Social worker closed service user’s case to carry on personal relationship

A mental health officer has been banned from practising after he abused his position and formed an inappropriate relationship with a woman in his care.

A mental health social worker who closed a service user’s case while she was still in need of care so that he could carry on a personal relationship with her has been struck off the register in Scotland.

Carl Abernethy cooked dinner for, drank wine and watched a movie with the woman and allowed her to stay at his house on 28 December 2011, the Scottish Social Services Council’s (SSSC) conduct sub-committee heard. He also stayed overnight at her house the following January and met with her on several occasions for coffee.

He then closed the woman’s case record so that they could continue their personal relationship, even though she was taking prescribed medication for her mental health problems and was still in need of psychiatric care and support.

Abernethy was the woman’s mental health officer and had been responsible for her compulsory detention in hospital, so he had access to personal and sensitive data about her mental health and personal circumstances, the SSSC heard.

“He ought to have been aware that by entering into an inappropriate personal relationship with [the service user], he may have caused her to become dependent on him in a personal as well as a professional capacity,” said the conduct sub-committee, adding that his behaviour showed a lack of recognition of the imbalance of power between social workers and vulnerable service users.

The committee noted that Abernethy was a well-trained and experienced social worker, but added that he was nonetheless guilty of a “serious error of professional judgement”, and decided removal from the register was a fair and proportionate sanction.

Read the full notice of decision

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