Social worker dragged boy with autism across floor

A senior social worker has been warned about his conduct after assaulting an autistic boy he was trying to encourage back to school during a home visit.

Stephen Dent, 54, was working for Croydon Council, London, in July 2008 when he grabbed the 12-year-old by the arms and dragged him across the floor, leaving him with scratches and bruises on his arms and upper body.

A General Social Care Council conduct committee upheld an allegation of misconduct this week and placed a five-year admonishment on Dent’s record.

The practitioner, who until now has had an unblemished 30-year record in social care, received a two-year conditional discharge last year after being found guilty of assault in relation to the incident last year. He was also ordered to pay costs at Croydon Magistrates’ Court.

At a hearing in London this week, the conduct committee heard the social worker became “intimidating” towards the boy, who was diagnosed with autism after the incident.

Dent had “misjudged” matters on the day in trying to ensure the boy attended school after 15 weeks of sickness absence, and allowed his relationship to become a “battle of wills”, the committee found. “Even when the service user became entrenched in his view not to go to school [Dent] decided to ‘press it’.”

The conduct committee took into account that the boy was known to be “complex” and “difficult” and that the incident was a one-off. The members accepted that Dent had intended to act in the boy’s interests and had expressed remorse for his actions.

The admonishment will allow Dent to continue to practice but ensure that all prospective employers will be aware of his actions on the 15 July 2008 so they can ensure he is properly supervised and trained.

Jolanta Lasota, chief executive of TreeHouse, a charity for autism education, said in response to the case: “We hear from families time and time again that disability is confused with disobedience and that children are excluded from school or their behaviour is dealt with in an inappropriate manner.

“We are calling for all those working with young people – be they social workers, health visitors or teachers – to be given training in autism so that they are better equipped to support these young people effectively.”

A spokesperson for Croydon Council said Dent no longer worked for the authority but declined to comment further due to “data protection laws”.

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