Yet another social worker has been exposed for making up evidence in a child protection case, which could have resulted in the mother losing her child to the care system.
Linda Fraser, who works for Bristol city council as a senior social worker, edited child protection records in order to persuade the judge to place the child in care. Ms Fraser then lied to the court about having done so.
District judge Julie Exton found that Ms Fraser had added new information to case notes in order to bolster evidence against the mother. Ms Fraser then tried to suggest she was suffering from poor mental health and stress at the time and could not remember altering the records. The appeal court wasn’t buying it, and details of her conduct were sent to the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), who then summoned Fraser before a disciplinary panel.
During the HCPC hearing, Ms Fraser denied several counts of misconduct, including suggesting to a court that it was the children’s social worker who had made the edits.
For reasons which remain unclear, the HCPC allowed Ms Fraser to give her evidence in private, using a measure usually reserved for vulnerable witnesses.
Ms Fraser also asked that live tweeting at the hearing be stopped, however upon the HCPC panel receiving legal advice on the matter, the panel refused her request.
Ms Fraser remains in Bristol council’s employment as a senior social worker.
The fabrication of evidence inside the Family Courts has become an epidemic. Google “social worker fabricated evidence“, and page upon page of reported cases come up. And those are just the publicly available ones. There is also an alarming number of Freedom Of Information requests investigating the issue.
The case above throws up the important, though admittedly unsexy, question of whether edits of child protection files should be formally tracked, with names and dates of parties making the changes all recorded. It is something Researching Reform addressed at the beginning of this year, when a similar case was made public. With the right software, and a good document production policy in place, this could be easily achieved, at minimal cost. This was what we proposed in January:
What a document production policy might look like –
- Child welfare professionals must produce documents in line with best practice guidelines whilst adhering to law and local authority policy
- Where the author of a document makes edits during its production, those edits must be tracked using standard tracking software on Word or Pages files.
- Where the author of a document or report wishes to make edits after producing the document, he or she must file a form with the local authority, preferably through an online database, which is numbered and accessible to all parties to a case entitled to see this document.
- Edits would then be added using the standard tracking software available with online text files so changes would also be visible.
- If evidence is required to confirm the authenticity of any amendments outlining facts which are not immediately obvious, this must also be submitted with the form
- The form must then be reviewed by a team manager or judge, depending on the circumstances and the nature of the edits. The reviewing party may also request further evidence or information before approving the edit/s
- If the edits are approved, this must be evidenced on the form, so that a timeline of actions is recorded, preferably through an online system which logs and saves all data for every case, including who approved the edits
- If the edits are not approved, reasons on the form must be given as to why
- Where a professional who has not produced the document which is submitted for editing wishes to make an edit, that professional must also seek permission to edit that document via a form, as above.
- All edits to a document must be tracked on the file itself, and shown to the relevant parties including individuals to whom the edits refer, so that they may raise any objections within a prescribed time frame
- Families who want to address factual errors within such documents, whether they are found in the edits or the original draft of the document, should also be able to do so via a form, with appropriate evidence where required
- Anyone found to have altered a document without permission should face being struck off and/or subject to criminal sanctions.
There may be a simpler way of doing this. Then again, the above process may just deter people from engaging in unethical behaviour in the first place.
Many thanks to Sabine for alerting us to this case.