A social worker who recommended an intervention “outside the scope of practice” has been suspended by the HCPC.
The social worker, who worked in Child and Adolescent Mental health Services (CAMHS), proposed an intervention where a girl would only self-harm on set days and times, with her mother attending to wounds without comment.
The social worker was qualified and trained to use the systemic practice technique, however a conduct panel found it was “outside the scope of social work”. His failure to conduct a proper risk assessment or discuss the approach with other professionals before proposing the approach amounted to misconduct, it added.
Supervision and management failings
The panel found the social worker had not been properly managed or supervised for a “significant period of time”. This had left him working “with little or no constraints” on his practice which contributed to his “serious error”.
“The panel recognised that there is a place for innovative and creative interventions in social care, however, such interventions must be carefully thought through and must be based on proper risk assessment and good communication with professional colleagues,” the conduct committee said.
Although the specific intervention the social worker recommended was not an approach advocated by CAMHS, the panel accepted that his use of systemic techniques was approved by CAMHS and his local authority employer and to that extent “he was not acting improperly”.
However, it found he had performed a risk assessment “on the hoof” and “in his head”. These actions were “foolhardy in the extreme” as the girl was in the highest category of risk.
‘Avoid the fuss’
The social worker told the panel he would act differently in future, but this would only be “to avoid the ‘fuss’ that had been created by his actions, not because he acknowledged that he made any error of judgement”.
He disputed that his actions were in the course of his ‘practice’ as a social worker when he was utilising his systemic practitioner skills.
The panel concluded that he had shown no insight into his failings, and this created a risk of him repeating them. It said there was “no doubt that the registrant’s intervention was motivated by a desire to do his best” for the service user, but his practice was impaired. As a result, he was suspended for six months.
The social worker was also found to have used his personal mobile phone to have taken a photo of scarring on another service user’s harm. The panel said this made the girl identifiable but found the social worker had acted in out of a “desire to secure an appointment for her, with a psychiatrist, as soon as possible” and this was not misconduct.