Social worker embroiled in murder case has suspension overturned

A social worker who was suspended by the General Social Care Council for failing to report concerns that a child who was later murdered had been locked in a cupboard has won an appeal against the decision.

Judyth Kenworthy was banned from practising for two years in January after a conduct committee decided she had not passed on information that two-year-old Sanam Navsarka had been locked in a cupboard as punishment by her mother’s boyfriend.

The girl died a week later on 8 May 2008. In February 2009 her mother’s boyfriend Subhan Amwar was sentenced to 23 years for her murder and her mother Zahbeena Navsarka to nine years for manslaughter.

But a Care Standards Tribunal (CST) said the allegation, which was denied by Ms Kenworthy at her conduct hearing, was unproven. In its ruling the CST recounted how the original conduct committee had described the witnesses to the alleged event, a woman who provided supportive lodgings for children in care and her grandson, as ‘honest and trustworthy’.

‘Yet they strikingly and frequently said they couldn’t remember, contradicted themselves and said things slightly different,’ the CST stated.

Ms Kenworthy, a family placement officer with Kirklees Council’s Leaving Care Team, said the female witness, known as JP, had told her the toddler had a bump on her head at the end of a meeting about another young person, which had seemed “incidental,” and she believed if JP had real concerns she would have contacted social services earlier.

She went on to outline how she had not been told about the cupboard incident until after the child was killed.

The CST’s judgement said Ms Kenworthy, who has worked as a social worker for more than 18 years and has an unblemished record, made a ‘genuine error’ in failing to report the suspected non-accidental injury.

But it decided she had not been told about the cupboard incident and the decision to suspend her had been ‘harsh and disproportionate’. Instead it has recommended that she receives an admonishment, allowing her to return to work.

The head of BASW’s Advice & Representation Service Marcia Lawrence-Russell described the CST decision as “a well-balanced judgment”. She added: “It is about time those making judgments on the performance of social workers are able to consider all the facts and not use frontline practitioners doing challenging jobs as scapegoats for failings which are not always related to their involvement in a case.

“For social workers the lessons are equally clear, however, in that this case illustrates all too well the need for care council registrants to ensure they have the best level of representation available and to prepare as thoroughly as possible to ensure cases are headed off before they reach the Care Standards Tribunal.”

The CST ruling added that Ms Kenworthy had not sought to blame her lack of experience in child protection and had shown both insight into her failings and regret at what had happened.

Tribunal judge Melanie Lewis said in her ruling: “This is a good social worker who has made an error of judgement. She was criticised by her colleagues during the disciplinary process but they have now all sought to support her.”

Separately, BASW’s Ms Lawrence-Russell warned against the potential impact of the shift from the General Social Care Council to the Health Professions Council (HPC) in April 2012. The HPC appeals process involves cases being heard in the High Court, rather than the CST, prompting BASW to raise concerns with the HPC that social workers appealing conduct decisions will face greater complexity than at present. BASW is continuing to discuss the matter with the HPC.