Locum social worker struck off for abuse of her position

HCPC strikes off social worker who contacted a father about care proceedings when she had no professional responsibility for the case

Published on 10th October 2018

A locum social worker has been struck off for an abuse of her positions of power and trust.

While working as a locum social worker for Solihull Metropolitan Council, Mrs Laura Gray involved herself in a court case concerning the daughter (Child C, aged 18 months) of a friend (Person B) despite having no professional responsibility in the case.

The father of Child C (Person A) was a party to the court case and, at the relevant time, had physical care of Child C. On the evening prior to the court hearing of the case, it was alleged that Mrs Gray sent a lengthy message to Person A by social media.

In the message, Mrs Gray referred to the impending court hearing concerning Child C, and also to other care proceedings concerning another child of Person A (Child D, aged 3 years old).

Mrs Gray referred to allegations relating to the father (Person A) including alcohol and drugs misuse, and social media material showing other children of Person A engaging in substance misuse.

Mrs Gray stated that if Person A agreed at the hearing to return Child C to the care of Person B in return for Person A being allowed reasonable contact with Child C, certain steps would be taken.

She claimed that the relevant adverse evidence concerning Person A engaging in substance misuse would be destroyed by Person B and not provided to Social Services, and that Mrs Gray would provide Person A with a “very positive character reference that you can use to support you caring for your other daughter”. That other daughter was Child D.
The message read: "As you know I am a Social Worker and I am very experienced in care proceedings. I am going to be honest it is going to be hard for you to convince ssd (Social Services Department) to give you fill [sic] time care of your daughter.”

“My professional view based on my experience as working as a child’s guardian in care proceedings is that you have a better chance of getting your daughter out of foster care into your full time care if you have no other small children in your care all the time," the message added.

Mrs Gray offered to write a positive witness statement which she said would "look good as I am a professional person who can comment on your parenting capacity in the court”.

During Mrs Gray's participation by telephone link at the start of the proceedings, she admitted the factual basis of the allegation - in other words - she said she had sent the message in question to Person A.

Mrs Gray had said in her representations that she had felt mortified very soon after having sent the message although Miss Shameli on behalf of the HCPC said that it was unlikely given the account that Mrs Gray had provided within the workplace investigation where she had made no mention of being mortified or upset.

Mrs Gray claimed in her representations that when sending the message she was under the influence of alcohol although this had not previously been mentioned within the workplace investigation or in previous emails sent to the HCPC by Mrs Gray. She also claimed that at the time of sending the message she was not thinking clearly. However, Miss Shameli invited the Panel to consider whether that was likely given the nature of the well-constructed message sent by Mrs Gray which contained nothing ambiguous and was clearly thought-out.

In summary, the Panel was asked to accept that the evidence demonstrated that the actions of Mrs Gray had placed young children at risk of harm and she had placed her friend’s wishes above the well-being of the relevant children. There was little reliable insight or remediation and it was submitted that the fitness to practise of Mrs Gray was currently impaired.

The Panel considered the knowledge and belief of Mrs Gray at the time she sent the message. She said she had met Person A on up to eight occasions in the past, but only during the handover of Child C between Person A and Person B. Mrs Gray had received information from Person B which alleged that Person A was misusing drugs and alcohol. She had also seen images on social media which she believed showed Person A using drugs. Mrs Gray was a social worker with specific and significant experience in child safeguarding procedures including the criteria that a court would take into account when making decisions concerning safeguarding children.

The Panel said it is satisfied that Mrs Gray made an offer to Person A that relevant court evidence would be withheld, and in fact destroyed. Furthermore, Mrs Gray made an offer to provide a very positive character reference in circumstances in which she knew that such a reference was unjustified and would be a deceit within court proceedings. The Panel has concluded that the behaviour on the part of Mrs Gray would be regarded by both fellow social workers and members of the public as "deplorable, shocking and an abuse of the Registrant’s position as a Social Worker".

The Panel is satisfied that by making the offer of a misleading reference, Mrs Gray was endangering the safety of Child D and she was misusing her status and knowledge as a child Social Worker and former Family Court Adviser for CAFCASS.
The Panel puts little weight on Mrs Gray's claim that a substantial factor behind the sending of the message was her inebriation. The Panel’s assessment is that the message was well-constructed, thought-out and coherent. This lengthy message demonstrated a complex and premediated thought process. In previous statements made by Mrs Gray concerning this matter, she did not claim that alcohol was a contributory factor.

The Panel has concluded there is no mitigation on the basis that Mrs Gray was trying to do the right thing for the child of her friend when, at the same time and with her knowledge as a Social Worker, she would have been fully aware that she was making an offer which would have the likely effect of creating a risk of harm to Child D.

In putting her representations to the Panel, Mrs Gray claimed that she felt “mortified” the next morning after having sent the message to Person A. The view of the Panel is that that position is not made out by the evidence. In a workplace interview with Mrs Gray, it is recorded that she indicated that she did not see that she had done anything wrong.

In an email to the Council dated 22 May 2017, Mrs Gray said that she could then clearly see that: “I became far too emotionally involved with my friend and her problems, this resulted in me acting in a manner which was out of character and has resulted in misconduct”. Mrs Gray went on in the email to say “I deeply regret my actions and completely understand the reason this investigation is necessary. I do not seek to blame anyone else or minimise the concerns raised”.

The Panel is satisfied that in acting as she did, Mrs Gray:

• created a risk of harm to children;
• created substantial damage to the reputation of social workers;
• breached one of the fundamental tenets of the profession, honesty, in putting the interests of her friend over the safety and welfare of vulnerable children.

The Panel is not satisfied that there is sufficient evidence of genuine and meaningful insight, remediation and remorse on the part of Mrs Gray. There is no documentary evidence on that point, for example a written reflection from her.
While this was a single event of misconduct, in the view of the Panel, this was extremely serious misconduct. Mrs Gray has not provided satisfactory evidence that she has remedied her past behaviour and the Panel has concluded that there remains a risk of repetition.

The Panel highlighted that this was a deliberate act of dishonesty which, as is recorded above, would be regarded by social workers and members of the public as deplorable, shocking and an abuse of her positions of power and trust.

The Panel has concluded that it is unlikely that Mrs Gray will develop proper insight and recognise the need for reflection and remediation. Accordingly, the Panel judged that the risk of repetition remained to such an extent that a striking off order is necessary, appropriate and amounts to a proportionate balance between the interests of the public and the interests of the Registrant.

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