Social worker sanctioned after failure to update records

The social worker said a recording backlog was ‘disabling’ but she refused practice sessions, panel hears

Photo: mnirat/fotolia

A social worker who argued that a recording backlog had become “disabling” has been sanctioned by the Health and Care Professions Council after a failure to update records left children at risk.

The experienced social worker admitted the allegations in respect to record keeping for 15 service users, but argued the council’s record management system and a lack of time contributed to her failings.

A fitness to practice panel sanctioned the social worker to an 18-month conditions of practice order.

During evidence, the panel heard from the social worker’s team manager, who said she “had a high level of ability but that she chose to prioritise contact over recording”.

“The registrant worked four days per week and her caseload of approximately twenty cases at any one time was lower than would be expected of a social worker at her level, so in [the team manager’s] view she was not overburdened with work, particularly as several cases were ready for closure or settled cases,” the panel heard.

The manager added the social worker had taken criticism “too personally”.

‘Under constant scrutiny’

The social worker told the panel an internal capability process had “damaged her confidence and made her feel that she was under constant scrutiny”.

The written judgment said at the time of the incidents “the burden of the backlog of recording had become so overwhelming that it had become disabling, especially when she was distracted by other personal issues”.

The panel also heard the social worker “struggled” with the computerised recording system and had failed to attend reflective practice sessions arranged for her by her manager.

The manager said the social worker had felt “humiliated” by having a colleague mentor her who she had previously mentored herself, before they had been promoted above her.

‘Persistent’

The panel said the social worker had shown sufficient insight into her failings, but not remediation in providing evidence of a development plan to address them.

It concluded her “persistent and regular” failure to maintain and update case summaries and care plans in a timely manner, and to undertake and record statutory visits, placed young service users at risk of harm.

In one of her cases, a teenager referred to children’s services after sustaining a non-accidental injury or his assault by his stepfather. Despite the “high risk” to the child, an audit revealed the case study had not been updated for four months.

While the social worker insisted she had completed statutory visits, her manager said “they were not loaded”, and was unable to say if visits were timely if not recorded.

The panel concluded: “Failure to maintain or to undertake these basic safeguarding duties would be regarded as deplorable by fellow practitioners. The panel also noted that the registrant’s manager gave her ample time and regular opportunities to correct her deficiencies but she failed to make the necessary improvements.”

It said there needed to be conditions on her practice to ensure public confidence in her role.

As part of the order, the social worker must, whether employed as a social worker or not, propose/create a development plan to address deficiencies in record keeping and time management. If she is employed as a social worker, this must also include measures to address deficiencies in using standard social work case management systems.

33 Responses to Social worker sanctioned after failure to update records

  1. Marie December 5, 2017 at 1:12 pm #

    20 cases is too high for a part Tim worker.

    • DMc December 5, 2017 at 8:31 pm #

      Really? I’d be delighted to have 25 cases and I’m only a few months qualified!

      • AM December 6, 2017 at 4:11 pm #

        DMc, that is dangerous.

      • Daniel December 7, 2017 at 8:25 am #

        Then you’re not been nurtured properly. There’s no status n high case loads, it’ll lead to burn out and jadedness.

    • Pat Elliott December 5, 2017 at 8:31 pm #

      Depends upon the work to be carried out on those cases, by numbers alone would probably agree

    • Lisa Green December 5, 2017 at 10:43 pm #

      I agree! Poor management as far as I am concerned! Why on earth would anyone want to br a Sw these days! Blame culture is a terrible thing.

  2. Angie December 5, 2017 at 5:36 pm #

    This is a very positive step forward in making us public service workers accountable, I welcome this.

    • Margaret December 11, 2017 at 10:51 am #

      Only if the Manager is taken to account for not noticing her staff were struggling. It would also seem that this Social Worker was doing the most important part of the job, seeing clients on time and within legal requirements.
      If making Social Workers accountable is paperwork. Then you are right. I fear you are as deluded as HCPC

  3. julia December 5, 2017 at 6:29 pm #

    Just shoot me now!

  4. Naseem December 5, 2017 at 7:28 pm #

    Considering the personal issues of any kind, coupled by part time work, case load of 20 in a family support team is above average.

  5. Linda December 5, 2017 at 7:44 pm #

    I agree

  6. Abby December 5, 2017 at 8:19 pm #

    How is 20 cases lower than would be expected for someone who works 4 days a week? This should have been recognised and taken into account. I would argue that 15 should be an absolute maximum for a part time worker, if you want high quality social work and value staff wellbeing, that is.

  7. Spike December 5, 2017 at 8:24 pm #

    The panel concluded: “Failure to maintain or to undertake these basic safeguarding duties would be regarded as deplorable by fellow practitioners……. Oh they really are the most unspeakable bunch of supercilious cockwombles. When are we getting shot of them????????? HCPC is not fit for purpose.

    • Laura December 8, 2017 at 12:25 am #

      Cockwombles is now my favourite word, thank you.

      Also, why would the HCPC think her number of cases was OK based on number alone? This is nonsensical. Whether the Social Worker was useless or brilliant is irrelevant; she wasn’t getting her recordings done, therefore 20 was clearly far too many for her…

      • CM December 10, 2017 at 9:31 am #

        That’s what I thought. If she was under a capabilities process and being micro managed then this should have been organised and prioritised. The capabilities process is supposed to be a supportive one and not about scrutiny.
        This number of visits not being recorded should have been picked up on by management either in case supervision and during TFR. If the failed recorded visits go back that far then the risks to service users should be equally the responsibility of the manager. Should never have got that bad if supervised accordingly.
        However social worker had a responsibility to her service users and should have admitted and reported failure to record to managers and requested support. She would have been avoiding scrutiny but she had a responsibility to keep them safe.

  8. Faye December 5, 2017 at 8:47 pm #

    Ok do the maths – 4 day a week gives you around 1.4 hours per week per child- however once you start adding in the practice sessions, the duty rota, supervision, traveling then she is can not work 20 cases per week. Can these people not do maths !!!!

  9. Stefan December 6, 2017 at 1:09 am #

    It is great to read the support the social worker had from her team manager and obviously record keeping is a duty, but I find it very difficult to read that 20 cases is a normal/average amount for a social worker. The courts and HCPC need to recognise that numbers do not mean anything. Especially when this social worker did not work full time. Cases are individual, they are complex, and each one requires different levels of input. Would it be OK for one individual to carry 20 cases of a child or adult who is at risk because “20 is the everage”? I think central government seriously need to reflect on themselves and I think courts need to also reflect on the patterns that are arising from the practice of social workers being reported by HCPC. Yes, sadly, some social workers do not practice as they should and this should be addressed for the most vulnerable in our society but I wish we would move away from this average benchmark the puts practitioners and the vulnerable at so much risk.

    • Santokh Ghai December 6, 2017 at 9:12 pm #

      No wonder they are always short of social workers. Many leave this profession not worth continuing to work.
      I wonder if the manager was empathic to the SW’a personal circumstances that might have had an impact on her performance. Twenty cases are too many for a part timer

    • ann December 7, 2017 at 12:55 am #

      i agree with you. Numbers are not reflective of the amount of work or need

  10. Smacker December 6, 2017 at 3:44 pm #

    We’ve all been there up against it with recording, but it’s a death and taxes issue in that in social work we can’t avoid it and it’s central to casework responsibility and accountability. I’m sympathetic to the disabling argument as the more backlog you get the harder it is to tackle the insurmountable. However, this to me is where management should be helpful, because no one should be in this situation with the technology we have these days.

  11. AM December 6, 2017 at 4:08 pm #

    In some jobs, it is considered bullying to overburden an employee. In Social Work it’s the done thing. Overwork is the norm.
    Social Workers are put in impossible positions, read the files, get your visits up to date, get your recordings up to date, it matters not if 1 visit is a 3 hour round trip, just do it.
    If you didn’t record it, it didn’t happen. Oh, and by the way, go on this course so you can learn better how to do this. But, if you get behind on your casework whilst on it, you had better find the time to catch up or else.
    At the same time be a well informed, trained thoughtful and reflective practitioner. Oh, and please treat people with respect and empathy whilst you are treated like dirt.
    Beats me why anyone would want to do statutory Social Work these days.

    • Ann December 7, 2017 at 8:15 pm #

      Agreed

  12. lucy December 6, 2017 at 8:48 pm #

    I had 6 cases, and I did not feel like I was coping, and I am 10 years qualified in CP.

    I don’t know how anybody could handle 20.

  13. Gill December 6, 2017 at 9:58 pm #

    Better head back to the office straight way, I too ‘prioritise contact over recording’. I much prefer to fight with a case management system that is onerous, slow and has to many fields to fill out! What would Munro say!!

    If recording is the priority then make the systems and procedures easier, not blame the individual.

    I would have also liked to have seen more support for this worker if case records was the concern. How about drop the case load, time off to complete them or some admin help, if they haven’t been cut too!

    Also some more management training around the demoralising effects of scrutinising a worker, promoting others over and inappropriate mentoring allocations, minimising her personal issues and caseload.

    Unfortunately it looks like another example of a manager and worker struggling to get by in a system and procedural minefields that work against our desire to support our service users and each other effectively.

    Focus on the individual failings and we will never address these broader systemic issues.

  14. Heane December 6, 2017 at 11:41 pm #

    Perhaps she should have raised the issues ie caseload, systems etc with management rather than not doing what is requires of her as that put service users at risk..should have realised that she would be accountable regardless the reasons. However, l don’t think she received the right support either and certainly holding 20 cases for a part-timer didnt help. Thats why sw need to speak out & say no if they feel they are carrying a heavy caseload which will have a negative impact on quality of service expected of them.

  15. Clare December 7, 2017 at 12:46 am #

    Munro previously reported that 16 cases should be the maximum for a full time worker. 20 cases too high for a part time worker. Poor management insight for failure to work out the caseload vs hours do not add up unless of course they were expecting her to work on her day off and some weekends and I bet she has more complex cases given her experience . Would like to see the manager holding the caseloads and keeping up with the work whilst maintains a reasonable work life balance. Too far removed from reality.

    I know some managers equate experience to being superhuman with expectations of the worker holding the most complex cases and being able to still manage high caseloads. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that something will give and recording is usually the first thing to suffer often alongside the workers mental health. I have never heard any social work colleagues say they can’t be bothered to record but I have heard lots worrying about how they will find time to record everything they want/need to.

  16. Frankie December 7, 2017 at 6:51 pm #

    I think social workers have become expensive admin staff. I resigned from my post as I had to
    fill out in six different systems where I would
    be and how long and then rewrite if I did something different. On top of case loads
    there would be minutes of team meetings
    duty work etc. Also not taken into account is
    the amount of travelling training supervision etc.
    I found myself working full time hours but only
    paid for 18 and half in order to maintain my
    quality of service and record keeping. The
    proper help would have been to reduce case
    load in order to have up to date records .
    When are we going to have an organisation
    That supports not punishes . A caring organisation that does not care for staff
    sad but true

  17. JR December 8, 2017 at 10:02 pm #

    In criticism of the high case load number, a good number of responders conveniently ignored that:

    “several cases were ready for closure or settled cases”.

    This is known as fallacy of incomplete evidence or confirmation bias. Cherry picking and ignoring data to suit an argument.

    If you all use this method in your practice, god help us. What about doing no work on the high risk case? Comment on that? There’s plenty of evidence to suggest this person didn’t want to do the written work, and had a preference for running around in the field.

    • Margaret December 11, 2017 at 11:01 am #

      Are you for real?

  18. Polly December 9, 2017 at 8:06 pm #

    I worked for 4 days a week (30 hours) and was supposed to have a caseload of 20 but it was often above this and I often worked more than 30 hours and did not get the time back. I have now taken early retirement and have never been happier, at least I had that choice, many social workers do not!

  19. CM December 10, 2017 at 9:47 am #

    I totally agree with this. Social work assistants coming back would be a start. It’s such a hard job. I qualified as social worker but I work as an advocate. There are similar pressures with case loads and typing up but the supervision is fantastic. I am paid much less than a social work wage but I fear working as a social worker, it is just such a difficult job emotionally and with too much constant pressure. If they bring back social work assistants I may consider. They need more social workers and there are qualified sw out there but have left or fear starting a career because of the state of play. I take my hat off and respect those who work tirelessly much respect to you. X

  20. CM December 10, 2017 at 9:48 am #

    That’s what I thought. If she was under a capabilities process and being micro managed then this should have been organised and prioritised. The capabilities process is supposed to be a supportive one and not about scrutiny.
    This number of visits not being recorded should have been picked up on by management either in case supervision and during TFR. If the failed recorded visits go back that far then the risks to service users should be equally the responsibility of the manager. Should never have got that bad if supervised accordingly.
    However social worker had a responsibility to her service users and should have admitted and reported failure to record to managers and requested support. She would have been avoiding scrutiny but she had a responsibility to keep them safe.

  21. Margaret December 11, 2017 at 10:45 am #

    No management accountability here, nice words no action. What is the point of a manager? If they stand at the side of the river watch a Social Worker drown and shout “you should have learned to swim”. Team work don’t make me laugh. Social Workers are taking their careers in their own hands every day they try to do an impossible job. Managers are reporting them so they don’t get held accountable. They should be held accountable for each of their team member otherwise what is the point of them??
    20 cases? What a sick despicable joke. Managers excuse some were closing etc! Bull!!
    When am I going to see some management accountability through HCPC – never.
    HCPC ‘THE MANAGERS PROTECTOR”

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