A team manager, working in an outsourced children’s services department, has been struck off the social work register for failing to adequately supervise his team and act on safeguarding concerns.
The manager of the children with disabilities team had been employed by private provider Serco at the time of the allegations in 2012 but was referred by Walsall Metropolitan Borough Council after the team was transferred back into council control following a poor Ofsted inspection.
The social worker was initially suspended for 12 months in September 2014 on grounds of misconduct for not providing appropriate advice to inexperienced team members who had noted, for example, bitemarks and other injuries. He had also closed cases which had outstanding assessment referrals.
Walsall commenced a disciplinary investigation in June 2012 and dismissed the manager in February 2013. The registrant told the HCPC he had no intention of returning to work as a social worker. In his last communication with the regulatory body in August 2014 he spoke of being “burned out”. His manager – giving evidence to the panel – denied the social worker had shown any signs of burnout and said he was not working in frontline child protection, known for its high stress levels.
The registrant did not attend the review hearing in August this year. The panel found that his failure to engage with the HCPC to resolve matters or provide evidence of reflection on his practice and improved skills meant “striking off” was the appropriate and proportionate sanction.
His previous “exemplary career” since starting practice in 1978 and positive testimonials from former managers and supervisees had been noted by the initial HCPC panel when making the earlier suspension order.
The manager was originally referred to the HCPC following an audit of cases which began in May 2012. Concerns were flagged up about many of the 35 cases audited from the children with disabilities team, for example appropriate action not being taken where there were signs of injury or neglect and failure to keep proper record of decisions made.
At the first hearing, the panel noted that Walsall’s children’s services were in “organisational disarray” at the time of the conduct referral. The children with disabilities team had been transferred back to control of the council the previous month. It had been outsourced since 2005, first to Action for Children and, from 2008, to Serco.
The manager was employed by Serco at the time of the allegations. There was a large backlog of cases when Serco took over from Action for Children, giving rise to a “defensive” culture, the panel found. There were also inadequate policies within Serco. For example, carers’ self-assessment referrals could be closed if no response was received to a letter within two weeks.
‘Left to his own devices’
The panel also described the line management he had received as “questionable”.
The team was required, by a joint working protocol between Serco and the council to work proactively and in conjunction with the in-house initial response team and vulnerable children’s team when dealing with safeguarding and protection matters.
The most recent Ofsted inspection of Walsall in June 2013 identified significant change in the service for children with disabilities since it had transferred back to the council’s management. However, it said that while the new arrangements may strengthen safeguarding, some cases demonstrated ‘parallel’ working rather than co-working.The watchdog said social workers undertaking enquiries into child protection concerns involving disabled children should work closely with the social worker from the disability team to ensure clearly recorded and coordinated information and well informed evidence and findings. “This work [needs to] receive sufficient management oversight,” Ofsted recommended.
The panel concluded: “It was apparent that he had been left largely to his own devices in that his team appears to have been allowed to focus primarily on assessing and organising support packages for parents/carers without giving due regard to the needs of the children themselves.”
However, the registrant’s manager at Walsall Metropolitan Borough Council from April 2012, who recommended the suspension, told the panel he did not co-operate with her as she tried to improve the team’s performance in correctly identifying safeguarding issues.
A social worker is not allowed to apply to go back on the register for five years after a striking off order, unless new evidence comes to light.
Article updated on 15th September