A children’s social worker has been removed from the register after she offered to provide a positive character reference for a father she hardly knew and believed to be misusing alcohol and drugs.
The experienced practitioner also offered to destroy evidence showing the father’s substance abuse if he agreed in court to return care of one of his daughters to her mother, a friend of the social worker.
A Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) tribunal in late September described the social worker’s actions – which she admitted – as “deplorable, shocking and an abuse of her positions of power and trust”.
“The misconduct of the [social worker] was of a serious nature and amounted to a perverse disregard of one of the fundamental obligations of a social worker, which is to prevent or minimise the risk of harm to children,” the panel said.
Despite her previously unblemished 11-year record, the panel concluded it had no option but to strike off the social worker, whom it found had shown only limited insight into her actions.
‘Very positive character reference’
The social worker, who had previously worked as a Cafcass family court advisor, was employed via an agency at Solihull council at the time of the incident, which took place on an unspecified date in autumn 2016.
She was accused of involving herself in a court case concerning the daughter (Child C) of her friend, Person B. The father of the child, Person A, was a party to the court case and, at that time, had physical care of Child C.
On the evening before the court hearing, the social worker sent a “lengthy message” to Person A by social media, which referred to the impending court hearing concerning Child C and other care proceedings relating to another one of his children (Child D).
Within the message, the social worker referred to allegations about Person A, which included substance misuse by both him and other children of his. If Person A agreed (at the hearing) to return Child C to the care of Person B, she said, she would destroy evidence of substance abuse.
The social worker also said she would provide him with “a very positive character reference” that he could use to support his case to care for his other daughter, Child D.
In her message, the social worker said:
“As you know I am a social worker and I am very experienced in care proceedings… My professional view… is that you have a better chance of getting your daughter out of foster care into your full-time care if you have no other small children in your care all the time.”
In relation to the offer of a positive character reference, the social worker told Person A, “This will look good as I am a professional person who can comment on your parenting capacity in the court.”
‘Misusing her status and knowledge’
The social worker did not attend the hearing but took part via a telephone link. She said in her representations she “felt mortified” soon after having sent the message and claimed she had composed it under the influence of alcohol.
In concluding that her actions constituted dishonesty, the panel noted the social worker had only met Person A a maximum of eight times, fleetingly, and had heard and seen evidence of him misusing alcohol and drugs.
Her offer to conceal relevant information from a local authority and future court proceedings was also identified by the panel, which said she was aware this “placed the children at risk of harm”.
By making an offer of an untrue reference, the social worker was “misusing her status and knowledge as a child social worker and former family court adviser for Cafcass,” the tribunal found.
Recent HCPC cases
In regard to the social worker’s claims she sent the message while inebriated, it said her message was “well-constructed, thought-out and coherent” and that the “lengthy” nature of the message “demonstrated a complex and premeditated thought process”.
“There is no mitigation on the basis that the registrant was trying to do the right thing for the child of her friend,” the panel added, referring to another point advanced by the practitioner. “At the same time, and with her knowledge as a social worker, she would have been fully aware she was making an offer which would have the likely effect of creating a risk of harm to Child D.”
‘Risk of repetition’
The panel concluded the social worker’s practice was impaired, stating she “created a risk of harm to children” and had caused substantial damage to the reputation of social worker”. It added there remained a “risk of repetition” if the social worker were to practice again.
This led the panel to strike the social worker’s name from the register who, two years after the incident, had shown “very little insight and remediation”.