Social worker struck off for inappropriate contact with former service user

HCPTS strikes off social worker who had inappropriate contact with a service user on social media

Published on 11th February 2019

A social worker who engaged in inappropriate contact with a former service user over Facebook messenger has been struck off the social work register.

Mr Martin Douglas Weinbren told Person A she was "a stunner", "a real sweetie" and asked her several times to meet up for food and drink.

Person A had initiated contact with Mr Weinbren in 2012, saying she had concerns about the accuracy of her social work records and asked Mr Weinbren if she could ask him some questions, off the record. Mr Weinbren had been Person A's social worker for approximately four years from February 1980, at which time Person A was aged between 11 and 15 years old.

However, between October 2013 and May 2017, it was aleged that Mr Weinbren had repeated and inappropriate contact with Person A by way of Facebook Messenger and/or email.

Mr Weinbren admitted sending relevant communications but denied that those communications were inappropriate on the basis that they had been taken out of context, and that he was merely responding to correspondence from Person A. It was his case that he did not appreciate that Person A was vulnerable or had mental health issues.

He stated that he had no intention to hurt or upset Person A and apart from his emails sent on 2 and 10 July 2016 to Person A regarding having had a sexual relationship with her mother, he denied that his communications were inappropriate. He had simply been naïve, polite and responsive and that it was “just chat”.

The Panel felt that Mr Weinbren's explanations were, on occasions, implausible, and inconsistent with the documentary evidence before the Panel and his evidence lacked credibility in a number of areas.

Firstly, he stated that he was not aware that Person A was vulnerable. However, he was an experienced social worker who recalled that Person A was a “wild” and abusive child, who had been parented without effective boundaries and her case had been memorable. Given this background and her presentation in some of her messages, it is not credible that Mr Weinbren was not alerted to her potential vulnerability, the HCPTS Panel said.

Secondly, he stated that he was uncomfortable with some of Person A’s communications, that he did not use endearing or flirtatious language towards her. Yet he repeatedly made reference to meeting Person A for a meal or a drink and made flattering comments about her including that she was "such a lovely woman," "a real sweetie", and “for what it’s worth, I think fondly of you”.

In further communication on 2 May 2015, he wrote that Person A was “you know you’re welcome any time with or without Seb for as long as you like I’d pick you up from the station and give you a lovely bedroom”.

Furthermore, Mr Weinbren sent conflicting messages to Person A: his emails of 2 and 10 July 2016 indicating that he had had a sexual relationship with Person A’s mother, but denying the same in his email of 11 July 2016. The Panel considered that one of those communications must therefore have been untrue, which undermined his credibility.

The Panel noted that Mr Weinbren accepted that his emails of 2 and 10 July 2016 were inappropriate. Given the background to the relationship between him and Person A, with Mr Weinbrenstating that he had a sexual relationship with her mother, the Panel had no difficulty in concluding that such emails were inappropriate.

It also noted that Mr Weinbren sent Person A a large number of personal messages, repeatedly discussing meeting for food or drink and the possibility of staying at his address. A number of messages were over familiar and flirtatious, the Panel found. Given his position as Person A’s former social worker, whilst she was a child, and given her vulnerability, the Panel considered that there was a significant imbalance of power and therefore such communication was wholly inappropriate.

The Panel found the allegations proved and that his behaviour amounted to misconduct.

Whilst the Panel considered that there was no evidence of any concerns with Mr Weinbren's clinical practice, it was mindful of the effect of his actions on a former service user.

The Panel said that Mr Weinbren had not demonstrated meaningful insight into his behaviour, other than to state that in future, he would not communicate with ex-service users through social media. Whilst the Panel considered that his failings were capable of remediation, given his lack of insight and remediation, there remained a high risk of his inappropriate behaviour being repeated in similar circumstances.

Mr Weinbren has had a lengthy and unblemished career and stated that he “deeply regretted” his actions. But the Panel felt this expression of insight had come late in the day, and was not in keeping with his position throughout the hearing.

The Panel highlighted that Mr Weinbren had stated his intention not to return to social work as he had retired from the profession, but felt this was irrelevant to the Panel’s findings. The issue for the Panel to determine was whether his current fitness to practise is impaired, not whether he had any intention to return to practice.

The Panel having found no significant evidence of remediation and that Mr Weinbren had very limited insight, and concluded that in light of those findings, there is little, if anything, to suggest that he is able to resolve or remedy his failings. The Panel was also mindful that sanction is primarily about public safety, that the public interest is important and that suspension is not an appropriate sanction merely to allow a Registrant more time to develop insight.

Given the lack of insight, the Panel concluded that there was no other way to protect the public or the public interest, any sanction less than striking off would not be appropriate.

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