By James Simons-
A children’s social worker has been dramatically struck off from the register after offering to provide a positive character reference for a father she knew was misusing alcohol and drugs.
Ms Laura Gray, an experienced practitioner , also offered to destroy evidence of the father’s substance abuse in exchange for an agreement in court to return care of one of his daughters to her mother, who was her personal friend. The foolish woman expressed her misconduct in writing to the person in question: ” I will destroy all the evidence from social networking sites she has to discredit you and your older sibling”.
When hauled before the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) tribunal, Ms Gray claimed to have been under the influence of alcohol at the time she sent the prohibited and unprofessional message.
However, the investigating Panel rejected her claim of being ”under the influence of alcohol” as a mitigating factor, insisting rather that her message was well-constructed, thought-out and coherent. The panel concluded that her lengthy message ”demonstrated a complex and premeditated thought process”.
Acting on behalf of the HCMC panel, Ms Shameli referred the panel to the Indicative Sanctions Policy which specifies that striking off is ”a sanction of last resort for serious, deliberate or reckless acts involving abuse of trust such as sexual abuse, dishonesty or persistent failure”. It states that ”striking off should be used where there is no other way to protect the public, for example, where there is a lack of insight, continuing problems or denial. A registrant’s inability or unwillingness to resolve matters will suggest that a lower sanction may not be appropriate”, Shameli told the panel.
The HCPC heard evidence from the Family Court Adviser – Children’s Guardian employed by CAFCASS, and the Head of Service for Safeguarding employed by the Council. Ms Gray’s actions were described as “deplorable, shocking and an abuse of her positions of power and trust”.
“The misconduct of the social worker was of a serious nature and amounted to a perverse disregard of one of the fundamental obligations of a social worker, which is to prevent or minimize the risk of harm to children,” the panel said. A previously unblemished 11-year record was brushed aside by the panel concluded it had no option but to strike off the social worker, whom it found had shown only limited insight into her actions.
The social worker, who had previously worked as a Cafcass family court adviser, was employed via an agency at Solihull council at the time of the incident, which took place on an unspecified date in autumn 2016. She was accused of involving herself in a court case concerning the daughter (Child C) of her friend, whose name cannot be revealed for legal reasons. The father of the child was a party to the court case and, at that time, had physical care of the child in question
On the evening before the court hearing, the social worker sent a “lengthy message” to the individual at the centre of the case by social media in which she made reference to the impending court hearing concerning Child C and other care proceedings relating to another one of his children .
Within the message, the social worker referred to allegations about the first Person, which included substance misuse by both him and other children of his. If Person A agreed (at the hearing) to return Child C to the care of Person B, she said, she would destroy evidence of substance abuse.
The social worker also said she would provide him with “a very positive character reference” that he could use to support his case to care for his other daughter.
In her message, the social worker said:
“As you know I am a social worker and I am very experienced in care proceedings… My professional view… is that you have a better chance of getting your daughter out of foster care into your full-time care if you have no other small children in your care all the time.”
In relation to the offer of a positive character reference, the social worker told him, “This will look good as I am a professional person who can comment on your parenting capacity in the court.”
ABUSE OF STATUS
The social worker did not attend the hearing but took part via a telephone link. She said in her representations she “felt mortified” soon after having sent the message and claimed she had composed it under the influence of alcohol. However, there had been no mention of her feeling mortified before her case was referred for investigation.
In concluding that Ms Gray’s actions constituted dishonesty, the panel noted the social worker had met the Person eight times and had heard and seen evidence of him misusing alcohol and drugs. She submitted that there was a proper basis within the evidence for a finding of dishonesty. The evidence proved the Registrant had only limited knowledge of the person, and the knowledge she did have indicated a number of negative features regarding the individual’s suitability to care for children.
Despite her knowledge, the Registrant offered to provide a very positive character reference in the face of the negative features clearly reported to her. The actions made by the social worker-Ms Laura Gray suggested that it involved misleading a court and giving information to a court she knew was not correct.
Her offer to conceal relevant information from a local authority and future court proceedings was also identified by the panel, which said she was aware “placed the children at risk of harm”. The fact the Registrant had placed young children at risk of harm and she had placed her friend’s wishes above the well-being of the relevant children.
The panels’ conclusion was that there was little reliable insight or remediation and it was submitted that the fitness to practice of the Registrant was currently impaired.