Carer struck off for abusing non-verbal service users with autism

Leeann Henderson’s behaviour was branded an 'abuse of trust' by the Scottish Social Services Council.

Carer struck off for abusing non-verbal service users with autism iStock
Struck off: Leeann Henderson’s behaviour was branded an 'abuse of trust' by the Scottish Social Services Council.

A support worker has been struck off for verbally abusing two service users with autism, telling one he didn’t have any friends.

Leeann Henderson’s behaviour was branded an “abuse of trust” by the Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC), who said that she was verbally abusive towards the non-verbal service users “in the knowledge that they would be unable to report” it to anyone.

The incidents occurred while Henderson was working at Autism Initiatives in Livingston, West Lothian.

When one of the service users approached for assistance, Henderson shouted words along the lines of: “Do I look like a f*****g jack in the box to you?”

She then slammed the door behind the service user as he left the room.

Henderson also shouted and swore at other drivers while behind the wheel of the service user’s car.

On one occasion, while the service user was in the passenger seat, Henderson was reportedly challenged by another driver who got out of their vehicle.

Henderson was said to have responded by calling the other driver a “f*****g p***k” or “ginger p***k”, or words to that effect.

Henderson was also rapped for allowing the service user to drink juice from a bottle immediately after she drank from it, and for taking him to her house while on shift on more than one occasion.

The SSSC also reported that when another service user signed “friends” to Henderson, she told him “we’re not friends, you haven’t got any friends, you f*****g p***k”, or words to that effect.

Henderson reportedly said the same sort of thing to the service user on more than one occasion.

The incidents took place between March 2018 and May 2020.

The SSSC found Henderson’s fitness to practise impaired.

In a written ruling, the watchdog said: “Service users have a right to expect that social service workers will communicate with them in an appropriate manner and treat them with dignity and respect.

“Similarly, they have a right to expect that social service workers will, insofar as possible, protect them from harm.

“You have shouted and [swore] at a vulnerable service user when he was seeking assistance from staff, then slammed the door behind him after he left the room.

“In doing so, you could have caused the service user to suffer emotional harm.

“As a result of your behaviour, [the service user] may be reluctant to approach staff for help in the future, which in turn could have a detrimental effect on his health and wellbeing.”

The SSSC stated that Henderson’s aggressive behaviour while driving could have caused the service user “distress”.

The watchdog also said that allowing the service user to drink from the same bottle during the Covid-19 pandemic put them “at risk of unnecessary harm”.

In response to Henderson taking the service user to her house, the SSSC stated: “This demonstrates an inability to respect professional boundaries.

“This blurring of the professional relationship could have caused the service user confusion and led him to have unrealistic expectations of both you and other workers in the future.”

The watchdog also said that telling the other service user that he didn’t have any friends could have caused him to “suffer emotional harm”.

The SSSC said: “There are significant public protection concerns arising from your behaviour.

“The behaviour you have displayed violates fundamental values of the profession.

“Your actions were abusive in nature and demonstrated an inability to maintain self-control.

“Similarly, your actions demonstrate an inability to respect professional boundaries.

“The service users affected by your behaviour are non-verbal and as such, would have been unable to voice concerns about your actions or speak out about how your behaviour made them feel.

“You were verbally abusive towards them in the knowledge that they would be unable to report this.

“Such behaviour is an abuse of the trust placed in you as a social service worker entrusted to care and support vulnerable persons.”

In conclusion, the watchdog said a removal order was the “most appropriate sanction” to maintain the “continuing trust and confidence in the social service profession and the SSSC as the regulator of the profession”.

The removal order came into effect on October 20.