Newly qualified social worker suspended after making payments to young service user

A review panel found 'little evidence of further training or learning' after a conditions of practice order was issued to the practitioner in February

A newly qualified social worker has been suspended from the register after she made payments to a young service user’s account and allowed him to enter her home, a HCPC panel has found.

During a substantive hearing in February, it was declared the practitioner had put service user A, a 17-year-old male, at “unwarranted risk of harm” by “breach[ing] professional boundaries”.

The panel originally decided against issuing a suspension order, deciding such a sanction “would be disproportionate” where a conditions of practice order would be “sufficient”.

However, at a review hearing held on 2 August, the panel decided to suspend the social worker for three months.

Money paid 

On 24 May 2014, the social worker began employment at a residential care provider for young people based in Derby. It was the practitioner’s first role since qualifying as a social worker 12 months before.

The practitioner worked on a one-on-one basis with service user A, who was living in a residential unit owned by the provider.

He had emotional and behavioural disabilities, had “suffered abandonment” by his mother, and at times “displayed challenging behaviour”.

On 20 October 2014, the social worker left her employer when she found another job in London.

It wasn’t until after she left that service user A told his new support worker he had been in a sexual relationship with his former social worker. He also said she had paid him sums of money.

The allegations were reported to the Disclosure and Barring Service, which decided not to place the social worker on the disbarred lists for children or adults.

Breach of boundaries  

During a substantive hearing on 20 February, the panel found the social worker had made payments to the young service user. The panel found she made 15 transactions to the service user’s account, starting on 9 June 2014 and ending on 13 October 2014.

That panel concluded the payments were “a breach of professional boundaries”, adding the social worker “should not have paid any personal money” to a service user, regardless of the circumstances.

Although stating she had made the payments because she was scared of the service user who she had been threatened by, the panel decided not to make a judgment on the matter, saying it “was not possible to corroborate” the evidence.

It also heard the practitioner allowed the young service user to enter her home when she drove with him to collect personal belongings. She said she had left service user A in the car, but ushered him out of the house when she discovered him “standing in her bedroom door way”.

The panel councluded that, while the registrant “did not encourage” the service user to enter the property, she “should not have driven him to her home” and presented him with an “opportunity to enter”.

The practitioner was also accused by service user A of having sexual relations with him. However, these allegations were dismissed by the panel as the evidence presented to the HCPC was “mainly hearsay”.

Lack of training

During the first hearing, the panel considered the practitioner’s documentary material and the “particular circumstances” of the case.

Acknowledging her lack of experience, the panel heard how the social worker had not been given an induction at the start of employment or training in safeguarding standards. It said this “exposed the [social worker] to considerable risk”.

It was also highlighted the social worker was not offered an assessed and supported year in employment (ASYE) by her employer.

Despite considering the social worker’s situation, the panel said she had “continued to make payments into service user A’s bank account for a significant period of time” and continued after leaving the employer.

It added the practitioner had “cast blame on her employer and also service user A”, when she had a personal responsibility to uphold “professionals standards”.

The panel concluded the registrant’s current fitness to practise was impaired but did not issue a suspension order. It said the sanction would be “disproportionate” where a conditions of practice order “would be sufficient to uphold the public interest”.

A conditions of practice order was imposed on the social worker for 18 months. The panel said this would allow the social worker time to obtain employment as a social worker and complete the ASYE scheme.

Three-month suspension

A mandatory review hearing was held in August 2018 in absence of the social worker, to decide whether the social worker’s fitness to practise was still impaired.

Accepting the advice of a legal advisor, who noted the practitioner had shown “little evidence of further training or learning”, the panel agreed there had been no compliance with the conditions imposed by the substantive hearing panel. It added the social worker had not provided an explanation for this.

It said it “could not determine whether the remedial actions had been undertaken” or whether the social worker had not complied with them, adding it would need “further evidence” to determine this.

In addition, the uncertain career intentions of the social worker and whether she wanted to carry on in the profession led the panel to say it would be inappropriate to “take no further action” and agreed on a three-month suspension order.

“Without further information about her current role, the panel has little indication of her ability to cope with the challenging ethical situations that could arise in maintaining professional boundaries as a social worker.”

“Accordingly, the panel has determined that the [social worker’s] fitness to practise remains impaired by reason of her misconduct.”

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