A social worker has been sanctioned for lying on oath after she became a confidant in an “unacceptably blurred” relationship with service users.
The social worker was suspended by the HCPC for nine months after a panel found she had “undermined” trust and confidence in social workers by lying when giving evidence in care proceedings involving two parents she’d offered informal advice to.
The two parents had three children placed in care years previously. The social worker was not assigned to their case, but had met them while working with another family.
In 2013 the social worker offered the pair advice on their concerns about having another child and how the council would respond. A year later she provided sessions for them on anger management and coping skills, and was then called in to care proceedings to give evidence about this work.
During proceedings, the parents shared psychological assessments written for the hearing with the social worker, something which parents’ counsel considered “inappropriate”.
The social worker lied several times during the court hearing when she was asked if she had seen the documents. The fact she had seen the assessment was confirmed by the parents to the HCPC.
She later admitted to the HCPC that she had seen one of two psychological assessments, while the parents said she had seen both. The panel decided the acts had been dishonest and were misconduct.
“Courts, service users and professionals must have absolute confidence that a social worker is being open, frank and honest whenever they engage with the legal system.
“That is particularly so in a system responsible for safeguarding children and where vital and weighty decisions in respect of the care of children are taken,” it concluded.
The social worker had shown genuine remorse, the panel said, and it appeared to be an isolated incident in a 15 year career.
“She accepts that her relationship with [the parents] became unacceptably blurred. She now knows that she needs to keep at the forefront of every interaction where she is a social worker to keep professional boundaries and to adhere to the principles of her profession.
“She understands in this type of situation she is still acting in a social work capacity. She would have to be clear with parents as to her role and that she would be consulting with her supervisor. She would definitely not involve herself in informal support groups.
“That was a different role and was a clear mistake.”
When deciding on a sanction, the panel said there was a “question mark” over whether she could prioritise her duty to children “over her desire to keep families together and to support parents”.
She said she had been panicked and confused by her “very wrong” reaction to the circumstances. She had never received court training, or given evidence before.
The panel concluded a nine month suspension was sufficient to reflect the seriousness of the offence.