Social worker suspended after keeping confidential documents at home

Children's practitioner also breached consent and kept substandard records, HCPC tribunal finds

Health and Care Professions Council

A social worker has been suspended for nine months after she was found to have kept confidential documents at her home over a period of years.

A Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) tribunal heard the practitioner had allowed two other people access to the documents, in one instance with a view to having her partner dispose of them.

The tribunal found evidence of misconduct in three other areas of the social worker’s practice, around breaching consent of families she was working with, failing to follow instructions and poor record-keeping.

In imposing the stiff sanction, the panel decided the social worker, despite having shown remorse and completed a piece of reflective work, had only limited insight into her actions.

Police raid

The social worker’s poor practice came to light in October 2015 when the police raided her home and arrested her partner, in the course of which confidential documents were recovered.

The day after, her employer, Lincolnshire council, was informed that material had also been retrieved from her partner’s office.

Some months later, after the social worker had already left her job, another two carrier bags of “highly confidential” paperwork were recovered from a third individual’s garage.

The panel found that the dispersed nature of the documents –  some of which dated back to 2009 – undermined claims by the social worker that she had only kept papers at home under lock and key.

She acknowledged giving some to her partner so he could shred them, suggesting to the tribunal that she was within her rights to trust him as he was also a registered social worker. But the panel found this was a mistaken assumption, given that he was not authorised to handle the material and had signed no confidentiality agreements in relation to it.

The tribunal also criticised the social worker’s reflective piece – in which she observed that, “fortunately”, the papers had never come into the public domain – as indicating that she had failed to learn from her mistakes.

“The panel concluded that this comment strongly indicated that any learning the registrant had acquired as a result of attending the course was not embedded, as the documents were in the public domain,” the tribunal judgment said. “[She] appeared to believe that because she knew the individuals who had been given access to the documents, they were not members of the public.”

The tribunal found that although the social worker’s actions had caused no direct harm to children and families involved with Lincolnshire council, the breaches were liable to damage trust in the social work profession.

Breaches of consent

Besides her mishandling of confidential documents, the social worker faced a number of other allegations, some of which came about as a result of complaints by a member of a family she was working with.

In two instances, she was found to have made disclosures without consent. These included telling nursery staff that the family member who complained had previously been abused by her father.

The tribunal also judged that the social worker had failed to keep proper records, including completing assessments, on a string of occasions. At other times, it found, she had failed to follow direct instructions from supervisors around progressing cases.

In weighing the social worker’s failings, the panel criticised what it said were attempts “to deflect at least some of the blame onto the council, on the basis that the lapses in her practice would not have happened if she had been properly supported and not allocated an excessive caseload”.

The tribunal found that while she was busy, the social worker’s caseload was appropriate for a social worker of her level of experience.

“The registrant’s focus in this hearing has been to blame her conduct on the pressures of work caused by management,” the judgment said. “She did not focus on her own shortcomings.”

In imposing a nine-month suspension, the tribunal said the period was “the minimum necessary to reflect the nature and gravity of the registrant’s misconduct, and to declare and uphold the standards expected of a registered social worker”.

It suggested the social worker complete a further reflective piece of work, to demonstrate insight into her practice failings, before returning to work.

23 Responses to Social worker suspended after keeping confidential documents at home

  1. Tom J July 24, 2018 at 12:58 pm #

    I’m often shocked by the number of programmes on ITV about a crime or murder where the retired Police Officer pulls out all of his files from the case on suspects, interviews etc. This must be illegal? They are retired so why do they have any documents?

    One programme was recent; watching it I thought; ‘why are the Information Commissioners Office not rushing round his house to seize the documents?’

  2. Jude July 24, 2018 at 3:49 pm #

    In all of this have we considered the mental health of this worker because I do not want to believe that one would keep bags of confidential documents at home. I cannot even take a post it note home. We are quick to reprimand our own but slow to support them.
    Was this worker ever supported?

    • Stuart July 24, 2018 at 9:34 pm #

      … or managed. Clearly it sounds as if she did bad things but should she have been able to ?

  3. Alegna Seyah July 25, 2018 at 9:26 am #

    Properly supervised…..I once had a manager who would suggest up to 13/15 pieces of work to be undertaken per family…..with a caseload of 35 (cp/cin and court) and supervision monthly, I was spinning like a top. When it came to family meetings and the chair would ask why a Family group conference had not been arranged eg, my response would be ‘court work takes priority’, it didn’t stop the chair giving me an ‘inadequate’ for my work.
    Several ‘inadequate’s later and i’m back in front of my manager to discuss why!! Not to help or support, but to question whether I was capable to undertake social work!

    • Lucy July 25, 2018 at 6:44 pm #

      Hi Alegna, Thanks for your thoughts and comments about your experience of the punitive blame and shame culture which is social work, which includes no support from Managers, along with unreasonable and unmanageable caseloads. The SW system is not doing the right thing by either their Social Workers or their Service Users, both deserve a lot better.
      However, the system is not going to change, unless we accept and work within the system, or we decide that we have had enough of all of the long hours and ‘working for free’ to prop up the system, and leave CP SW. After 20 years of frontline CP SW I have decided that it’s time to leave; as I don’t want to spend the next 20 years ‘at work’ and not having a life, as life is too short, and it’s not worth spending at work.

    • Richard Desjardins July 26, 2018 at 8:40 am #

      There is never a good reason not to refer for a Family Group Conference

      • Karen Yeomans July 26, 2018 at 10:36 am #

        Time and comparing demands. A I will do it next week, can turn into a month in some teams. I think it’s very judgmental to say there is never an excuse. When I was first qualified I used to think badly of sw who left without completing work. Now, 16 years later, I know why.

    • colin hyke July 27, 2018 at 5:47 pm #

      she had 20 cases she could not manage,,,, she wanted a higher position and she was doing work she was not qualified for.

  4. Richard Mukomba July 25, 2018 at 11:10 am #

    I am not sure whether this worker should be punished for taking documents home. We work under pressure to get the work done and to meet the deadlines. A lot of local authorities are cutting down on office space and encouraging workers to work from home. My local authority, we have devices that allows us to work from home and can connect to the authority internal internet………….
    If we are taking all these documents and electrics home shouldn’t there be a policy that stops employers from allowing people to work outside their office space?
    It looks like we are now going backwards with reprimanding people.
    We have services that can operate 24/7……for example children’s services depending on the vulnerability of the client group surely workers should be given the right tools and protection to carry out their duties without the worry or concern of being reprimanded.
    Once authorities start to penalise workers for carrying out their duties or taking equipment they use home, we are going to see an increase of our vulnerable members of the community being abused……..as worker could not prioritise what is urgent and what is not urgent…….hence taking documents home to work on them later……..this needs to be looked at in another way…..as we will soon see cases of neglect if workers have too many cases in their hands….

    • EJ July 25, 2018 at 11:15 pm #

      She didn’t only take them home (which is bad enough), but she gave them to other people (“Some months later, after the social worker had already left her job, another two carrier bags of “highly confidential” paperwork were recovered from a third individual’s garage.”) and they were not held securely under lock and key, they were disclosed to 3rd parties without consent. She also failed to recognise the paperwork was in the public domain.

      “the social worker faced a number of other allegations, some of which came about as a result of complaints by a member of a family she was working with.

      In two instances, she was found to have made disclosures without consent. These included telling nursery staff that the family member who complained had previously been abused by her father.”

      Not to mention a partner who was arrested by the police so a potential criminal. This shows very unprofessional behaviour and poor judgement.

  5. Lucy July 25, 2018 at 6:37 pm #

    I hate saying this as the majority of Social Worker’s are hard-working dedicated professionals, but it sounds like either this SW was chronically overloaded to the point she had no free time (and the job consumed her life), or she was just lazy (possibly with mental health too) and could not be bothered returning the documents to work and shredding etc. Also, how the hell did another batch end up in a third party’s garage? If the police also had to raid the SW and her partner’s home (who was also a SW); it appears there could be more (possibly criminal) going on there etc. Personally, I think she could have got off with a caution on file, as no harm did come to service users, and she was probably working from home a lot. Just another reason why I am seeing an exit from the blaming, punishing, and punitive world of CP SW.

  6. Sandra Gee July 25, 2018 at 6:58 pm #

    Quote from a current job ad for Lincolnshire. “… our people are at the heart of this progress: that’s why we make sure they have access to the best support, development and training opportunities.” So that’s fine.

  7. Anrutheta July 25, 2018 at 8:35 pm #

    Richard this was my view. Obviously we have a narrow view of circumstances. However in the age ofagile/ home working and not all documents on pc and staff expected to travel here there and everywhere to work, surely there has to be some kind of safegaurd to protect all social workers. Damned and blamed and seems more bu own regulators than press!

  8. Jack July 25, 2018 at 10:25 pm #

    It is not the issue of taking documents home to work on, or either having them at home for some time but having such little regard for people’s privacy that you allow a partner/ friend to have access. Shows a lack of appreciation for people’s dignity and a lack of respect. Don’t usually agree with hcpc, and don’t in this scenario – actually think suspension too short. Also inconsistent as others struck off for actually being over worked etc

  9. sw111 July 25, 2018 at 10:58 pm #

    Why didn’t Lincolnshire support this worker rather than referring to hcpc.

  10. Charles Charles July 26, 2018 at 3:20 am #

    What is a manageable caseload?? I doubt if any of the members on the HCPC panel is a qualified social worker with experience of visiting families and knocking doors. How many of these fellows on the panel are qualified social workers? Some of their decisions and statements seem from another planet. If police was to raid homes of nurses, police, social workers and other public sector workers who sometimes work from home they will find client information.

  11. Simon July 26, 2018 at 11:14 am #

    She should be fired nothing else

  12. Gordon Sharpe July 27, 2018 at 4:23 pm #

    I’m not so interested in the toing and froing of opinions which tend to fall into predictable camps but isn’t a suspension effectively being fired? Is her job to be held for 9 months when she can then return? I would genuinely love to know and follow the reports of HCPC deliberations with interest

    I would also be interested in a bit of debate or information as to why so many people seem to decline to attend their hearings and what people think that signifies.

    If any HCPC personnel monitor this site – and it would be nice to think that they did – then any contribution would be welcome. The way Social Work is regulated is clearly a very hot topic.

  13. sw111 July 27, 2018 at 6:18 pm #

    Who has not made mistakes under pressure, stress.
    Harsh to comment she should be fired – such punitive approach !!!
    Local authorities are using hcpc to pillory workers when the matter can be resolved by internal enquiries and caution and of course support.
    Even in serious case reviews there is effort to learn from mistakes so that it doesn’t recur, not to damn and blame.

  14. Barbara Gamble July 29, 2018 at 3:08 am #

    Do parents have to sign a consent for family details to be shared with other proffessionals?

    • Mary K August 1, 2018 at 6:24 pm #

      If cp don’t need consent, only cin.

  15. ladylee1979 August 10, 2018 at 9:55 am #

    Is it acceptable for a social worker to not perform a handover upon leaving the LA ? is it acceptable for a social worker to not open a case file on a computer ? is it acceptable for a social worker to take case files/notes home after leaving the LA ?

  16. sw111 August 10, 2018 at 5:22 pm #

    It is not acceptable to dismiss the worker’s shortcomings but the context also cannot be ignored.
    Workers productivity and efficiency will increase in a supportive environment.