Social work manager struck off for failing to properly supervise team

Former SERCO social worker removed from the register after failing to address issues during a year-long suspension

Photo: Burger/Phanie/Rex. Posed by models

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.

‘Burnout’

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.

‘Organisational disarray’

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.

‘Parallel’ or co-working?
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

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12 Responses to Social work manager struck off for failing to properly supervise team

  1. Victoria Coker September 15, 2015 at 12:13 pm #

    it is difficult to comment on this because we do not know or have all the facts. We as social workers must always focus on safeguarding vulnerable people in our care and always act to safeguard them in anyway possible. We must also make a safeguarding alert when necessary and apply preventative and partnership working approach at all time.
    Equally each organisation must equip their managers and staff the resources to carry out their jobs. Manager and staff must be trained and support in carrying out their duties. Organisation must listen to their staff and manage stress, sickness and work-loads balance. We will all learn from all these difficult examples and improve our services. Thanks all.

    • YB September 16, 2015 at 5:29 pm #

      I think we all learn from this not to work for outsourced services who sell their staff down the river having promised to work on the cheap. Another scapegoat courtesy of the HCPC.

      • GRL September 17, 2015 at 10:00 am #

        Agreed. I find it strange that HCPC disciplinaries always seem to target front line staff and managers, never the more senior managers who plan, budget and commission poor services and who are, or should be, responsible for ensuring they work properly. The buck is obviously too heavy to be passed beyond the most vulnerable.

  2. Nicola September 16, 2015 at 12:58 pm #

    It is very sad to read a manager saying that a member of staff showed no signs of burnout and that he didn’t work front line. I feel that manager needs to be re trained for such a sweeping and unsympathetic statement. You can still feel overwhelmed and burnt out and be in any social work post everyone experiences stresses and strains differently. And front line is not the only area of social work that is stressful. I imagine if that worker had had exemplary career since 1978 I am perplexed as to how this worker was not shown any form of support as the article reads. Shocking to see no support offered by the HCPC.

  3. Paula September 16, 2015 at 2:04 pm #

    As a service user and fellow professional at the time, there is definitely more to this than meets the eye – an under-resourced service, no higher level guidance, lack of policies and procedures… Talk about finding a scapegoat!

  4. Rebecca September 16, 2015 at 8:31 pm #

    How disgusting. What is the point of the HCPC apart from these punitive judgements.

  5. David Lloyd Jones September 17, 2015 at 1:42 pm #

    Safeguarding all vulnerable children and adults is a primary professional response .But what about the safeguarding of frontline workers including managers

  6. Charles Huddleston September 17, 2015 at 1:54 pm #

    For those who missed it, HCPC also criticised his management.

    • Tammy Tawadros September 18, 2015 at 11:26 am #

      Its sounds like a number of factors may have been at play and these situations do not arise in vacuum. The manager in question may have done things that could be open to criticism. We cannot easily assign culpability and blame, even though it is only human to wish to do so. Better to understand and learn, to remember that we are fallible and that we can be resilient in the face of some pretty adverse environments and resilient in recovery, but we do need a properly resourced team and organisation and the right kind of support from line managers and others, including the organisation as whole to aspire and achieve good practice and to keep people safe.

    • Richard September 20, 2015 at 10:38 am #

      Yes, indeed the HCPC did criticise the registrant’s management chain but, alas, that management was not cited or held to book for their failings. If we, as a profession, are to have faith in our QUANGO regulator, we must demand equality in treatment between registrants and employers. If a rehistrant fails and there is clear evidence that the employer has failed, too, they must be held to book. I would recommend a financial sanction for employers, on a sliding scale of cost, dependent on culpability. The income generate by the HCPC should then be reinvedted to minimise costs to registrants.

      Regrettably, costs will rise because social work employers will seek to challenge all financial punishments against them. However, by employing true neo – liberal values, employers might be league-tabled interms of performance in failing workers and service users.

  7. connie September 22, 2015 at 9:09 pm #

    Remember this statement as it CAN be you: “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.”

    Social Workers have become as conservative as the systems that employ them; further, most are so burnt out they are simply walking zombies in the work place and apathetic to what is happening to them and their supervisors. Front line and middle management Social Workers have been, are and will be held accountable for economic and administrative short comings in the systems they work in. I speak like this in an attempt to get people to hear me. Except for a few, most systems that employ Social Workers are unable to meet the minimum of their vision statements. We do NOT need to know all the facts in this case: just look around you at your work place; that is, if you can hold your head up long enough to do so!

  8. Tom Taylor October 6, 2015 at 10:36 am #

    Still, at least the Serco shareholders would have made a profit. Every cloud?