A social worker who authorised a loan of £20 of local authority cash to help a service user buy back a TV from a drug dealer has been sanctioned by the HCPC.
A conduct committee found the social worker placed the service user at potential risk of harm from continued contact with the drug dealer, brought the profession into disrepute and undermined public confidence in social work. She was given a conditions of practice order for nine months.
The social worker was the manager of a youth offending team when the service user, a young man with social and family difficulties, asked his probation officer for a loaned television to reduce boredom. One was loaned to him by a staff member at the youth offending team.
The service user later revealed to the probation officer that he had “hocked” the television to a drug dealer in return for cannabis worth £20. He asked for help to retrieve the TV, and said he would re-offend in order to get the £20 needed.
The probation officer told him not to re-offend, and said she would seek advice on how to address the problem. The social worker chaired a Risk and Vulnerability Meeting at which the probation officer suggested taking £20 from petty cash to loan the service user to pay the drug dealer and reclaim the television.
The social worker, and others at the meeting, agreed and authorised the payment. This was then given to the service user by the probation officer who accompanied him part of the way to the drug dealer’s house. The service user retrieved the television, repaid the £20 at a later date and returned the television to its original owner.
The probation officer considered this a situation of “restorative justice”, as she felt the service user had shown considerable remorse and was open to rehabilitation.
The decision to approve the loan reached the local media “by unknown means”, the panel heard. As a result of this, the council then carried out an investigation into the social worker’s actions as it felt the decision harmed its reputation.
“During that investigation, the registrant stated in interview that all those present agreed the £20 loan decision, in the meeting and she did not feel it was an extraordinary matter, and just wanted the best outcome to prevent [the service user] reoffending,” the judgment said.
The panel found the social worker had been swayed by the group’s acceptance of the course of action. She demonstrated “weak leadership” and had failed to critically analyse the potential consequences for the service user, herself and the council, it added.
Following the council investigation, the social worker stepped down from her management post and fully admitted the facts of the case.
In considering a sanction, the panel acknowledged this was an isolated incident in the social worker’s long career and no service user or colleague had come to any harm. However, it also found she had given “no consideration of the council’s reputation when making the decision” to approve the loan.
The panel concluded the social worker’s actions amounted to misconduct and she had not been “fit to practise at the time of the events”.
It made the conditions of practice order, under which the social worker must submit a 3,000 word reflective piece outlining what she learned from the misconduct and detailing training she has taken to improve her practice. She must also inform any of her employers of the order.