A social worker whose actions put vulnerable children at risk of serious harm had her spirit “broken” by a service restructure where she worked, a HCPC panel has heard.
The social worker was struck off for misconduct involving 16 cases with vulnerable children. The panel said the social worker had been “dismissive of obvious and clear high risks to some of the children; this was even in the faces of the risks being highlighted by another social worker”.
The panel also found the social worker had acted dishonestly by telling her manager she had seen a child when she hadn’t. Despite performing competently when subject to a performance-monitoring programme, the social worker “reverted to poor performances after she completed that programme”.
The HCPC said these actions indicated “her poor performance was intentional” across the time when the failings took place. The panel said in relation to one child she had been reminded “on numerous occasions” that actions needed to be taken, but still did not do it.
“This led to delay in progressing [the child’s] placement into one that was permanent and stable,” the judgment said.
The panel heard how the social worker’s failings began after a service restructure in Lancashire council children’s services, put in place in early 2015. The social worker’s supervisor at the time of the failings said the restructure “had an extremely adverse effect on the morale of all the staff” and resulted in many experienced social workers leaving the council.
“Others who remained, like the registrant, were demoralised and unhappy,” the panel heard.
“[The supervisor] told the panel that the registrant’s personality changed from someone who had a sense of humour and was cheerful, whose work was good and who was focussed, keen and who paid attention to detail, to someone who was distracted, whose spirit was broken, and who was not as sharp as she was before.”
Following the restructure, the social worker was moved from a team “where she was happy and worked well” to a team “that she did not want to go to and was inconvenient for her geographically”.
“She then moved to another team where she worked with vulnerable children in the area where she lived, and finally she was allocated to work with a manager whom she did not want to work with and who did not have experience nor understanding of child protection work.”
The panel heard from witnesses how the restructure caused “chaos”. Lancashire council told Community Care a new structure had since been put in place and was “working well”.
It added the social worker had not worked for the council since 2015, following concerns being raised about her practice.
Tracy Poole-Nancy, head of service for the county council’s central children’s social care team, said the social worker’s conduct was a separate matter from the restructure.
“There were serious issues relating specifically to her work that were unacceptable and these were dealt with by managers at the time.”
“A new structure for children’s social care is now in place following consultation with staff and is working well.”
The council’s children’s services was rated ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted inspectors in 2015. A monitoring inspection of the service published in November 2017 said “a number of different models have been used to manage demand and improve the quality of social and support work” with children in need since 2015.
“Currently, there is a period of transition while support for [children in need] moves from specialist hubs back into locality teams. While staff are mostly positive about the changes, some frontline staff are confused about where and how different levels of CIN cases will be managed,” the report said.
The social worker chose not to engage with the HCPC process. In her favour, the panel found the social worker had performed her duties well until the restructure, she was of previous good character and had “significant health and personal issues” at the time of the restructuring and these incidents.
However, it concluded the extent of the failings, and the risk it exposed service users to, “breached a fundamental tenet of the profession”, and that there was a serious risk of repetition.