Mrs Collette C Fowles

Profession: Social worker

Registration Number: SW47354

Hearing Type: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 09:00 16/04/2018 End: 16:00 17/04/2018

Location: Health and Care Professions Council, 405 Kennington Road, London, SE11 4PT

Panel: Conduct and Competence Committee
Outcome: Suspended

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Allegation

(as amended at Substantive Hearing):


Whilst registered as a Social Worker at Knowsley Council between 3 May 2010 and 2 September 2016 you:


1. Did not conduct required statutory visits but recorded that you had done so for:


a. Service User A on;
i. 22 March 2016
ii. 20 April 2016.


b. Service User B on 23 March 2016


c. Service User C on;
i. 22 March 2016;
ii. 29 April 2016.


2. Your actions at paragraphs 1a) – 1c) were dishonest.


3. The matters described in paragraphs 1-2 amount to misconduct.


4. By reason of that misconduct, your fitness to practise is impaired.

Finding

Preliminary Matters


Proof of Service
1. Written notice of these proceedings was posted to the Registrant at her registered address by first class post on 17 January 2018. It was also emailed to her registered email address on the same date. The Panel determined that notice of this hearing had been properly served in accordance with the relevant rules.


Proceeding in absence of the Registrant
2. The Panel heard the submission of Ms Vignoles, on behalf of the HCPC, to proceed in the absence of the Registrant. It accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and paid due regard to the HCPTS Practice Note on ‘Proceeding in the absence of the Registrant’.

3. There has been no communication from the Registrant to the HCPC since the papers in this case were served upon her.

4. It is clear to the Panel that as the Registrant has voluntarily absented herself from this hearing, there would be no point in directing an adjournment (one has not been applied for) and that the public interest demands that this case should proceed in the absence of the Registrant - not least because the HCPC has a witness waiting to give evidence who has travelled a considerable distance.


Applications to offer no evidence and amendment of the Allegation
5. At the outset of proceedings, Ms Vignoles made two inter-related and unopposed applications. Firstly, she offered no evidence on particulars 1(c)(ii) and 1(d), on the grounds that the papers revealed no evidence to support them. Satisfied that such a course did not amount to under prosecution, the panel determined that it was in the interests of the public and the Registrant that this application should be granted. Secondly, Ms Vignoles applied to amend particular 1 to remove the word ‘falsely’ as this duplicated the wording in particular 2, and to insert in particular 2 ‘1(a) to 1(c)’.

6. Notice of this application and the consequent amendments to the Allegation (see above) was provided to the Registrant in a letter from the HCPC of 5 July 2017. No prejudice to the Registrant would be caused, in the Panel’s view, by acceding to this application and thus it was granted.
Background


7. The Registrant commenced employment as a Social Worker for Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council (the Council) in 2001. She was promoted on 1 April 2012 to the role of Senior Practitioner in the Children’s Social Care Team.

8. From November 2014 to July 2015, the Registrant was absent from work. When she returned to work she was given less responsibility in that she had a reduced caseload. The Council’s intention behind this was to support the Registrant.

9. One of the Registrant’s responsibilities was to carry out statutory visits to children on her caseload.

10. In relation to the three separate service users (A, B and C) the allegation is that the Registrant failed to carry out the statutory visits she was required to undertake in March and April 2016.

11. Nevertheless, the Registrant made a number of records to suggest that she did make a total of five statutory visits to the three named service users in this period.

Decision on Facts

12. The HCPC called as their only witness to give live evidence JJ, Head of Safer Communities at the Council. She was the person chosen to lead the Council’s investigation into these allegations of the creation of false records by the Registrant. Her evidence was consistent and credible and the Panel formed the view that it could be relied upon. Although she was at some distance from the events concerned, the Panel’s view was that she had taken the investigation seriously and made appropriate concessions in her evidence when necessary.

13.  As far as the exhibited diaries were concerned, the Panel looked at all the entries in the diary of Foster Carer A and considered that the inference to be drawn was that they were written contemporaneously and were accurate. There were fewer entries in the diary of Foster Carer B, but the one that pertained to particular 1(b) was, in the view of the Panel, an accurate entry in that it showed no visit from the Registrant on 23 March 2016. The diary of Foster Carer C was not exhibited but the evidence about the absence of its two relevant entries came from Witness JJ in her evidence to the Panel where she stated that she was shown Foster Carer C’s mobile phone diary, which the Panel regarded as reliable.

14. There was no evidence from the Registrant, but the Panel took into account the contents of the statement that she made in 2016 as part of the Council’s investigation.

15. In considering all the oral and written material in this case, the Panel bore in mind the advice of the Legal Assessor and decided that the approach to adopt was to determine, firstly, whether or not the statutory visits mentioned in particular 1 of the Allegation were required and, secondly, whether the HCPC had proved to the requisite standard that the Registrant had falsely recorded that she had made the five visits particularised. Finally, the Panel had to determine, if both the above ingredients were proved, whether this conduct amounted to dishonesty.

16. The following is a record of the determinations of the Panel, particular by particular. 

Particular 1(a)(i)

17. The evidence showed that this was a required statutory visit, that the relevant entry by the Registrant in the ICS Case Management System (ICS) recorded that it took place on 22 March 2016, but the Panel accepted the evidence of Foster Carer A to the effect that it did not actually take place. Foster Carer A’s account was clear and specific and was corroborated by contemporaneous accounts in her diary which was exhibited before the Panel. It was also Foster Carer A who initiated contact with the Council regarding a passport for Service User A which resulted in the discrepancy of the recording of statutory visits coming to light. Foster Carer A was adamant in her investigatory interview that the required statutory visits did not take place and the Panel concluded there was no possibility of a mistaken date entry by the Registrant.

18. Thus, the Panel found this particular proved to the requisite standard.

Particular 1(a)(ii)

19. The Panel employed the same thought processes to this particular with the same result and found this particular also proved.

Particular 1(b)

20. The Panel was satisfied that the evidence demonstrated that this was a required statutory visit to Service User B, that the Registrant’s entry in the ICS to the effect that she paid a visit to Service User B on 23 March 2016 was inaccurate. There was no entry in Foster Carer B’s diary for that date.

21. The Panel found this particular proved.

Particular 1(c)(i)

22. The Panel was satisfied that a statutory visit was required. The Panel was persuaded that this statutory visit by the Registrant did not take place, despite the fact that she purported to show the opposite by her entry on the ICS. In his investigatory interview Foster Carer C had a positive recollection that the Registrant did not undertake this visit, only recalling that he ‘bumped into’ the Registrant during a shopping trip around this date. Although the Panel were not shown the mobile phone diary of Foster Carer C, the witness JJ confirmed to the Panel in her evidence that there were no entries indicating statutory visits on the relevant date.

23. The Panel found this particular proved.

Particular 1(c)(ii)

24. Consistent with its finding in relation to 1(c)(i), the Panel, in adopting the same approach with the same result, found this particular proved as well.

Particular 2

25. In so far as particular 1(b) is concerned, the Panel is satisfied that no visit took place on 23 March 2016. The Panel nevertheless concludes, on all of the evidence, not least from witness JJ, that it is possible that the Registrant did pay a visit on 10 March 2016 or 17 March 2016 to Service User B, but erroneously put the wrong date on the CMS. Thus, the Panel is not persuaded that the Registrant acted dishonestly in relation to particular 1(b).

26. However, the Panel is satisfied that the other four wrongly recorded visits were examples of dishonesty. The Panel took into account that the Registrant was an experienced and knowledgeable Social Worker, aware of the requirements to undertake statutory visits. Nevertheless, on the facts the Panel has found proved, the Registrant plainly recorded that statutory visits took place in the knowledge that they had not. The Panel concluded that ordinary, decent people would consider the Registrant’s behaviour dishonest.

27. To that extent, therefore, particular 2 is found proved.


Decision on Grounds

28. Whether the facts found proved amount to misconduct is a matter for the professional judgement of the Panel.

29. The Panel had found that the Registrant both failed to perform the statutory visits and acted dishonestly in falsifying a total of four records. In so doing, she gave the dishonest impression that she had undertaken statutory visits to service users, who were all children on her caseload.

30. Integrity is at the heart of the social work profession. A Registrant who acts dishonestly inevitably undermines public confidence in herself and in her own profession. This allegation is one of multiple acts of dishonesty that follow a pattern and which were committed over a short period of time.

31. The Registrant has failed to meet the following professional standards, as laid down in the HCPC’s ‘Standards of conduct, performance and ethics’ (2016):

Standard 9.1 – you must make sure that your conduct justifies the public’s trust and confidence in you and your profession.

Standard 10.1 – you must keep full, clear and accurate records for everyone you care for, treat or provide other services to.

32. The Registrant has also breached the following HCPC ‘Standards of proficiency for Social Workers’ (2012):

Standard 10.1 – be able to keep accurate, comprehensive and comprehensible records in accordance with applicable legislation, protocols and guidelines.

Standard 10.2 - recognise the need to manage records and all other information in accordance with applicable legislation, protocols and guidelines.

33. Accordingly, in the judgement of the Panel, the allegation of misconduct is well founded.


Decision on Impairment


34. Again, whether or not a Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired is a question for the judgement of the Panel alone. The Panel had regard to the submissions of Ms Vignoles, accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and reminded itself of the contents of the HCPTS Practice Note entitled ‘Finding that Fitness to Practise is Impaired’.

35. By any measure, the Panel’s view is that the dishonesty here proved is serious. Making false records of visits designed to give the misleading impression that the Registrant had attended the homes of two separate service users who were in foster care risked causing harm to them and represents a failure in safeguarding practice and obligations. Such actions could also cause deep damage to any relationship of trust built up between the foster carers and this representative of the social work profession.

36. Looking at the personal component, there has been no evidence of any steps taken by the Registrant to repair matters or seek to remediate her misdeeds. There is no information whatsoever as to what the Registrant has been doing for almost two years. She has failed to engage in the process.

37. There has never been a stage when the Registrant has accepted responsibility for her behaviour or offered any apology. In 2016 she denied that she had acted dishonestly and the Panel regards this attitude as symptomatic of a lack of insight. Hence, the Panel concludes that there is a risk of repetition.

38. The Panel also gave thought to the public component. In this context, it is plain to the Panel that the Registrant’s failures were a potential danger to service users. One of the inevitable effects of falsifying records is that any other Social Worker looking at them and seeking to rely upon them would be materially misled. This could cause further harm to the service users and consequent damage to the reputation of the profession.

39. In all the circumstances, the Panel concluded that the fitness to practise of this Registrant is currently impaired on both the personal and public components. To fail to reach this conclusion, in the judgement of the Panel, would undermine confidence in the profession and the regulatory process. There is always a need to declare and uphold proper standards of conduct and behaviour.

40. In the judgement of the Panel, therefore, the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired.

Decision on Sanction


41. In coming to its own independent decision on sanction, the Panel paid careful regard to the submissions of Ms Vignoles and the contents of the HCPC Indicative Sanction Policy (2017) (ISP). It also noted the advice of the Legal Assessor that it should apply the principle of proportionality and weigh the interests of the public with those of the practitioner. The public interest includes not only the protection of service users, but also the maintenance of public confidence in the profession and the declaring and upholding of proper standards of conduct and behaviour.


42. The Panel took into account the following mitigating and aggravating features in this case:


Mitigating
• The evidence included references to the ill health of the Registrant in the year prior to the events complained of;
• There are no previous regulatory findings against the Registrant;
• One of the foster carers in this case and the Registrant’s line manager expressed praise for her competence as a Social Worker;
• It is possible to infer from the evidence that she was having trouble coping with her caseload and that her personal circumstances were difficult at the time.


 Aggravating
• As a Social Worker of considerable experience, the Registrant would have known of the importance of required statutory visits;
• The concealment of their non-occurrence by falsifying records involved repeated acts of dishonesty, which could have had damaging consequences for children and their foster carers;
• The Registrant has never acknowledged her wrongdoing or expressed remorse;
• She has not engaged with these regulatory proceedings,
• She has shown no insight into her wrongdoing.


43. Given the serious nature of the Registrant’s misconduct and its potential to put service users at risk and to undermine the reputation of the profession, the Panel is of the view that it would not be sufficient to conclude this case by taking no action or by referring it for mediation. Neither course would serve to protect service users or maintain the standing of, and public confidence in the profession.


44. The Panel then moved on to consider whether to conclude this case by the imposition of a Caution Order. The Panel do not consider this sanction would adequately reflect the seriousness of the misconduct or provide the requisite protection for service users. None of the factors mentioned in paragraph 28 of the ISP are present in this case.


45. Next, the Panel considered whether the case could be concluded with a Conditions of Practice Order. In so doing, it had regard to the advice of the Legal Assessor that any conditions imposed should be appropriate, measurable, workable and verifiable.


46. The Panel has no information about the Registrant’s current employment, if any, nor does the Panel know whether she has maintained her professional knowledge and skills since these events. For these reasons, and the fact that such a sanction would not, in any event, reflect the seriousness of the Registrant’s dishonest conduct, the Panel considered that such a sanction would not be appropriate.


47. The Panel reminded itself of that part of the ISP which refers to the imposition of a Suspension Order. The proved dishonesty was serious, with potentially damaging consequences for children and foster carers. The Panel balanced this aggravating feature with the opinion of the Registrant’s line manager, as expressed in an answer in interview during the disciplinary investigation on 27 June 2016, as follows: ‘[her attitude to work] was quite willing and enthusiastic, very child focused. She knew her cases well…her reports would be in on time…she would focus on demanding cases…’


48. In the knowledge that striking off is a sanction of last resort, the Panel, in considering this as a possibility, decided that in all the circumstances, to adopt such a course would be disproportionate. In coming to this conclusion, the Panel took into account, amongst other matters, the fact that the proved dishonesty took place over a relatively short period of time in an otherwise lengthy, unblemished career.


49. It is the Panel’s view that the nature and gravity of the Registrant’s misconduct in this case are, indeed, such that any lesser sanction than a Suspension Order for a period of 12 months would fail to maintain public confidence in the profession and would fail to declare and uphold proper standards.


50.  A reviewing panel may be assisted by:
• A reflective piece from the Registrant;


• Up-to-date information of any Continuing Professional Development and training;
• Testimonials and/or character references.

Order

ORDER: The Registrar is directed to suspend the registration of Mrs Collette C Fowles for a period of 12 months from the date this Order comes into effect.

Notes

Interim Order Application


Ms Vignoles made an application for Interim Suspension Order to be imposed upon the Registrant for a period of 18 months and that it was appropriate and fair for this application to be made in the absence of the Registrant.


The Panel reminded itself that the Notice sent to the Registrant dated 17 January 2018 warned her that such an application might be made in the event of certain orders being imposed including that of a Suspension Order. The case has proceeded on the basis that good service has been shown. The same reasons provided by the Panel in paragraphs 2-4 above still have an application in relation to proceeding in the absence of the Registrant. It is fair and in the public interest for matters to proceed expeditiously, albeit in the absence of the Registrant.


As far as the application to impose a Suspension Order is concerned, the Panel considers that, in light of its findings of misconduct, this is necessary in order to protect the public and is also in the wider public interest. This is imposed for a period of 18 months.


Interim Order


The Panel makes an Interim Suspension Order under Article 31(2) of the Health and Social Work Professions Order 2001, the same being necessary to protect members of the public and being otherwise in the public interest. This order will expire: (if no appeal is made against the Panel’s decision and Order) upon expiry of the period during which such an appeal could be made; (if an appeal is made against the Panel’s decision and Order) the final determination of that appeal, subject to a maximum period of 18 months.

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Mrs Collette C Fowles

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
16/04/2018 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Suspended