An experienced social worker has been struck off from the register after misleading fellow professionals who became involved in her personal life when her ex-partner was investigated for child sex offences.
The social worker, who at the time of the allegations worked as a practice educator and university lecturer, withheld information that put children “at real risk of harm”, a Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) tribunal has found.
Her actions included telling a social worker from Warwickshire council that her ex-partner was staying with a ‘family friend’ – it only emerged seven months later that this person was, in fact, her own mother – and failing to disclose his access to his new partner’s children.
Her conduct, the panel found, “struck at the very heart” of social work. The tribunal noted the social worker’s lack of apparent remorse, and concluded that terminating her registration was the only sanction that could “maintain public confidence in the profession and the regulatory process”.
The social worker was referred to Warwickshire council – one of her employers, along with Coventry University – in November 2013. Police made the referral after opening an investigation into her ex-partner, identified as ‘Person A’, relating to historical child sex offences and possessing indecent images. At the time, the social worker and her son were living at Person A’s house because of flooding at their own home.
The allegations against the social worker, who waived her right to appear at the tribunal, related to four key omissions on her part:
- In November 2013, she told ‘Witness 1’, the social worker assigned to her case, that Person A had been bailed to a family friend’s address as he was unable to return home, where she and her son were staying. It subsequently emerged at a child protection strategy meeting that the ‘family friend’ was the social worker’s mother – with whom her young son had regular contact – which she confirmed later when questioned by Witness 1.
- On a visit on 23 April 2015, Witness 1 asked the social worker if she had seen Person A recently, at which she appeared “noticeably uncomfortable”. She also described another man, ‘Mr X’, as her ex-partner’s colleague when in fact Mr X was his brother-in-law.
- During a phone call between Witness 1 and Mr X on 22 July 2015, Mr X said that he had agreed to disclose the identity of Person A’s new partner – who was also the daughter of one of the social worker’s friends. The social worker, Mr X said, had known the identity of the new partner for some time.
- The social worker became aware that Person A sometimes spent the night at his new partner’s house – where the new partner’s children also lived – but did not tell Witness 1 about this, until confronted in September 2015.
None of the four omissions were disputed by the social worker, meaning that the panel then weighed up whether they constituted dishonesty, or could be otherwise explained.
As an experienced social worker and lecturer, the panel said, “on the balance of probabilities she knew clearly that she had a positive duty to act so as to safeguard vulnerable children known to her, even if she had personal relationships with the parties involved”. This duty, the panel added, “cannot be abdicated nor delegated in favour of the preservation of personal interests or relationships”.
The tribunal found that the social worker had chosen to conceal the “enmeshed ties” between her, her family and Person A so as not to jeopardise personal relationships, clearly constituting misconduct.
“As a registered social worker, [she] should have made the necessary disclosures immediately,” the panel said. “Instead, she made a number of choices, over a period of several months, to deliberately withhold information, putting her own interests and those of family and friends above those of vulnerable children.”
In taking the decision to strike her off, the tribunal noted the difficult personal circumstances the social worker had found herself in. But the panel said there was “no indication of insight or remorse, nor any evidence of steps taken by her to address the [HCPC’s] concerns or reassure the panel that she will not repeat her failings”.
Person A was eventually found guilty at trial and imprisoned.