The excellent Community Care reports today that a social worker has been struck off for faking a conversation with a vulnerable child, to complete her report. The social worker claims, in a statement for the hearing which resulted in her being struck off that she was unwell at the time, hugely overworked and under pressure to be “disingenuous”.
Disingenuous. It’s a strange choice of word, with several potential meanings. To make matters more confusing, the article doesn’t clarify whether the social worker felt the need to behave this way at work or in her private life. The wording of the article though tends to suggest that it refers to the former.
If we believe this social worker’s statement, what we are essentially faced with is a local authority, in this case Harrow, which is breaking the law and policy, to get through its case loads. In the finer detail, this social worker is suggesting that she had to make up a part of her report in order to satisfy a team manager, and that if she didn’t she was likely to lose her job. If that was indeed the case, having now lost her job as a result of her actions, it will be interesting to see if she now speaks out, now that she may have nothing to lose.
Regardless though of the underlying implications of cost, resources and conflicts of interest in the system, this decision is just the tip of the iceberg.
Many of us working on family law cases see fabrication of this kind on a daily basis. Fabrication in social work reports, though, is not as straightforward as it seems. This case is a clear cut example of obvious misconduct, but some misconduct is less easy to spot.
Sometimes, things get lost in translation and no matter how much a parent or child tries to clarify a misunderstanding, most of the time, the initial errors are left in the report. A combination of time, resources and pride play a large part in these errors being undone, but they can create potentially lasting and terribly damaging results.
On other occasions, a social worker may feel dislike or threatened by a parent and in turn, will try to punish the parent or protect themselves from potentially difficult situations, by simply shutting the case down with damning evidence, which does not exist. We see this happen, often.
And finally, there is the untrained social worker. The trainee, who means well, but is left unsupervised for the most part as mid level and senior level social workers try to cope with their own case loads. Their reports are often filled with irrelevant information, which in turn gets second guessed by other social workers at the eleventh hour, and causes huge distress and misunderstanding.
This case belies a much deeper problem, which needs to be addressed. Until the government understands we need less law and more on the ground change, these sorts of cases will be the norm, at the far end of the family justice spectrum. An almost forgotten corner, where terrible mistakes are left un-mended and families torn apart, forever.