A social worker has been struck from the register after he bullied staff at the adoption agency he co-owns, and turned a blind eye to his mother continuing to practise while barred.
A three-week Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) tribunal found that Iain Dickinson had been aware in early 2016 that his mother Collette Scott, his agency co-owner, was suspended but had allowed her to continue social work duties.
Dickinson was also found to have intimidated three staff at the agency, New Leaf Adoption, which has since changed its name to Our Family Adoption. They included a manager brought in after Scott was suspended and another social worker who had previously worked with her.
This included him putting pressure on them to lie to an Ofsted inspector that they had been aware of Scott’s suspension – when in fact they had only found out in December 2016 when she was struck off.
Dickinson was also found to have provided misleading information to Ofsted as to work Scott had carried out as part of her day-to-day role. An inspection in early 2017 discovered that Scott had been practising while barred, along with other serious irregularities around oversight and compliance, leading to it being graded ‘inadequate’ – though a reinspection eight months later deemed it ‘requires improvement’.
The tribunal report described Dickinson as an “evasive and argumentative” witness who was “consistent in his evidence only where it was to his advantage”.
The HCPC panel found he had told persistent and premeditated lies, and had “contributed to the creation of a toxic and chaotic environment at the agency, which… posed a risk of real harm to service users”.
A statement posted on the website of Our Family Adoption, which operates nationally, said Dickinson had now “taken a non-operational role in the company”, which following new appointments would “continue to run as normal”. He is still listed as its sole director on Companies House.
The adoption agency was set up in 2014 by Dickinson, who was its responsible individual and agency decision maker, and Scott who was the adoption manager and, until she was struck off, its other director.
Scott was suspended in early 2016 while allegations that she had falsified interview records and other documents while employed by Hull council were investigated.
This led to two new staff members, an adoption manager and a senior social worker, being engaged. Both told the hearing that they were never informed that Scott had been suspended, and only learned of this when news of her subsequent striking-off was reported in the local news.
This account was backed by Dickinson’s half-sister, who was also employed by the agency as a parenting worker and receptionist, and described a meeting at which it was agreed that Scott’s suspension be kept secret.
She went on to tell the tribunal she had been bullied by Dickinson – who “got the upper hand” at the agency once Scott was suspended – and that she saw him bully the new adoption manager.
A key part of the evidence heard at the tribunal related to emails between Dickinson and Scott, which discredited his account that he believed her not to be performing a social work role.
In a letter responding to an Ofsted enquiry in January 2017, after Scott’s striking-off had been publicised, he said her duties were “running the office, including marketing, finance, payroll and administrative duties” and that she would never identify as a social worker.
Dickinson told the tribunal he “often could not, and did not, read emails” sent to his personal account and that this meant he had not fully read messages from Scott. Examples discussed at the hearing – many of which he had replied to – included references to her conducting “social worker” visits to adopters and completing prospective adopter’s report (PAR) forms.
According to Dickinson, “everyone knew [Scott] was suspended and there was no reason for her to do social work, and to suggest so was ‘ludicrous'”.
But that account conflicted not only with some staff members but with adopters who gave evidence and said they believed that Scott had been their social worker.
‘Intimidated’ into lying
Before Ofsted visited the agency in February 2017, Dickinson told both the adoption manager and senior social worker they would have to tell inspectors that Scott had been suspended, or the agency would get shut down, the tribunal heard.
“[The senior social worker] said her thoughts were with the adopters and children, and she had felt intimidated” in deciding to go along with lying to the inspector, the tribunal report said.
Both staff members said Dickinson had threatened to report them to the HCPC and said that he, as the director, would be believed over them.
They also told the tribunal that Scott had continued to try to do social work duties after being struck off and that they could have done more to prevent this.
The adoption manager said she felt caught between “a rock and a hard place” between her two bosses, whose relationship had by that time deteriorated.
In finding that Dickinson had not taken any steps to prevent his mother from doing social work duties, the tribunal noted that he, unlike her, had no hands-on experience of adoption work.
“[Scott’s] social work experience was essential in the operation of that business,” the tribunal report said. “In those circumstances, it was plainly going to be difficult to maintain professional boundaries.”
In relation to Dickinson’s account about the emails between he and Scott, the panel found his version of events was not credible and “made little sense”.
It further found that he had “deliberately misled” Ofsted and that there was clear and credible evidence that he had menaced the adoption manager, senior social worker and his half-sister, who were “scared of him”.
‘No reflection’ on misconduct
“From January 2016 until March 2017, [Dickinson] persistently lied,” to staff, regulators, the agency’s governors and others, the panel concluded.
“He actively and repeatedly sought to blame others, and throughout his extensive evidence he did not indicate he had ever taken time to reflect on his actions and the impact on both service users and colleagues,” it said of Dickinson’s evidence.
The tribunal concluded that striking-off was the only acceptable course of action given the disrepute he had brought on the profession and the likelihood of further dishonest actions.
In a separate judgment, the HCPC issued a caution to the adoption manager for not escalating concerns about Scott trying to practise while struck off.
The regulator dismissed allegations, meanwhile, that the senior social worker had colluded in falsifying documents that suggested she, rather than Scott, had carried out work during 2016.