A social worker has been struck from the Health and Care Professionals Council (HCPC) register after lying about her university qualifications to her employer.
The panel ruled the practitioner’s misconduct “struck at the heart” of the requirement that all social workers would act with “honesty and integrity”, adding she had “breached a fundamental tenet of the profession”.
The social worker, who was employed in an adult safeguarding team, was required to complete post qualification study at university as part of her employment.
However, it was found she had plagiarised a colleague’s assignment and lied to her employer about completing and passing the task.
Despite considering mitigating factors, such as facing “difficult family and health circumstances”, the panel decided to strike the practitioner’s name off the register due to “the nature and gravity” of the misconduct.
Plagiarised work alert
The panel listened to evidence from two social workers who had worked with the practitioner.
AF, a social worker and senior social work lecturer, told the panel that, as part of the university module, students are required to submit a study based on their caseload.
It was heard the social worker’s submission gave a plagiarism score of 31%, with AF adding that she believed any score over 25% may be of concern.
The plagiarism check also found that 31% came from the same source, namely an assignment submitted by another student, Colleague A, in 2014.
Completing her own comparison of the two pieces of work, AF said there were word changes from the original assignment which would not have been picked up by the plagiarism detection service used when assignments are uploaded.
The panel heard students were made aware of the university’s policies and requirements in relation to plagiarism.
Investigations into plagiarism
Following her submission, the social worker was invited to attend a meeting with the university’s academic conduct officer on 16 March 2016. AF said the practitioner was informed she could accept an academic conduct penalty of 0 marks and not attend the meeting if she so wished, which she accepted.
The university notified the council of the suspected plagiarism and named Colleague A as the past student of the paper which the practitioner’s own assignment had matched.
The panel also heard evidence from MS, who had been the social worker’s line manager and the investigating officer in relation to the allegation of plagiarism
She referred to notes of interviews she held with the social worker as part of the council’s investigation in November and December 2016.
During the first interview, the social worker confirmed Colleague A had given her an electronic copy of her assignment, but she was unable to remember when this was.
The social worker said she had attended all the university module days and the assignment tutorial but could not remember if guidance had been given about plagiarism at the tutorial. She also denied reading the university’s academic code of conduct around plagiarism.
In the second interview, the social worker admitted the ideas used in her essay were actually the thoughts of Colleague A and that she had used some of her references.
Turn of events
The panel also heard how the social worker had informed her employer that she had passed her post qualification.
MS said she asked the social worker about her qualification at a supervision meeting and she had said everything was fine.
The panel noted, in the November disciplinary interview, it was put to the social worker that MS “was surprised to find out that [she] had not passed the module as during a case management discussion in March 2016 [she] stated to her that she had passed”.
The social worker did not deny that she had said this to MS, though she did say “I thought I’d passed”.
Considering the evidence, the panel was satisfied the social worker had been made aware of her responsibilities in relation to the submission of her own work, had plagiarised the work of Colleague A, and submitted it.
It also found the social worker had informed her employer she had passed her post qualification when she knew this was not the case.
Standards of conduct breaches
“The registrant’s actions undermined public confidence in [the council] and in the social work profession and were so serious as to call into question her fitness to practise as a registered social worker”, the panel ruled.
In the absence of significant current insight and remediation, the panel was unable to conclude the social worker was not liable to repeat misconduct of this kind and concluded her fitness to practise is impaired on the grounds of public protection.
It was said the social worker’s misconduct “struck at the heart of the requirement that all social workers act with honesty and integrity”, while submitting a plagiarised assignment and lying to her employer about her performance was deemed to be “incompatible” with her continuing on the register.