A social worker whose case files were audited in the wake of the Operation Span investigation into child sexual exploitation in Rochdale has been struck off.
A HCPC conduct panel removed the social worker from the register after finding that her actions in five cases she handled between 2006 and 2012 had put the children involved at “unwarranted risk of harm” and “breached the fundamental tenets of social work”.
An independent social worker, hired by Rochdale Council to investigate the casework of her and other social workers in reaction to Operation Span, had highlighted numerous concerns.
Not speaking to children
These concerns included not visiting or speaking to children known to be at risk of sexual exploitation when conducting assessments, failing to initiate a section 47 enquiry and not informing a child protection conference or her manager that police were needed to access the home of one of the children.
The independent social worker also told the hearing the social worker was “very out of her depth” in her role as a duty officer and that her records were “very poor, minimal and haphazard”.
The hearing was also told there were no supervision notes on her cases and no evidence of general supervision either.
“Her failures posed a significant risk to the welfare of the children and young people in this case,” said panel chair Lesley White. “All five were very vulnerable and had been referred to the council’s children’s services because of serious concerns about them at that specific time, including sexual exploitation.”
The social worker did not attend the hearing, but told the HCPC by email that she had not worked as a social worker since leaving Rochdale Council in 2012 and had no intention of returning to the profession.
The first of the five cases concerned ‘Child 1’, a 13-year-old girl with learning difficulties and a heart condition who had been known to social services since the age of two due to concerns about her parents’ alcohol, drug and mental health problems. The case was assigned to the social worker, who worked as a duty officer, after it was reported in 2008 that Child 1 had an “inappropriate association” with a 60-year-old man and may be “performing sexual favours”.
Lack of embarrassment about sexual matters
The panel heard there was no record of the social worker visiting or speaking to the child. She also did not question the child’s lack of embarrassment when talking about sexual matters and did not explore the possibility of a care placement for the girl. The social worker also recommended a child in need rather than a child protection plan despite evidence of on-going risk of sexual exploitation.
‘Child 2’ was allocated to the social worker in 2008 after allegations of sexual exploitation and rape. A further referral followed that October when the 15-year-old came to school intoxicated and told staff and friends that she spent the weekend with a local family and engaged in sexual activity with three brothers.
The panel found the social worker did not see or speak to the child for her first assessment and accepted only the father’s assurances. The social worker also did not initiate a section 47 enquiry, as had been agreed at a strategy discussion.
No reason for closing the case
In the case of 12-year-old ‘Child 3’, who was also allocated to her in 2008, the social worker had conducted one joint interview with the child and then recommended no further action despite ongoing risk of sexual exploitation. Nor did the social worker record a reason for closing the case.
The panel found she also failed to record her preparation for a 2006 safeguarding meeting about ‘Child 4’, who was over the age of consent but vulnerable to sexual exploitation.
The final case concerned ‘Child 5’, who was referred in 2012 and was alleged to be a street prostitute who had been raped as a child and whose mother had also been sexually exploited. The panel found the social worker did not record the action she took to engage the child and referred to the family’s “issues” in her report but did not document what these were.
The panel concluded the social worker’s actions amounted to misconduct and had impaired her fitness to practise. Given the seriousness of the misconduct and no evidence of a desire by the registrant to address the concerns about her practice, the panel decided she should be removed from the social work register.