Headline updated 1 July 2019
An experienced children’s social worker has been struck off from the register after a tribunal heard evidence of years of incompetent and dishonest practice, including covertly asking a colleague to complete a core assessment.
The practitioner was also found to have failed to safeguard a vulnerable teenager at risk of sexual exploitation by not referring her to a strategy meeting despite clear warning signs.
The Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) panel additionally proved a string of less severe but chronic casework shortcomings, including delayed assessments and reports littered with factual, spelling and grammar errors.
The tribunal acknowledged that supervisors of the social worker, who worked in the looked-after children’s team at Wolverhampton council from 2000 and had been subject to numerous complaints over practice quality, had done too little to manage her performance.
There was limited sign of the social worker’s practice improving after managers intervened in June 2014, leading to a formal capability process that culminated in the HCPC’s involvement.
More on HCPC tribunal findings
The regulator said the only appropriate sanction was for the social worker, who did not attend the tribunal and said she had retired from practice, to be struck off.
“The registrant has not demonstrated insight, the panel has found a real risk of repetition and an ongoing risk to service users and the case involves serious dishonesty which has an impact on the reputation of the profession,” the judgment said.
The finding of dishonesty related to a core assessment that took the social worker 16 months to complete. An assistant director told the tribunal this was down to it “requiring substantial amendments due to insufficient content, analysis and grammatical errors”.
‘ME’, the looked-after children team manager, reviewed the core assessment, finding the social worker had provided incorrect dates of birth and adoption to court. She subsequently discovered a draft assessment started by another social worker, ‘SW1’, which had been copied over to the new document.
“ME spoke to the registrant who initially denied, but subsequently admitted when confronted with evidence, that she had asked SW1 to complete the core assessment on her behalf,” the tribunal said.” The registrant said she believed that this was acceptable because SW1 had previous involvement with the family.”
SW1’s involvement had, however, been several years earlier, and the tribunal found the social worker was “unable to recognise the implications or significance” of her actions.
“Her behaviour lacked integrity, was a breach of a fundamental tenet of the profession and would be viewed as deplorable by fellow practitioners,” the panel said, adding that it constituted misconduct.
‘Highest risk of child sexual exploitation’
The tribunal also concluded that misconduct had occurred on the social worker’s part in relation to her failure to safeguard the teenager from sexual exploitation.
This incident took place during summer 2015, when the practitioner was temporarily transferred to a different team due to a grievance she instigated against ME.
A manager described the teenager concerned as being “the highest risk of child sexual exploitation in the service”.
But despite clear indicators – including her regularly going missing, having extra money and contracting a sexually transmitted infection – the social worker made no referral to the local multi-agency sexual exploitation (MASE) strategy meeting.
“The registrant had received the relevant training and would have known that she had a clear and urgent responsibility to safeguard [the teenager], but did not do so,” the tribunal found.
‘Lack of competence’
Adjudicators also found more than 20 other particulars against the social worker, which took place between 2012 and 2015, to be proved.
These included numerous errors around factual content, spelling and grammar, some of which related to siblings’ information being copied from one assessment to another, resulting in incorrect genders and dates of birth being recorded.
At other times life journey work had been sketchily completed, meaning children would have received an inadequate level of information about their involvement with children’s services.
In one instance a ‘later life letter’ to a young service user misspelled their name, used jargon and omitted significant events that had taken place.
The tribunal said these findings “did not constitute misconduct because they were more appropriately characterised as a lack of competence”.
They demonstrated that despite her experience, the social worker lacked the necessary skills and ability to complete written work and other tasks to an acceptable standard.
Mitigating factors ‘had little weight’
In weighing its sanction the panel observed that the social worker had disclosed private matters, in a redacted letter, and had been poorly supported prior to 2014.
But it concluded that the mitigating factors had “little weight” in a case that had affected numerous service users and involved “active” dishonesty for which the social worker had shown little insight or remorse.
The tribunal added that health issues cited by the practitioner had mostly been raised retrospectively rather than forming part of her supervision process.
It said managers involved since 2014 had taken a “structured and supportive approach to try to raise the standard of the registrant’s work” but to no avail.
“Any sanction less than a striking-off order would not be sufficient to protect the public interest,” the panel concluded.
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