A social worker who said she became “desensitised” to the poor conditions five children on her caseload were living in has been suspended for failing to spot safeguarding concerns.
A HCPC conduct committee found the children, who were under child protection plans due to neglect concerns, were left in an “unsafe environment” for 18 months.
When the social worker’s manager visited the family home she was “extremely concerned” by the level of neglect and poverty she witnessed and shocked by the discrepancy with the social worker’s records, the panel heard. After the visit, steps were taken to place the children in foster care due the house being unsafe.
The panel found the social worker took more than 18 months to complete a core assessment that should have been filed within six to 12 weeks. The assessment failed to record several significant safeguarding concerns.
These included the children’s inadequate sleeping arrangements, the lack of any working cooker or gas supply in the house and the fact that part of the kitchen ceiling had collapsed, leaving electrical cabling exposed.
During an internal local authority investigation into the social worker’s handling of the case she maintained she did not consider the home conditions to be of great concern. She said measures had been put in place to alleviate some of the issues, such as supplying new bedding for the children and hiring a skip to clear some clutter in the garden.
However, the panel found these steps were not adequate to safeguard the children and the social worker had failed to challenge the parents about their home conditions. When the social worker’s manager asked to see the children’s bedroom on her visit, the mother said the social worker was her “friend” and that “she never asked to see the bedrooms”.
The panel said it found “no evidence” in supervision notes that the social worker raised concerns about the home conditions, and said she failed to recognise how “entirely inappropriate” it was for the parents to call her “a friend”.
In her written statement to the panel, the social worker said she was “distracted by other areas of concern and ‘desensitised’ to the home conditions”. She added that she had a “large number of cases” and found it difficult manage them all. She accepted she failed to file the core assessment in time, and said she did not mean to put the children at risk.
The panel found the social worker held around 30 to 35 children on her caseload. This was at the “high end” of average workloads in the service but the social worker did not indicate in supervision that she was unable to cope and these circumstances “do not excuse or explain” the safeguarding failures, the panel added.
“The registrant does not demonstrate insight into the significant adjustments that would be required to her own practice for her to practice safely as a social worker. She does not acknowledge that she allowed herself to be led by the parents, and that it was entirely inappropriate that they were describing her as a ‘friend’,” the panel concluded.
“The panel’s view is that the misconduct in this case is remediable. However, there is no evidence that it has been remedied. In the absence of remediation and given the Registrant’s limited insight the panel concluded that there is a risk of repetition and therefore a risk that vulnerable children are exposed to harm. The panel therefore concluded, on the personal component, that the registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired.”
The suspension order will last 12 months.