A “rude and aggressive” social worker who put a sick child at risk and left the child’s carer feeling “bullied and harassed” has been suspended from the register for 12 months.
A Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) tribunal heard that over a period of months, the social worker, who was employed via an agency with Devon council, “actively undermined” relationships thanks to his unprofessional and oppressive manner.
While stopping short of striking the social worker off, on the grounds that his failings were capable of remediation, the panel found that it was appropriate to impose the maximum available suspension.
Point of contact
The tribunal was told the social worker had been allocated to two children, Child A and Child B who had been placed under a special guardianship order with Person A. One of the social worker’s main duties was to arrange contact between the children and their mother, who lived elsewhere.
Shortly before the social worker became involved with the children, Child A had been diagnosed with neuroblastoma, an aggressive cancer that afflicts nerve tissue. This meant that he had to attend numerous hospital appointments and that his immune system was compromised because of chemotherapy.
Among a series of particulars found proved against the social worker, the panel heard that:
- He had contacted Person A to insist he attend a meeting about Child A’s care, at a time when there was a serious risk that the child might acquire an infection if he left his home environment. When a nurse spoke to the social worker to explain that Child A could not attend the meeting, he “simply would not accept her opinion”, the tribunal heard. In the end, Person A had to text the social worker on the morning of the meeting to say that Child A was too unwell to attend.
- On several occasions, he spoke rudely and aggressively to hospital staff, apparently taking little interest in listening to them in order to understand Child A’s needs. On one of these, a doctor had explained that there was a prior arrangement that Child A’s mother would not see him during chemotherapy, which the social worker did not agree with. “The tone of voice and insistent manner of the Registrant was so marked that [the doctor] was concerned he would not accept the decision, would not speak to the consultant and would try to arrange contact while Child A was receiving chemotherapy,” the tribunal heard.
- He had insisted that Person A bring Child A into school to discuss arrangements for his education, despite the fact the child was very weak and sick. The social worker had only informed Person A on the morning of the meeting, insisting that Child A’s mother phone and wake him in order to do so. Child A was so unwell at the meeting that he had to leave. There then followed a pattern of behaviour in which the social worker gave Person A “wholly inappropriate” notice of meetings and made threats to report him as uncooperative, leaving him feeling “bullied and harassed”.
- He had behaved in a “confrontational and dismissive” way towards staff at Child A’s school, rarely responding to communications and cancelling meetings without notice.
One particular relating to the social worker grabbing Child B and pulling him into a room was found not proven, being based only on the evidence of Person A who had given inconsistent testimony to the tribunal and to other parties.
Risk of harm
The evidence was heard in the social worker’s absence after he had failed to engage with the regulatory process in any way.
The tribunal found that the social worker had put Child A at risk of serious infection by seeking to make him attend meetings while immuno-compromised, and that he had failed to act in the child’s best interests.
Moreover, the social worker did not merely fail to communicate with other professionals but “actively undermined communication [via] his unprofessional and oppressive manner,” the panel said.
It found that five of the individual particulars proven against the social worker amounted to serious misconduct on their own, as did three others when taken in combination.
“There is no evidence before the panel that the registrant has in any way remediated his faults or that he has developed any insight or recognised the seriousness of his misconduct,” the tribunal concluded. “In those circumstances the panel is satisfied that the registrant remains a risk to future service users.”
The panel ruled that the social worker’s suspension order be reviewed before its expiry. It suggested a series of conditions around the sanction’s potential lifting, including that the social worker attend the review and provide evidence as to his future fitness to practise.