Community Care report on the case of Lynda Barnes, a social work team manager in a child protection team with Bath and North East Somerset Council who was involved in a case involving care proceedings last year. Not necessarily unusual so far.
She was found to have been lying under oath, fabricating evidence and asking a more junior social worker to lie in court and another social worker gave evidence stating that
people were “frightened” of Barnes, describing her as a “force to be reckoned with”
If staff did not agree with Barnes, they were told “life could be made very difficult,” she said. B also gave a number of instances where Barnes had lied to others.
All fairly conclusive in the quite appropriate censure. However the father of one of the children involved in the care proceedings, asked to see a copy of Barnes’ CRB (Criminal Record Bureau check) when it was revealed that she had a conviction for ‘conspiracy to murder’.
Allan Norman, a solicitor and social worker, writes in his blog at Community Care, that he feels it is right that the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act is interpreted in a way such that those who have served their sentences are able to move on and gain that rehabilitation in society.
While seeing his point that
Instead of being convinced, as we social workers should be, of the capacity of all people to change, and that a criminal conviction should not be a life sentence, I fear we are moving towards precisely that: a label is the end of a career.
I am not wholly convinced by the argument although I know I should be. I want to be but it doesn’t sit right in my gut, I suppose. I think it is the gravity of the offence as much as anything.
I am more than happy to work alongside those who have spent convictions and have done, however I had always thought that any conviction for a violent offence would automatically bar me from practising (as opposed to a fraud or non-payment of tax type conviction).
Norman’s argument that such a conviction should not automatically disbar Barnes from registration as a social worker sits a little uncomfortably with me. Possibly due to the GSCC’s lack of action but I think back that it is because of the nature of the conviction. Perhaps that makes me over judgemental. I suspect it does so will be pondering more on that over the next few days I imagine.
The GSCC confirm that
a criminal conviction was not a bar to registration.
And I absolutely support that without any question but I do think the nature of the conviction should be taken into account. Particularly, as The Independent notes, things may not have been as straightforward as they were presented
Mrs Barnes had disclosed her conviction to the council when she was first employed and despite this had successfully registered with the General Social Care Council in January 2006.
The council and the GSCC simply believed Mrs Barnes’ version of events of the crime, which Judge Paul Barclay said was a “highly sanitised version of events in which her role is minimised compared to what is revealed in the Crown Court papers”.
So perhaps the issue isn’t the spent conviction but more the lack of ‘checking process’ by the GSCC and the employing council who would have both had access to her CRB. I understand the GSCC did refer this case to a ‘committee’ and that, again, according to the Independent
the committee “considered the length of time since the offence, the sanction given by the court, the context behind the offence, that she had been working in child protection for six years prior to registration, had positive references and that her employer at the time endorsed the application and were aware of her conviction and she had been working for them before registration came into force.”
So while now, the employing council can say that
The council admitted it was a mistake to employ Mrs Barnes.
They were still happy to furnish a glowing reference to the GSCC – seemingly, according to the judge anyway, with knowledge of the ‘sanitised version of events’ which was supplied to them and taken on trust.
While I can understand that a spent conviction should not be a bar to a career for the rest of ones life, it should, at the very least and with such a serious offence, at least necessitate further investigate into the backgrounds by the GSCC and the employing council – after all, isn’t that what CRBs are for?
Regardless, she has, without doubt, brought the name of the profession into disrepute by her actions. As if it was needed.
Just a quick post which I hope will be of use to some. I listen to the Moneybox and Moneybox Live podcasts and yesterday, I heard the edition from Wednesday of Moneybox Live which was about funding long term care.
There were a few discussions (it has the format of a phone-in) about differing issues and certainly clarified some points for me and can be downloaded here.
Incidentally, although it is often not in the slightest bit related to my work, it is a well-constructed and more-interesting-that-it-sounds podcast that I’d recommend more generally.
Community Care reports this week on a comment made by Julie Jones, the Chief Executive of SCIE (Social Care Institute of Excellence) compelling social workers to ‘speak up and speak out’ in order to put across their positive messages to counter some of the negativity that the mainstream media and general public seem to hold in regard to the profession.
My general argument (and not just mine) has been that our employers would not welcome direct contact with the press – indeed – we have been instructed to push any media contact request via our press office. This was instilled in us during our initial inductions in the authority and it is hard to shake free from that mindset.
SCIE is positioning itself to be the ‘first point of call for the media’ seeking news stories and sources relating to social work and social care and as such, they are establishing an online TV station particularly devoted to Social Work and Social Care stories. It’s an interesting and potentially useful initiative to use different sources of media to promote positive news as well as training initiatives for the sector.
Conversely though, I can’t help but be marginally concerned by the ‘outing’ of Night Jack – an esteemed anonymous police blogger – whose anonymity was blasted by The Times after a court ruling that the injunction the blogger had taken against the Times revealing his identity could not stand as the judge said
“I do not accept that it is part of the court’s function to protect police officers who are, or think they may be, acting in breach of police disciplinary regulations from coming to the attention of their superiors,” Eady added.
The implications for anonymous bloggers is obvious – there is no protection in the law. It has served as a short, sharp shock for me anyway.
Nightjack closed his blog, deleted it and has, indeed, been disciplined by his employers.
I try to vary my content between the general and the specific but have no doubt that were someone who works directly with me to come across this site, they would, quite quickly be able to ascertain my identity. I am not as careful as I could be.
For me though, it has provided a wonderful way to bypass the ‘press office’ of the local authority and to speak about the work I do and how I do it in a more direct manner. I hope to provide some insight into social workers who do not necessarily meet the media stereotype. I would argue that writing has improved my practice, knowledge base and effectiveness as certainly, the scope for reflection, thought and comment has increased.
I am torn between being more careful, being less careful and just packing in altogether. I doubt the ‘packing in altogether’ option would be viable. I am now accustomed to writing, indeed, I missed it when I was on holiday – but to use a tired old cliche, it is food for thought.
I think there is a place for anonymous blogging – and although I have to say, I never expected there to be much protection as anonymity is and can be very fragile, the Nightjack lesson shown to prove how much more careful it is necessary to be.
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- Working the Media (fightingmonsters.wordpress.com)
My brain is slowly chugging back into something akin to functioning mode – after just a few days away it is always surprising how quickly it is possible to switch off.
Fortunately (or not, as the case may be) I don’t have much of an opportunity to stand still as my working week starts with a 9am Mental Health Act Assessment which was set up for my return.
So I’m charging my work phone in order to check the messages so that I’ll know if I’m still needed.
In the meantime there seem to be a gaggle of stories worthy of comment of which I can only touch on a couple which link in a way to depression, work and stigma.
A report in The Independent yesterday notes that
The blight of depression affecting hundreds of thousands of people across Britain is costing the nation’s ailing economy £8.6bn a year, £3bn more than a decade ago
Of course, there is no doubt about the debilitating nature of depression but I was curious as to why the costs relating to depression should have increased so sharply.
The research quoted by the Independent, allays this figure not to increased costs for treatment of depression through the price of medication or treatment on in-patient wards but rather the cost of lost labour due to the difficulty of managing return to work although all those factors would contribute to an increased national cost.
The ‘New Horizons’ strategy which is due to be published later in the year is said to have a stronger focus on ‘public mental health’ and broader preventative measures and until anything is published it is hard to comment or critique any potential plans.
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Interestingly though, Margaret Wallace, the Chief Executive of SANE is quoted as saying
There has been continued loss of psychiatric beds for inpatient care, the closure of day centres and impoverishment of occupational therapies. While the Government is planning to increase the availability of cognitive behavioural therapy for those with mild to moderate depression, we are aware from the many thousands of people who contact Sane that there will continue to be many with complex diagnoses who may not be included in such programmes, and who continue to struggle without the necessary psychological support
It’s an interesting and useful insight into the measures that have been promoted by the government towards shifting money to more CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and preventative work at the milder end of the ‘depression’ scale – but the gap remains with those who are suffering more acutely.
The trouble is that working in the secondary health care services, it’s always difficult to know about the people who you don’t see or know about – although there is no doubt that between mild and severe, is a large group of people who may be unable to work but not able to access sufficient support.
It leads me on to another story that had been rumbling in the background relating to Christine Laird – the Chief Executive of Cheltenham Borough Council – who, in the words of The Guardian, was taken to court by the council that
claimed Christine Laird fraudulently or negligently withheld details of a history of depressive illness when she became its managing director.
To sum up, Laird was employed in 2002, underwent significant stress at work including allegations of poor treatment at the hands of some in the and left in 2005 requiring a period of treatment at a psychiatric hospital.
The key to the case revolved around a medical questionnaire that Laird had completed when she applied for the job in the first place.
To the question: "Do you normally enjoy good health?" she replied "Yes". To: "Do you have a mental impairment?" she replied "No".
The court was told Laird suffered "three episodes of depression with associated anxiety" between 1997 and 2001. But she saw it as "stress-related illness and not depression" linked to "non-specific, non-recurrent events".
I wonder how much work-related stress and depression are linked to be honest. I know a few people personally who have what I would consider to have suffered from bouts of depression but have insisted that it is recorded as work-related stress on any documentation for work purposes. I suppose the hope that the stigma related to ‘depression’ is still too high but this case doesn’t really help matters.
The Court highlighted the ridiculous nature of those specific questions – ‘normally enjoying good health’ can be interpreted so broadly as to be largely insignificant. It is also a completely value-based judgement. As for asking about a mental impairment – again, is it asking for a legal definition in accordance with Section One of the Mental Health Act (1983 as amended 2007) or is it asking for an ‘average man on the street’ definition which would probably stigmatise ‘mental impairment’ to a much higher degree.
Laird won her case but was instructed to pay partial costs amounting to £190, 000 but leaving the council with a bill for £1.6 million.
Of course, it is always important to be truthful on medical questionnaires but it is possible to see where the discrimination can fall.
It is hard enough for work to be found at times without giving employers more reasons to refuse to employ someone with a history of mental ill-health. The questions were poorly structured and perhaps a more straightforward way of asking where no doubt could have incurred should be and probably is now, written into the application forms but I wonder how much influence they would have on the appointment of a perfect potential employee who has, in the past, suffered from a depressive episode.
Quite rightly, campaigning groups have welcomed the court ruling against Cheltenham Borough Council but I wonder how many councils will be more wary to employ someone with a similar background in the future – maybe reports from medical professionals will be relied on more strongly in these circumstances and a type of ‘well note’ will emerge where it is possible to explain what can be done rather than where problems lie although to be honest, that is a little fanciful.
Would an employer make this effort for a potential employee when there is another potential employee without a similar medical history? Realistically it is unlikely and that is a cause for sadness.
The ease at glossing over any past problems can be all too tempting in a culture that judges health and competence so narrowly.
I was interested to read about this case in Reading last week, where the local authority was challenged regarding a decision not to support a disabled woman who is HIV+ according to the Fair Access to Care Criteria which would indicate that although she had irrefutable ‘needs’ – they were not at a substantial level which qualified for assistance under the National Assistance Act (1947). As the article goes on to say, she lost her bid because, according to the judge
She is not so badly off that she is entitled to be “looked after” at public expense.
In some ways, I’m surprised there are not more of these types of cases. I was involved in a situation with threatened litigation a few years ago myself. The question in that case as with this lay on the levels of needs and what the council was obliged to provide.
There is a story that has done the round in both the local authorities I worked in about a poor Care Manager who wrote up a care plan saying a person needed to live in better accommodation and then this was challenged in court and the council were obliged to provide new accommodation for the person in question. I have no idea if this story is true but it was used as a word of caution by older, more experienced social workers to younger colleagues to be careful about wording and writing what you are recommending as opposed to what you being is absolutely essential!
Although there is no doubt in my mind that we (and by that I am referring to those working in Adult Social Care) would love to provide all the necessary services to all the people who might benefit even in the slightest, the resources just do not exist.
This is where you see the social worker as gatekeeper role which was envisaged in the NHS and Community Care Act. It is an adjustment of the mind to move from the promotion and advocacy role that is presented in training to the gatekeeper role and keeper of resources that has morphed into care management in some senses. Of course decisions about funding rarely lie with social workers and are taken way up the management line, it is still a mindset that is encouraged when assessing – what is this person entitled to? What criteria do they meet? Rather than what could possibly be provided to add quality to their lives.
I remain a bit of a fanciful dreamer, even after almost 10 years of practice and I know money and resources are limited so we cannot possibly give everyone what they want but there has to be a balance somewhere.
My only hope is that the personalisation agenda will move things on somewhat and that individualised budgets will prove to be as wonderful as the literature makes them sound.