A children’s social worker has been sanctioned for keeping case documents at home for too long and failing to store them securely.
The social worker, who was in her first job since qualifying, kept the documents at home for up to four years, a fitness-to-practice panel found. They included original copies of a life story book, photographs, court orders, parenting assessments and legal letters.
She returned the documents to her local authority in February 2014 while serving a suspension for unrelated concerns. She admitted she should have returned them sooner so they could be added to service users’ files but said she had been busy and had been in the early stages of pregnancy at the time so was worried about lifting heavy papers.
The social worker argued the documents had been stored securely in a locked cupboard prior to her moving house in August 2013. The panel said it did not accept this was secure and said the documents were “retained in an unsecure manner” throughout the four year period.
The panel gave the social worker a conditions of practice order after concluding her actions amounted to misconduct. This is because she had potentially deprived service users of “crucial information” about themselves and left other professionals working with the families with incomplete files, the panel said. By failing to keep the documents securely she also risked breaching confidentiality of service users, it added.
The panel said: “As a social worker for vulnerable children, the registrant had a responsibility to ensure that any documents that were removed from the council premises would be returned within a reasonable period of time.
“The panel considers that the registrant’s actions in failing to return those documents for a significant period of time and keeping those documents in an unsecure manner was a particularly serious failing and demonstrates a fundamental departure from the standards expected of a social worker.”
In the course of the case the social worker apologised for her actions and said she had not realised the “vast amount of documentation” she had accumulated. When asked what the consequences would have been of the information not being on the care files, she said “it wouldn’t have been good”.
The conduct panel considered mitigating factors in the case. These included that the social worker had been in her first job since qualifying at the time and had attended a data protection course since the failings had been identified. However, it found she lacked full insight into the issues with her conduct.
The panel said: “It is also apparent from her answers that she fundamentally lacks understanding as to the seriousness of her failings because she stated in evidence when she was returning the documents she had not realised that this matter would be a disciplinary issue
“Additionally she stated she had not been concerned about having the documents at her first address because they were in “a safe place”. This demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding of the basic duty of a social worker to properly safeguard sensitive and confidential material.”
It concluded a conditions of practice order was “appropriate and proportionate” sanction. For the next year the social worker must now maintain a log detailing every time she takes personal or confidential documents out of the office and produce a reflective document on the problems raised by her past conduct. She must also remain under the supervision of a workplace supervisor who will report on her management and safeguarding of confidential information.