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Social Worker, Facebook, Blurred Boundries..

Social workers have been warned about using Facebook messenger to communicate with service users, in a conduct case that led to a practitioner being suspended for 12 months.

A conduct committee panel found that the children’s social worker should have known it was inappropriate to use the messaging service to communicate with one of her service users, now 17. This was one of three matters that were found to constitute misconduct and led to the social worker’s suspension.

The social worker also brought the service user to her home on three occasions but later phoned the young person to ask her to say she’d only visited once after the local authority launched an internal investigation into misconduct allegations, the panel heard.

The panel found this was dishonest and the social worker’s attempt to get the service user to lie in order to protect her interests was a “serious breach of trust” in their relationship that reflected an “oppressive” power dynamic.

The panel heard that the social worker had been in regular contact with the service user via social media.

In its evidence, the HCPC said the use of Facebook messages to contact the service user was “entirely outwith” the monitoring or control of the local authority and there was no audit trail by their nature. The social worker sent several messages late at night and some included “inappropriate content”, including an attempt to sell a used iPhone to the service user, it added.

The social worker initially denied the Facebook communications. She later acknowledged them but said she was unaware she should not have been communicating with the service user in this way.

The social worker said she was not ‘friends’ with the service user on Facebook. She said the messages had been taken out of context and although some were sent outside of working hours, all the conversations were also discussed face to face with the service user and other professionals.

In her written evidence submitted to the panel, the social worker said she was “extremely sorry” for her actions and regretted talking to the service user on Facebook and bringing her home.

“I do not use the lack of supervision or the staff absence as an excuse, though I do believe they play a part in my lack of judgment. It felt very chaotic unsafe and unmanageable in the team,” she said.

The panel accepted there were issues in respect of inadequate supervision and staff shortages at the time of the events. It said there was also evidence of at least one other incident in the past of a social worker taking a young person to their home, although not inside their house, and of other social workers breaching the social media policy in respect of communicating with service user through social media. These had led to management instructions being issued reminding the team to follow policy.

Having considered these factors, the panel concluded that the social worker’s practice was still impaired.

On the issue of the social worker’s social media use, it said: “In respect of the Facebook communications the panel is entirely satisfied that the registrant, as a highly experienced and senior social worker, should have been aware of the inappropriateness of using this form of communication.

“The council was unaware of the communications taking place, therefore raising obvious risks due to it not being recorded in the case records. The timing of the communications was often unacceptable being late at night and some of the content, for example where the Registrant seems to attempt to sell a used mobile phone to Service User A, inappropriate.”

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