me and will do nothing but prevent future social workers from seeking social work as a career path. It’s low paid and isolating with high-risk demand work. How did her facebook comment damage to unidentified family? The HCPC should be taking whether any harm was a factor when doling out these disciplinary actions. The fact that she was neither barred or suspended will not matter in her ability to find new employment.

    I was in Starbuck’s yesterday and heard a social worker talk about her entire case including names because she saw me with my earbuds in. I was listening to music, but then the song stopped and I started listening to her. Could I write an embarrassing story about her and the Agency to prove a point. Sure, but I would rather use the moments as opportunities to help prevent and educate social workers.

    There are worse evils being perpetuated by social workers than a facebook comment by Siobhan.

    • Amanda J October 15, 2014 at 11:54 pm #

      But did you educate the workers you were listening to or let them carry on for others to hear, you had a duty to stop that? You also suggest how did the comments damage and if there was any harm in order to “dole out discipline” ? Of course there was harm the family knew it was aimed at them and were able to read it?? Despite the low pay and high risk demands social workers have a professional title to uphold required by law and Siobhan mistakenly did not uphold this? As a NQSW these are some of the types of problems students/NQ face when they learn from practitioners on the job who perhaps haven’t continued their professional development.

      • Deona Hooper, MSW October 17, 2014 at 10:38 pm #

        Since, I must clarify. It was not worker(s), she was on the phone, and we were the only ones sitting at the table. I have been an advocate against this decision from the beginning because I believe the scope in which the decision was made exceeded the definition of “breach of confidentiality”.

        As I stated earlier, my initial reaction as a journalist was to write a story to prove my point, but I decided against that. Many argue that because Siobhan’s comment was on facebook instead of a coffee shop, despite not mention any identifiable information, is what made the difference. I have always argued against that premise. As far as harm, the family assuming that it could have been about them because they had court that day is not sufficient.

        If a police officer makes a public comment about a rape, there is no breach of confidentiality if no identifiable information is given even if the victim knows that they are talking about them. Harm does not consist of knowledge there has to be an effect to meet the legal definition such as would the outcome of the case been different if another worker had it? Where they embarrassed publicly…were there evidence to support people outside of social workers knew it was them. One of things that bother me about some of the awful comments regarding this social worker is the righteous indignation of other social workers being ruled by emotions and fear instead of the law.

        We are a profession with some of the highest education for frontline staff in any profession, yet we don’t speak in terms of legal protection and rights in our own self-defense. No wonder we are experiencing the labor and bullying issues that we are having in the workplace.

        This profession is way to hard on our own. This parent was searching for information on the social worker in which these types of decisions will serve to empower future behaviors by parents in pending litigation to find details about a social worker’s personal life. Next time, it may not be searching Google, maybe they hire a private investigator. This Facebook bad…is not the issue, and we need to start thinking long-term and the far reaching scope of this decision if we are to protect ourselves.

        This decision will have a rippling and future effect on social workers in the UK. In the States we have nowhere near the amount of accountability as in the UK.

    • sabine ebert-Forbes October 16, 2014 at 2:41 pm #

      I agree with you fully. And I think that HCPC should have also considered the impact their decisions have. I think Siobhan was used to set an example to others. Without any mentionable support she was also an easy target.

      Sad end to a good career, unless she finds an employer who is willing to give her a second chance.

      I wish her all the luck in the world.

  8. Amanda J October 15, 2014 at 6:12 pm #

    I think Siobhan has been very brave and I’m heartened to know that despite the typical negative portrayal in the media the HCPC did not disbar her, I’m in no doubt that Siobhan and many more have learnt from her mistake. From my learning I would suggest to Siobhan that she’d have been abandoned as a member of any other group too, the downside of being an agent of the state, fear and blame is equals control?
    Siobhan makes points about pressures particularly on experienced workers and the impacts and knock on effects this has on social workers and indeed their clients. As a mature NQSW it has been evident that this is happening in all services but there is no media coverage? Given that Siobhan has managed 15 years of service to me reflects her dedication to children and her role in supporting them, it also tells me their are few experienced members left….why is that? I would like to add that all NQSW at my University were well informed about social media, I know my cohort all have private settings and most do not have their surname mostly for their own protection. I think what comes through is Siobhan is giving herself some recognition as no one else did. It would be nice for once to read about the many thousands of SW’s who make positive impacts everyday instead of their rewards being burnout and media vilification….but then how will privatisation be justified? Good luck Siobhan.

  9. ian josephs October 15, 2014 at 6:39 pm #

    Once upon a time if while a mother was out and she was told that a social worker had called to see her she might have replied “what a pity I missed her” ;Alas those days are very long gone . Nowadays that same mother would probably reply “My God she must be after my baby”! What can I do?
    How is it that social workers originally recruited to support families are now almost all working for “child protection”? I quote here from the ITV programme “Exposure” the opinions of retired family court judge Hedley,plus the respective chairs of the association of social workers,and the asociation of children’s lawyers.All three were of that same opinion and in effect asking that same question.

  10. Helen M October 15, 2014 at 6:59 pm #

    Siobhan’s case clearly demonstrates the dangers of society’s love affair with social media. I hope her experience acts as a warning to others. Getting back in to a social work role will be hard but I wish her well in the future.

  11. Rose Thompson October 15, 2014 at 7:34 pm #

    I am so proud of Siobhan to hold up her hands and admitted her mistake and to talked so proudly of her work and social work profession. Siobhan you have learn from your mistake used this as training and developments. I am sure you won’t make this mistake again. The media is a two edges sword and it can brake you and mess up with one career /livelihood. You’re not suspended or barred from working so please put yourself back on the job-market; children and families need your service. I am advising you to join a union as social workers we need to be a member of a union. I pray that you may able to put this behind you and move on.

  12. Lauri B. October 16, 2014 at 6:13 am #

    I’m an MSW in Florida and work as a hospital case manager. This field is so risky for all social workers. We have very little to no support from anyone. Their is a book called “At Personal Risk” that is appropriate for this profession. I had to start working part time due to the insane amount of stress. I wish Siobhan the best. We deserve better from our profession and our management. Personal responsibility can only go so far.

  13. student October 16, 2014 at 8:44 am #

    I feel for this Social worker as medias such as facebook does draw you in and you forget who can read your posts and who can share your information. As a student social worker I am beginning to experience and observe the extreme work loads, the fast paced job , lack of staff.The managers themselves are also under a lot of pressure and the stress builds and as we are social workers we carry that pressure and don’t speak out until its too late that we are not coping , I think the world thinks we social workers are super hero’s with ever lasting strength. I read this story and at first I was shocked, thinking like everyone else how did this happen, but stress, anxiety and depression affects your judgements and decision making.Social workers should constantly be reminded of their HCPC codes, even after 15 years of working In social work. And posters of SHARE IT, DONT HIDE IT.. Needs to be up in every social work office and discussed in every supervision, This story has made me more aware of my communication and the HCPC codes. I do hope this social worker can continue her career but more cautiously

  14. Jadie October 16, 2014 at 8:52 am #

    This is why I am not on Facebook. We are so use to putting everything on face book; thoughts, feeling, friends and family. Don’t even consider what we are saying to the world or all 200 friends! could get us in trouble because we have lost common sence.

  15. OH October 16, 2014 at 10:10 am #

    All the best in getting a new job, the profession still requires your experience and contribution. You did well to share your mistake and accompanying frustration. I appreciate your honesty. There is an invisible line between upholding the code of ethics and breaking them??? Nearly another case of overkill.

  16. Pete October 16, 2014 at 10:39 am #

    Some interesting points raised there. Firstly, being given a difficult case, even though she was overun, because she was the most experienced. This simply is not fair, and it happens all too often, and, as this lady has dicovered, you get no thanks when it all goes the shape of a pear. It’s an issue that come up frequently, but is never adressed…..it would be nice if our regulatory bodies adressed this as robustly as they adress issues of practice.

    The issue of self care is practically impossible, particulalry in an era of management of attendance and forensic scrutiny of you work.

    I find her comments about the panel misconstruing her comments interesting, it’s as if they had already made their minds up; it certainly seems as if they were not prepared to consider the whiole picture, and look at the particular issue within a wider, more holistic context………………their active listening skills appear to be somewhat lacking.

    I’d be interested to know how these panel members are appointed…..what is their experience, what have they done that qualifies them to be so judgementall of others?

  17. Karin October 16, 2014 at 8:45 pm #

    I applaud siobhan for stranding up and facing the torrent of media buse hurled at her. As a year three social work student I became swept along with the abuse hurled towards her fir what was a moment of madness. Along with fellow students nod colleagues on my current placement we discussed how silly and unprofessional she was and all swore to never make the same mistake.
    However, after reading this article I take a new stance. On my year two placement I was faced with a conflict of interest due to a distant family member which meant my placement was terminated. I was devastated, worried for my future career and was forced to reflect, self criticise and self analyse. I was faced with a termination meeting with the agency we here I was questioned, had words twisted and was not supported by my university tutor. I then had to go through a 12week wait and a university and external panel to judge my suitability to practice. It was horrendous. Thankfully it was decided I had done nothing wrong and I have continued with my studies. Like siobhan, I felt unsupported and in a career such as this peer support is crucial.
    I hope that like me, siobhan uses this experience to become a stronger, better, more reflective practiober (although it sounds like she was pretty great despite this blip). Social work is highly stressful and confusing world to be in, particularly when you have to balance work with a busy family life.
    We are constantly faced with a backlash of negativity from the media which does not help our professional image with the general public which can in turn be a massive barrier to achieving what we need to achieve professionally for our service users. So let’s use this as an example of where we should stick together and create a united front,maupporting our colleagues…even when they make mistakes

  18. Karin October 16, 2014 at 9:34 pm #

    Could I just add apologies for my typos…. I’ll blame the iPad but I should have proof read… Eeeek!

  19. Siobhan Condon October 18, 2014 at 8:39 am #

    I write to all of you that have taken the time to read my Community Care article, HCPC hearing, 4x Evening Echo articles who, also printed a full view photo of my daughter, 1x Daily Mail article accompanied by a rather unfortunate photo which I assume was given by someone as the album was shared with 50 people on Face Book, which I was unaware of at the time, because I don’t have a FB profile for obvious reasons, I need not to point out.

    There is much I have to say about a lot of things, those that know me and have been with me on this incredible journey know that, but this is neither the time or the place.

    What made my decision to speak publically followed after I took the time to read a vast selection of the Daily……………..Mail’s 652 comments at 4am on a random morning last week when, I decided to get my head out of the sand. I was shocked by the pure hatred for social work. There is around 91,000 social workers in England alone registered with the HCPC, 91,000 people making a difference to people’s lives, I began to question what difference to the world did these 652 people make (not all) who commented on the article, who did not even have the courtesy to read my HCPC hearing but quick to sit in judgement.

    Equally, I questioned this………..There is war in Syria, people being kidnapped and having their heads chopped of, children starving in the world and then there is Siobhan Condon who wrote three comments on FB after a difficult and challenging time both personally and professionally and I get to make front page, online – The world has gone crazy.

    When I spoke to Community Care of a “Social Work Revolution” I did not, at that time, recognise how powerful this would be, but I knew I meant it.

    The most powerful moment in the last 17 months was yesterday, I checked all the papers at 5am, silence was had and an inner peace achieved in the first time in my 15 year career. The media listened and left me alone. My hope is that this extends to the whole of the social work profession – This is now the goal for us all.

    To create a platform for you all to join is amazing, the fact you now get to publicly have your say and share your experiences is an opportunity now to change the public’s view of Social Work and for us to reclaim social work for the excellent profession it is.

    Thank you

    Siobhan

  20. Amber Hartman October 19, 2014 at 10:32 am #

    I need to add- on to my last comment that there are a few decent social workers but most need retrained and should be an experienced parent. I had one (who had no children) who alleged in court papers that a child’s stroppy behaviour in front of them was as the child hated the parent. The child despised that sw who refused a child advocate (whom the child had built a relationship up with) to be present as a witness- why?
    Another sw (a parent with 3 children) got allocated to that case and said it was normal stroppy behaviour and that the case would never had reached proceedings had they had the case.
    A slight digression but important point.
    Need I say more?

  21. Jenny October 19, 2014 at 6:01 pm #

    Ever since this situation hit the media, I thought that the social worker involved had been done a disservice. We live in a world where trial by media seems to exist and all too often employers and regulatory bodies follow suit. I firmly believe that this could be any one of us, the wrong word said, taken out of context and any one of us could find ourselves in this position. Those entering the profession need to think carefully about the reality of frontline social work practice. I’m not sure it’s a choice I would make if I had my time over again. I like others applaud siobhan for her honesty and hope that she finds new opportunities. The profession needs hardworking, honest, realistic social workers like her.