Social worker who blamed ‘excessive’ caseload for shortcomings struck off

HCPC panel finds caseload and inadequate supervision did ‘not deflect’ from the social worker’s responsibility for his own practice

A social worker who failed to undertake and record home visits or complete assessments for multiple families on his caseload has been struck off.

A conduct committee found the practitioner, who said that at times he did not know who his supervisor was and that his allocation of 20-30 cases was “excessive”, had failed to safeguard children in at least eight of his cases.

The Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) panel said the social worker acknowledged his shortcomings but “did little to address them or sought to deflect responsibility for [them], for instance by blaming his caseload.”

Council was ‘in chaos’

The panel accepted that the local authority where he worked had been “in chaos” for a significant period following a poor Ofsted inspection, with high turnover of temporary managers.

However it considered that while the social worker had not been adequately supervised for much of the time, “this does not deflect the responsibility of a social worker to escalate matters which are particularly pressing” and stressed that “every social worker is responsible for their own practice.”

The social worker had said he felt there was no point in escalating his concerns about supervision as “no one would listen”.

Fifteen of his cases involving missed visits, meetings or assessments were referred to the HCPC. Because there was significant repetition of the same failings and minimal improvement in areas identified at times when he was receiving supervision, his actions amounted to misconduct and he should be removed from the register, the panel found.

Internal investigation

The social worker was suspended from work in 2014 while an internal investigation took place and was dismissed after a disciplinary hearing. He did not attend the HCPC hearing which took place at the end of October and had not engaged with the regulator for over a year. The panel therefore took into account what he had said during the disciplinary process.

The panel cited the investigator’s view that the social worker’s caseload was not complex or unduly onerous; it “was work that could be planned out” and that if the social worker was unable to undertake visits because of other urgent tasks, it was his responsibility to raise this with his manager and discuss the conflicting priorities.

The panel also noted the investigator’s view that while supervision may not have been robust enough, others in the team were also at times not receiving adequate supervision and still worked at an acceptable level.

Case audits

The social worker had worked in the local authority’s child in need (CIN) team for eight years before internal audits of cases in 2014 identified his practice could be leaving children at risk.

This included failure to meet statutory obligations to visit children on child protection and CIN plans, hold core group and other meetings, and complete assessments and court paperwork within the timescales.

Prior to the case audit, concerns had been raised about the social worker’s attitude, conduct and performance each year since 2009 when a plan was set up to assist him with organisational skills but not followed through.

The internal investigation found he “had been very much ‘left to his own devices’ in his work”. While one manager in 2013 had sought to address the issues within set timescales, held regular supervision and had identified some positive qualities in his work, it noted that some of his earlier managers did not tackle concerns “in a strong enough manner” or pick them up at an early enough stage.

Management responsibility

The HCPC panel placed significant weight on the investigator’s evidence which it said was credible, fair and balanced as it was critical of management as well as the practitioner. The investigator had the impression that the social worker worked within his “comfort zone” and put off work that sat outside of it.

There was no evidence that a child on the caseload had suffered actual harm because of the failings, the committee said, but it gave an example of one case where he had failed to visit for three months. A duty social worker found the state of the property so appalling the children were immediately taken into care under a police protection order.

The panel disregarded some allegations put to it because they related to periods of time where it was unclear whether the practitioner was in work, off sick or on compassionate leave and stressed its view that it was managers’ responsibility to manage periods of absence.

Reaching its decision on whether the social worker’s fitness to practice was impaired and the sanction to impose, the committee emphasised that the issues identified were part of core safeguarding processes and “basic social worker skills and requirements”.

Children were therefore at risk of harm and the practitioner had fallen far short of the standards expected, the panel found. It considered that as there was no evidence that he was willing or able to remedy his practice and concerns had been raised over a period of a number of years, a striking off order was the proportionate response.

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23 Responses to Social worker who blamed ‘excessive’ caseload for shortcomings struck off

  1. Borstal Boy November 1, 2016 at 6:17 pm #

    What a dreadful indictment of the whole rotten “system” whatever his failings no child suffered any harm and yet he’s struck off? What about those who are responsible for the shambles he had to work in? The managers who didn’t do their bloody jobs? Are they before a panel? If not why not? The Head of Service? The Director? No yet again those on the frontline bear the brunt of this hypocritical nonsense. The HCPC is a disgrace and I bitterly resent paying @ £90 a year to fund this. Dangerous Social Workers should be gone from the profession, this is a different kettle of fish entirely. I’m vexed

    • Pancho November 3, 2016 at 12:06 pm #

      I share your vexation. The whole thing is kafkaesque

    • Stephen Weekes November 3, 2016 at 1:42 pm #

      Hi colleagues

      This is certainly a sad situation to be found in.

      While I accept there are concerns within management systems, Social Workers on any level including me as a manager cannot negate responsibilities for our practice.

      I empathise with Social Worker who has been struck off however the person should have engaged with process of investigation.

      In addition we all individially accountable for the tasks we undertake.

      The appropriate thing to do is to assess risks within the work we do and highlight concerns immediately.

      I appreciate there would be competing demands however there are mechanisims for escalation of cases.

      I totally agree line managers are also accountable for the supervision of Social Workers, therefore I question the Management Oversight.

  2. Lyla November 2, 2016 at 11:17 am #

    I am utterly appalled.
    As a part time social worker who was allocated a full time workload over a 4 year period I can appreciate the position of this social worker. As a social worker with over 20 years experience and who had cultivated a reputation for high calibre work; I had the misfortune of working in a toxic work environment. despite my years of experience this was especially challenging and I was fortunate to have maintained a very clear paper trail of events via emails to management. This would not necessarily be viable for less experienced staff due to the immediate disadvantage of a power imbalance and the increasing levels of management bullying and intimidation.
    My consistent concerns raised in supervision about the need to allocate in accordance to my work hours were ignored, my concerns about risks to service users was ignored, my stress levels, low mood and taking anti depressants was ignored, my expressed concerns pertaining to accountability was ignored, my request for copies of supervision notes was ignored, my requests not to allocate additional cases due to lack of capacity was ignored. I worked three and a half days weekly and in my determination to progress my learning took on a student which meant being away from work , one sometimes twice a week. I continued to be allocated the same workload as my full time counterparts who were on their knees struggling to cope.
    When I raised a grievance managers colluded together to cover up. They insisted I have never been allocated a full time workload and that they had concerns with my work. I collapsed at work with a panic attack and after a period of sick leave did not return to the role.
    A subject access request a year later revealed the extent that managers had gone to to cover up inclusive of destroying allocation data and fabricating allocation statistics to deceptively present allocations more in line with my part time work hours and fabricating blatant lies pertaining to my capability as a social worker despite my working outside my work hours to maintain a safe workload. One manager in particular alleged I had failed to undertake assessments and failed to have interaction with a service user for months despite case notes and paperwork on the system which evidenced an increment in his care had been facilitated. I apparently also failed to complete paperwork for an urgent increment when the manager knew full well she had undertaken a duty visit with duty social worker who would have had responsibility for the task – i was actually off sick at the time. The organisation even went so far as to conduct a fraud investigation and undertook an invasive open trawl search on their witch hunt to find information to thwart any impending legal action pertaining to a number of additional issues pertaining to a breach of law.
    The reality is that making your views heard and listened to within toxic work environments is an impossibility. Those that have the courage to do so are often fighting a losing battle. The social worker is always scapegoated while the managers lie through their teeth to save their own skin and are magically absolved from any responsibility or accountability. Managers allocating to the social worker would have been fully aware of the compromised state of his workload and should have been held fully accountable for their actions. The managers involved should have similarly have been struck off by HCPC in recognition that cultivating an unacceptable workload to the detriment of the social worker and service users is a breach of the standards of proficiency.
    The reality is that the majority of social workers renewing their registration will simply tick the box confirming they ‘ continue to meet the HCPC’s standards of proficiency for the safe and effective practice of my profession’ then return to their unmanageable workloads cultivated by managers who then swiftly ‘cover up’ their misdemeanours as well as the growing number of mistakes made by their staff.
    Its high time social workers became united to address the ongoing anomaly in social work and educated HCPC to the brutal realities of social working today. The government needs to fully addressed this ongoing crisis in the social work profession. While junior doctors took to the streets to highlight unrealistic expectations that would compromised service provision and place patients at risk; social workers merely stand by in acceptance of their unpalatable lot. Mandatory implementation of the standards for employers of social workers would be a good starting point but ultimately its down to social workers to stand up and fight against atrocious work environments and unrealistic expectations, rather than sustain and retain the stance of an oppressed profession.

    • Liz November 2, 2016 at 4:34 pm #

      I fully agree and sympathise with all you have said. As an adults Social Worker it is increasingly difficult, stressful and impossible to do all that is expected of you. High levels of complex cases, safeguarding work etc etc no time to type up case notes or assessments as you are too busy fire fighting and dealing with urgent situations or duty or covering for colleagues who are off with stress (because they just can not take anymore). New cases constantly allocated to you and if you try to say anything or raise concerns then managers turn it onto you and individualise it and make suggestions that maybe it’s because you need to manage your time more effectively etc. The reality is that Social Work and the whole system is in meltdown. The amount of stress placed upon practitioners is unacceptable and yet because of a climate of fear that exists in most, if not all social work teams, nobody says or does anything about it and it all just seems to be normalised that this is part of the job and you just have to either accept it and feel constantly stressed and exhausted or you burnout and leave and feel like a failure. Maybe the HCPC should start really listening to and examining the kind of pressures that Social Workers are under and stand up and fight against it.

    • bernie November 3, 2016 at 12:15 pm #

      Spot on Lyla. I couldn’t agree more. The trade unions really need to get a handle on this issue and social workers need to organise within the union. Now!

    • Heather November 3, 2016 at 11:49 pm #

      Very well said!

    • Jackie Stanley-Nurse November 4, 2016 at 8:25 am #

      Well said!

    • Sally November 24, 2016 at 2:44 am #

      So agree with all of this. Wow this is so encouraging to read…I thought I have just been moaning because I’m a softie…but it seems it’s justified! The current system makes good social workers appear incompetent. It’s all about ticking boxes but isn’t it all going against what the Munro report asks for – less compliance and blame culture and more learning culture!? The motto at the moment is ‘do more with less!’ Resources slashed, but expectation has increased! Go figure? Decrease caseload and there’s your solution, but with funding cuts it’s not possible. Inspection anxiety, demands and pressure comes from the top down but they don’t understand (or care) what it’s like at the bottom. No matter how organised I am and how hard I work, I don’t please everyone or anyone these days, and it never used to be like this. I couldn’t be a senior now and ‘sell out’ to the system…I know too much how this feels and don’t want to be torn in such a role where I would need to go against my beliefs (in a fairer less nonsensical system), chasing workers for stats. If we don’t make a stand and try to stop it or challenge it now we will all become PI and target-driven robots in 5-10 years’ time and the children will not get a service…when u do work hard to meet the targets, something else suffers and then u get reprimanded by one of the network professionals for not following up a task/email or worse, the client themselves because u couldn’t see them or answer their phone call…it’s scary, we are now document-focused, not child-focused…concur with the other comments, am never asked how I’m managing the balance and what can be done to reduce workload…instead it’s ‘why wasn’t this done?’, lists and percentages aplenty, name, shame and blame…even when they do ask and u do tell…what actually comes from it? In the end they still want good stats, end of. Which requires endless paperwork and admin, end of. No more empathy, understanding or compassion (in a field where u would expect it)…Despite being cut to the bone and made glorified admin workers, we now have to prove our worth to the government??

  3. Hilton Dawson November 2, 2016 at 12:22 pm #

    Where’s his representation ?
    Where’s his voice ?

    • Alan November 2, 2016 at 8:05 pm #

      He chose not to engage with the HCPC a foolish error
      On his part. I am sure had he done so he wouldn’t have been removed from the register

  4. colsey November 2, 2016 at 1:29 pm #

    The lesson should be always to evidence everything you do in whatever way possible but it always seems everyone sides with the social worker and then complains about their own victimisation/workload. Don’t moan do something. If you don’t like the heat get out of the kitchen. However, the LA employing him realised he had issues in 2009 and did not follow it through so he did himself no favours and neither did they. Typical LA attitude start something but don’t have the courage to follow through in case they end up being sued

  5. Ellie November 2, 2016 at 3:59 pm #

    I can totally identify with this – especially with Lyla’s comment above. I went from working in a Social Work job which was fantastic, with an educated and supportive manager and colleagues, to working in a toxic environment. To this day, I regret having made the decision to leave the former job and end up in the latter.

    When a person applies for a job, they do so in good faith. I doubt that anyone on this planet applies for a job with the expectation that it will be horrible. Therefore, to find oneself working in a toxic environment is just soul-destroying.

    The job I ended up in was supposed to be an integrated team of NHS and Social Services staff. From the first week of arriving there, it became clear that the Nurses in the team did NOT want to work with Social Workers. They were cold, hostile and unwelcoming and refused to eat with Social Workers at lunch time. My role was to fill a vacancy left by an Agency Social Worker. I should have seen the warning signs then – there were in total only THREE full time Social Workers in the team (I was one of them). ALL other Social Workers were agency staff. By contrast, there were SIX full time Nurses, and about five other NHS staff including Bed Managers, Medical Secretaries, and our overall Team Manager. Social Services staff were totally outnumbered, and it seemed their opinion was less valid as a result. I met with the agency worker who was leaving, and she told me, face-to-face that she believed the team “did not want Social Workers”. She made it clear to me why she was leaving.

    The time I endured there was absolutely awful – and that’s being polite about it! My experiences very much reflect those of Lyla above. My induction was a complete shambles – my Manager did nothing to help me settle in (indeed, his presence in the office was rare). Instead, my induction was left to the poor Senior Social Worker in the team, a pleasant but overworked woman who had to induct two other new staff at the same time as me, both of whom were completely different roles to my own (one an Agency Care Worker, and one a Health Care Assistant), and thus made the demands on the Senior Social Worker’s time impossible to meet. As a result, I was left pretty much to find my own feet. I did not even have my own desk or computer to use, and ended up having to try to “hotdesk”. The Nurses in the team made this very difficult, because they refused rudely to let me use their computers. I even had one scream abuse at me because I used her computer in her lunchbreak! I ended up sometimes having to try to use one of the Medical Secretaries’ computers to draft care packages and to make referrals. This was ridiculous because a) it ate into my time waiting to use a computer, b) I needed permanent computer access because of my Social Work role, and c) having to go to the Medical Secretary department meant leaving my own office and colleagues. The end result was I felt isolated from the team, which did not feel integrated at all. I also felt pressed for time, because lack of computer access made it hard for me to complete care plans, referrals, and reviews on time. I also lacked privacy to make important telephone calls due to having to “hotdesk”. I found the attitude of the Nurses in the team unhelpful and offensive, because they seemed to act as though Social Workers had no right to use their computers “because they were NHS equipment”! In summary, I felt set up to fail because my poor induction, incompetent manager, and unhelpful colleagues were acting in a way that made my job impossible to do.

    Then I made a formal complaint about lack of facilities – re the desk and computer – plus bullying. Rather than improve matters, this induced what I can only describe as a “Witch Hunt” designed to bully me into submission. I was endlessly criticized for having to attend medical appointments, which my boss decided I ought to attend “outside work hours”. How could I? I worked 9-5 in a Hospital, and the appointments I attended were 9-5 AT THE SAME HOSPITAL. My employer had known from my application form and interview that I had long term health problems, and they had not complained then. So why use it to bully me at work? In addition, they kept insisting on adding time taken to attend medical appointments to my sic leave – despite the fact that Occupational Health said this was wrong. They refused to listen to the fact that OH recommended reasonable adjustments because of my health issues. Indeed, my manager even made insulting comments about my health (I have Endometriosis, and at the time, was undergoing investigations that lead to this diagnosis). My manager made comments such as “it’s just period pain”! Every time I attended OH and was offered support, I returned to work to find that my Manager refused to put this in place. I was endlessly threatened with disciplinary action because of health problems my employers knew I had when they employed me.

    It took months, and a further complaint, to get a desk and computer – by which time I was upset and felt bullied at work. Even when the computer was delivered, it was just plonked on my desk and not connected, so I still had to “hotdesk”. It was actually worse, because the disconnected computer served as a reminder of all the problems that had occurred. It was almost as if my employers were deliberately ignoring the problems caused by my lack of facilities. I don’t think it helped that I had “blown the whistle” on malpractice after my boss had told me to look through patients’ notes without their consent (this had really worried me). I reported it to Caldicott, but afterwards my employers were trying to say that my boss had “special dispensation to ask staff to do this”. In response, I asked to see the protocol that had lead to this “special dispensation” but it never materialized!

    I had to ask to have regular supervision, because supervision arrangements were never put in place for me. Initially, I did not even have any supervision, nor did I know who my supervisor was meant to be. A Social Worker should not have to ASK to get regular supervision! I had complicated cases on my caseload, but whenever I did go for supervision, instead of being allowed to discuss cases and to brainstorm, I just got trite comments like “use your autonomy”. There were cases that I held which had been with several Social Workers before reaching me, and some were in a right mess. I even had one where the previous Social Worker had recommended that a service-user be put on Direct payments despite the fact that this service-user was clearly incapable of financial management. By the time I got the case, the service-user was at risk of losing their care, because they were using the Direct Payment money to pay off personal debts! Nobody had even recorded the fact that the poor Service User was regularly being hassled by door-to-door debt collectors and lived in fear! Two home carers had already walked out! How the hell can THAT be allowed to happen?

    It seems to me that Social Workers who care, and who want to do right; who speak up about problems, and toxic work environments get no support. Instead, we get bullied, harassed and intimidated – often to the point where we feel forced to leave work. Or, worse still, we get falsely accused and dismissed. Those who wish to cover up poor practice and misdemeanours, and bad working conditions simply “shoot the messenger” so that those of us who DO want to make improvements end up being the worse off for our caring. Indeed, it seems to me that those of us who want to make improvements are viewed as a downright “nuisance” to be eradicated! “Whistle blowing” and standing up for ones rights at work should not be seen as a bad thing. So why is it that those of us who end up in toxic working environments, but have the courage to speak up about it, are punished as opposed to listened-to, validated and supported?

    I completely agree with all that Lyla and Borstal Boy say above. It is time that those who speak up about problems, and who seek for improvements, were heard and were given the encouragement and support they deserve. If nobody had the courage to speak up, the world would be worse off for it. It takes courage, caring and dedication to ones job, as well as a lot of personal integrity, to want to do the right thing and to go against the grain to do it. “Whistle blowers” and similar are not troublemakers, they are the voice of reason.

  6. Nell November 2, 2016 at 5:05 pm #

    I am shocked. As a senior manager I would expect to be held to account in respect of my own failings in a case like this. However, the fundamental principle I have always applied in any investigation is: was a child harmed as a result of poor practice? Was the LA brought into disrepute? I can not see how this applies here.

    It is especially shocking given that there are clearly serious issues within the LA and this seems like a right royal scapegoating. Disgraceful and frightening for social work staff too.

    Colsey, I don’t see how ‘everyone sides with the sw’ – in fact they rarely do! This is about fair process and parity across all levels of practice. Again, this rarely happens and Social workers are usually the ones who carry the can.

  7. Paul Bennett November 2, 2016 at 5:55 pm #

    If these are the types of decisions that are made, then the sooner the better we are held accountable to a different body than HCPC. It is easy to scapegoat the social worker rather than to tackle the whole system failures. I agree with previous comments, it is a disgraceful, Draconian and inept response.

  8. Greeny November 2, 2016 at 7:22 pm #

    Shocking!!! A disgrace that such judgement as been made to wipe out someone career by people who may have never done the job; or ran out of it because it was so difficult to handle.

    I am concern for some of the decisions made by Our regristration body and questions the future for docial
    Workers when no one fight got them.

    Yet again another Social worker got struck off us this the same in other profession!!! I wonder. No respect and consideration in to the stresses and pressures in which social worker undertake their work; chaos!!!

    Is this what I pay for!!! What do I really pay for!!! Hope this regulatory body will be gone soon not positive for social workers in anyway.

  9. Faye November 3, 2016 at 3:02 am #

    This is disgusting.

  10. Dani November 3, 2016 at 8:45 pm #

    I thought that Munro had changed the practice of scapegoating social workers and managers would be held accountable as well. I agree that as social workers we role over, why aren’t we joining together to assert ourselves? The idea that social workers are radical and challenge is becoming a myth.If the managers knew the worker was not performing they should be held accountable for not taking action consistently

  11. James November 3, 2016 at 11:15 pm #

    A. He didn’t see children.
    B. He didn’t hold core groups.
    C. He didn’t complete assessments.
    D. He didn’t make any improvements despite support.
    E. The measure of a good social worker should not be whether a child is harmed or not.

  12. Tom J November 4, 2016 at 10:39 am #

    If you take a look at most Freedom of Information requests it is not unusual to see local authority social workers with child protection caseloads in excess of 35 cases. I promise you that if I were to go through the work of ANY social worker with this level of work I could easily find significant short comings in recordings, visits and so on.

    There are two solutions: 1) Put them in front of the HCPC and get them struck off. 2) do something about the excessive caseloads.

    The HCPC funded by social workers acts as a smokescreen for the systemic issues. Just as in banking they used to say ‘oh its just a few bad apples’ before it could later be accepted that this was not the case.

  13. Sandi November 5, 2016 at 8:58 am #

    I have just left social work and agree that social workers do suffer because the is no politically powerful body to speak up for us. For example the teachers have the NUT who have a very strong political voice and very very few teachers are ever sacked or struck off, the same for nurses and doctors.

  14. Nicola McClymont November 6, 2016 at 10:13 am #

    I totally agree with many of the comments here about the pressures Social Workers are under. I have been an adult Social Worker for over 3 years and felt them many times myself, but my practice is never unsafe. I practice effectively despite these pressures; as do the majority of my colleagues.

    When a social worker is held accountable it isn’t always scape goating. The fact that the children in his case load didn’t come to harm was lucky. Shame on the council for not tackling his short comings sooner and they certainly should take responsibility for that and poor management. Like with any profession some people do not have the skills. We have all met social workers that would be poor no matter how well they were managed. Only in our profession it costs life’s at worst and at best can damage quality of life of a SU if their Social Worker is not up to par. I think personally councils need to do more to assess quality of staff…as well as sorting themselves out (that goes without saying!!).