An experienced social worker has been suspended from the register for 12 months after sending WhatsApp messages to a mother he was working with, complimenting her on her appearance.
The practitioner, who had been employed via an agency at Flintshire council for just three months, sent a short series of messages to the woman from his personal mobile commenting on her profile picture.
He was dismissed from his post after concerns were raised by the charity Action for Children that he had crossed professional boundaries, as well as failing to attend a child protection core group meeting.
The social worker, who did not appear at his Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) tribunal hearing, was also found to have missed a string of other core group meetings and failed to complete assessments.
The tribunal concluded that the WhatsApp messages alone amounted to misconduct on the social worker’s part.
“The registrant’s attempt to engage service user A in personal communication was an abuse of [his] position of trust and could have placed service user A in a more vulnerable position,” the tribunal said.
“In addition, there was also a risk that this could have compromised the registrant’s professional judgement.”
A team manager from Flintshire council who carried out an internal inquiry, named as ‘RH’, told the tribunal that service user A had expressed concern at the social worker contacting her in an “overly familiar way”.
RH explained that the WhatsApp messages had clearly been sent from the social worker’s personal mobile, with his picture appearing next to them.
The messages started by saying “Without being inappropriate it’s a very nice pic of you.”
The social worker then added, “People wouldn’t get that I’m being nice and just think it’s inappropriate” and suggested that he should be able to comment on the woman’s profile picture.
RH said that when she interviewed the social worker, she was worried that he did not seem to grasp the seriousness of the allegations.
“He had been very upset during the meeting but he had not provided her with any proper explanation,” the tribunal judgment said. “RH said she felt the registrant was not being open with her.”
‘No work completed on time’
As well as the inappropriate messages, an audit of the social worker’s practice, prompted by concerns revealed by other professionals, revealed that he had failed to attend core groups and complete assessments.
In one example, a school nurse, ‘JJ’, told the tribunal the social worker had failed to attend meetings without explanation, leaving a mother “unhappy and angry about the lack of progress regarding [her] child protection plan”.
In another, a health visitor, ‘YH’, said the social worker’s lack of attendance at meetings made her “worried for families”.
Despite having been allocated time out to get up to speed with his caseload, which was comparable to other practitioners, the social worker had failed to do so.
“The concern was that none of his work was completed on time,” the tribunal said.
It found that the social worker’s “repeated and unexplained” failures to attend important meetings and complete assessments in combination amounted to misconduct.
‘Embarrassed and disheartened’
The panel noted that in an emailed statement the social worker had described himself as “embarrassed and disheartened” by his actions, which he acknowledged responsibility for. It concluded that his apologies and expressions of remorse were mitigating factors in the case.
Nonetheless, the tribunal decided that proof of insight on the social worker’s part remained “limited”.
It found that he had provided no evidence of remediation, and had also indicated he was having serious health issues without offering anything to back this up.
In imposing the 12-month suspension, the panel stated that the social worker must provide any medical evidence relevant to his situation before being allowed to return to practice, as well as completing reflective work around the impact of his actions.