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NQSW struck off for breaching professional boundaries with teenage service users

HCPC strikes off social worker who sent inappropriate messages to two vulnerable teenage service users

Published on 31st July 2017

A social worker has been struck off the HCPC register for misconduct after breaching professional boundaries.

Adam Campbell breached professional boundaries by exchanging messages of a personal nature with Child A, a 14-year-old girl, which included asking her if she ‘needed a cuddle’.  He exchanged excessive amounts of messages with 13-year-old Child B including asking what size bikini she wore.

Panel Chair Naseem Malik commented: “The misconduct identified goes to the heart of Mr Campbell’s professional responsibilities. He had a duty to look after Child A and Child B. He failed in that duty. He has shown no understanding of the potential consequences of his behaviour and the Panel has no evidence before it to suggest that it has been remedied.”

Mr Campbell was registered as a social worker and employed by Cheshire West and Chester Council in the Children in Need team as part of the Assessed and Supported Year in Employment (ASYE).

On 4 July 2016, Child A, a 14-year-old female who was assigned to Mr Campbell’s caseload, approached her School Support Officer to take advice on text messages allegedly received from him. As a result of this, the Deputy Head of the school contacted Mr Campbell’s Team Manager at the Council to make a complaint.

6. The Local Authority Designated Officer requested an investigation be conducted and GA, Senior Manager in the Children and Families Department at the Council, was appointed as Investigating Officer. During the investigation, information was obtained in relation to text messages allegedly sent by Mr Campbell to another child on his caseload, Child B, a 13-year-old female. The matter was subsequently reported to the HCPC.

It was claimed that between approximately 3 June 2016 and 20 June 2016, he exchanged text and/or WhatsApp messages of a personal nature with Child A, which included:

  1. "Do you need a cuddle",
  2. "Aww want me to save one for you",
  3. "I'd send you an emoji but I don't think there is one, would a real one do",
  4. "Do you still need that cuddle?", or words to that effect

Between the same dates he also exchanged an excessive amount of text and/or WhatsApp messages with Child B which included messages of a personal nature, which included: 

i. "You'd love me to drag you out of school wouldn't you",

ii. "I mean hypothetically if you were off school sick I could always come and take you out somewhere",

iii. "What size are you, I don't know how girls sizes work"

iv. "so what about bikinis and swimming stuff, I'm so clueless",

v. "I'll be seeing you on your birthday",

vi. "In school I'll pull you of lessons for a bit cos it's your birthday".

The messages were not recorded on the council’s electronic system.

The HCPC Conduct and Competence Panel found the allegations to be proved.

The messages to Child A, who was vulnerable, breached the professional standards expected of all registered social workers. His offer to cuddle Child A had no basis in social work practice, nor was it a legitimate use of his power or authority. The Panel is satisfied that the exchange of these messages breached professional boundaries.

Mr Campbell exchanged over 100 text messages with Child B her in a one week period in June 2016. Some of the messages were sent in the evening or over the weekend. The messages were personal in nature and some appeared to be inviting Child B not to attend school but to meet with him instead. Child B was vulnerable and Mr Campbell was her social worker with a responsibility to look after her. The Panel is satisfied that the messages breached professional boundaries.

In addition, the witness, GA, could find no evidence that Mr Campbell had recorded the exchange of any text messages between himself and Child A and/or Child B on the electronic case records.

The Panel noted and adopted the definition of grooming given in the Investigation Report: “when someone builds an emotional connection with a child to gain their trust for the purposes of sexual abuse or exploitation” (NSPCC).

The Panel was satisfied that Mr Campbell sought to build an emotional connection with both Child A and Child B which was outside his professional boundaries.

The Panel carefully considered the evidence that:

• Mr Campbell used his personal mobile phone when messaging both Child A and Child B;

• He made no record of his text messages with Child A or Child B, even if only to note the contact made; and

• Neither in his initial statement, nor when interviewed by GA did he volunteer the information that he had also sent text messages to Child B.

The Panel considered that even though Mr Campbell was a Newly Qualified Social Worker, he had sufficient knowledge, skills and experience to understand the need to maintain professional boundaries when dealing with young and vulnerable people, and that his actions were neither professional nor appropriate.

His behaviour was reprehensible and fitted with the definition of grooming cited above, and was therefore sexually motivated, the Panel found.

The mitigating factors in the case were the relative inexperience of Mr Campbell in the role of social worker and the fact that no evidence was given of actual harm being caused to the children. However, the aggravating features are the seriousness and gravity of the allegations. His behaviour was sexually motivated, the incidents were not isolated and he was reluctant to reveal the full extent of his contact with both children.

“His behaviour was a flagrant breach of the fundamental tenets and principles of Social Work practice,” said the Panel. They struck Mr Campbell’s name off the register.

 

 

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