A social worker has been given a 12-month conditions of practice order by the HCPC after posting comments on Facebook about a child protection court case.
The social worker posted on the social networking site: “I’m in court tomorrow for a case where there is a high level of domestic violence amongst many things…” and after the trial finished posted: “It’s powerful to know that…children’s lives have just massively changed for the better and now they are safe and protected from harm and have every hope for the future…”
One of the posts was accompanied by a small map, pinpointing the location of the court.
The HCPC’s conduct and competence committee found the comments to be “disrespectful and insensitive” in tone and could have led to a breach of confidentiality for the family involved in the case.
The social worker told the HCPC committee that “she had believed that her Facebook page was accessible only to her ‘friends’, not the wider public as a result of her privacy settings”. However the post was publicly available and was found by her manager through a Google search of her name.
The social worker was informed after posting the comments that Facebook privacy settings can be affected by software upgrades and she acknowledged that her privacy settings had been “materially altered” during the months leading up to the offending posts. As a result any member of the public was able to see her posts.
Mrs A, the mother of the children in the case, made a complaint after she searched for the social worker on Google and found the posts, which she said she was “disgusted” by.
A number of the social worker’s 100 Facebook friends worked within the social work profession and the panel said they may have been more able to identify the family from their professional knowledge. The HCPC committee also considered the maintenance of public confidence in the profession after the comments were covered in the local press.
In its conclusion the panel said that the maintenance of public confidence in the profession would be undermined if a finding of impairment were not to be made in this case.
It concluded that standards about acting in the best interest of service users, respecting the confidentiality of service users, high standards of personal conduct and behaving in a way that does not damage the public’s confidence in the profession had been breached and as such the social worker’s fitness to practice was “impaired”.
As it was the first serious failing in the social worker’s 15-year career, the committee concluded that a suspension order would be disproportionate.
The panel reasoned that whilst the family in question were not named, sufficient details were made public that could have led to their identification and said it was not reassured that, even now, the social worker “fully recognised the unacceptability of her misconduct” because she did not demonstrate full insight into her sole responsibility for it.
“She said that if her manager, sitting next to her when two of the comments were posted, had told her to take them down she would have done so immediately,” the panel said in its decision. “She also decried the general lack of support and professional supervision available to her during this time and the long working hours needed to manage her caseload.”
Nonetheless, it concluded that as the social worker was being accompanied by a manager meant supervision and support would have been available, and that it was her responsibility to seek it out.
The panel imposed a 12-month conditions of practice order, which requires the social worker to be under the supervision of a social work line manager registered with the HCPC, with whom she must meet on a monthly basis. She will also be required to submit two reflective overviews in the 12-month period that contain evidence of what she has learned from these meetings.