A children’s services trust has defended the appointment of its new chief executive, a social worker whose practice was criticised by a judge but cleared by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) and her former employer.
A spokesperson for Slough Children’s Services Trust told Community Care the organisation had “confidence” in Lisa Humphreys, who starts the role in late September after a spell as interim director of children’s services at Wokingham council.
‘No case to answer’
Humphreys was one of three Hampshire council social workers named in a 2015 judgment by Judge Mark Horton as being responsible for serious failings, including dishonest practices.
Judge Horton recommended they be investigated by their employers, Ofsted and the HCPC, after finding that children had been illegally taken into care, reports doctored and evidence withheld from the court.
In line with its policy around cases deemed not to meet the threshold for a full tribunal, the regulator declined to publish the rationale behind its decision. An open letter to the Professional Standards Authority from the Transparency Project charity, which advocates for greater openness around the family courts, had called for it to do so in order to uphold public confidence in the social work profession.
Hampshire council said at the time the decision “vindicated” its own exoneration, following an internal investigation, of the three, who it said had acted “honestly, appropriately and professionally at all times”.
Details of Hampshire’s investigation have also never been published.
Humphreys’ appointment generated controversy on social media this week after the journalist Louise Tickle published an email from Slough Children’s Services Trust attempting to discourage her from mentioning her history, which it said “should not overshadow her new role”.
Leadership at the trust, formed after Slough council became the second English local authority to lose control of its children’s services, was recently found by Ofsted to be improving – though employees have expressed concern about the pace of change expected of the organisation.
‘Genuine public interest’
Responding to the appointment, barrister Lucy Reed, who chairs the Transparency Project, reiterated the argument for material exonerating Humphreys and her ex-colleagues to be made public.
“The Transparency Project recognises the good work that most social workers do in difficult circumstances,” Reed said. “However, we know parents were concerned to read about findings made by the family court of dishonesty in respect of several social workers in this case, and we think there is genuine public interest in such issues being brought to light, as did the judge.”
Reed added: “It is therefore unfortunate that although it appears an internal investigation and the HCPC have reached contradictory conclusions about the culpability of social workers in this case, those contrary conclusions and the reasons underpinning them are not in the public domain. This is particularly difficult where one of the social workers is appointed to a senior position.
“We think that it is really difficult for families with social work involvement, and the wider public, to understand this,” Reed said. “If it is said by other organisations (as logically it must be) that the family court judge got it wrong, we think the public are entitled to ask why that is. If it is said that the social worker has reformed or developed, we think the public are entitled also to ask questions about that, and it is legitimate for the press to do so on their behalf.”
‘Focus on the future’
In a statement to Community Care, a Slough Children’s Services Trust spokesperson said: “We carried out all necessary and appropriate due diligence with a thorough assessment and extensive reference checks undertaken.
“Lisa was the outstanding candidate during the interview process and it is her experience in improving services that gives us confidence in her ability to lead the Trust,” the spokesperson added. “Now we would like to focus on the future and let her get on with the role we appointed her to.”