A FORMER Wigan counsellor has been branded a marriage-wrecker after a fling with a cocaine addict she was meant to be helping.
Shamed Joanne Blackledge quit her post just 24 hours before a British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy disciplinary hearing panel found her guilty of breaching its ethical codes by having a relationship with her client and bringing the profession into disrepute.
The matter came to light after the client’s wife discovered the affair and reported Ms Blackledge for abusing her position, especially as her husband was classed as a vulnerable adult due to his cocaine addiction. Following a formal investigation, further concerns relating to the mother-of-two became apparent, including issues of time-keeping and completion of her hours of work; her whereabouts and accountability; her maintenance of boundaries and “personal overspill”; and issues relating to the accuracy of her paperwork and claim forms.
A formal investigation was conducted by BACP which involved obtaining and scrutinising a large amount of paperwork including Ms Blackledge’s diary, her mobile phone records, her supervision records and her timesheets and interviewing all parties involved, including work colleagues.
The case heard that while Ms Blackledge had disclosed to fellow colleagues that her client had expressed feelings for her. But she said she told him she did not feel the same, she failed to seek extra supervision from another colleague to defuse the situation and instead, allowed it to escalate,
The investigation concluded that despite her denials, there was strong evidence to support the allegation that Ms Blackledge had a sexual relationship before or shortly after counselling ended, and that she had acted unprofessionally and the matter was referred to a formal disciplinary hearing.
She had been found guilty of 12 wrongdoings, including having a personal and sexual relationship with a vulnerable service user; claiming on her time sheet for hours she did not work; contacting the client and his wife after the investigation, despite being warned not to do so; and dishonouring the trust of clients by allowing her son access to her phone, which contained their contact details.
The report concluded: “The panel was unanimous in its decision that these findings amounted to bringing the profession into disrepute in that Ms Blackledge had behaved in such an infamous and disgraceful way that the public’s trust in the profession might reasonably be undermined if they were accurately informed about all the circumstances of this case.
“Ms Blackledge had not been honest throughout the course of the investigation.”
As Ms Blackledge did not attend the hearing, she did not offer any form of defence.
During interviews, she denied having a relationship with her client, despite the strong evidence from text messages and admissions from him and his wife.
The report was sent to the Evening Post by a source who wrote: “Family counsellor from Wigan employed by Wigan Council wrecks family!”
It is understood Ms Blackledge worked for the children and young people’s services, supporting both adults and youngsters, from her base in Tyldesley.
Whilst she resigned from her role, the council felt it was so serious an offence that she should still be dismissed.
She was also removed as a member of the BACP.
Anne Goldsmith, director of children and young people’s services at Wigan Council, said: “This individual was dismissed for unacceptable conduct following a disciplinary hearing.
“As soon as her behaviour came to light, we took quick and decisive action. In fact, she resigned her post 24 hours before the hearing took place.
“We took this as recognition on her part that she’d seriously breached her contract and duty of care to the clients she was working with. We informed all relevant professional bodies of her dismissal and the reasons for it.”