CommunityCare in the UK has reported that two social workers have been sanctioned as a result of their work in a case known as Child F.
Barry Smith was suspended from the social care register for two months and Marilyn Tweedale received a three-year admonishment, following two conduct hearings held last week.
The serious case review found that there were practice errors. The East Riding Safeguarding Children's Board notes that the "Agencies did not coordinate and manage the risk that Adam Hewitt was known to pose to children and information passed to the police from Children's Social Care should have led to the police reopening the case against Hewitt following earlier allegations." The social workers were sanctioned were noted to have failed to properly assess the risk associated with the case.
As we have seen in many cases, there was a lack of coordination of information between agencies that hampered effective decision making. The Serious Case Review states: “No agency thought to take stock and initiate a process that would have brought all the information about Male 1 into a single arena from which a plan should have merged, to assess and manage the risk he presented to children. “
The SCR also notes a flawed initial assessment that meant that Mr. Hewitt was able to continue access to the child. This raises one of the fundamental issues in case management. What we initially see in a case tends to lead to the unfolding of a case plan. If the social worker becomes attached to that case plan, then the case direction does not get the ongoing re-assessment that is often needed. We never know everything in a case and often lack quite substantive information. This means that we should be open to reconsidering case plans on an ongoing basis.
Very telling about the environment in which the case occurs, are these comments from the SCR: the social worker involved felt overwhelmed by complex cases and had little opportunity for reflection and planning. This goes some way towards explaining how on one hand the social worker understood the risk factors as evidenced in the case closure letter sent to Ms A, but also failed to consider successfully the risk factors in a comprehensive recorded account. The social worker clearly required direction and support which managers failed to make available. It is also noteworthy that the social worker felt “too junior” to challenge the direction offered by managers. Lord Laming in his 2009 recommendations identifies the need for “respectful challenge” for childcare professionals.”
If a social worker is not in a position to challenge issues within a case, not able to ensure that case consultations are occurring, and have time to consider what is going on in a case, then poor case management occurs. In addition, cases are often very complex and it is unwise to expect that one case worker is going to be able to determine the best course of action. Supervision is crucial.
In what might be a self serving view, the SCR notes comments from the mother. “The mother of Child F states that the message from the assessing Social Worker did not convey the clarity that was necessary regarding the level of risk posed by Male 1. Her view is that she was told he possibly posed a risk but other men were also named as possible perpetrators in the earlier allegations. The mother considers that had she been given clear information that he was believed to be the perpetrator of the injuries, she would have terminated the relationship.” However, these comments do raise an important issue that social workers need to attend to – being very clear with clients. When there are risk factors that a client must attend to, the social worker should not be couching language in ways that can lead to an ambiguous understanding.
Social workers also need to be ready to state that risk exists and to take the steps needed to protect a child. That may anger people which makes them harder to work with. Such is the nature of our work.