Social work whistleblower: ‘I was made an outcast and punished for challenging unsafe management decision’

One social worker's account of the fallout from raising concerns in an under-pressure children's services department

By a children’s social worker

In a novel I once read, one character says to another “…if you get on the wrong side of senior officers, they take it out of you in other ways.” He was referring to the army, but it’s true anywhere.

In pressurised children’s services there’s often a tendency to take the multiple external pressures and turn them inwards. I was a senior social worker in one such organisation.

The local authority was in special measures after an Ofsted inspection. There was an improvement plan in place and we all lived under the fear of further draconian measures.

Things were made worse by a shortage of and a high turnover of staff. Looking back, I should have heeded these darker warnings.

‘I was drawn into a chaotic culture’

When I was offered the role of team manager due to my level of experience, I protested about returning to management. I’d done it before and remembered the unrelenting pressure but I was reassured that I would have a two-week handover with the outgoing manager.

This handover did not happen. Instead, I came in one day to find I was responsible for more than 200 cases. Rapidly I was drawn into a chaotic culture, which included practices that went unchallenged and placed children at risk.

One Friday I was told by my seniors to close multiple cases where the children had not been seen, in order to comply with government guidelines for timescales. It was a very dangerous thing to do, so I refused and wrote to the assistant director about it.


An anxious weekend followed – no one else in the organisation said no, so I was taking a huge risk. Come Monday I found the cases had been closed and in front of the team, I was given an award for closing them.

It felt surreal, like Alice in Wonderland where words meant what those in power wanted them to mean. A week later, an allegation was made against me of altering records. I was formally suspended, with the threat of dismissal if the allegation of gross misconduct was proven.

If these events felt strange, the following months were even more so. I felt shock and panic – my attempt to raise concerns had forced me into now having to work day and night to protect myself.

My world was turned upside down. I looked for help and joined a trade union. They were only willing to offer help when I’d been a member for 12 weeks. Who could I turn to? I could no longer contact my colleagues. Friends in the profession were very helpful, but could only offer limited support.

So I decided to get my own solicitor; it was the best decision I could have made, for that person battled on my behalf very assertively. They helped me see ways forward and set out options clearly.

‘I felt anger, fear and guilt’

After a month I was finally told what the allegation was. Again, it felt both unreal and only too real – and I went through a succession of emotions, like a rollercoaster. Anger, fear, guilt and self-reproach jostled for space. I’d say to myself I shouldn’t have blown the whistle, had I not done so the children would not be seen. Although it seemed that happened, I would have hated to have it on my conscience.

Being suspended is a strange limbo like situation to be in –the world was getting on with its life but mine was frozen, awaiting the outcome of this investigation. Understandably, I felt periods of acute depression, sometimes wanted to kill myself. My sleep was frequently disturbed. Effectively, I was an outcast.

Months went by and after a horrendously long period the local authority found I had no case to answer. I later learned that the assistant director had not followed up my concerns. For all I know the practice of closing cases without the children being seen could still be going on. However, I had been effectively silenced about the matter.

I was invited to return to work within the organisation but the trust between my employer and I had gone. Had I done so, my seniors would surely remember everything and forget nothing, for I was tainted and likely to get blamed again.  It occurred to me then, that no matter what happened in the future, I would never experience anything more brutal than this.

So I left and went to work elsewhere. It took me a long time to regain my confidence and for the fears I had lived with for so long to subside.

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25 Responses to Social work whistleblower: ‘I was made an outcast and punished for challenging unsafe management decision’

  1. Short Lady February 17, 2016 at 2:55 pm #

    Although I never have been a SW, I understand the hostile work environment. I had dealt with such a negative workplace for four years because I needed the money. Not only was management disgustingly hostile towards me but my “co workers” refused to invite me to anything social outside of the office.

    My “manager” at the time ordered me to tell my co workers of their mistakes and wrong doings and told me to delegate tasks to them – which was not my job; it was theirs, as a manager.

    Luckily, I was able to leave and that “manager” removed themselves from that position and the General Manager retired.

    People like that, get their karma returned to them. We can only hope that they learn from it.

    My best advice: Don’t let that experience force you into being so strong willed or confident that you push your new work colleagues away.

  2. Planet Autism February 17, 2016 at 4:39 pm #

    Perhaps this social worker could consider that colleagues willing to do these terrible things (and clearly the culture existed for it to happen and be seen as acceptable as well), this is the same treatment meted out to innocent parents.

    “…I found the cases had been closed…”

    “…an allegation was made against me of altering records. I was formally suspended, with the threat of dismissal if the allegation of gross misconduct was proven.”

    Translate that into a parent having false records made about them or records altered and false allegations made against them with the threat of removal of their children.

    “I felt shock and panic – my attempt to raise concerns had forced me into now having to work day and night to protect myself.”

    No translation required – it can easily apply to the falsely accused parent.

    “Who could I turn to? I could no longer contact my colleagues.”

    Consider the parent gagged by the family court, same thing. Only it’s not only their career at stake (although they may have also lost that in trying to adhere to the unreasonable demands placed on them in the child protection process) but their flesh and blood.

    “Being suspended is a strange limbo like situation to be in –the world was getting on with its life but mine was frozen, awaiting the outcome of this investigation. Understandably, I felt periods of acute depression, sometimes wanted to kill myself. My sleep was frequently disturbed. Effectively, I was an outcast.”

    Again, no translation required. But that state of mind would be used further against the parent having a normal reaction to having their children ripped from them.

    “Months went by and after a horrendously long period the local authority found I had no case to answer.”

    You were lucky by comparison. Because many parents do not get their children back, their lives and those of their children are irrepairably damaged, if not destroyed.

    • Nicholas February 18, 2016 at 1:40 pm #

      But for once, and again, this is NOT about parents – this is about a Social Worker’s poor working conditions.. And for once you should NOT be making the links between the two and instead FOR ONCE feeling true sympathy for the worker and joining with us to fight against the difficulties the wonderful profession is put under!

    • Stuart February 19, 2016 at 8:11 am #

      Very pertinent and well expressed. Thank you.

  3. mrm February 17, 2016 at 8:53 pm #

    I think this social workers account is apparent and rife within the profession at unprecedented levels, and yet very little is done..this is power and,abuse at the highest levels with the most detrimental impact on the individual who only tried to do their job to the best of their ability….shocking this level of abuse and bullying goes on……

  4. loiner February 17, 2016 at 9:35 pm #

    for many parents the same emotions are happening, so we can all have empathy with the sw………whistleblowers are targeted for pointing out failures, they should be highly praised to standing up powerful people………my heart goes out to her, because l was a whistleblower

    • Charlie February 19, 2016 at 11:19 am #

      And if you are both a practitioner that speaks out and a parent who because of your child’s needs (disability) you have to depend on a LA then you will be broken.

  5. Suzy February 17, 2016 at 10:20 pm #

    This is the very reason I took myself and my 15 years of experience and left social work in England. So not worth it anymore.

    The culture of fear is the way management and senior management believe makes for a productive work environment. When timescales and in particular budgets dictate (as they often do) how a child protection investigation or support case is worked, families and their children receive a sub-par service based on the needs of the system or state, instead of the family! This is why children continue to live in poverty and unsafe conditions with overworked & stressed social workers. But of course, that narrative does not suit the Government’s reasoning, both LA and above.

  6. S Ghai February 17, 2016 at 10:31 pm #

    A classic example of a bad local authority and poor management and typical what happens in social services–passing the blame on to someone else. This manger shold have stepped down from the post of the manager immediately when the hand over was missing-first sign of bad things to follow

  7. Eloise Jones February 18, 2016 at 6:30 am #

    What a nightmare situation you’ve been in. You absolutely did the right thing and your story should be told in the national press aswell as here. This practice of closing cases without seeing children must be stopped. I wonder how many suffered and might still be suffering because of the cases your department closed .

    • Stuart February 19, 2016 at 8:16 am #

      Absolutely agree. Whoever DID close the cases this worker refused to close was presumably a more senior manager who should also be HCPC registered; he or she should be the one under fire and facing de-registration.

  8. Brian Stevenson February 18, 2016 at 9:13 am #

    I left SSD many years ago, but this sort of stuff is horribly familiar. If there is a lesson to be taken from this PLEASE join a trade union. At least then you have someone on your side.

  9. lisa February 18, 2016 at 10:49 am #

    I find the irony of this statement shocking as my son’s case had recently been closed with no reason given and no further involvement.

  10. Andrea February 18, 2016 at 10:52 am #

    you don’t even have to be a whistle-blower – the very act of attempting to address bad practice is seen as the individual being difficult because several people before, around or above you have agreed/allowed the practice and therefore as the only person questioning it you must be the problem. Too many ‘processors’ and not enough ‘social workers’ left in the system.

  11. TMS February 18, 2016 at 11:05 am #

    Unfortunately this happens all too often. Many colleagues have had similar experiences and it happened to me too. It is a very good point that was made regarding what some poor parents go through on the receiving end of such appalling practice. It is a huge concern that people like this can get into senior roles and we must work together to expose them at all levels. They are not fit to work with people who are vulnerable or with other employees who need to put a high level of trust in their colleagues and managers.
    You can complain to the HCPC however senior the manager I understand. Also, what the profession needs is access to effective legal representation – lawyers who can be identified as having expertise in the complex arena of social care; rather like doctors have access to. Trade Union representation lacks the teeth to ensure a fair and just outcome. Any chance of sharing the name of any law firms who have acted in this area?

  12. Andrea Wilson February 18, 2016 at 11:28 am #

    Sadly to say this Social Worker account is not unique . I worked for a Local authority where I challenged my Managers decisions , which were clearly not in the best interest of the child and at worse put them at risk . My manger then changed my reports , which I found out later , and my life was made hell. I was prevented to go on training , my case load was nearly double that of my colleagues ……. tackling bad practice , leaves you vulnerable at can almost destroy you…..

  13. John Levi February 18, 2016 at 12:21 pm #

    So the grass is not greener in Europe
    Note well people, join a union as soon as you start work.
    Secondly I always recommend social works to study first year Law papers.
    The law of Torts is especially relevant, especially as you will learn about “Diuty of Care” obligations by your employer towards the employee..
    Contract Law also teaches you a lot.
    It’s a travesty that this colleague went through this bullying debacle, given the facts presented.
    This is caveman behaviour from the 1980,s!
    Let’s hope incidents like these are exceptions as this Kiwi is applying for a position in England.
    Let me put my stake in the ground, U.S. Kiwis don’t take well to Macavallian tactics what so ever.
    A good Manager installs transparency and confidence.
    A great Manager leads by example.
    If your Managers actacavallian then I suggest you get out of that place, en mass and or go on strike to show the public you care enough about the integrity of your profession, to risk your job. If you don’t, the profession will become watered down, as what happened to the Yourh Work profession in the 1980,s.
    It’s sad to hear of this story and good on this colleague speaking out.
    Maybe the grass is much greener in New Zealand and Australia

  14. Roselyn Thompson February 18, 2016 at 4:33 pm #

    Is not the Local Authority that is bad is the people that they put as head of services. I too was made a scapegoat, I experienced depression, stressed, raise blood pressure, isolation, stigmatised you name it I experience it and I was in a union but they didn’t help me with a solicitor or investigating the case appropriately. If I didn’t have a son to paid for solicitor and Barester I would loose my registration and my faith in humanity. I complained of a social worker using section 17 money, calling parent scum and taking drugs in the office, I was told by a manager that the only place social worker can vent such behaviour. I was also racially abused by one manager and nothing come of it, there is one rule for some individuals and none for others. I have worked children and their families without any problems never have an assessment out of date adhere to best practice principle. Then to called up by the GSCC questioning my ability on lack of appropriate facts. I was given a six months on my file and after gone through appeal the judge said in her summing up I shouldn’t any warning and asked for it to removed from my file. In my opinion I find social work professionals institutional racist and black social workers is frightened to come out and acknowledge the issues they’re facing. I give my service for free because I am frightened of the corruption in the profession and my life, belief, and morals worth more than this.

  15. dan February 18, 2016 at 5:10 pm #

    Very few people can blow the whistle and I salute you for doing so. The odds are stacked against people who want to do their job as best they can. Most people have mortgages now, I’m one of those “benefit scroungers” if i get laid off and will get rent paid so (for now at least) I can risk losing a job if I need to speak out, which I do. Nothing ever seems to happen to management though, even after winning cases. Show goes on but I do know that individuals have had better care as a result of me being a pain in the arse.

  16. sabine February 18, 2016 at 6:53 pm #

    I have been in trouble for the same reasons reportedly, but never to the degree that I would get suspended although disciplinary action had been muted at on one occasion.
    I would do it again, for me the well-being and safety of children is/are paramount. Any departmental stuff that put children a risk is out as far as I am concerned.
    In the end I need to do right by the children I work with, I need to live with myself and I need to be able to look myself in the eye and be able to say that I have done the best I could. Integrity as a professional and more important as a person is a value I have never been prepared to compromise.

    I worked in similar circumstances, and I am presently not employed as a social worker. I did a sideways move. Actually some of those who tried to push me out got their comeuppance in the end.

    Always remember you are a special brilliant person/professional, and some people/organisations are not worth your effort and time.

  17. Julie M February 18, 2016 at 7:05 pm #

    I totally can identify with your experience as I too went through a very similar scenario when I raised concerns about decisions which were placing children at risk. I too found myself facing unfounded complaints and disciplinary action which led to my dismissal after 2 managers colluded and lied. However I fought this with the help of the union and won my appeal as I was able to present over-whelming evidence from other professionals that the allegation was fabricated. One of the managers ended up being disciplined and was given the option of resigning or be dismissed. She chose resignation. I was offered another post in a different service and did go back after 12 months of hell. During that time I too was suicidal, due to the roller coaster of emotions and extreme stress and anxiety. I was put on anti-depressants and sleeping pills and my life as I knew became a total nightmare. When I went back to work I was an anxious shell of the worker I once was. It took me 2 years to gain my confidence back at work and this was with the help of intense counselling sessions and good support and understanding from my new Line Manager. Lots of people said to me I should have just given up rather then let my health deteriorate to the extent it did. I however felt so strongly about clearing my name and not giving in to the injustice of this that I fought on and won eventually. However shortly after I was re-instated my physical health deteriorated and I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, the doctors said that it can be triggered by extreme stress. I am still working 5 years on even though I struggle due to extreme pain and fatigue every day caused by the fibromyalgia but I am determined to keep going for as long as I can because Social Work was never just a job to me. Thank you for sharing your story, I think the more people know what goes on the more chance we may see some change 🙂

  18. Betty gunn February 18, 2016 at 9:51 pm #

    As a social worker for many years I retired 4years ago ,I would not go back to the profession I loved I want to work with children and families not be a computer slave to type 60page repetitive document initial assessment .paper doesn’t protect children nor do fast track social workers .children are falling down the cracks of social work failure though government neglect and stringent financial cuts God help children in need

  19. Vivienne February 19, 2016 at 9:03 am #

    As an independent social worker (working as a complaints investigator) I lost work/contracts when I refused to side with the LA in several complaints. Their practice had been poor towards families.

    I heard from staff that senior management were complaining about me being too much for the clients. The same managers also discussed me inappropriately across boroughs.

    Bullying in LA is a problem; attempts at rubbishing my competence was made, I was gossiped about and attempts at undermining my decisions.

    I continue to work as an independent and am just bold and assertive enough to challenge others when needed. I’m also quite happy to walk away if need be. I can support families in other ways.

  20. Peter Teague February 19, 2016 at 11:05 am #

    Until they make failure to Whistle-blow a sackable offence this will always happen.
    Most senior managers see attack as the best form of defense. That is how they became senior managers.
    Above a certain level, most become monsters, in the pay of the Prozac moguls.

  21. Mary February 21, 2016 at 2:24 pm #

    I was suspended from adult social care after the cqc highlighted an issue in the team where I worked. The senior manager wanted a scapegoat and chose me, even though she was aware I had done nothing wrong. My managers alleged gross misconduct and I was escorted from the building. I had previously raised issues with being requested to close off investigations because they had been waiting too long. I refused. Cupboards were full of assessments that had not been completed I raised this as well with management. The managers showed no care for the vulnerable adults we work for, very blasé and treated it all as administrative work. None of the managers and a lot of staff are not social workers.

    The investigation into the allegation totally exonerated me; there was no case to answer. The actions I had taken were wholly in line with the team protocol at the time. I briefly returned to work but was made to feel unwelcome. I had found another post in a different department and transferred.

    I submitted a grievance regarding the bullying and malicious allegation as well as the practice of closing cases without review and quality check, systemic bullying, unsafe practice and lack of social work supervision. It was upheld fully but they left me waiting for it for 6 months. No apology. Repeatedly, I have been told that being suspended is a neutral action and I respond that managers alleging gross misconduct is in no way neutral. The managers concerned are still there, bullying and the staff who remain are too browbeaten to do anything about that and the poor practice; they have seen what happened to me.

    Over a year later, I am on antidepressants suffering anxiety and depression. I am in severe financial difficulties and have to work. I am only working part time because I have a loss of confidence and trust and am having to learn a new job. I have been a social worker for 25 years and have always received praise for my practice, there have never been any concerns about my performance. I now feel as though I have done something wrong and been punished; they are adding insult to injury. I just want to leave the profession but feel trapped because I would not be able to pay my mortgage etc. and as it stands I cannot afford to only work part time.

    I think something should be done about a system that allows this to happen but adult services are no longer inspected by the CQC. The same managers in post and have no professional body because they have no professional registration or accountability.

    Adult social care is only going to get worse with cuts in budgets and outsourcing. I loved being a social worker but working for this local authority is unbearable. If they can treat their good professional staff this way it must bring into question the treatment of the service users.