Mr Andrew Richard Teague

Profession: Social worker

Registration Number: SW36737

Hearing Type: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 10:00 19/12/2018 End: 17:00 21/12/2018

Location: Health and Care Professions Tribunal Service (HCPTS), 405 Kennington Road, London, SE11 4PT

Panel: Conduct and Competence Committee
Outcome: Struck off

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Allegation

While registered as a social worker with the Health and Care Professions Council you:

1. Crossed professional boundaries when, from on or around 11 September 2017, you began were in a personal relationship with Person A, who was the mother of children for whom you were the allocated social worker.

2. You did not advise your manager at the time the relationship began and only advised your employer of the relationship on or around 23 24 October 2017.

3. The matters set out in particulars 1-2 constitute misconduct.

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

 

Finding

Preliminary Matters

Amendment to the Allegation

1. At the outset of these proceedings the HCPC told the Panel that it had notified the Registrant on 28 August 2018 that it intended to amend the allegation. Ms Mond-Wedd submitted that the amendments would not prejudice the Registrant. The Registrant did not seek to argue the point.

2. The Panel considered that the proposed amendments were not significant and served only to clarify the Particulars.

Background

3. The Registrant is a registered Social Worker with the HCPC. He commenced employment with Wokingham Borough Council (the Council) in October 2012 as a Locum and then started a permanent position in June 2015.

4. The Registrant had a mixed load of Children in Care, Children in Need and Child Protection cases, as well as private family proceedings.

5. In December 2016, the Registrant was allocated the case of Family A when they were transferred to the Ambleside team. The children had been subject to Child Protection Plans due to domestic violence. The mother, Person A, separated from the father after being in an abusive relationship with him. The father then left the family home and a non-molestation order was imposed and the children were taken off Child Protection Plans.

6. The father of Family A then instigated private law proceedings in order to increase his contact with the children. As the allocated Social Worker, the Registrant was tasked with completing a Section 7 report for the court to outline the Council’s view of the father’s contact.

7. On 24 October 2017, the Registrant met with a colleague of his, Ms G and informed her that he was in a relationship with Person A. Ms G informed the Service Manager for the team, Ms K. Ms K telephoned the Registrant later that day and he explained he had been in a relationship with Person A since September 2017.

8. Ms K informed him this was unacceptable and that he would be suspended with immediate effect. He was also told to end the relationship with Person A as she was a service user and he was still technically an employee of the Council. The Registrant was upset, but professional and enquired about the internal disciplinary process.

9. Ms K met with Person A and informed her that the Registrant would no longer be her social worker and that all parties involved in the private and family law proceedings would need to be informed of the relationship. Person A was concerned about the father of the children finding out and how it would impact on the private law proceedings. Person A also informed her that she and the Registrant had fallen in love and a close friend had advised them to inform the Council.

10. There was a fact finding hearing in respect of the father’s contact with the children shortly after the disclosure. The Registrant’s statements and reports about the family were removed from the court bundle and an independent social worker was appointed to complete a further section 7 report.

11. A disciplinary investigation took place and the Registrant admitted his relationship with Person A. During the internal interview he also admitted he had continued to see Person A after having been informed he should end the relationship. He also said he was aware of the impact of his behaviour and that this was unsuitable for a social worker.

12. The matter was referred to the HCPC.

Decision on Facts

13. In coming to its decision on facts the Panel had regard to all the evidence both oral and documentary. It was reminded that it is for the HCPC to prove its case and that there was no burden on the Registrant to prove anything. The standard of proof applied when considering whether the allegations are made out is that of the balance of probabilities i.e. whether it is more likely than not to have occurred.

14. The Panel took into account the submissions made on behalf of the HCPC and those of the Registrant. It had regard to the advice of the Legal Assessor.

15. The Panel heard oral evidence from the following witnesses on behalf of the Council:

• Ms O- Service Manager for Quality Assurance and safeguarding at the Council.

• Ms K- Acting Assistant Director Early Help and Children’s Social Care at the Council.

16. The Registrant also gave evidence to the Panel.

17. In relation to witnesses generally the Panel bore in mind that an honest witness can be mistaken and that a mistaken witness is not necessarily wrong about every fact. In general terms the Panel found Ms O and Ms K to be credible and reliable witnesses. Ms K told the Panel that there had been no previous concerns regarding the Registrant.

18. The Panel however, had a number of concerns regarding the Registrant’s evidence. The Panel found him to be inconsistent in a numbers of respects in his oral evidence and on occasion he was evasive. In evidence he stated that he appreciated at the time that when the relationship started there was an imbalance of power. But he also gave evidence to suggest that this realisation was after the event when he said “I now understand” that there was an imbalance of power between himself and Person A. Further when the Registrant was asked about when Person A’s children were made aware of the relationship he gave conflicting answers. At one point he suggested it was before he had informed his employers, and later in his evidence he maintained it was after he had spoken to his employers about the relationship.  When the Registrant was asked about how frequently he visited Person A, he gave varying accounts from having only visited on one occasion, to 3 or 4 times a week, to twice per week.

19.In coming to its decision on facts the Panel reminded itself that there were no other concerns relating to the Registrant’s work as a social worker.

Particular 1

20. The Panel had regard to the evidence of Ms O she told the Panel that she conducted an investigation into the matter. During the course of that interview on 3 November 2017 the Registrant confirmed he was in a relationship with Person A and had been since September 2017. He also confirmed in interview that he had continued to see Person A after Ms K had advised him to end the relationship. Ms O also told the Panel that she had not specifically asked the Registrant if he was in a sexual relationship with Person A but that she had made that inference. Ms K stated that she had told the Registrant to end the relationship, she referred to the Council policy on such matters and that it was against professional standards to enter into a relationship with a service user.

21. The Registrant at the outset of this hearing admitted this particular. In evidence he told the Panel that he entered into the personal relationship on 11 September 2017 and he accepted that he had crossed professional boundaries. He described himself as falling “in love” and “having feelings” that he had never felt before. He said it became a sexual relationship.

22. This Particular is proved.

Particular 2

23. The Panel had regard to the evidence of Ms K who told the Panel that she first became aware of the Registrant’s relationship with Person A on 24 October 2017. In a conversation with the Registrant on that day he admitted that he had been in a relationship with Person A since 11 September 2017. She stated that she had told him he was suspended from duty and that he was to end the relationship with Person A as he was still an employee of the Council and Person A was still a service user.

24. The Registrant at the outset of this hearing admitted this particular. In evidence he told the Panel he was aware that he should not enter into such a relationship. He accepted that he did not advise his employer at the time the relationship had begun and only advised his employer about the relationship on about the 24 October 2017.

25. This Particular is proved.

Decision on Grounds

26. On the basis of the facts found proved the Panel went on to consider whether those facts amounted to misconduct. It took into account the submissions made by Ms Mond-Wedd on behalf of the HCPC and it had regard to the oral evidence of the Registrant and his submissions. The Registrant accepted that the facts amount to misconduct. The Panel also had regard to the advice of the Legal Assessor.

27. In considering this matter the Panel exercised its own judgement. The Panel also took into account the public interest which includes protection of service users, maintenance of public confidence in the profession and the declaring and upholding of proper standards of conduct and behaviour.

28. The Panel had regard to the HCPC standards of proficiency for Social Workers in force at the time and it considers that the Registrant breached the following: 

• Standard 2 be able to practise within the legal and ethical boundaries of their profession,

• Standard 2.2 understand the need to promote the best interests of service users and carers at all times

• Standard 2.3 understand the need to protect, safeguard, promote and prioritise the wellbeing of children, young people and vulnerable adults

• Standard 2.4 understand, and be able to address, practices which present a risk to or from service users and carers, or others

• Standard 2.5 be able to manage and weigh up competing or conflicting values or interests to make reasoned professional judgements

• Standard 2.6 be able to exercise authority as a social worker within the appropriate legal and ethical frameworks and boundaries

• Standard 2.7 understand the need to respect and so far as possible uphold, the rights, dignity, values and autonomy of every service user and carer

• Standard 2.9 recognise the power dynamics in relationships with service users and carers, and be able to manage those dynamics appropriately

• Standard 2.10 understand what is required of them by the Health and Care Professions Council

• Standard 3 be able to maintain fitness to practice,

• Standard 3.1 understand the need to maintain high standards of personal and professional conduct,

• Standard 3.4 be able to establish and maintain personal and professional boundaries

29. The Panel also considered that the Registrant breached the following HCPC standards of conduct, performance and ethics:

Standard 1 promote and protect the interests of service users and carers,

• Standard 1.7 you must keep your relationships with service users and carers professional.

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

• Standard 9.4 you must declare issues that might create conflicts of interest…

30. The Panel considered that the findings in this case are particularly serious. By entering into a relationship with the Person A, he jeopardised the wellbeing of the family. The Registrant breached fundamental tenets of his profession.

31. At the outset of the Registrant’s evidence he said that the relationship between Person A and himself was one of equals.  The Registrant then later on in evidence, accepted that she was “very vulnerable”. Person A was a particularly vulnerable individual who was unable to recognise rape within her own marriage and who had been in a physically abusive relationship sustained over many years. The Registrant was in a position of power as he was the family social worker. He abused that position of power by entering into a personal relationship with Person A.

32. Furthermore, the Registrant had a duty to promote and protect Person A and her children above his own needs. He did not do so when he entered into a personal relationship with Person A. He put his needs above his role as the family social worker. This could have harmed the emotional welfare of the children and damaged their trust in social workers.  Whilst there was no evidence that the Registrant’s conduct impacted upon the court proceedings, there was evidence that Person A was worried about what affect it would have on the father of the children, who was known to be violent and she was concerned that it might make his case for contact with his children stronger. Person A was therefore put in a position that she had to shoulder an additional burden when she should not have been. The Registrant allowed his personal feelings towards Person A to cloud his independence and judgment.

33. The Registrant knew that it was highly inappropriate to enter into a relationship with a service user, particularly when he was the allocated social worker to her family. He knew at the time that he was in breach of policies at the Council and his professional standards. Despite knowing this, he continued to see Person A and engaged in a sexual relationship for over a month prior to informing his employer or ceasing to be Person A’s social worker.

34. The Panel had no hesitation in concluding that the Registrant’s failings referred to above were serious and amounted to misconduct.

Decision on Impairment

35. The Panel has taken into account that the purpose of these proceedings is not to punish or re-punish the practitioner for past misdoings but to protect the public against the acts and omissions of those who are not currently fit to practise. In approaching this task, the Panel applied its own professional judgment. The Panel had regard to the practice note issued by the HCPTS. The Panel took account of the case of the CHRE v Grant [2011] which reminds Panels of the need to consider the public interest. In particular the Panel noted paragraph 74;
In determining whether a practitioner’s fitness to practise is impaired by reason of misconduct, the relevant Panel should generally consider not only whether the practitioner continues to present a risk to members of the public in his or her current role, but also whether the need to uphold proper professional standards and public confidence in the profession would be undermined if a finding of impairment were not made in the particular circumstances.”

36. The Panel also considered the case of Cohen-v- GMC [2008] EWHC 581 (Admin). At paragraph 65 of Cohen Silber J. states “it must be highly relevant in determining a doctor’s fitness to practice is impaired that first his or her conduct which led to the charge is easily remediable, second that it has been remedied and third that it is highly unlikely to be repeated”.

37. The Panel first considered the personal component of impairment. The Registrant was apologetic and expressed remorse. However, he stands by his view that he was “in love” and he continues to maintain a relationship. The precise nature of that relationship is entirely unclear. He told the Panel that he is not currently seeing Person A but he is texting her. He had not seen her since September 2018. He seemed to be unable or unwilling to form a view as to whether the relationship would return to a physical relationship. The Panel considered that the Registrant had limited insight into the impact of his misconduct on the children. When asked about this, he stated that the children would be confused initially. He suggests that by him being in a relationship with the mother the children’s confusion lessened. His remorse appeared to the Panel to be more about the impact on himself rather than the children. He described himself as a “morally good” person. He describes Person A as initiating the relationship and having stronger feelings than himself, which demonstrates to the Panel that he still does not take responsibility for his actions. He also describes this misconduct as an “isolated incident”. The Panel rejects this suggestion. The Registrant was in an ongoing relationship with a service user. He attended the family home on a number of occasions and had a sexual relationship with the mother whilst the children were in the home. He describes the relationship in terms that it was beyond his control and that he was not responsible for it. Throughout his evidence the Registrant sought to minimise his responsibility for what had happened. The Panel considers that there is a significant risk of repetition.

38. The Registrant abused the trust that service users and his employers were entitled to place in him. He put his emotional and physical needs above those of the family. His actions compromised the safety of the mother and children because the father of the children had a history of being violent and there is evidence of that father asking the court to take action when he was made aware of the relationship.

39. The Panel was of the view that the public would be very concerned and alarmed to know that the Registrant behaved in the way that he did. His misconduct undermines public confidence in the profession and fails to uphold proper standards of conduct and behaviour.

40. The Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired on both the personal and public components of Impairment.

Decision on Sanction
 
41. In considering what, if any, sanction to impose the Panel had regard to the HCPC Indicative Sanctions Policy and the advice of the Legal Assessor. It also took into account the submissions of both parties.

42. Ms Mond-Wedd identified to the Panel it powers and referred the Panel to the guidance. The Registrant asked the Panel to give him the opportunity to remain a social worker. He asked the Panel to impose a Conditions of Practice Order. He stated that a Striking-Off order would be disproportionate.

43. The Panel notes that the purpose of fitness to practise proceedings is not to punish the practitioner for past misdoings but to protect the public against the acts and omissions of those who are not currently fit to practise. It is part of the public interest not to permanently deprive the public of an otherwise competent practitioner.

44. In considering the appropriate sanction if any, the Panel had regard to the aggravating and mitigating factors in this case.

45. In mitigation, the Panel noted that the Registrant admitted the allegations at the outset of this case and he was fully engaged with his employer throughout its investigations. The Registrant had expressed remorse and he was apologetic. The Panel also accepts that there are no previous findings against the Registrant and that he was considered to be in every other respect an able social worker.

46. There are a number of aggravating factors in this case. Person A was a vulnerable service user. The Registrant abused his position of trust as a social worker. He has limited insight and failed to follow a clear instruction from his employer to end the relationship. The relationship was sustained over a period of time as the Panel has already set out in its decision on grounds and impairment.

47. The Panel reminded itself that this is a serious case involving departures from fundamental tenets of the social work profession. The misconduct identified involved crossing professional boundaries and failing to alert his employer that a relationship had begun with a service user. The misconduct was repeated over a sustained period of time and the Registrant breached numerous standards within the relevant codes of practice.

48. The Panel considered the seriousness of the misconduct and has concluded there is a risk of repetition. Therefore it would be inappropriate to take no action. It went on to consider the available sanctions in ascending order.

49. The Panel next considered whether a Caution Order would be sufficient. A Caution Order would not restrict the Registrant’s ability to practise and therefore such an order would not protect service users and would undermine public confidence in the HCPC as regulator. The Panel consider that the misconduct was too serious to impose a Caution Order.

50. The Panel then considered whether the imposition of a Conditions of Practice Order would be sufficient. The Registrant failed to comply with his employer’s clear instruction to end the relationship which he knew at the time was against his professional standards. This demonstrates to the Panel that there would be a risk that any conditions may not be complied with. Further, the Panel considered that this was a serious breach of trust and given the Registrant’s lack of insight, it concluded a Conditions of Practice Order would not be appropriate. Further, due to the nature and circumstances of the misconduct, the Panel concluded that conditions, although proposed by the Registrant, could not be formulated to sufficiently protect the public.

51. The Panel then went on to consider the imposition of a Suspension Order. Such an order would provide public protection in that the Registrant would be unable to practise as a Social Worker for a period of time. During any period of suspension, a Registrant would be expected to be able to develop insight and remedy the failings identified. However, the Registrant has failed to show sufficient insight into his misconduct. In his oral evidence he demonstrated an inability to put the concerns of the children above his own feelings. In his Section 7 Report to the Family Court in June 2017 he states; “My assessment of the children is that their life experience has been one of fear, anxiety and high levels of stress and this has impacted on their feelings about their father.” Within 3 months of writing that report he entered into a sexual relationship with the mother in the children’s home. This shows a disregard for the needs of the children. The Registrant continues to demonstrate a lack of understanding of the impact his actions had on the children. The Panel has received no evidence of remediation and meaningful reflection over the last 12 months. As such, the Panel concluded there is no reason to believe that a period of suspension would lead to the development of any meaningful insight that might over time reduce the risk to the public.

52. The Panel concluded that a Suspension Order would neither reflect the seriousness of the case nor properly uphold standards nor maintain confidence in the profession of social work.

53. The Panel therefore considered that the only appropriate and proportionate Order would be a Striking Off Order. In coming to its decision the Panel took into account the public interest which includes protection of service users, maintenance of public confidence in the profession and the declaring and upholding of proper standards of conduct and behaviour.  The Registrant abused his position of trust. He deliberately carried on a relationship with a service user which he knew to be wrong and that sexual relationship occurred in the home of vulnerable children. He recklessly ignored the advice of his employers to end the relationship. It was clear from the Registrant’s oral evidence that he puts himself and the relationship first before the needs of the children.

54. A Striking Off Order prohibits the Registrant from practising in his chosen profession as a social worker. The Panel gave careful consideration as to whether a Striking Off Order was the only appropriate and proportionate order in this case. It noted that there was no compelling evidence of insight or remediation, such that the Panel could be satisfied that the misconduct would not occur in the future.

55. The Panel noted paragraph 48 of the Indicative Sanctions Guidance which states:
Striking off should be used where there is no other way to protect the public, for example, where there is a lack of insight, continuing problems or denial. A registrant’s inability or unwillingness to resolve matters will suggest that a lower sanction may not be appropriate.

56. A Striking Off Order prohibits the Registrant from practising in his chosen profession as a social worker. The Panel concluded that the public interest in ensuring that service users are safe, the need to uphold proper standards, maintain public confidence in the profession and in the regulatory process outweighs the Registrant’s right to practise in his chosen profession.

Order

Order: The Registrar is directed to strike the name of Mr Andrew Richard Teague from the Register on the date this order comes into effect.

Notes

Interim Order

The HCPC made an application for an immediate Interim Suspension Order on the grounds of public protection and the wider public interest.

The Panel was mindful that when a substantive sanction is imposed, a registrant’s entitlement to practise is unrestricted whilst their appeal rights against the substantive sanction remain outstanding. The Panel concluded that in view of its determination that a substantive Striking Off Order should be imposed, it would not be appropriate for the Registrant to return to practise unrestricted given the serious risk of harm to the public, the lack of insight and remediation and the ongoing risk of repetition. For same reasons given earlier, the Panel concluded that an Interim Conditions of Practice Order would not be appropriate. Accordingly, the Panel determined that the Registrant’s registration should be suspended on an interim basis. The Interim Suspension Order is necessary to protect the public and to uphold trust and confidence in the profession and the regulatory process.

The Panel took the view that the wider public interest far outweighs the Registrant’s personal and professional interests and that an interim order is proportionate.

The Panel concluded that the appropriate length of the Interim Suspension Order should be 18 months, as the interim order would continue to be required pending the resolution of an appeal in the event that the Registrant submits a Notice of Appeal within the 28-day period against the Panel’s decision to strike him off.

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Mr Andrew Richard Teague

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
19/12/2018 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Struck off