An agency social worker who was referred by a local authority for multiple failures to complete assessments on time and record visits and interviews has been suspended from the Health Care and Professions Council (HCPC) register for 12 months.
The HCPC panel found “repeated omissions related to vulnerable service users” were grounds for misconduct. However, it could not conclude from the information Herefordshire County Council provided whether all of the alleged failures had actually taken place.
The period over which the events took place was “a chaotic and busy time for the service”, the panel noted.
The locum social worker was contracted to Herefordshire’s family assessment safeguarding team (FAST) in March 2012, dealing with new referrals and conducting initial assessments. In October 2013, she was transferred to a child in need duty team.
The allegations mainly related to the period from the transfer up until December 2013, when she left the council, but included some of the 46 cases which had been on her FAST caseload for a significant period of time and which the worker took with her when she transferred. The recommended caseload in Herefordshire is currently between 18 and 20 cases.
The HCPC panel said it had noted this context and the fact that her manager was a new team leader when considering the case.
Performance issues around poor recording had been noted when the social worker moved teams, the panel heard, but that this had been managed informally.
The locum had alerted management to her workload, but had also been willing to take on new cases it was claimed.
She had received supervision sessions when her record-keeping backlog was recognised, and some administrative support and three days working at home were offered.
However, the HCPC panel stated: “It is not clear from the evidence that the registrant received appropriate regular supervision related to case management.”
In more than half of the 27 allegations against the social worker, relating to 14 families, the panel said there was no evidence that a particular visit took place, so facts about record-keeping could not be proved. In one case the panel could not find evidence the family in question had been allocated to the worker.
The majority of allegations related to failure to evidence visits, complete assessments or undertake tasks within agreed timescales.
The HCPC said it did not have the complete record of each service user which Herefordshire’s interim quality assurance and compliance manager said she had provided, and there were minor inconsistencies in the dates on documents.
A spokesperson for Herefordshire emphasised that the evidence submitted to the HCPC resulted in a 12 month suspension and said: “Herefordshire council has appropriate expectations of professional conduct. The council had provided all of the evidence which was requested.”
The panel was able to conclude there were failures to complete initial assessments in relation to four families and failures to record visits with five families. In addition, there had been a failure to complete a “contract of expectations” with a mother, in relation to a child at risk of serious abuse remaining at home, as well as a failure to record a police interview she attended with another child.