Social worker who asked colleague to do assessment and filed reports full of errors struck off

HCPC panel finds experienced practitioner's incompetence went unchallenged for years but failed to improve after support was offered

Health and Care Professions Council

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.

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.

‘Deplorable behaviour’

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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13 Responses to Social worker who asked colleague to do assessment and filed reports full of errors struck off

  1. Blair Mcpherson June 27, 2019 at 5:40 pm #

    Spelling errors! That really wasn’t the issue as the article makes clear, so why is it in the headline?

  2. Lily May June 27, 2019 at 8:44 pm #

    What is a lack of competence is her being employed by the council for a period of 14 years, given the first concerns about her practice were raised in 2000, and she was only referred onto the regulator in 2014. It should not have got that far, and her employer was also complicit in placing service users at risk by allowing her to continue in a role she was not skilled or equipped to deal with. I am often sympathetic to social workers – especially in CP work, as we are largely unsupported by management, and deal with chronic and excessive workloads, with no support or resources. However, I do not have sympathy for social worker’s who are not suitable, competent or capable to remain in roles where they don’t have the skills to do the job sufficiently. I suspect she was able to remain in her role for so long due high management turnover, and an inability to recruit social work staff, so it was easier to have somebody in the role, than nobody, and putting more pressure on another staff. I support this striking off order, however her manager should have sat her down ages ago, and told her she was not suitable for the role, and she needed to move on, otherwise they would start termination proceedings. Most people would rather go willingly, than to be forced to go through termination.

  3. Thomas June 27, 2019 at 9:02 pm #

    This headline is totally misleading. You don’t get struck off for bad spelling.

  4. Anon June 28, 2019 at 10:51 am #

    It’s unbelievable.
    Was this social worker’s reports handwritten and was the spellcheck not used.
    How can anyone have spelling mistakes when spellcheck is there glaringly pointing out to correct that error.
    It makes me wonder if this worker was dyslexic.

    My experience is if the local authority wants you out they will create an environment where the bars/goalpost particularly for the worker being targeted will be unrealistic and confusing and the worker will be set to fail.

    The worker didn’t defend herself in this case, because the whole process of hcpc complaints is so demoralising and ill equipped to serve the powerless and weak individual worker.

    I have known cases where because of the managers lapses the child has suffered harm, not at risk of harm.

    In these situations the management supports the manager and the nothing happens even when the child has suffered harm. Even hcpc in these situations are not robust unlike when dealing with individual worker.

    The system is not fair, it supports powerful people.

  5. Grace June 28, 2019 at 4:26 pm #

    The headlines gives the impression that the main issue was the spelling errors and ground for HCPC strucking her off😡 Misleading Headlines such as this can create negative bias against those with learning disabilities such as dyslexia and dyspraxia. It might affect employment opportunities as well.

    • Mithran Samuel
      Mithran Samuel July 1, 2019 at 12:02 pm #

      Thanks for your comment Grace and appreciate yours too Blair, which were both fair. We’ve taken out the reference to ‘spelling’ but think it was fair to leave the reference to errors more generally in report writing (not just spelling, but factual and grammar) as this was a strong theme of the case and tribunal judgment even though, in the end, it was not something that constituted misconduct. Thanks again for your comments
      Mithran

  6. . June 28, 2019 at 10:20 pm #

    How nitpicking ridiculous about the report not even spell checked and taken to HCPC! All reports have to be checked and approved by managers and legal before being filed..But in my experience they get admin to check reports who change father to our Father etc.
    Enough bashing, Social Workers will work overtime to meet court deadlines but there needs to be support with flexible working to do this. The nature of the work is unpredictable, support needs to be dynamic not blame culture. To work overtime for free because there is a deadline is unacceptable. Where was the management in all this? How often does the HCPC ever question the management’s responsibilities or culture? The whole system needs support.

  7. Anon July 1, 2019 at 4:13 pm #

    MANAGEMENT allowed to dump everything on the social worker.
    Why wasn’t management offering support that was required rather than to throw the worker in the ring to be pilloried.
    Managers are protected by the management when they give confusing messages, demand the worker produce evidence that the worker has attended A&E.
    hCPC believe the worker works in a vacuum, is a robot and all the pressures loaded on the worker is something separate.
    There is no justice in this system.

  8. Truthseeker July 2, 2019 at 4:06 am #

    The social workers submit reports to The Family Court during Care Proceedings and these reports are the foundation of the evidence upon which a family can be separated.

    If the report is compiled by a person who has little relevant knowledge of a families present circumstances, is filled with inaccuracies, falsified information, incorrect names and personal information it becomes a dangerous and illegal document. To highlight the importance of this document, I will put it this way. The future of children’s lives depends on the contents of a Social workers Evidence report and Threshold document. Once submitted to The Family Court it is deemed to be ‘the truth’.

    The case history of this social worker needs to be thoroughly investigated and all her previous child protection removals reassessed. There may be a large number of children needlessly removed from loving families and subjected to the trauma of being fostered or adopted.

  9. Anon July 2, 2019 at 1:55 pm #

    Was the manager not complicity?

    If the worker’s practice was an issue in 2000 why did it so long fir the management to flag up with the regulators?

    And robust support with clear evaluation should have been followed through.

    In some local authorities, support is tokenisation, to cover themselves and meant to highlight and exaggerate areas of need rather than enhancing the strengths. It will be sheer injustice if hcpc fails to acknowledge these issues.

  10. Brunwinbooks July 4, 2019 at 9:34 pm #

    I think the outcome was right

  11. ANON July 6, 2019 at 1:11 am #

    Again, my belief is these cases can be better managed internally within the local authority. I have known places where recognising the lapses/needs of the worker, the worker is moved to those teams where the worker’s strengths can be employed. Of course, in addition there are sanctions and conditions in place.

    My conclusion based on compelling evidence is that, if the local authority wants to harm someone they would report that worker to hcpc.

    However, there are numerous examples where the senior management has protected managers and workers, (not BME) even when the children have significant harm. Those cases were not referred to hcpc.

  12. Anon July 14, 2019 at 12:41 am #

    Someone on the inside must of recognised her handwriting no doubt about it. Thus is down to culture.

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