Judge names social workers and recommends disciplinary investigation

A social worker and her managers were found to have witheld evidence from the court after changing the report of another social worker

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Photo: OJO Images/REX Shutterstock

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.

Exceptional case

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.

Substantial changes

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.

Correct decision

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.”

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19 Responses to Judge names social workers and recommends disciplinary investigation

  1. Ann Noble November 24, 2015 at 11:36 am #

    The only surprise is that the judge took action against social services………..parents know this is happening such a lot

    • Lyn Ratcliff November 27, 2015 at 2:33 pm #

      This isn’t an isolated case, unfortunately it happens in the NHS also. Often the staff are promoted to a level where they can cause less damage…….

  2. Patch November 24, 2015 at 12:19 pm #

    I wonder: Will the records relating to Kim Goode’s previous 18 years of service also be reviewed, and the people she recruited whilst in charge of recruitment?

  3. mrm November 24, 2015 at 8:11 pm #

    Good on the judge, these things happen all the time in social work…its always the social workers with poor and outrageous practice that get promoted, those who go the extra mile get shafted every time.

  4. julian spurr November 24, 2015 at 11:08 pm #

    This is the ruling of a judge exceptionally naming the social workers involved.

    I cannot believe the arrogant response from Hampshire County Council, They are calling the judge’s ruling in to question.

    They say “We are satisfied that at no stage did any of the named officers deliberately mislead the courts.” Are they saying that the judge is wrong ?

    What sort of culture exist there ? Who authorised this statement in the council ? Where is the abject apology ?

    Really quite frightening.

    • janem November 26, 2015 at 1:34 am #

      Well said.

    • Mike Hill November 26, 2015 at 12:11 pm #

      @Spurr-you write ‘Are they saying that the judge is wrong?’ as though no-one should have the temerity to question a comment or ruling of a judge. Well, shock horror, judges make mistakes too, and have often been found to be wrong in the past, and the same will happen in the future. The ‘abject apology’ that you wanted wawsn;t given, quite possibly because they had nothing to apologise for.

      • julian spurr December 2, 2015 at 12:13 am #

        Mr Hill – I am not quite sure what your point is. Do you not have concerns ? Do you understand the importance of not lying in Court ? Do you not think this damages the reputation of the profession ? Are you aware of the issues that this raises ?
        Are you seriously supporting these people ?
        These people LIED TO THE COURT Mr Hill. !!

    • Jai Patch November 26, 2015 at 1:06 pm #

      Where is the judicial recommendation for a police prosecution for ‘Malfeasance in public office’?

  5. Pancho November 25, 2015 at 10:35 am #

    It is little wonder that our profession is held in such little regard by the public when you read things like this. the only good thing is that the social worker hasn’t been hung ouit top dry on her own and that the managers, for once, have been held accountable.

    Unfortunately, it’s not unsual to find people in senior positions going on to bigger and better things even though they have screwed up.

    I know of an authority that very recently had a serious kicking from inspectors and within weeks 2 of the senior managers ahd moved to other authorities in higher positions. One wonders what they put on their application forms..

  6. FosterCarer 1964 November 25, 2015 at 12:28 pm #

    This is what happens unfortunately. I feel sorry for those Social Workers who work very hard and conscientiously to help and support children (and Foster Carers). Unfortunately I’ve known this promote rather than sack procedure to be true for some years.
    My 10-years have led me to experience Phone calls and emails denied. Blame unfairly passed and recommendations made to refer Foster Carers back to panel rather than tell the truth or admit an error was made…
    I’ve been threatened and I know others who have been threatened with panel for disagreeing with a Social Workers and I know it’s easier to suggest in a report that there are doubts about the quality of care provided to move children rather than be accountable for failures.
    I was told to stop sending regular update emails after they proved someone lied to their manager.
    Promotions too for the two Social workers who chose to lie about sexualised behaviour and violence to secure a placement at my home (causing another Fostered child to be sexually abused in our home).
    Also deliberate failure to tell us about an existing report which said “this 9-year-old child must be the youngest child in a placement by some margin.” The child came to us (we had a 5-year-old and an 8-month-old in our home). Our 5-year-old screamed while he was lifted up by his hands while his arms were held behind his back and our 8-month-old was punched in the face as she sat in a baby walker.
    We also weren’t told about known sexualised behaviour for a child who posed a serious risk to all young children following years of helping his parents with abusing other children.. It was a Therapeutic Worker who told us about the family history and known risk.

    All those Social Workers were promoted and in a better place to call our care into practice should they wish and that’s how we grew out of our trusting world and into our Foster Carer skin.

    I really do feel sympathy for those Social Workers who find this kind of witch-hunt insulting… Like me they probably work alongside the people who tell us what they want us to hear. In the same way that I find those few bad Foster-Carers who seem nice, take the money but provide very little in return- extremely frustrating. They cause the rest of us to live under more and more red-tape and cause us to be treated as part of children’s problems.

  7. Jane Buckkey November 25, 2015 at 12:55 pm #

    There is a serious lack of accountability in Local Authorities and also at times in the judicial system. Using an opportunity to find a window to highlight concerns is important for anyone charged with duties which concern the public.
    Each of the regulatory bodies had systems which can allow dangerous professionals to slip through the net. That is because where there is power their is power to deceive. Every professional has witnessed the culture of pptomotion of professionals who are lacking in integrity and do not adhere to the principles or ethics of their professions. In my own experience People maintained in management have abused patients and staff only to be deregistered after a terrible tragedy. Complaints about them have been hidden, ignored, or used to perpetutse further unprofessional and dishonest actions by large organizations more concerned with egos than standards for the consumers of these services for people in need.
    The most important principle is to remember why we work in these services and not to forget why they exist. Strangely enough they do not exist for fuelling egos.

  8. Roselyn Thompson November 25, 2015 at 5:34 pm #

    There is lock of responsibilities and accountabilities on the three Social Workers part, how did they they get Team Leader, District Manager and Director to Children Services when their practice is impaired. I am so glad Judge Horton threw the book at them. Who was supervising them and overseeing their work? They have failed this family and have taking away valuable time from these children. This show how mistake can be made and covered up through mal practice. As I Social Worker myself I care about children and their families/ careers and my time in social working I advocated for better accountability and better way of working with children and their families…I became record that repeating but on one listening to what I am saying. Their is ways of working with children and their families, it’s not one cut fit all, families have different experience so is social workers and we have to worked our practice to fit their needs. There is many brilliant Social Workers throughout United Kingdom and most of them can be trusted, they have brilliant awareness of children and their families needs….they manage their time well, they’re responsible and pay detail to their work.

  9. Margaret Firth November 25, 2015 at 6:19 pm #

    I am so pleased that the judge has highlighted such appealing practice. I am sorry however for the social worker that ended up losing her job as a result go Goode. I hope that they all get what is coming to them especially the managers as they make social workers scapegoats for their poor management and bad decisions hopefully not this time. Thanks to that Judge.

  10. Miss K November 25, 2015 at 9:01 pm #

    I used to work with Ms Goode many years ago..the judge was totally correct in his summation about the difficulty in challenging this woman.

  11. Right to reply November 26, 2015 at 10:17 pm #

    as a social worker I always take the view there are two sides to a story…and it’s important to not jump on a band wagon that bashes a profession that is already on its knees. The judge sits in a powerful position and can play judge and jury with people’s lives and careers…regardless of the sensational reporting in the news and media you have to remember these people are someone’s son/daughter/mum/dad…and whilst I would never defend the indefensible until I am appraised of all the facts (which any good social worker would do as part of good practice) then I respectfully reserve judgement and feel it would be unfair and unreasonable to be in that glass house and throw them stones and that applies to the judge…who sits untouchable and in complete confidence of thenpowerbhe welds….this does nothing for the social work image…we never hear the judge who goes to the papers to say well down to this social worker for saving this child

  12. charles huddleston November 27, 2015 at 7:38 am #

    The real issue here is the fact that social care staff and managers are automatically believed over parents. Very very rarely do they get called on their interpretations/actions.

    I’ve seen some terrible examples of practice, but still far too many incompetents are in positions of power.

  13. Soon to be a former Social Worker November 28, 2015 at 1:15 pm #

    This judge is foolish to assume that assessments are always the work of the Social Worker, indeed i’ve had many altered to the point where I can no longer see my own work. They either have to be overly critical so to result in action or overly lenient to result in no action. This is the culture now. Higher managers know they are higher officers of the LA and therefore can overule any Social Worker’s decision.

    Just the other day I heard about an adoption where the grand parents had no viability assessments carried out. The ADM had ok’d the adoption and when presented to court, the court asked for viabilities. My colleague returned to the office and was told to write unfavouravle assessments.

    This whole business of deceiving courts and constantly upholding the silly decisions of higher managers so far from practice is an issue the profession needs to resolve urgently.

  14. Peter December 13, 2015 at 6:32 pm #

    There needs to be proper accountability accross all areas of this system and seen consequences. Senior management need to stop striving to meet targets set by government and deal with TRUTH and not lies.