Social worker suspended for making inappropriate comments to service user

HCPTS Panel suspends social worker who used threatening and inappropriate comments to a vulnerable child in care

Published on 16th April 2019

A social worker has been suspended from the Health and Care Professions Council register for making inappropriate and threatening comments to a vulnerable service user.

Ms Thelma Pitter hit her hands together and/or said on two occasions ‘do not f*** with me’, or words to that effect towards Service User A while she was working at a residential home for young people between 13 and 16 years old with emotional and behavioural difficulties.

Ms Pitter also hit her hands together and/or said, ‘you think I wouldn’t go and get my family’ and/or ‘my family will come down here,’ or words to that effect during the incident on 8 October 2017. Furthermore she said ‘They don’t realise that the threats she makes, I go back and relay that to my family, you need to know what my family will do’, or words to that effect.

Ms Pitter was employed as Senior Residential Support Worker at the home from 19 September 2017 to 18 October 2017. On 8 October 2017, she was involved in a verbal confrontation with Service User A, a young person at the home who made an audio recording of this verbal altercation and subsequently presented it to Ms Pitter's line manager.

The HCPC Tribunal Service Panel were told that Service User A was a vulnerable child from a difficult family background and was in local authority care. She was a resident in Home 1 which had clear policies as to how children in the home were to be supported. Staff had been told to avoid conflict and confrontation with her.

Ms Pitter's line manager gave evidence and told the Panel that staff members, including Ms Pitter, were fully advised about the three service users at the home and had access to their individual behavioural management plans. Each plan would detail the Service User’s likely triggers and behaviours and guide staff how to manage those.

Service User A’s plan was developed with her and it was noted in the plan that when she was distressed a normal or soft tone of voice was best, not raised voices. The line manager said that avoiding arguments with Service User A had been written into the plan and this had been discussed with Ms Pitter and other staff. A script was in place to avoid escalation.

This script would entail a small number of words which Service User A would be able to understand when angry. Staff should try and persuade Service User A to go with them somewhere else and to sit down and have a discussion.

The line manager added that at no time should Ms Pitter have spoken to Service User A in such a threatening way, as it may have been making the Service User A relive the abuse suffered in her life. It was not productive, particularly to a very vulnerable child in a home set up for her needs. Ms Pitter should have stayed calm and applied the behavioural management plan.

The witness told the Panel that Ms Pitter had not engaged with the employer’s subsequent investigation and had resigned with immediate effect. She did not attend for an interview about the incident and made no further contact with her employer. MF said that at the time Ms Pitter had not reported the incident to him, or discussed nor raised it in supervision three days later.

In response to questions posed by the Panel, the line manager spoke about Ms Pitter positively up until the alleged incident. He explained that she was not employed as a Social Worker but as a Senior Residential Support Worker. No social worker was employed there, but Ms Pitter told him that as a Social Worker she was experienced with young people. He considered that as a Social Worker she was well equipped to work at the home. She appeared confident in the role and he had been “really shocked” when he heard the recording as he did not expect her to behave in that manner.

The Panel has found that the language used by the Registrant was inappropriate and threatening and was directed at Service User A, a vulnerable child. It decided that this behaviour fell seriously short of what would be proper or expected of the profession. and as a result, the Panel determined that the facts found proved amount to misconduct.

The Panel found that the mitigating factors were that Ms Pitter had no previous fitness to practise history and this was an isolated incident. However, the aggravating features were that her behaviour was the direct contravention of the behaviour management plan designed to assist the Service User; the abuse of power in dealing with the Service User; the risk of harm to a vulnerable Service User and the lack of acknowledgement and insight by Ms Pitter.

The Panel considered a Conditions of Practice Order but agreed that the allegation found proved is serious. The Panel has no information before it as to Ms Pitter's current circumstances and she has not engaged with the HCPC. There is no evidence of the ability or willingness of Ms Pitter to comply with conditions and in these circumstances the Panel cannot formulate workable, realistic and proportionate conditions of practice. In addition, such an order would not protect the public interest in maintaining public confidence in the profession or the Regulator and upholding and declaring proper standards.

The Panel has found that Ms Pitter had behaved in an inappropriate and threatening manner towards a vulnerable Service User and has not remedied her misconduct. The Panel concluded that the behaviour could be remedied given it was an isolated incident with no evidence of persistent failings. In these circumstances, the Panel determined that a Suspension Order would be proportionate and would adequately protect the public and the wider public interest.

Concluding, the Panel said that a Reviewing Panel may be assisted by Ms Pitter's engagement, evidence of insight and remediation, details of her current circumstances and any relevant testimonials and references.


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