A child protection social worker who disclosed details containing confidential information about families she worked with has been removed from the Welsh social care register.
A Care Council for Wales fitness-to-practise committee concluded that she had asked another person to type four documents containing sensitive information on a laptop owned by a third person.
The person believed to have typed the documents, which included names of families and information about their personal problems, subsequently made a complaint to Denbighshire County Council that led to disciplinary action against the social worker.
The committee agreed with the council that the complaint was maliciously motivated but said that made no difference to the fact that the social worker had deliberately disclosed confidential information.
In the disciplinary process following the complaint, the social worker claimed her work laptop was malfunctioning at the time and that the dates of the offending documents were incorrect because the personal computer used to create them had a problem with its battery. She also denied that the person who complained had typed the documents for her.
The committee, however, dismissed these claims. Records showed the social worker had logged into the council’s system on her work laptop around the same time and the county council’s IT specialists did not spot any battery problems with the personal computer used to create the documents when they examined it.
In addition the committee felt it was likely that the complaint had typed the documents since it was unclear how that person could have known of their existence otherwise.
The committee said that while the social worker trusted the personal computer owner and the person who complained, the reality was that once the information had been made available to them she “had no control of it”.
Children put at risk
It said that by disclosing the information the social worker had failed to protect service user privacy and dignity, and jeopardised the council’s relations with the families she worked with, which could have put the children involved at risk.
One family, the committee noted, had threatened to sue the local authority over the incident.
In addition by releasing the information to third parties the social worker risked damaging the council’s relationships with other agencies and professionals, which in turn could have undermined the information sharing that is crucial to child protection work.
While this was an isolated incident, the committee said “her behaviour called into question the registrant’s integrity in that she demonstrated a lack of regard for the fundamental principle of confidentiality within social work practice”.
The committee did not feel confident that the registrant appreciated the seriousness of her actions. It also said there was a lack of evidence of remedial evidence by the registrant, who did not attend the hearing or provide written submissions to it.
Given this the committee decided to remove the social worker from the register, noting that her lack of involvement in the hearing process had “closed the door to other outcomes”.