A social worker who failed to respond appropriately to serious child protection concerns relating to two vulnerable children on her caseload has been suspended from the register.
Diana Ndiho Gabulayo Onyango was a social worker in Haringey’s safeguarding and support service between October 2008 and December 2011 when the failings occurred.
On 29 June 2010, Onyango was told that a family support worker had observed a large bruise on the arm of the mother of a two-year-old boy, referred to as Child A.
Child A was on a child protection plan after he sustained a fractured arm when he was seven months old and in the care of his father. There were also concerns about domestic violence in the home.
However, Onyango did not promptly inform her manager about the bruise on the mother’s arm and waited until 12 July to visit the family, a panel of the Health and Care Professions Council’s (HCPC) conduct and competence committee heard.
The second case related to a twelve-year-old girl, Child B, whose mother had a history of alcoholism, substance abuse and violent behaviour. Child B was a designated child in need who had previously displayed sexualised behaviour.
On 10 June 2011, Onyango was informed that Child B had told her friends she had had sex with her mother’s 24-year-old boyfriend and another 17-year-old boy.
Yet the social worker did not immediately record this in the case management system, visit the child or report these concerns to the police.
On 17 June 2011, Onyango attended a strategy meeting in relation to Child B, where it emerged that she had been withholding information that could have placed Child B at risk.
She was suspended from frontline duties and, following an internal investigation and disciplinary hearing, dismissed.
At the HCPC’s hearing, Onyango admitted all but one of the allegations against her (all were found proved). She told the panel that she had tried to respond to information received to the best of her ability, but was constrained by a number of factors, including the inaccessibility of her manager, a lack of support, training and guidance and her tiredness and stress.
She explained that there was a large difference between social work practice in the UK and Uganda, where she is originally from. She had no previous experience of social work in the UK, yet received no feedback on her work until matters came to a head in June 2011.
In addition, she had nine different managers in the space of the three years she was at Haringey.
The HCPC heard from two witnesses, a former head of service and current acting head of service, who conceded that Haringey was a difficult place to work at that time; there were managers acting up and down as the need arose and it was a “very fluid situation”.
They later went on to describe the environment at Haringey at that time – when the Peter Connelly case went public – as “strange”, “stressful” and “weird”.
However, they also argued that an experienced social worker should have recognised the need for immediate action in both cases.
The panel found that Onyango’s fitness to practise was currently impaired. However, taking into account the fact that she made full admissions, cooperated with the HCPC’s process and showed insight into her failings, the panel decided that striking her off the register would be disproportionate.
It concluded: “In the panel’s view, with further mentoring and guidance, the registrant has something to contribute to her profession in the future.”
Onyango has been suspended for 12 months.