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Case study 2
A social worker (‘the registrant’) was made the subject of a Conditions of Practice Order after a panel of the Conduct and Competence Committee found that comments she had posted on a social media site in relation to a case she was managing were unprofessional and put the confidentiality of service users at risk.
The factual basis of the allegation was found proven and the panel decided the registrant’s conduct amounted to misconduct and that her fitness to practise was impaired.
In reaching its decision on the facts, the panel took account of the documentary evidence and the oral evidence of two witnesses, the registrant’s manager and a member of the service user family involved.
At the misconduct stage the panel noted that the content of the registrant’s posts were disrespectful and demonstrated poor judgement on her part. It was of the view that a member of the public reading the comments posted by the registrant would be likely to develop a very negative view of the social work profession, especially given their disrespectful and insensitive tone. It also noted that the member of the service user family involved had said she had lost all confidence in social workers due to the registrant’s actions.
In reaching its decision that the registrant’s fitness to practise was impaired, the panel took account both personal factors (for example, the registrant’s current behaviour) and public factors (for example, maintaining public confidence in the profession).
In relation to personal factors, the panel, while noting the registrant’s misconduct was remediable, was not satisfied the registrant was fully remediated. In her evidence she had sought to lay blame on a lack of managerial support and to lessen the impact of the potential breach of confidentiality by suggesting that that there were a number of families in the area to whom the information would be applicable. Despite her assurances about future engagement with social media, the panel did not consider that she had demonstrated full insight into her sole responsibility for it.
In relation to public factors, the panel considered maintenance of public confidence in the profession, as well as the need to uphold standards of conduct and behaviour within the profession, would be undermined if a finding of impairment were not made in this case. The panel noted that the use of social media by professionals is commonplace. The ease and immediacy with which a person can communicate with large numbers of others means that great care needs to be taken by professionals to ensure that nothing is disseminated which might affect the public’s opinion of a particular profession or which has even the potential to breach confidentiality. In this case the registrant did both.
The panel concluded the appropriate sanction was a 12 month conditions of practice order as it would maintain public confidence in the profession and would have a deterrent to other social work professionals. However would allow the registrant to continue to work (as the evidence demonstrated she was still working safely and effectively as a social worker) while remediating the concerns of the panel.
At a review hearing just under one year later, the panel conducted a comprehensive appraisal of the registrant’s current abilities to establish whether she is now fit to return to unrestricted practice. The panel heard evidence from the registrant that on reflection she now fully appreciated the inappropriateness of her actions. It also considered evidence, documentary and from the registrant’s employer, that the registrant had complied with the conditions of practise of order. Taking this into account, the Panel was of the view the registrant had gained substantial and meaningful insight into her previous behaviour and that there was now little likelihood of repetition. Thereby addressing the previous panel’s main causes for concern. For these reasons, the panel was satisfied that in all the circumstances, the public interest would not be undermined by revoking the conditions of practice order. The order was therefore revoked and the registrant is now practising unrestricted.