Having been very kindly alerted by one of our lovely readers to a Freedom Of Information request made in 2012 about false or misleading statements within social work reports in the UK,  we decided to do a very quick search to see what other requests in this area have been made, and there have been several.

The one that caught our eye though, is, arguably, the most recent FOI request on this topic, and features the now infamous Walsall Borough Council (those of us assisting families will be very familiar with this borough).

The request for information was made in 2014, and is entitled, “False statements or reports from social services (aka) SS”. The question is as follows:

18th August, 2014

Dear Walsall Metropolitan Borough Council,

We are compiling research taking into account ICO guidelines and
DPA and wish the following information regarding children’s social
services.

From research many parents have complained that reports compiled by
social services are “inaccurate”, “false” or “misleading”. It has
been reported by parents that these reports or statements are not
allowed to be amended,despite evidence of reports or statements
being incorrect, contra to ICO guidelines and the DPA.

It appears that the complaints process is not been adhered by the
LA across the UK and all that happens is social workers say “we
will hold your letter on file stating our records are inaccurate”

Should the matter go to court, it has been reported that the LA
provide courts with the inaccurate reports or statements but fail
to give the courts letters by parents to show records how and why
the reports are inaccurate.

We wish to know under the FOI for the last 24 months
We refer to any written paper work compiled by social services or
any person working on their behalf.

1) How many parents have in the last 24 month period have
complained that social workers reports or statements are
inaccurate, misleading or false or any words to the same effect.

2) How many times have social workers or managers refused to
correct reports or statements?

3)How many times have social workers or managers said they would
put letters on file proving reports are inaccurate?

4) How many of the said reports that are inaccurate, misleading or
false have been used in court?

5) We have been told that notes of inaccuracies are added to the LA
computer system. Should any notes of inaccurate, misleading or
false statements or reports be applied on the LA’s computer system
does these full notes of inaccuracies show up if any other
professional prints out or reads data. Do professionals show these
notes to courts that the reports that they are giving the courts
are proven to be inaccurate.

6. Are their any laws broken by making false reports and if so
what? How many social workers have been caught making false
reports?

Yours faithfully,

Mr k Hopkins

What is interesting about this question, and distinguishes it from the first we link to above, is that unlike the request made in 2012, this newer request actually receives a more substantial answer, which offers information about complaints. The response to the first request, which is made to Torfaen Council rather than Walsall Council, offers no data and says there have been no complaints, which many would find hard to believe today. Walsall Council though, are more upfront and offer the following response, albeit a very long overdue one (for which they apologise and take the trouble to reassure the author of the request that the delay was not by design, though they offer no explanation for it and also don’t offer the name of the person responding to the query).

Here is Walsall Council’s response:

26th November, 2014

Dear Mr Hopkins,

Further to your request for information about false statements or reports from social services, please accept my apologies for the lengthy delay you have experienced in being provided with a full answer to your questions.

I can however, now tell you the following details:

How many parents have in the last 24 month period have complained that social workers reports or statements are inaccurate, misleading or false or any words to the same effect.?

The Customer Care Team has advised that their records show there have been 33 cases of parents complaining of inaccurate, misleading or false statements in social care files. There may be more complaints, but if they have not been submitted through the formal complaint process, then this information is not captured centrally and not readily available. To find any further instances would require every social care case file to be reviewed manually. It is considered, that to provide any further detail would exceed the appropriate limit and is therefore exempt under section 12 of the FOI Act.

The FOI Act provides that in answering your request the Council can consider the ‘appropriate limit’. This part of the Act states that the Council can estimate the likely cost of complying with your request in order to decide whether it must reply. S.12 of the Act refers to the Fees Regulations which provide that where the Council estimates that the likely cost of responding to a request will exceed £450.00 there is no obligation to provide the information requested, free of charge.

In this case the amount of information held by the Council is extremely high and therefore I have estimated that to review all of the information held would clearly exceed the set limit. This is because as well as the large volume of social care records, it is not possible to easily identify specific concerns relating to accuracy of records within each case file as such issues may have been recorded in a number of forms within the records.

How many times have social workers or managers refused to correct reports or statements?

In total, out of the 33 reported cases of parents complaining about inaccuracies in social care files, the service area refused to amend 13 reports or statements. This documentation was not amended, as it was considered that they were accurate and contained no false information. As detailed above, this information has been provided by the Customer Care Team and relates to those complaints that have been made through the formal complaints process. There may be more instances, but if they have not been submitted through this process, then this information is not captured centrally and not readily available. To find any further instances would require every social care case file to be reviewed manually. It is considered, that to provide any further detail would exceed the appropriate limit and is therefore exempt under section 12 of the FOI Act.

3) How many times have social workers or managers said they would put letters on file proving reports are inaccurate?

This information is not held centrally and would require each social care case file to be reviewed manually. Therefore it is considered, that to provide any further detail would exceed the appropriate limit and is therefore exempt under section 12 of the FOI Act.

4) How many of the said reports that are inaccurate, misleading or false have been used in court?

Social Workers complete many different kinds of reports in connection with court proceedings. PARIS assessments and reports shared with families can be and are amended if inaccuracies are highlighted throughout any involvement with that family.

Once a report is submitted to a court, that document then belongs to the court. Any issues or disagreements with a report that emerges throughout the court process, can only be rectified through that process. All those that are party to the court proceedings have the right to highlight any inaccuracies directly or through legal representation.

To identify how many court reports were amended throughout court proceeding would exceed the appropriate time limit.  To find any such instances would require every social care case file to be reviewed manually. It is considered, that to provide any further detail would exceed the appropriate limit and is therefore exempt under section 12 of the FOI Act.

5) We have been told that notes of inaccuracies are added to the LA computer system. Should any notes of inaccurate, misleading or false statements or reports be applied on the LA’s computer system does these full notes of inaccuracies show up if any other professional prints out or reads data. Do professionals show these notes to courts that the reports that they are giving the courts are proven to be inaccurate.

When any new case notes are added to or amended on the PARIS system they are visible to all relevant social care staff. Amended notes or newly added notes are available to read and print to all relevant staff and therefore would be available, if required for any court proceedings.

6. Are there any laws broken by making false reports and if so what? How many social workers have been caught making false reports?

If a social worker intentionally provided false information in a report this would be viewed as a serious disciplinary matter and the appropriate council disciplinary procedures would be followed.

In addition any social worker found to be falsifying records would be in breach of the BASW Code of Ethics for Social Work, which could result in a referral to the Health Care Professions Council for further investigation.

This could result in a social worker not being able to continue to practice.

Most of the information that we provide in response to Freedom of Information Act 2000 and Environmental Information Regulations 2004 requests will be subject to copyright protection. In most cases the copyright will be owned by Walsall Council. The copyright in respect of other information may be owned by another person or organisation, as indicated.

You are free to use any information supplied to you in response to this request for your own non-commercial research or private study purposes. The information may also be used for any other purpose allowed by a limitation or exception in copyright law, such as news reporting. However, any other type of re-use, for example by publishing the information in analogue or digital form, including on the internet, will require the permission of the copyright owner.

I hope that the information provided is useful to you. However, if you are dissatisfied, you should set out in writing your grounds for complaint and send to: Information Risk & Governance Manager, Business Change, Civic Centre, Darwall Street, Walsall WS1 1TP.

If you are not content with the outcome of your complaint, you may apply directly to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) for a decision. Please remember that, generally, the ICO cannot make a decision unless you have first exhausted the complaints procedure provided by the council. The Information Commissioner can be contacted at: The Information Commissioner’s Office, Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire SK9 5AF.

Yours sincerely
Information Rights Officer

Program Delivery & Governance
Business Change

The response above highlights several issues in this area. One, is that there is clearly very little effort at documenting what most people would consider to be important information which goes to the heart of child protection and good service provision generally and whilst we appreciate it takes time to log details and make sure files are accurate, and the current climate makes it harder for social workers and other professionals to devote more time to admin, good computer software in the form of a digital filing system should sort that out fairly quickly. Another concern is that false reporting, dishonesty and lying are only dealt with under non legal regulations in the form of ethics guidelines, which isn’t good enough. It may be that legislation should be put in place to change the culture inside the system and send out the message that intentionally falsifying records is a very serious matter and will not be tolerated.

Another important observation to make in relation to these kinds of queries are the significant numbers of complaints about poor reporting which would be made if it weren’t for the fact that families are terrified of raising concerns about inaccuracies within reports. A defensive culture which rails against parents’ concerns and questions makes it impossible for families to enter into any kind of constructive dialogue with the very people who are supposed to be supporting them and finding solutions to often very difficult problems. In reality, the number of complaints about social work reports will be much higher than the actual number recorded – we often advise parents not to complain to local authorities during the life of their cases because we know it will almost always result in families suffering prejudicial outcomes, and we know many lay advisers who do the same.

Dishonest reporting is a fascinating area, which we would love to write a research paper on.

What are your thoughts on dishonest social work reports?

A very big thank you to Dana for alerting us to the Torfaen Council FOI request.

Walsall FOI

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