A family court judge has named a social worker and her two managers, recommending their work and actions be investigated by their employers, Ofsted and the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC).
Judge Mark Horton, at Portsmouth Family Court, said he was concerned social worker Sarah Walker Smart, her manager at the time, Kim Goode, and senior manager Lisa Humphreys were all still working and had, in fact, been promoted. This was despite a previous judgement in December outlining serious failings on the part of all three.
These included: illegally taking children into care, breaching a family’s human rights, altering the report of another social worker, lying under oath and knowingly withholding evidence from the court.
Concerned at promotions
“Given the enormity of what they did and the fact they still work as social workers it is right that I should name them again so that practitioners and members of the public coming across them are aware of their shortcomings in this case,” Judge Horton said.
He directed that both judgements be sent to Hampshire’s director of children’s services, Ofsted, the Health and Care Professions Council “with a view to them considering whether further action against them is required”.
Walker Smart is now a team leader at Hampshire, Goode is a district manager for the Isle of Wight and Humphreys has become assistant director of children’s social care at Lambeth Borough Council.
Judge Horton said it was an exceptional case in which there had been a “deliberate and calculated alteration of a report, prepared by one social worker, to make that assessment seem less favourable by another social worker and the team managers; the withholding of the original report when it was ordered to be disclosed and the parties to the alteration lying on oath, one of them twice, in order to try and cover up the existence of the original report”.
The care application concerned five children, ranging in age from 16 to three years of age, who had been referred to children’s social care for neglect in October 2011. The older children were not going to school and the children were all overweight, two of them morbidly obese. The family were living in a two bedroom house that was in a poor condition and was so cluttered that the bedrooms were inaccessible.
The original social worker in the case, who was not named by the judge, had instigated Public Law Outline measures in 2012. She had begun completing her core assessments in June 2013 when she was moved to a different department.
Difficult to challenge
In the meantime Sarah Walker Smart, an inexperienced social worker, had been allocated the case and, in June 2013, conducted a joint assessment with her manager Kim Goode.
Goode was already concerned at the lack of progress achieved over the previous 18 months of social work involvement, exasperated at the first social worker’s failure to complete core assessments before she had left her post, and had probably been shocked by the conditions she had found, the judge determined.
She had immediately taken the case to a legal strategy meeting, with care proceedings to be instigated as soon as possible.
When the first social worker had finally completed her assessment and sent it to Goode for quality assaurance, Goode made substantial changes to the report making it appear more negative for the parents than the original report had been.
Walker Smart had then added her name to it.
The report was submitted to the court as a new report. Both denied the existence of the original report, Walker Smart doing so twice under oath. Humphreys, Goode’s manager, had also failed to mention the report’s existence, as had Hampshire’s legal team, despite all of them being aware of it.
Uncovered by disciplinary action
The original report only came to light when Goode then instigated disciplinary measures against the original social worker. The social worker had been dismissed and her health was in such a poor state she had been unable to give evidence to the family court.
In his December judgement Judge Horton said: “This is not the place to comment on the appropriateness of that investigation, its fairness or its conclusions but I do ask the [local authority] to robustly review their conclusions and decision in the light of this judgement and all that is now known about this case.”
The judge said Goode was a “strong-willed, forceful and opinionated” character and he was satisfied her subordinates would find it hard to challenge her.
“This atmosphere is probably what led Ms Walker Smart into such grave error. Whilst this may be an isolated incident in her career, I have very grave concerns as to Kim Goode’s working practises in this case and in my judgement a thorough review of her work and management style should be undertaken by the LA.”
He also criticised Humphreys for making a “hollow” apology to the parents and her description of Goode’s decision to alter the report as “foolish”. He also said he had found it depressing she had failed to take any personal responsibility for what had happened in the case.
Breach of human rights
Walker Smart had, along with another social worker and eight police officers, arrived at the parents’ house and taken the children into care under a section 20 arrangement.
In his December judgement the judge ruled these actions were unlawful with insufficient grounds for action and a failure to follow correct procedure. The local authority had not obtained true parental consent – the father having given consent under duress – and had also failed to take into account the mother’s learning difficulties.
He said the actions had breached the human rights of both the parents and the children. He had directed fresh parenting assessments of the mother and father.
Children taken into care
However, in his final hearing of the case, despite his criticisms of Hampshire’s actions, Judge Horton ruled the children should be taken into long-term foster care. He said the parents’ distrust of all professionals was now so deep-seated they were unable to work with agencies on improving their parenting.
He heard evidence the mother had begun tape-recording sessions with social workers and outside agencies who were trying to undertake an assessment.
The children were all making progress in their foster placements, including in education and reducing their weight, and to go back to their parents would jeopardise such progress.
Allan Norman, a social worker and lawyer, said the judge had been correct to name the social workers.
“They are on course for being convicted for doing their jobs in a way that is criminal. If ever there was a case for naming and shaming social workers, it’s this one.
“They have let the social work profession down. There are enough families complaining that social workers lie when they are upset or angry or misinterpret statements but social workers have been doing their jobs properly – this case undermines that position.”
A spokesperson for Hampshire County Council said they felt some aspects of the Court’s criticism were “not quite correct” and were considering their position in this regard.
“We do accept that there were some deficiencies in some of the social worker practice in this case and subsequent action was taken, including the termination of one social worker’s employment with the County Council. We are satisfied that at no stage did any of the named officers deliberately mislead the courts.”
A spokesperson for the HCPC said they were aware of the concerns about Sarah Walker Smart, Kim Goode and Lisa Humphreys.
“We are looking into what action, if any, we need to take. We have a duty of confidentiality to all parties involved and it would not be appropriate for us to comment further.”