The Meandering Social Worker

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Archive for the tag “HCPC”

Social worker suspended again despite domestic violence plea

Social worker suspended again despite domestic violence plea.

There is something particularly sad about this case, a social worker suspended from practice resulting from problems that arose when she herself was a victim of domestic violence.  No doubt there are some gaps in the story, there always is, but on the basis of what has been reported here in Community Care it appears that this social worker has been rather harshly treated.

In a nutshell, “the social worker’s misconduct involved being intoxicated, verbally abusive and obstructive to police who were called out to her home”.  She lied to the police by taking responsibility for an incident her partner committed because of her fear of reprisals and had been “subjected to a long period of violence by her partner”.

The HCPC concluded that the social worker concerned “did not have insight into how her behaviour in her private life could damage the reputation of the social work profession” and had not submitted evidence of “remedying her conduct”.

This report from Community Care raises a lot of questions.  What is not clear in this report is what is meant by ‘remedying her conduct’.

Does it refer to recognising that being verbally abusive and obstructive to the police (who are fellow professionals) was not appropriate?  I can only hope that the social worker concerned would agree that it wasn’t appropriate.

Does it mean ending the relationship?  What’s not clear from the report is whether the relationship is still ongoing and what support she (and possibly her partner) has received regarding this relationship, if any.  She should have some understanding of the impact of domestic violence on victims (including the children of victims), not least through her training and work experience and hopefully would want to protect herself from continuing to be a victim in this situation.  However, as we all know, all the training and knowledge in the world doesn’t make it any easier for the victim to escape from a violent relationship.  Considering the high level of stress caused by being in a DV relationship and considering that social work is a stressful occupation I would have thought being on long term sick might have been an alternative, and more caring and supportive option, than suspension (there is no indication whether or not that was considered).

Or does it mean demonstrating how her relationship and the consequences of her relationship is damaging the reputation of the social work profession?  This is a challenging one, on which much of the HCPC decision turns.  Yet I cannot help but wonder how much it really does damage the profession.  There are certainly some who would appreciate knowing that social workers are human and can suffer the consequences of difficult situations, while others might find it a reason to look down on them.  It certainly shouldn’t be current behaviour but for it to have been experienced in the past should be seen as valid experience rather than something that damages the image of the profession.  I wonder if the panel considered how she would handle a situation of a service user asking her about her own ‘run in’ with the police?  It could be used as a discussion point on what is not appropriate and why.

Or does it mean that social workers should not become intoxicated (woe to social workers, police, teachers, nurses, doctors and most other professionals in that case!).

Elsewhere it has been commented that social workers’ lives are no more ‘squeaky clean’ than most people’s.  But sometimes it feels as if the message is that they should be.  And, social worker or not, short of more information, this report looks rather like a case of victim blaming: a victim of domestic violence she has been blamed for the consequences.

 

Facebook is SOCIAL media – keep WORK out of it

Do we understand the value and risks of social media?  Clearly not.

This week’s Community Care Magazine online has reported on the HCPC case of a social worker with 15 years unblemished experience posting messages about a pending court case and the outcome of that course case on her facebook page.

No names, ages or family composition were apparently mentioned, although a map showing the court’s location was included, presumably an automatic addition due to a facebook setting.  The risk of a breach of confidentiality was, HCPC concluded, relatively low, and although the report suggests that other professionals might be able to identify the family from the comments my experience suggests that anyone else from the same office probably already knew anyway. The comments themselves were not outwardly derogatory but the underlying message would clearly be upsetting to the family involved.

Community Care reports: The social worker posted on the social networking site: “I’m in court tomorrow for a case where there is a high level of domestic violence amongst many things…” and after the trial finished posted: “It’s powerful to know that…children’s lives have just massively changed for the better and now they are safe and protected from harm and have every hope for the future…”

The comments could be described as statement of fact and professional opinion.  The problem lies in where they were said – social media – and the immediacy of their publication.  Writing case studies for academic studies, even publishing them, allows for careful consideration of what to include, degree of anonymisation and distances them in time from the event thereby adding to the cloak of anonymity on behalf of the family.  Social media does not offer that.

We should be able to identify the risks of facebook, applying knowledge in other areas to protect ourselves and our profession, let alone our clients.  As the news and investigations following the death of Baby P developed it became apparent that if social workers had known what Peter Connelly’s mother was posting on her facebook page they would have had ample evidence of her partner’s presence in the home and social activities to know she was lying to them and that Peter was ‘at risk’.  The ethics of whether or not it was appropriate for the professionals involved with the family to make such a search on facebook is another question.  The fact is the mother’s account was public and they could have found her comments online.  Logic dictates that if social workers are able to look up their clients online then their clients can do the same.

In her defence the social worker claimed she had thought her privacy settings would have prevented the client from reading her messages, however it seems that software or facebook updates had changed this.  As reported by Community Care the social worker updated her facebook status while sitting next to her manager, suggesting she did so using a mobile phone which does not have all the features of facebook readily available, such as checking on privacy settings, compounding her lack of awareness of the changes.

As a society we have grown accustomed to living our lives in the public domains of social media.  Younger social workers who have only known this environment particularly need to adapt to the changes needed as they taken on a professional role, such that the subject has gained a place in many professional discussions and even university courses.  It would be understandable if they made mistakes early on in their careers.  But this social worker had 15 years experience, suggesting someone at least in their late 30’s and showing we can all be vulnerable to social media complacancy.

Perhaps we should adopt a slogan: Facebook is SOCIAL media – keep WORK out of it.

Book Review: Evidencing CPD

Evidencing CPD: A Guide to Building Your Social Work Portfolio by Daisy Bogg and Maggie Challis, 2013, Published by Critical Publishing Ltd, St Albans, £15.30 (on Amazon), ISBN: 978-1-909330-25-2

 

The book opens with a succinct and clear summary of the history and development of social work education, training and registration and the Professional Capabilities Framework (PCF). Beyond this brief introduction Bogg and Challis do not discuss the link between the politics that have brought about changes in social work education and the impact on the professional social work role.

Bogg and Challis see the expectations of Continuing Professional Development (CPD), which focus on the relevance of training and learning to practice, as a significant improvement on the PRTL (post registration training and learning) that preceded registration being taken over by the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC).  They provide evidence as to the value of using a portfolio-based learning as both an effective method of engaging with and managing adult learning as well as being relevant to the evidencing of CPD as part of the registration requirements of the HCPC.

The authors engage the readers with their easy to read style and Reflective Activities, working through what portfolio based learning means, what goes in a portfolio, as well as assessing your own learning style, skills and learning needs.  There are separate chapters for those at different stages in their career, from developing portfolios for workers in their first year of practice (ASYE); using portfolios for CPD; to using portfolios for career development.

Appendix 1 gives a useful breakdown of the PCF domains and capabilities across all levels of learning and experience, from end of last placement through various levels of qualified worker status to strategic level.

The remaining appendices include useful exercises and templates to support the previous chapters, although unfortunately these do not appear to be available in a downloadable format.

The book is engaging and easy to follow.  It contains useful guidance on what can be included in a portfolio and makes it clear that it is not just a record of learning achieved but an all round tool that can be used to plan future needs and development.  This book will be a useful reference for practitioners at all levels from the first year (ASYE) through to senior social work staff, supervisors and managers.

Although portfolio based learning is not mandatory it is clear that maintaining an ongoing (electronic or paper) record of learning, experience and practice fits well with HCPC registration expectations and will make it easier for the 2.5% who are called upon at the two-yearly registration renewal to quickly provide the required evidence of CPD.

The Assessor Relationship

Social worker Miss Jones was suspended by the GSCC in September 2011, the decision was upheld in August 2012 and again by the HCPC in August 2013.  Although Miss Jones is on record as having said her actions were silly and cited some changes in her personal life the HCPC panel found that she had shown insufficient insight into the seriousness of her behaviours.

There can be no doubt that her practice was inappropriate and that boundaries were breached, but there are some aspects that merit discussion.

As social workers we are always developing some form of relationship with the people we are working with.  The concept of the Casework Relationship is still relevant.  We walk a fine line between befriending someone in order to work with them and help them and maintaining professional boundaries and distance.  I hope nobody really believes it is OK to have a sexual relationship, share drugs, socialise or seek advice, counsel, services or loans from service users, although sadly there are some who cross these boundaries.

Of course, it is easy to get into a conversation in which a professional states the name of a band or type of music they like, or they may have a sticker on their car that indicates they are in to a particular sports activity.  For some workers it comes under the concept of ‘use of self’ in the relationship.  And with many social workers using social media such as Facebook these days our private lives have become less private.  Some service users might offer much wanted tickets to a concert or sports event, or tell you about a friend who does building work ‘on the cheap’.  Why shouldn’t they?  You’ve developed the relationship until you are viewed as a friend.  It takes tact and careful handling to refuse without damaging the relationship.

But Miss Jones was not working with a vulnerable service user (although in some of the reporting the term service user is used).  She was carrying out a Form F assessment with a prospective foster carer.  The Form F is a particularly complex assessment with a specific purpose.  It’s unlike any other assessment.  It is, in effect, a job application and a part of the assessor’s role is to ensure that the application meets the needs of both the employing agency’s Fostering Panel in the first instance and then provides the information required by placing social workers looking for a foster placement for a specific child, while ensuring that the applicant is suitable and prepared for the job ahead of them.

There are some subtle differences that apply to the relationship between an assessor and a fostering applicant:

  • The applicant is not generally deemed vulnerable, otherwise their application would not have progressed as far as the Form F Assessment, although there is a power differential that creates a degree of vulnerability that the assessor should work to overcome.
  • The Form F assessment is very intensive.  The assessor is asking the applicant to share very personal information, often of greater psychological depth than in assessments with service users.
  • The assessor role will include informal provision of information and training, additional to the training provided by the agency that may be employing the applicant.
  • The assessor should be ‘modelling’ professional behaviour.
  • If successful in their application the applicant will become a fellow professional, a member of the ‘team around the child’.

It is this last point that can cause some conflict.  Not unlike a relationship between a student and a practice placement tutor, the assessor will want to develop a professional identity in the applicant.  They know that once the applicant has been accepted their relationship will need to move on from assessor-applicant to professional colleagues, and they will want to prepare the applicant for that, while retaining the option that the assessment might reveal information that would cause the termination of the assessment.

So, what went wrong for Miss Jones?

  • Miss Jones met the applicant and carried out parts of the assessment in a pub on more than one occasion (presumably, but not specified, not in the private accommodation part of the pub)
  • Whilst in the pub and on duty Miss Jones consumed alcohol
  • Miss Jones accepted (borrowed) money (around £70) from the applicant, which was later repaid
  • Miss Jones interviewed one of the applicant’s referees in a pub (comment as above)
  • Miss Jones asked the same referee to help her obtain theatre tickets
  • Miss Jones asked the same referee for help in preparing papers for a court case (ie, sharing personal information)

Clearly professional boundaries were not maintained on several occasions.  But, as well as raising considerations of the particular nuances of the Form F assessment, Miss Jones’ experience did resurrect a memory and raise a question for me.

I have ‘observed’ an applicant and their family in a public place (not a pub) as part of an assessment.  I have also, once, been in a position where I met a referee in a public place, not intentionally.  The referee in question had asked me to meet them during their lunch break at their place of work, a busy London hospital.  With this being the only option on offer for the interview I agreed on the basis that they would find a room or somewhere private we could meet.  When we met I was asked to carry out the interview in the staff area of the hospital’s restaurant as there were no private rooms available.  With some reluctance I agreed only once we had located a table sufficiently far from any other occupied tables and as I mentally adjusted how I would conduct the interview (taking care to use language that avoided using the applicant’s name or personal details).  Would I do it again?  No.  Chalk it up to experience.

Could borrowing money from the applicant ever be considered acceptable?  If this were a vulnerable service user I would say never.  But what if you realise you’ve lost your purse or wallet, or even left it at home, it’s evening and you need to buy fuel to get home?  There’s no-one at home who is able to come and meet you with some money.  Many a times I’ve been carrying out an assessment a two hour drive away, at a time when my husband has been working in another part of the country.  It didn’t but it could easily have happened.  Is there any freedom to make a professional judgement in this situation?

As I said above, there are some subtle differences that apply to the Form F assessment.  There are shifting patterns as the assessment progresses, as the applicant shares more of their personal life to someone who would otherwise be a complete stranger, moving towards helping the applicant prepare for a professional role, often knowing that your own relationship will be terminated at the end of the assessment (especially common in independent fostering agencies who often use independent social workers for their assessments rather than their own staff who may go on to become the applicants supervising social worker).  For me, remembering that we are modelling professional behaviour is probably the best way of maintaining those professional boundaries.

The Community Care report of the committee findings in Miss Jones’ case can be found here, while the full report from the HSPC can be found here.

Fitness to Practice?

A female social worker struck off for faking conversations with a vulnerable child during an assessment had been qualified for 17 years.  Included in the hcpc report is the statement that she seemed not to realise the potential consequences of her actions for the child and his family.

A male social worker struck off for having an inappropriate sexual relationship with, and supplying drugs to, a service user, to whom he had been allocated as the social worker, had been qualified for 36 years with no known previous concerns regarding practice.  A lack of remorse and insight into the impact of his actions was a significant factor in his being struck off the register.

An experienced social worker who had undertaken diversity training made a shockingly racist comment to a Zimbabwean colleague.  With no known previous concerns regarding practice she claimed the comment was meant to be lighthearted, when in fact other staff also found it offensive.  The social worker who made the offensive comment “has shown no meaningful insight or remorse, nor has she indicated that she appreciates the seriousness of her conduct” according to the hcpc.

A male residential social worker responded with excessive physical actions against a child, shocking his colleagues and despite de-escalation training.  His claim of self-defence was not accepted and he too was considered to have refused to acknowledge the seriousness of his action.

A male social worker had sexually harassed female staff in at least two different workplaces.  He had not shown any remorse or apologies for his actions.

Each case is concerning in its own right.  However, what is worrying about these cases as a whole, is that out of five at least three involved experienced social workers, and all showed no apparent awareness of, or willingness to acknowledge, the inappropriateness of their actions.  In at least two cases the worker had an apparently unblemished record; in only one case was it noted that there had been previous similar behaviour.

 

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