A social worker has been removed from the register after being found to have engaged in inappropriate contact via social media with a woman he had worked with in the 1980s.
The children’s social worker, who was no longer practising, was found by a late January Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) tribunal to have communicated via Facebook Messenger and email with the woman for almost four years.
She had originally tracked him down to ask questions about her past after becoming concerned about the accuracy of records obtained via subject access requests.
The social worker had denied that most of their exchanges were inappropriate. He said they were just “chit-chat” and described himself as simply “naive” for having been drawn into conversation.
But the tribunal panel concluded that a number of the messages were “over-familiar and flirtatious”. It also found the social worker had behaved deceitfully and caused the woman distress by claiming, then denying, that he had once had a sexual relationship with her mother.
It dismissed statements by the social worker that he had not been aware that the woman was vulnerable as an adult as “not credible”.
In deciding to strike the practitioner off, the panel found he had demonstrated no meaningful insight into his behaviour and had been angry that his actions were being scrutinised.
The social worker had originally been professionally involved with the woman for about four years from February 1980, while she was aged 11 to 15.
The panel noted that her case had been memorable to him and that he recalled her as a “wild and abusive child who had been parented without effective boundaries”.
The woman made contact via social media with the social worker in 2012 wanting to ask “a few general off the record questions” about the children’s services records from her childhood that she had obtained. The two then remained in regular contact between October 2013 and May 2017.
While the social worker denied using inappropriate language in his social media and email communications with the woman, the tribunal listed more than 10 instances which were inconsistent with his claims.
He referred to her as “a stunner” and “a real sweetie” in messages, and repeatedly over the course of more than a year attempted to persuade her to visit him or to meet for a drink or meal.
Over the course of the pair’s correspondence, the panel noted that the woman had sent drawings of herself in tears, as well as “a video of herself, bruised”.
“The indicators were present that Person A remained a vulnerable adult”, especially to an experienced social worker, the tribunal said.
Messages caused ‘chaos and trauma’
Of particular concern to the hearing were two July 2016 messages from the social worker – which he acknowledged were not appropriate – in which he discussed an alleged sexual relationship with the woman’s mother.
In the first, he claimed the relationship had taken place; then, a week later, he denied it.
‘SF’, a community psychiatric nurse who was at the time working with the woman, said the exchange had caused her client to become increasingly distressed and anxious.
“The contact between Person A and [the social worker] has had a significant psychological impact… Person A has not advanced in terms of her mental health recovery since this point,” SF told the tribunal.
In her own evidence to the tribunal, the woman said the social worker’s actions had caused “chaos and trauma” and had “smashed to pieces” her internal construction of her childhood.
The panel described the content of the conflicting messages as “incendiary”, indicative of the social worker’s willingness to lie and providing evidence of him deliberately taking a risk with the woman’s mental health. It also found that later messages he sent, shortly before breaking off contact in May 2017, were “mocking” in tone.
‘High risk of repetition’
With regard to those final communications, the tribunal noted that the social worker had by that time already been warned by the HCPC about his contact with the woman – yet still sent two further messages he knew would wind her up.
The panel observed that the social worker – who proposed a condition of practice that he not use social media to contact former service users – had claimed to have developed insight into his failings.
But it said that even if this was the case, it had come “late in the day, and was not in keeping with his position throughout the hearing”.
“Given his lack of insight and remediation, there [remains] a high risk of his inappropriate behaviour being repeated in similar circumstances,” it concluded in striking him off.