A senior social worker who lied about being a doctor – allowing her to secure high-powered jobs and prestigious work as a Government child protection adviser – has been found guilty of professional misconduct.
Susan Stewart falsely claimed to have secured a PhD from the University of Stirling in 1995.
She went on to be appointed as an adviser to the Aberlour Child Care Trust and even gave evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s finance committee in November 2010, using the false title of Doctor.
The 47-year-old admitted she had been trapped in a web of lies – and that she should have told her employers she did not hold a doctorate.
Stewart was found guilty of misconduct after a seven-day hearing of a Scottish Social Services Council conduct sub-committee, which was told she authored sensitive and confidential family assessment reports for use in sheriff courts and children’s hearings. They were allowed to go out bearing the name ‘Dr Susan Stewart’.
She could have been struck off the social workers register as a result - but, instead, the sub-committee opted to impose a five-year warning on her registration with the social services watchdog.
It will publish a full written decision in the case, detailing its reasoning, within two weeks.
Stewart, who holds degrees in social work and psychology, studied for a PhD in psychology at the University of Stirling between 1992-95 but did not complete her studies.
She broke down during the hearing as she gave evidence about her deceit.
After accepting a teaching post at the same university in 2012, a police investigation revealed the CV submitted in support of her job application falsely declared she was entitled to be called Dr Stewart, and the PhD qualification was fictitious.
Prior to her move to Stirling, Stewart had held various senior social work posts within the Aberlour Child Care Trust, where she authored sensitive and confidential family assessment reports for use in sheriff courts and children’s hearings.
She accepted she allowed these reports to go out signed off by ‘Dr Susan Stewart’.
She told the hearing that, while at Aberlour, she had co-authored a family assessment report for submission to a children’s hearing then went on annual leave. When she returned, she saw it had been issued from ‘Dr Susan Stewart’.
“When I came back from leave, I saw that six copies of the report had been issued. My title of doctor was on it. At that point I should have corrected it,” she said.
“I know that I should have said something. I panicked, because the reports had already gone to a hearing.’
Stewart said after that point, she buried her head in the sand, fearing she would lose her job.
She added: “I was the sole wage earner in the family. I didn’t feel able to approach my line manager. I didn’t feel safe enough to do it. I thought about approaching another manager in Aberlour. I just never had the courage to do it.”
During the years she was employed at Aberlour, Stewart allowed numerous reports to be issued with the recipients, believing they had been compiled by a social worker who held a PhD.
Once the lie was established, Stewart continued to allow the false doctor title to be used without challenge.
She was offered a job at the University of Stirling by Professor Brigid Daniel, who knew her as Dr Stewart.
She added: “She (Prof Daniel) had offered me some teaching and I accepted her offer. I submitted a CV. I knew she thought I had a PhD. If I omitted it, it would look suspicious.
“I felt really bad that I had lied to a colleague. She thought a lot of me and I felt ashamed and guilty.
“I should have behaved differently. I feel like I have let the profession down.”
Professor Daniel, of the University of Stirling social work department, said: “It was always my impression that she was competent and able. It was my impression she had a good reputation in Scotland. I was shocked and surprised at the outcome of the investigation.”
Professor Daniel said Stewart’s use of ‘Doctor’ when signing off reports added weight to the documents. She accepted that anyone acting on the reports had a decision to make on children’s lives.
She added: “The use of Doctor adds a stamp of authority. The wider concern is that it is not honest. It raises a question mark over her reliability.”