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.
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.
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.
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.