Mr Daniel Smith

Profession: Social worker

Registration Number: SW104887

Hearing Type: Review Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 11:30 30/08/2018 End: 16:00 30/08/2018

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

Panel: Conduct and Competence Committee
Outcome: Suspended

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Allegation

Allegation (as amended at the Final Hearing)

Whilst registered as a Social Worker and during the course of your employment with Sheffield City Council, you:

1. Sent inappropriate text messages to Service User A.

2. Accessed the confidential Care First record of Service User A after the case had been closed:

a) on or around 16 September 2015;

b) on or around 28 September 2015.

3. Did not record and/or make a safeguarding referral to your Line Manager and/or a safeguarding agency in respect of Service User A threatening physical harm to herself and/or her child.

4. The matters described at particular 1 were sexually motivated towards Service user A.

5. The matters described at particulars 1 to 4 amount to misconduct.

6. By reason of your misconduct your fitness to practise is impaired.

Finding

Preliminary matters


Private Hearing
1. At the beginning of the hearing, the Panel considered a joint application by Mr Mason, on behalf of the HCPC, and Ms Shah, on behalf of the Registrant, for parts of the hearing to be conducted in private as reference would be made to the Registrant’s health and private life. Having received advice from the Legal Assessor, the Panel granted that application in view of the principles set out in the HCPTS Practice Note, Conducting Hearings in Private. The Panel determined that those parts of the hearing that concern the Registrant’s health and private life should be conducted in private.

Background

2. The Registrant joined Sheffield City Council (the Council) in 2015 and was employed as a Prevention Worker within the Learning Disabilities Team. This role did not require the Registrant to be registered with the HCPC as a Social Worker.

3. The Registrant’s role as a Prevention Worker involved working with service users aged 18 and over who were diagnosed with, or suspected of having, learning disabilities. His role involved screening cases for eligibility for the use of the Learning Disabilities Service, offering advice and information to service users and referring service users to services outside the Council.

4. On 13 April 2015, a contact assessment for Service User A was received by the Learning Disabilities Team. Service User A has mental health issues, particularly around anxiety. The case was allocated to the Registrant. As such, he was expected to find services that could help Service User A and organise a screening of her condition. The Registrant arranged for her to be assessed and her case was closed on 6 July 2015.

5. At a final hearing, the panel found that the Registrant sent inappropriate text messages of a sexual nature to Service User A for sexual gratification; and that he had accessed her confidential Care First record after the case had been closed, obtaining personal information for no professional purpose. The panel also found that the Registrant did not make a safeguarding referral to his line manager and/or a safeguarding agency in respect of Service User A threatening physical harm to herself and her child because he was worried about the impact this would have on him. The panel found that the Registrant’s actions amounted to serious breaches of trust and breaches of his professional standards. Although the panel acknowledged that the Registrant was not at the time practising as a Social Worker and, indeed, had never practised in this role, the panel was of the view that the Registrant “was the professional party in his dealings with Service User A and he does not appear to have understood the significance of this.”

6. The panel determined that the Registrant’s fitness to practise was impaired by reason of his misconduct and imposed a 12 month Suspension Order. This is the first review of the Suspension Order imposed on 13 September 2017.


Decision

7. Mr Mason acknowledged the efforts made by the Registrant to comply with the suggestions made by the panel at the final hearing. He noted, however, that in his reflective piece, signed today, the Registrant had not referred specifically to the act of sending inappropriate texts to Service User A. Mr Mason adopted a neutral stance on behalf of the HCPC in relation to current impairment.

8. The Registrant elected to provide oral evidence to the Panel. Under oath, and in answer to questions put to him by Ms Shah, the Registrant spoke about the risks that his misconduct exposed Service User A and her child to. The Registrant told the Panel that he felt “absolutely ashamed” and that his actions went against his own moral and ethical codes. He spoke to the Panel about the importance of behaving with integrity and to maintain professional boundaries in his work. The Registrant spoke to the Panel about a number of very personal issues in his life and how these challenging issues flowed into his professional life and impaired his judgment. He told the Panel about his strategies for coping with challenging personal issues and of his support network. He said that he believed that he was now better placed to deal with issues as they arose, rather than letting them “snowball”.

9. The Panel read the Registrant’s lengthy reflective piece, signed today, 30 August 2018. At paragraph 47 of the reflective piece, the Registrant stated, “I have worked as a labourer and now as a support worker in a supported living unit.” In response to questions from the Panel, the Registrant said that he had worked as a support worker for 3 months through an agency called Creative Support, but that the employment had ended 2 weeks ago. Upon further questioning, he explained that he was no longer working in the care worker role as somebody had notified that employer of the Registrant’s Fitness to Practise proceedings, which he himself had not done. The Registrant stated that he now appreciated the importance of being open and honest.

10. Following the Registrant’s oral evidence, Mr Mason invited the Panel to find that the Registrant had displayed poor judgment in not disclosing his HCPC proceedings to the employer in relation to a care worker role.

11. Ms Shah invited the Panel to find that the Registrant had remediated his misconduct and addressed all of the concerns raised by the previous panel. She submitted that the Registrant was able to identify fully the risks that he had exposed Service User A to. She invited the Panel to find that his reflective piece was “detailed, reflective and genuine”. Ms Shah reminded the Panel that the Registrant is undertaking a lengthy period of counselling and identified coping mechanisms and strategies, such that there is no risk of repetition of the misconduct found in this case. In relation to the Registrant’s admission to the Panel during this hearing that he recently made a further error of judgment in failing to disclose his HCPC proceedings to his employer, Ms Shah invited the Panel to accept that the Registrant recognised now that it was his responsibility and that he had revealed the error to the Panel. She invited the Panel to find that the Registrant was no longer impaired. If the Panel was not with her, she invited it to impose a Conditions of Practice Order and suggested a number of conditions for the Panel’s consideration.

12. The Panel considered the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Panel bore in mind that it must first decide if a finding of current impairment is necessary to protect the public from any risk of harm (assessing the extent of that current or future risk), maintain public confidence in the profession, and to declare and uphold the proper standards of conduct or behaviour. This is a matter for the Panel’s independent judgment and is essentially a risk assessment in light of all the information before the Panel today.

13. The Panel had regard to all the documentation before it, including the reflective piece, a counsellor’s report and a reference submitted by the Registrant. It took account of the submissions made by Mr Mason on behalf of the HCPC, those made by Ms Shah on the Registrant’s behalf, as well as his oral evidence.

14. The Panel bore in mind that any approach to the issue of whether a Registrant’s fitness to practise should be regarded as impaired must take account of the need to maintain confidence in the profession as well as declaring and upholding proper standards of conduct and behaviour. It accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and carefully considered the HCPTS Practice Note on “Finding that Fitness to Practise is ‘Impaired’”.

15. In the Panel’s view, the Registrant’s misconduct involved serious breaches of his professional standards and it agreed with the previous panel that the matters found proved called into question his judgment. The previous panel considered that “the Registrant’s misconduct is capable of remediation, but this will require him to reflect more on his professional responsibilities and on the impact of his actions on Service User A, his employer, his profession and the wider public, and to demonstrate his understanding as to why he acted as he did.” The Panel considered that the Registrant had made some progress since the last hearing. His reflective piece and his oral evidence demonstrated that he had reflected on his misconduct and demonstrated both remorse and some insight into his past behaviour. The Panel was encouraged that he had made steps to establish a support network and that he was undertaking a lengthy period of counselling, which he had found most useful.

16. The Panel was most concerned, however, about the fact that he had not disclosed these HCPC proceedings to his employer when recently applying for a care worker position. He had been employed for three months when someone else notified his employer, at which point his employment terminated. The Panel was of the view that this lack of disclosure displayed poor judgment on the part of the Registrant, especially as this role involved working with vulnerable adults. Also most concerning to the Panel was that this information had only come to light following Panel questions. Having heard the Registrant’s explanation for his non-disclosure, the Panel was concerned that his private life was continuing to affect his professional life; the Panel was also concerned about his lack of transparency.

17. The Panel has determined that, in light of all the evidence before it, the Registrant’s fitness to practise continues to be impaired by reason of his misconduct. Both the public and the personal element of impairment are engaged. The Registrant is not safe to practise given his current impairment and the public interest requires that he should not be in a position to practise unrestricted. The concerns identified in his practice have not yet been remedied and confidence in the profession and in the HCPC’s ability to maintain standards would be undermined if his fitness to practise were not found to be currently impaired.

18. The Panel carefully considered matters including the HCPC “Indicative Sanctions Policy”. It has borne in mind that any sanction must be proportionate and that the primary purpose of sanction is protection of the public. Any sanction it imposes must protect the public but must be the least restrictive sanction that achieves that aim.

19. Having considered these issues, the Panel has determined that the misconduct issues in this case are too serious to be met with either no further action or a Caution Order. The Panel next considered imposing a Conditions of Practice Order but, adopting the same reasoning of the previous panel, determined that it was not possible to devise appropriate, workable and realistic conditions of practice that would protect the public.

20. The Panel has therefore determined that the appropriate and proportionate sanction is to extend the current Suspension Order by a period of 12 months. This period reflects the progress the Registrant has made and his continuing lack of insight and poor judgment as demonstrated by his lack of disclosure to an employer. A period of 12 months is appropriate to hopefully allow the Registrant a period of further reflection and to demonstrate remediation. This order protects the public and is in the wider public interest.

21. In the circumstances of this case, the Panel considered that it would be disproportionate to impose a Striking-Off Order at this time.

22. The Panel considers that any future panel reviewing this order would be assisted by:
• The Registrant’s continuing engagement;
• Further evidence of insight, reflective analysis and remediation;
• An update regarding counselling and any other treatment and support being undertaken by the Registrant;
• References and testimonials in relation to any paid or unpaid work carried out by the Registrant.

Order

The Registrar is directed to suspend the registration of Mr Daniel Smith for a further period of 12 months on the expiry of the existing order.

Notes

This order will be reviewed again before its expiry on 11 October 2019.

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Mr Daniel Smith

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
30/08/2018 Conduct and Competence Committee Review Hearing Suspended