A senior social worker has been sanctioned for making “inappropriate” sexual comments in the presence of other social workers, including two newly qualified staff.
A Health and Care Professions Council tribunal found that, on the balance of probabilities, the registered social worker had made “inappropriate sexual comments” during a supervision session in December 2015 with a newly qualified child protection social worker, when he was a locum assistant team manager for Dudley council.
The social worker also admitted that, the following day, he had made an inappropriate sexual comment in the presence of two other social workers, including another newly qualified worker. All three of the other social workers were women.
A formal grievance procedure took place after this second incident but the social worker left before this was completed.
‘Breached fundamental tenet’
He was given a six-month conditions of practice order after the panel found that, though he had not put service users at risk of unwarranted harm by his actions, and wasn’t liable to do so in the future, he had brought the social work profession into disrepute and “breached one of its fundamental tenets”.
The panel said he had a “responsibility to be an example to other members of staff” due to his seniority, and should “have known better than to speak in that manner”.
It also said, though, that he was “working under challenging circumstances” at the time, and had been put in charge of a team of social workers “who had not been receiving proper management and supervision for some time whilst having a caseload himself”.
The social worker denied that during the supervision session he had made inappropriate comments regarding a pregnant service user who was also a sex worker, but accepted that the service user’s case had been discussed.
He also accepted that, on the same day, he made reference to a Chinese sexual saying and explained its meaning, but said it was not in relation to the service user in question or to any other service user.
He told the panel he had referred to the Chinese saying and its meaning during a break in the supervision session, during a conversation he had with the newly qualified worker about time he had spent in China undergoing martial arts training. He said the break and the conversation took place after he had finished inputting the notes of the discussion in relation to the service user onto the computer system.
He also said he had previously discussed his time in China with the NQSW before this supervision, the first session between them, where about 30 of the NQSW’s cases were discussed.
However, the panel said it did “not find it credible” that, “in what would have been an intense supervision session, there would have been a break and that during that break the Registrant would again discuss his time in China and then make reference to the Chinese saying and its meaning, which was clearly sexual”.
It found that it was “more probable” that the reference to the Chinese saying was made following or during the discussion about the service user, adding: “The Chinese saying can be said to be linked to sex workers, and to the conversation about this particular service user being sexually active and continuing to have children.”
As well as the three main witnesses, the HCPC panel took evidence from the interim head of services for Dudley children’s services at the time of the allegations, and from the registrant’s line manager at another local authority before the events, who has also been his line manager since.
Both were unable to give direct evidence about the allegations but gave character evidence regarding the social worker’s professionalism and stated that there had been no known previous concerns about his conduct and practice.
The registrant also apologised to the first social worker shortly after the incident on 30 December 2015, but the panel said he had “not gained full insight into his misconduct”.
It pointed out that he had “sought to transfer the blame for his actions” on 30 December 2015 onto the newly qualified worker, “in that he maintained his belief that she had manipulated and/or engineered the situation so that he would make those comments”.
In determining its sanction, the panel considered that the social worker had “fully engaged” with the fitness to practise process, had shown “some evidence of remorse and insight”, and had a “previously unblemished record” as a social worker.
He had also engaged in “reflective and relevant” supervision sessions with his current line manager, and had the support of this manager to assist him if conditions were imposed on his practice.
The panel said his current manager “clearly holds him and his ability as a social worker in high regard”.
Under the conditions of practice order the social worker must work with his supervisor on a personal development plan to address deficiencies in his practice related to supervision, professional boundaries, and mentoring NQSWs.