Social worker who lied on oath after ‘blurred’ relationship with service users sanctioned

The social worker had become a confidant to two service users she was not assigned to in a relationship described as "unacceptably blurred"

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Photo: Dizain/Fotolia

A social worker has been sanctioned for lying on oath after she became a confidant in an “unacceptably blurred” relationship with service users.

The social worker was suspended by the HCPC for nine months after a panel found she had “undermined” trust and confidence in social workers by lying when giving evidence in care proceedings involving two parents she’d offered informal advice to.

The two parents had three children placed in care years previously. The social worker was not assigned to their case, but had met them while working with another family.

‘Inappropriate’

In 2013 the social worker offered the pair advice on their concerns about having another child and how the council would respond. A year later she provided sessions for them on anger management and coping skills, and was then called in to care proceedings to give evidence about this work.

During proceedings, the parents shared psychological assessments written for the hearing with the social worker, something which parents’ counsel considered “inappropriate”.

The social worker lied several times during the court hearing when she was asked if she had seen the documents. The fact she had seen the assessment was confirmed by the parents to the HCPC.

She later admitted to the HCPC that she had seen one of two psychological assessments, while the parents said she had seen both. The panel decided the acts had been dishonest and were misconduct.

“Courts, service users and professionals must have absolute confidence that a social worker is being open, frank and honest whenever they engage with the legal system.

“That is particularly so in a system responsible for safeguarding children and where vital and weighty decisions in respect of the care of children are taken,” it concluded.

‘Clear mistake’

The social worker had shown genuine remorse, the panel said, and it appeared to be an isolated incident in a 15 year career.

“She accepts that her relationship with [the parents] became unacceptably blurred. She now knows that she needs to keep at the forefront of every interaction where she is a social worker to keep professional boundaries and to adhere to the principles of her profession.

“She understands in this type of situation she is still acting in a social work capacity. She would have to be clear with parents as to her role and that she would be consulting with her supervisor. She would definitely not involve herself in informal support groups.

“That was a different role and was a clear mistake.”

When deciding on a sanction, the panel said there was a “question mark” over whether she could prioritise her duty to children “over her desire to keep families together and to support parents”.

She said she had been panicked and confused by her “very wrong” reaction to the circumstances. She had never received court training, or given evidence before.

The panel concluded a nine month suspension was sufficient to reflect the seriousness of the offence.

5 Responses to Social worker who lied on oath after ‘blurred’ relationship with service users sanctioned

  1. Robert October 11, 2016 at 3:10 am #

    Basically the parents got free information on their own terms and threw the Social Worker under the bus. The mistake was not recognizing these people had De facto become clients and the social worker had no support or written records except for the anger management group. Unless the group was just the family members. Too harsh a penalty for helping. No one was harmed except the social worker. She has a good heart and a brave spirit, I hope things go well for her.

    • Deborah October 12, 2016 at 1:48 pm #

      Agree

  2. LongtimeSW October 11, 2016 at 12:24 pm #

    The mistake was in not making the professional relationship formal – however it is alarming if this social worker is in a role that may require court attendance at some time and she had had no training/experience – that is her employer’s responsibility.

    If she wouldn’t normally be expected in her role to attend court then she does have to take responsibility for lying under oath and the personal and professional consequences of doing so (as we all do).

    Without being too ‘po-faced’, about it social workers have a responsibility to the most vulnerable – if this was in care proceedings then it is to the child(ren) concerned – sad though it is, on this occasion I think that HCPC have just about got it right in regard to the professional, but yet again questions should (must?) be asked of her employers as to why they had not picked this up.

    Just hope the court made the best decision for the children whatever that was.

  3. Ms. Hurt October 11, 2016 at 2:52 pm #

    This is awful to have happened. Thank God that the children weren’t hurt . We as Social Worker’s have a responsibility to ensure the safety of family’s. Lying under oath, was a choice made that went wrong. Boundaries must be and remain clear . Hope it all works out good for every one involved

  4. Janet Francis October 13, 2016 at 5:58 pm #

    The social worker should have gone back to the Council and her line manager, who should be named as well as the local authority concerned for ENABLEMENT under Equality & Diversity legislation 2010 which underpins all other legislation in the UK, to ask their advice. This would have been separate work for the Local Authority to consider to that to which the Social Worker was dealing directly with.

    Should anyone ever consider advising any prospective parent to consider having children if they already have children in care and to which no previous reasons are stated? Perhaps a psychological assessment should have been considered as well as linking in with the NHS under which this would be provided?