Mary Josephine Foster

Profession: Social worker

Registration Number: SW47457

Hearing Type: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 09:00 31/07/2018 End: 16:00 03/08/2018

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

Panel: Conduct and Competence Committee
Outcome: Suspended

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Allegation

 

During the course of your employment as a Social Worker with Northamptonshire County Council, you:

 

 1. In relation to Child A, Child B, Child C and Child D:

 

 a) Did not hold any Child Protection Core Group Meetings between 24 February and 6 May 2016;

 

b) Regarding a Core Group Meeting scheduled to take place on 22 March 2016:

 

i) cancelled the meeting and/or

 

ii) did not arrange for a colleague to attend in your place and/or

 

iii) did not reschedule the meeting.

 

c) Did not respond to requests by Person A for a Core Group Meeting to be held

 

d) Recorded a statutory visit to the children on 22 March 2016 which did not take place.

 

 

 

2. In relation to Child E and Child F:

 

 a) Did not hold any Child Protection Core Group Meetings between 23 February and 6 June 2016;

 

b) Regarding a Core Group Meeting due to take place on 21 March 2016:

 

i) cancelled the meeting and/or

 

ii) did not arrange for a colleague to attend in your place and/or

 

iii) did not reschedule the meeting;

 

c) Completed a record for a Core Group Meeting on 6 May 2016 which did not take place;

 

d) Copied a record of a Core Group Meeting completed by a colleague and put it forward as your work.

 

e) Did not respond to emails from Person B for assistance in relation to the case on:

 

i) 24 March and/or

 

ii) 13 April and/or

 

iii) 14 April and/or

 

iv) 18 April.

 

 

 

3. In relation to Child G and Child H:

 

 a) Did not hold any Child Protection Core Group Meetings between 24 February and 6 May 2016;

 

b) Regarding the first Child Protection Core Group Meeting for the children due to take place on 21 March 2016:

 

i) did not attend the meeting and/or

 

ii) did not arrange for a colleague to attend in your place and/or

 

iii) did not reschedule the meeting.

 

 c) Did not complete the paperwork to convene a legal planning meeting by 4 March 2016 as requested in supervision on 26 February 2016.

 

 d) Did not convene a legal planning meeting by 18 March 2016 as recommended by a Child Protection Conference on 9 March 2016.

 

 

 

4. In relation to Child J and Child K:

 

 a) Regarding a Child in Need meeting you arranged for 3 March 2016:

 

i) did not attend the meeting and/or

 

ii) did not arrange for a colleague to attend in your place and/or

 

iii) did not reschedule the meeting.

 

 b) Rang the children’s mother out of hours on a Friday evening without reason.

 

 

 

5. In relation to Child L:

 

 a) Did not attend a Looked After Child Review which took place on 10 March 2016.

 

b) Did not arrange a Looked After Child Review within the statutory timeframe of 28 days of Child L moving to a new placement on 31 March 2016.

 

c) Recorded a visit to the child on 5 May 2016 at 10.30 am which did not take place.

 

 

 

6. Submitted a timesheet for a full days work on 5 May 2016 when you were not working on that day.

 

 

 

7. The matters at 2 c) and d), 5 c) and 6 are dishonest.

 

 

 

8. The matters as set out at paragraph 7 amount to misconduct.

 

 

 

9. The matters as set out in paragraphs 1 - 7 constitute misconduct and/or lack of competence.

 

 

 

10. By reason of your misconduct and/or lack of competence your fitness to practise is impaired.

 

 

Finding

Preliminary matters:


Proof of Service


1. The Panel was provided with a signed certificate as proof that the Notice of Hearing had been posted on 1 May 2018 by first class post, to the address shown for the Registrant on the HCPC register.  The Notice was also sent to the Registrant by email on the same date. The Panel was satisfied that Notice had been properly served in accordance with Rule 3 (Proof of Service) and Rule 6 (date, time and venue) of the Conduct & Competence Committee Rules 2003 (as amended).

Proceeding in Absence


2. Having determined that service of the Notice of Hearing had been properly effected, Ms Manning-Rees on behalf of the HCPC, made an application for the hearing to proceed in the Registrant’s absence. As part of her application she outlined the numerous attempts that had been made to contact the Registrant by email and telephone. She also informed the Panel that a tracing agent had confirmed that the Registrant’s registered address was a residential address and that the Registrant still lived there. Ms Manning-Rees confirmed that the last communication from the Registrant was during the investigation stage in June 2017, when she provided the HCPC with a written response to the draft allegations.

3. The Panel was advised by the Legal Assessor and followed that advice. The Panel also took into account the guidance as set out in the HCPTS Practice Note: “Proceeding in the absence of the Registrant”.

4. The Panel determined that it was fair, reasonable and in the public interest to proceed in the Registrant’s absence for the following reasons:

a) The Registrant did not respond to the Notice of Hearing or to the numerous attempts to make contact with her by email and telephone and appeared to have dis-engaged since June 2017. In these circumstances, the Panel was satisfied that it was reasonable to conclude that the Registrant’s non-attendance was voluntary and therefore a deliberate waiver of her right to attend the hearing.

b) The Registrant did not make an application for the hearing to be adjourned and as a consequence there was no indication that she would be willing to attend on an alternative date. Therefore, re-listing this substantive hearing would serve no useful purpose.

c) The HCPC has made arrangements for two witnesses to give evidence during this hearing. In the absence of any reason to re-schedule the hearing, the Panel was satisfied that the witnesses should not be inconvenienced by an unnecessary further delay.

d) The Panel recognised that there may be a disadvantage to the Registrant in not being able to respond to the HCPC’s case. However, she had been given the opportunity to participate in these proceedings and the Panel concluded that any disadvantage to the Registrant was significantly outweighed by the strong public interest in ensuring that the substantive hearing is commenced and considered expeditiously.

Application to Amend


5. Ms Manning-Rees made an application for particulars 1(a), 1(d), 2(a), 2(c), 2(e), 3(a) of the Allegation to be amended and partially re-numbered. She also confirmed that the HCPC would be offering no evidence in relation to 2(d), 4(a)(iii), 5(a) and 6. She drew to the Panel’s attention that the Registrant had been put on notice of the proposed amendments in a letter, dated 26 October 2017. She submitted that the proposed amendments would cause no injustice to the Registrant.

6. The Panel was satisfied that the Allegation should be amended as requested as the proposed amendments were minor in nature in that they:
• provided helpful clarification with regard to the relevant dates;
• avoided ambiguity;
• more accurately reflected the HCPC’s case.

7. The Panel was satisfied that no injustice would be caused to the Registrant as she was put on notice of the proposed amendments in the HCPC’s letter dated 26 October 2017 and did not raised any objection at the time or since.
Application to Adduce Evidence


8. Ms Manning-Rees made an application to admit into evidence an exhibit which appeared to have been removed from the hearing bundle in error. The exhibit consisted of an email, dated 25 May 2016, which was referred to in the statement of Witness 1. Ms Manning-Rees made a further application for the Registrant’s written submissions that the Registrant sent to the HCPC during the investigation stage should be admitted into evidence.


9. The Panel was satisfied that the evidence contained within the exhibit was relevant to particular 4(a)(i) and (ii). The substance of the email was quoted in Witness 1’s witness statement and therefore the Registrant was on notice that it formed part of the HCPC’s case. The Panel accepted that the removal of the exhibit from the hearing bundle appeared to be an error and concluded that no injustice would be caused by its readmission. The Panel determined that the email dated 25 May 2016 should be admitted into evidence.


10. The Panel took the view that there was some disadvantage to the Registrant in not being present. Although the Registrant’s absence was deliberate and voluntary, the Panel concluded that her response to the allegations at the investigation was clearly relevant to the issues to be determined by the Panel and that in fairness to the Registrant, these representations should be taken into account.  The Panel determined that the Registrant’s written submissions should be admitted into evidence.


Background


11. The Registrant is registered as a Social Worker with the HCPC. She was employed as an agency social worker at Northamptonshire Council (‘the Council’) from 15 February 2016 to 6 May 2016.


12. The Registrant worked in Safeguarding and Children’s Services, specifically Child in Need and latterly Safeguarding and Care Planning. She was responsible for children who met the Child In Need and Child Protection criteria and those at risk of significant harm.


13. The Registrant’s employment contract was for three months. However, the Registrant’s manager decided that the contract would not be extended due to issues regarding her poor attendance at work. On 6 May 2016 the Registrant had her request to work from home declined. She attended the office and following a heated discussion, she was asked to leave the Council and her employment was terminated with immediate effect.


14. Witness 1, the Team Manager of the Department, subsequently conducted an internal investigation into the Registrant’s practice which highlighted a number of concerns, which included:


a. Not attending or cancelling meetings and reviews;
b. Not rescheduling meetings and reviews, and;
c. Not completing paperwork within the required timescales.


15. As a consequence of the concerns identified, Witness 1 made a referral to the HCPC. 


Assessment of Witnesses


Witness 1, Former Team Manager


16. Witness 1 was a Team Manager of the Child in Need and Safeguarding Social Work Team when the Registrant was employed at the Council as an agency social worker from 15 February 2016 to 6 May 2016.

17. The Panel found Witness 1 to be a fair and balanced witness. She provided the Panel with examples of the Registrant’s good work and provided careful and considered responses to the questions that were put to her. Although the Panel did not accept the entirety of her evidence at times when it conflicted with the documentary evidence in the hearing bundle, the Panel however found her to be a credible and reliable witness; taking into account these matters are now over two years old and she made her witness statement 18 months after the event.

Witness 2, Line Manager


18. Witness 2 was the Registrant’s line manager. She informed the Panel that she was very impressed with the Registrant’s initial work and was unable to explain the sudden deterioration in her work.


19. The Panel found Witness 2’s evidence to be fair and balanced. The Panel formed the impression that she was a supportive and approachable manager and concluded that she was a credible and reliable witness.


Decision on Facts

Panel’s Approach

20. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Panel was aware that the burden of proving the facts was on the HCPC. The Registrant did not have to prove anything, and the individual particulars of the Allegation could only be found proved, if the Panel was satisfied, on the balance of probabilities.

21. In reaching its decision, the Panel took into account the oral evidence from the HCPC witnesses and the written and documentary evidence including the Registrant’s response to the Investigating Committee. The Panel also took into account the oral submissions, made on behalf of the HCPC.

22. As there were no formal admissions from the Registrant, the Panel proceeded on the basis that all the particulars of the Allegation were denied.

Child A, Child B, Child C and Child D

23. Child A, B, C and D are siblings from one family with two different fathers. All four children were made subject to Child Protection Plans due to concerns relating to neglect, domestic abuse and their mother’s alcohol misuse. The Children had been subject to Child Protection Plans since November 2013.

Particular 1(a) – Found Proved


‘In relation to Child A, Child B, Child C and Child D:
Did not hold and/or record any Child Protection Core Group Meetings between 24 February 2016 and 6 May 2016;’

24. The Panel noted that the Registrant stated in her written submissions that ‘these children were not allocated to me in February 2016 as I had no IT access.’ However, the Panel was provided with documentary evidence that all four children were allocated to the Registrant on or around 24 February 2016. On the basis of the documentary evidence, the Panel was satisfied that the Registrant was the allocated social worker from late February 2016 for these children.

25. Witness 1 informed the Panel in her witness statement that the purpose of Core Group Meetings is to develop and implement the Child Protection Plan and that they should take place every 6-8 weeks. She stated that the allocated social worker is the lead professional at Core Group Meetings and is responsible for convening and facilitating the meeting and taking minutes. Witness 1 informed the Panel that the Core Group Meetings consider any changes that need to take place within the family, safeguarding arrangements for the children and ensures that the plan is progressed. Witness 1 informed the Panel that having reviewed the case records in respect of Child A, B, C and D, she was unable to identify any Core Group Meetings during the period 24 February 2016 to 6 May 2016. She noted that Person A (a multi-systemic therapist) made attempts to contact the Registrant about the Core Group Meetings.

26. The Registrant stated in her written representations that a Core Group Meeting had taken place during the relevant period. She stated, ‘Regarding a child Protection Core Group Meetings between 24th Feb and 6th May these did take place unfortunately on the initial Core Group Meeting I attended with another Social Worker from the Team who handled the notes.’

27. The Panel was unable to accept the Registrant’s assertion that another social worker attended the meeting with her and took notes. Witness 1 informed the Panel that it would have been unusual for the Registrant to attend a Core Group Meeting with another social worker and the Panel accepted that evidence. The Panel was unable to identify any records of Core Group Meetings taking place during the relevant period within the hearing bundle. Furthermore, the Panel reviewed the email correspondence from Person A to the Registrant between 15 March 2016 to 4 May 2016 in which Person A queried when the Core Group Meeting would be taking place. The Panel was satisfied that Person A would have had no reason to make these enquiries if such a meeting had taken place. The Panel concluded that the Registrant did not hold a Core Group Meeting during the relevant period. Having concluded that no such meeting was held, the Panel was satisfied that it could not have been recorded.

28. Accordingly, the Panel found particular 1(a) proved.


Particular 1(b)(i)– Found Not Proved

‘Regarding a Core Group Meeting scheduled to take place on 22 March 2016:
cancelled the meeting…’

29. Witness 1 informed the Panel that the date of the next Core Croup Meeting would have been set at the previous Core Group Meeting. The Panel noted that Person A emailed the Registrant on 21 March 2016. In that email, Person A stated, …’I just wanted to confirm the details of the core group tomorrow is it 2pm at the school’, which indicated that a meeting had been pre-arranged and was scheduled to take place on 22 March 2016. The Registrant responded to Person A, on 22 March 2016, in an email timed at 10.35am, in which she stated, ‘Am carless so powerless!! Can you phone me.’ The Registrant also sent an email to a Practice Manager timed at 11.23 am which read, ‘I have massive car problems so am not able to get into the office or anywhere really. I am stuck without wheels. This is the sixth time trying to email you and [line manager].’

30. The Registrant stated in her written representations that the Core Group Meeting did go ahead but had to be chaired by another social worker.

31. The Panel was unable to accept the Registrant’s assertion that this Core Group Meeting went ahead chaired by another social worker. The Panel noted that Person A sent an email to the Registrant on 29 March 2016 enquiring when the re-scheduled Core Group Meeting would be taking place. The Panel took the view that it would not have been necessary to reschedule the meeting if it had taken place with another social worker on 22 March 2016.  However, the Panel also took the view that cancellation required a positive action on the part of the Registrant to notify the attendees either directly or indirectly that the meeting would not be taking place. Although the Panel concluded that the meeting had in effect been cancelled, it was unable to conclude that it had been cancelled by the Registrant; who may have anticipated, having notified a Practice Manager of her difficulties, that another social worker would be sent in her place.   The Panel was satisfied that the Core Group Meeting did not take place on 22 March 2016 but the HCPC adduced insufficient evidence for the Panel to be able to determine that the meeting had been cancelled, and if so, by whom.

32. Accordingly, particular 1(b)(i) was found not proved.

Particular 1(b)(ii) – Found Proved

‘Regarding a Core Group Meeting scheduled to take place on 22 March 2016:
did not arrange for a colleague to attend in your place…’

33. The Panel took into account its findings in relation to particular 1(b)(i) and the evidence of Witnesses 1 and 2. Witness 1 informed the Panel in her witness statement that the Registrant did not advise a manager about the Core Group Meeting and therefore no arrangements could be made to arrange alternative cover when she was unable to attend. In her oral evidence, Witness 1 stated that the Registrant should have made arrangements for a Practice Manager to attend the meeting. Witness 2 stated in her witness statement that it was normal practice for a colleague to attend in the allocated social worker’s absence and that the Council had a rota set up for this. She also stated that the Registrant could have asked her to attend.

34. The Panel was satisfied that it was the Registrant’s responsibility to make arrangements for another social worker to attend the Core Group Meeting in circumstances where she was unable to attend. The Registrant could either have made the arrangements herself or she could have asked someone else to do it on her behalf. Despite the Registrant’s assertion that the Core Group Meeting took place on 22 March 2016, the Panel was satisfied that it did not and there was no evidence before the Panel that she had made arrangements for a colleague to attend in her place.

35. Accordingly, particular 1(b)(ii) was found proved.

Particular 1(b)(iii) – Found Proved

‘‘Regarding a Core Group Meeting scheduled to take place on 22 March 2016:
did not reschedule the meeting.’

36. The Panel took into account its findings in relation to particulars 1(b)(i) and 1(b)(ii). The Panel also took into account a chain of emails sent from Person A to the Registrant. These emails included a query regarding the Core Group Meeting the day before it was due to take place (21 March 2016) and numerous emails thereafter between 29 March 2016 and 29 April 2016 regarding the rescheduling of that meeting. The Panel was informed that it was unusual for a therapist to have to chase a social worker to schedule a Core Group Meeting and concluded that Person A would not have sent the emails if a meeting had been scheduled. The Panel conclude that the Registrant did not reschedule the meeting.


37. Accordingly, particular 1(b)(iii) was found proved.

Particular 1(c) – Found Proved

‘Did not respond to requests by Person A for a Core Group Meeting to be held’

38. The Panel took into account its findings in relation to particular 1(b)(iii) and accepted the evidence of Witness 1, which was supported by the documentary evidence that Person A sent emails to the Registrant on 15 March 2016, 21 March 2016, 29 March 2016 and 19 April 2016 with regard to Core Group Meetings. As Person A received no response, she sent an email to Witness 2 as she was the Registrant’s line manager and following a prompt from Witness 2 on 29 April 2016, the Registrant finally responded on 4 May 2016.

39. Accordingly, particular 1(c) was found proved.


Particular 1(d) – Found Not Proved

‘Recorded a statutory visit to the children on 22 March 2016 when you were not in work on this date.’

40. Witness 1 informed the Panel in her witness statement that the Registrant did not attend the office on 22 March 2016 due to problems with her car. Witness 1 referred to the case records of Child A, B, C and D which recorded a visit made by the Registrant on 22 March 2016. The record was created and written by the Registrant on 7 April 2016.

41. The Registrant stated in her written representations that, ‘With regard to the statutory visit that took place on 22/3/2016 I am surprised as my written diary contains a tick that this was done on this date at the home in the afternoon. I …should have checked that this information was correctly memorised on the system…’.

42. The Panel concluded that the Registrant’s response was ambiguous, in that, on one reading she appears to be suggesting that she attended a statutory visit at the children’s home whilst at the same time indicating that the entry may have been a mistake. In any event, the Panel noted that Witness 1 acknowledged in her witness statement that she was not aware that any enquiries had been made to confirm with the family whether the visit had been undertaken. In the absence of such confirmation, the Panel concluded that insufficient evidence had been adduced by the HCPC. The Panel accepted that the Registrant was not in the office on 22 March 2016 but that did not mean that she had not attended a home visit. Despite the Registrant’s car problems, the Panel was unable to rule out the possibility that a home visit was made to the children on 22 March 2016.

43. Accordingly, particular 1(d) was found not proved.

Child E and Child F

 


44. Child E and F are siblings. Both children had been subject to Child Protection Plans since November 2015 due to serious concerns about domestic violence, perpetrated by their father. The children’s father was controlling and had access to their passports and finances. There were also allegations of cruelty and a threat to kill their mother.


Particular 2(a) – Found Proved

‘Did not hold and/or record any Child Protection Core Group Meetings between 23 February 2016 and 6 May 2016’

45. The Panel accepted the evidence of Witness 1, which was supported by the documentary evidence, that the case in relation to Child E and Child F was allocated to the Registrant. The case records provided to the Panel confirmed that the Registrant was the allocated social worker by 26 February 2016 at the latest. Witness 1 informed the Panel that there were no Core Group Meetings between 23 February 2016 and 6 May 2016.

46. The Registrant confirmed in her written representations that ‘a Core Group Meeting did not take place as per schedule on 21st March 2016.’ She stated that this was because she had to attend to an emergency that required an experienced social worker.

47. The Panel, having reviewed the case records within the hearing bundle, was satisfied that not only did the Core Group Meeting not take place on 21 March 2016, it did not take place on any date during the relevant period. The Panel noted that Person B, a Family Support Worker, sent an email to Witness 2 on 18 May 2016 setting out the dates that she had attempted to make contact with the Registrant. Person B confirmed in her email to Witness 2 that there had been no Core Group Meeting since 5 February 2016 and that the next meeting had been scheduled to take place on 21 March 2016. On 21 March 2016, Person B telephoned the Registrant but was unable to speak to her. The Registrant subsequently rang Person B back and stated that the meeting would not be going ahead. The Panel was satisfied that Person B would not have made numerous attempts to contact the Registrant by email and telephone between 24 March 2016 and 6 May 2016 if a Core Group Meeting had taken place. The Panel also noted that on 16 May 2016, after the Registrant’s contract had been terminated, the children’s headteacher telephoned the Safeguarding Assurance Team with regards to the lack of Core Group Meetings. The Panel concluded that the Registrant did not hold a Core Group Meeting during the relevant period. Having concluded that no such meeting was held, the Panel was also satisfied that it could not have been recorded.

48. Accordingly, particular 2(a) was found proved.

Particular 2(b)(i) – Found Proved

‘Regarding a Core Group Meeting due to take place on 21 March 2016:
cancelled the meeting…’

49. The Panel took into account its findings in relation to particular 2(a). The Panel   noted that an email was sent to the Registrant on 18 March 2016 in relation to the scheduled Core Group Meeting to take place on 21 March 2016. On 21 March 2016, the Registrant returned Person B’s telephone call and stated that the meeting would not be going ahead.

50. The Panel was satisfied that the Registrant cancelled the Core Group Meeting during the telephone call with Person B on 21 March 2016.

51. Accordingly, particular 2(b)(i) was found proved.

Particular 2(b)(ii) – Found Proved

‘Regarding a Core Group Meeting due to take place on 21 March 2016:
did not arrange for a colleague to attend in your place…’

52. Witness 1 informed the Panel in her witness statement that the Registrant should have chaired the meeting. She stated that if the Registrant was unable to attend, arrangements should have been made for another social worker to attend in her place.

53. The Registrant stated that as she was covering an emergency whilst acting as Duty Social Worker, she was unable to attend the Core Group Meeting and ‘was assured that [her] calls and meetings would be covered, my mistake was not making sure this was done.’ The Registrant did not say whom she spoke to or what specific arrangements she made with this individual.

54. The Panel was satisfied that it was the Registrant’s responsibility to arrange for a colleague to attend the Core Group Meeting in her place. The Panel took the view that the Registrant could have undertaken this personally or she could have asked a colleague to make the necessary arrangements on her behalf. The Panel did not accept the Registrant’s vague assertion that she had been informed that her meeting would be covered by someone else. The Panel was unable to identify any evidence within the hearing bundle that the Registrant had made any attempts to arrange for a colleague to attend the meeting in her place and concluded that no arrangements had been made.

55. Accordingly, particular 2(b)(ii) was found proved.

Particular 2(b)(iii) – Found Proved

‘Regarding a Core Group Meeting due to take place on 21 March 2016:
did not reschedule the meeting;’

56. Witness 1 informed the Panel in her witness statement that the Core Group Meeting that was scheduled to take place on 21 March 2016 should have been rescheduled as soon as practically possible.

57. The Panel was unable to identify any evidence within the hearing bundle to indicate that the Registrant had taken any steps to reschedule the Core Group Meeting and was satisfied that, if she had taken such steps, it is unlikely that Person B would have found it necessary to make numerous attempts to contact the Registrant by email and telephone.

58. Accordingly, particular 2(b)(iii) was found proved.

Particular 2(c) – Found Not Proved

‘Completed and/or duplicated a record for a Core Group Meeting on 6 May 2016 which did not take place;’

59. Witness 1 informed the Panel in her witness statement and during her oral evidence that the entry in the case records of a Core Group Meeting on 6 May 2016 was a duplicated record. She stated that it is a copy of a meeting held on 5 January 2016 facilitated by the children’s previous social worker. Witness 1 was able to confirm this because the unique identifying number shows that the record of 6 May 2016 was copied from the 5 January 2016 record and the content of both records are the same. During her oral evidence, Witness 1 described duplication as a useful tool when, for example, it is necessary to input the same information in to the case records of children from the same family. She stated that duplicating records is a two stage process and requires the individual with access to the case records to take clear, deliberate steps to copy the records from one file and place them in another.

60. The Registrant stated that she was ‘confused about copied records as [she] would have been unable to do this and cannot replicate this.’

61. The Panel accepted the evidence of Witness 1 that the records could be duplicated with relative ease and was satisfied that the Registrant had in fact duplicated a copy of a Core Group Meeting that was added to the case records. The Panel also accepted that there was no evidence that a Core Group Meeting took place on 6 May 2016. However, the Panel was not satisfied that the HCPC had adduced sufficient evidence that the duplicate document within the hearing bundle was purporting to be a record of a Core Group Meeting on 6 May 2016. The Panel noted that the heading at the top of the document stated, ‘CP Core Group (From 08/07/2013)’ and in the box labelled ‘Form Start Date’ was the date ‘06/05/2016’. No entries appeared to have been made on the form by the Registrant; it was simply a duplication of an earlier entry and the date recorded on the form was the date the duplication had been made which happened to be the Registrant’s last day with the Council.

62. The Panel was not willing to draw any adverse inferences from the face of the document. Witness 1 appeared to have taken the view that the entry was purporting to be a record of a Core Group Meeting that took place on 6 May 2016. However, the Panel concluded that insufficient evidence had been adduced to support that presumption. Furthermore, as there was no evidence that the Registrant had made any entries on the duplicate record the Panel was not satisfied that she had ‘completed’ the record.

63. Accordingly, particular 2(c) was found not proved.


Particular 2(e)(i)-(iv) – Found Proved (in relation to 2(e)(i), 2(e)(ii) and 2(e)(iv)); Found Not Proved (in relation to 2(e)(iii))

‘Did not respond to emails from Person B for assistance in relation to the case on:
i) 24 March 2016 and/or
ii) 13 April 2016 and/or
iii) 14 April 2016 and/or
iv) 18 April 2016.’

64. The Panel accepted the evidence of Witness 1, which was supported by documentary evidence, that Person B set out in an email to Witness 2, dated 18 May 2016, the attempts that she had made to contact the Registrant.

65. Person B recorded in her list of attempts to contact the Registrant emails sent on 24 March 2016, 13 April 2016, 14 April 2016 (two emails) and 18 April 2016. The Panel noted that Person B had recorded in her ‘log’ that there was no response to these emails save for 14 April 2016 when she spoke to the Registrant on the telephone. There is no indication from the ‘log’ as to who made the telephone call but, in any event, as Person B was able to speak to the Registrant and have a discussion with her about the children, the Panel concluded that it would not be appropriate to characterise this communication as ‘no response’.

66. The Registrant stated in her written representations that she had no recollection of receiving emails from Person B. However, the Panel was satisfied that the emails were received as Person B sent an email to the Registrant on 18 March 2016 and on that occasion the Registrant emailed her back, which indicated that the emails from Person B were being sent to the correct email address.

67. The Panel concluded that the Registrant did not respond to email communication from Person B on 24 March 2016, 13 April 2016 and 18 April 2016 but did respond on 14 April 2016.

68. Accordingly, particular 2(e) was found proved in relation to 2(e)(i), 2(e)(ii) and 2(e)(iv) and found not proved in relation to 2(e)(iii).

Child G and Child H

69. Child G and Child H are siblings. The children were made subject to Child Protection Plans on 9 March 2016 due to serious concerns in relation to domestic violence, perpetrated by the father of Child H, who was already subject to a Domestic Violence Prevention Order and the children’s mother was uncooperative. The children had previously been subject to Plans for the same concerns.

Particular 3(a) – Found Not Proved

‘Completed and/or duplicated a record for a Core Group Meeting on 6 May 2016 which did not take place;’

70. The Panel accepted the evidence of Witness 1, which was supported by the documentary evidence, that the case in relation to Child G and Child H was allocated to the Registrant. The case records provided to the Panel confirmed that the Registrant was the allocated social worker by 25 February 2016 at the latest. Witness 1 informed the Panel that there were no Core Group Meetings between 23 February 2016 and 6 May 2016.

71. The Registrant confirmed in her written representations that she was unable to attend a Core Group Meeting on 21 March 2016 as she had been seconded to the duty desk as the team was ‘seriously short staffed and only had a newly qualified Social Worker on Duty who could not take a seriously s.47’  the Registrant went on to state that ‘Core Group meetings were held but due to the unavailability of the other Social Worker she did not attend.’ The Panel took the view that the Registrant’s comments suggested that Core Group Meetings had taken place, but without a social worker being present, as her replacement was also unable to attend.

72. The Panel noted that a Core Group Meeting should have taken place at 6-8 weekly intervals; therefore, at least one meeting should have taken place at during the relevant period. The Panel, having reviewed the case records within the hearing bundle, noted that a Core Group Meeting took place on 3 May 2016. Therefore, Witness 1’s assertion that there were no Core Group Meetings during the relevant period was incorrect. The Panel noted that the meeting that took place on 3 May 2016 was not attended by the Registrant, but by a different social worker. That social worker had updated the case records. It was not clear why the Registrant had not attended the meeting herself. During this period the Panel noted that only one Core Group Meeting was due albeit that the one on 3 May 2016 was approximately 10 days late.

73. Accordingly, particular 3(a) was found not proved.


Particular 3(b)(i) – Found Proved

‘Regarding the first Child Protection Core Group Meeting for the children due to take place on 21 March 2016:
did not attend the meeting…’

74. Witness 1 stated in her witness statement, that the initial Core Group Meeting was scheduled at the Child Protection Conference, which the Registrant attended on 9 March 2016. This was to be held at a school on 21 March 2016. This information was confirmed by the documentary evidence. Witness 1 went on to state that the Registrant ‘missed’ the meeting.

75. The Registrant acknowledged in her written representations that she did not attend the Core Group Meeting on 21 March 2016. She stated that that this was ‘due to being seconded to DUTY DESK as they were seriously short staffed and only had a newly qualified Social Worker on Duty who could not take a serious S.47.’

76. The Panel was provided with a copy of a letter from the Health Visitor to the Conference Chair in which she expressed concern about the lack of a Core Group Meeting. The letter did not bear a date, but it was clear that the reference to the initial Core Group on ‘21st May’ was clearly an error and should have read ’21 March’. This is because within the letter was reference to a visit ‘this Thursday (5th May)’, which meant that the letter was written before 21 May. The letter confirmed that the Registrant did not attend the initial Core Group Meeting. The Panel was satisfied on the basis of the oral and documentary evidence that the Registrant did not attend the Core Group Meeting on 21 March 2016.

77. Accordingly, particular 3(b)(i) was found proved.

Particular 3(b)(ii) – Found Proved


‘Regarding the first Child Protection Core Group Meeting for the children due to take place on 21 March 2016:
did not arrange for a colleague to attend in your place…’

78. There was no evidence within the hearing bundle that the Registrant had arranged for a colleague to attend the meeting in her place. The Panel noted that the Registrant did not suggest in her written representations that she had arranged for a colleague to attend. Her representations indicated that it was not possible for another social worker to attend due to other commitments.

79. The Panel was satisfied that it was the Registrant’s responsibility to arrange for a colleague to attend the Core Group Meeting in her place. The Panel took the view that the Registrant could have undertaken this personally or she could have asked a colleague to make the necessary arrangements on her behalf. The Panel did not accept the Registrant’s vague assertion that no other social worker was available. The Panel was unable to identify any evidence within the hearing bundle that the Registrant had made any attempts to arrange for a colleague to attend the meeting in her place and concluded that no arrangements had been made.

80. Accordingly, particular 3(b)(ii) was found proved.

Particular 3(b)(iii) – Found Not Proved


‘Regarding the first Child Protection Core Group Meeting for the children due to take place on 21 March 2016:
did not reschedule the meeting.

81. From the email from the Health Visitor to the Conference Chair previously referred to, the Panel’s decision was that the initial Core Group Meeting went ahead on 21 March 2016. There was therefore no need for this meeting to be rescheduled.

82. Accordingly, particular 3(b)(iii) was found not proved.


Particular 3(c) – Found Proved

‘Did not complete the paperwork to convene a legal planning meeting by 4 March 2016 as requested in supervision on 26 February 2016.’

83. Witness 1 informed the Panel in her witness statement that legal planning meetings are a commonly understood process within children’s social care. She stated that the meetings relate to whether or not the legal threshold has been met and whether or not an application should be made to the court for a Care Order or Supervision Order in relation to the child. Witness 1 reviewed the records and was unable to identify any evidence that the Registrant had completed the relevant paperwork to convene a legal planning meeting by 4 March 2016 as directed by Witness 2 during her supervision meeting with the Registrant on 26 February 2016. Witness 2 informed the Panel that this was a ‘crisis supervision’ meeting which meant that the review of the case was considered to be urgent.

84. The Registrant stated in her written representations that ‘a legal planning meeting did take place but was cancelled when it was disclosed that as well as my two child clients there was another child in the family and the [their] Social Worker did not attend.’

85. The Panel was provided with a copy of the supervision record which stated, ‘LPM request paperwork to be completed by 4th March 2016, this requires updated chronology and gengram (sic).’ The Panel was unable to identify any evidence within the hearing bundle to indicate that the Registrant had take steps to update the chronology and genogram. The Panel noted that the Registrant did not address the absence of the paperwork in her written representations. The Panel was satisfied that the Registrant had an obligation to undertake the preparatory work to enable a legal planning meeting to be convened. The Panel conclude that this had not been done.

86. Accordingly, particular 3(c) was found proved.


Particular 3(d) – Found Proved

‘Did not convene a legal planning meeting by 18 March 2016 as recommended by a Child Protection Conference on 9 March 2016.’

87. Witness 1 informed the Panel in her witness statement that at the Child Protection Conference on 9 March 2016, it was recommended that a legal planning meeting should be convened by 18 March 2016, which was supported by the documentary evidence. Witness 1 stated that the Registrant did not convene the meeting and that there was no evidence that she took any steps to do so.

88. Although the Registrant stated in her written representations that a legal planning meeting did take place, no details were provided. Furthermore, the Registrant’s assertion contradicted the evidence of Witness 1 that there was no evidence that a legal planning meeting took place in March 2016 and that the first legal planning meeting was the one that took place on 2 June 2016, after the Registrant left the Council.

89. The Panel accepted the evidence of Witness 1. The Panel was satisfied that the Registrant had a responsibility to convene a legal planning meeting but did not do so. 

90. Accordingly, particular 3(d) was found proved.

Child J and Child K

91. Child J and Child K are siblings from the same family. The children had extensive involvement on and off for a number of years with Children’s Social Care due to their mother’s mental health difficulties.

Particular 4(a)(i) – Found Proved


‘Regarding a Child in Need meeting you arranged for 3 March 2016:


did not attend the meeting…’


92. The Panel accepted the evidence of Witness 1, which was supported by the documentary evidence, that Child J and Child K were allocated to the Registrant who was tasked to undertake a single assessment of their needs. The case records provided to the Panel confirmed that the Registrant was the allocated social worker on the case by 1 March 2016 at the latest. Witness 1 stated that the Registrant should have convened the meeting and arranged for a manager to chair it.

93. The Registrant acknowledged in her written representations that Child J and Child K had been allocated to her but stated that she did not have IT access at the time the case was assigned to her.  She stated that there was a younger child that lived with the father, who was not her client, and that she ‘met the two older children at school on the 3rd March 2016 for the Child In Need Meeting. However, I was running late…’

94. The Panel took the view that whether or not the Registrant had IT access, Child J and Child K had been allocated to her and it was her responsibility to attend the Child in Need meeting. It was unclear from the Registrant’s written representations if she was suggesting that she had intended to attend the meeting but missed it because she was ‘running late’. The Panel was provided with an email from an Attendance and Welfare Officer which contained a chronology in relation to Child J and Child K. The chronology included reference to the meeting that took place on 3 March 2016. It stated, ‘3/3/16 meeting went ahead without SW although CPN and mother both said that they had spoken to her’. On the basis of the oral and documentary evidence the Panel was satisfied that the Registrant did not attend the Child in Need meeting.

95. Accordingly, particular 4(a)(i) was found proved.

Particular 4(a)(ii) – Found Proved

‘Regarding a Child in Need meeting you arranged for 3 March 2016:
did not arrange for a colleague to attend in your place…’

96. The Panel was satisfied that it was the Registrant’s responsibility to arrange for a colleague to attend the Child in Need Meeting in her place if she was unable to attend. The Panel took the view that the Registrant could have undertaken this personally or she could have asked a colleague to make the necessary arrangements on her behalf. The Panel did not accept the Registrant’s vague assertions which did not provide any valid explanation as to why this was not done. The Panel was unable to identify any evidence within the hearing bundle that the Registrant had made any attempts to arrange for a colleague to attend the meeting in her place and concluded that no arrangements had been made.

97. Accordingly, particular 4(a)(ii) was found proved.

Child L

98. Child L was a teenage female at risk of sexual exploitation. There were concerns that she had been abused while living with her family. Child L had a complex history.

Particular 5(b) – Found Proved


‘Did not arrange a Looked After Child Review within the statutory timeframe of 28 days of Child L moving to a new placement on 31 March 2016.’


99. Witness 1 informed the Panel in her witness statement that Child L was allocated to the Registrant on 23 February 2016. She stated that Child L moved to a new placement on 31 March 2016 in a different county and that a Looked After Child (LAC) review should have been held within 28 days of the placement move. Witness 1 was unable to identify any evidence that this had taken place.

100. The Registrant stated in her written representations that Child L’s case was allocated to her on 11 March 2016 and that by that then the case ‘was already out of time scales due to back log and a shortage of staff.’ She stated that she completed a Looked After Review, but no details relating to this taking place were provided. 

101. The Panel noted that on 27 April 2016, an email was sent from the manager of Child L’s placement to the Registrant requesting that she set up a LAC review within the statutory 28-day timescale as it had not taken place and no date had been set for the meeting. The email was copied in to Witness 2. On 28 April 2016, an email was sent from Child L’s placement to the Commissioning and Placements Team which stated, ‘we have been repeatedly chasing the LAC information.’ The Panel was satisfied that the manager of Child L’s placement would have had no reason to chase up the LAC review had the Registrant made the necessary arrangements. Furthermore, although Witnesses 1 and 2 informed the Panel that the Registrant had frequent sickness absences, at no time was she on extended sickness absence, and therefore the Registrant had the opportunity to arrange the LAC review. The Panel concluded that the Registrant did not arrange a LAC review within the 28-day timescale.

102. Accordingly, particular 5(b) was found proved.

Particular 5(c) – Found Not Proved


‘Recorded a visit to the child on 5 May 2016 at 10.30 am which did not take place.’


103. The Panel noted that the case records for Child L contained an entry regarding a visit made by the Registrant on 5 May 2016. It states, ‘visit to see Child L to deliver a diary for her to start recording her wishes and feelings. Child L returned to classroom.’ However, an email from the placement stated that, ‘Mary only visited on the 4th from 9.30-11.30. The team went out and got Child L a book to use on the evening of the 4th. Mary did not visit Child L on the 5th or bring her a diary.’ This information led Witness 1 to conclude that the Registrant had not visited Child L on 5 May 2016. 


104. The Registrant stated in her written representations that she did visit Child L on 5 May 2016 ‘to bring her the second half of her diary as there were only 6 month diaries and I wanted her to have a full year of private diaries…’


105. The Panel accepted that there was no official confirmation that the Registrant visited Child L on 5 May 2016. However, the Panel was not prepared to draw an adverse inference that the Registrant had not attended in the absence of oral evidence from a member of staff from the placement. Without direct evidence with regards to the entry and exit arrangements at the placement, the Panel concluded that insufficient evidence had been adduced.


106. Accordingly, particular 5(c) was found not proved.

Particular 7 – Dishonesty Found Not Proved (in relation to 2(c) and 5(c)

107. As the Panel did not find particulars 2(c) and 5(c) proved, it did not go on to consider the issue of dishonesty.
108. Accordingly, particular 7 was found not proved in its entirety.

Grounds


Panel’s Approach


109. In view of the factual findings, the Panel went on to consider the issue of grounds but only in relation to the particulars that were found proved. No further consideration was given to the particulars that were found not proved. The Panel was aware that determining the issue of misconduct and/or lack of competence is a matter of judgement; there is no standard of proof.


110. The Panel took into account the oral submissions of Ms Manning-Rees, on behalf of the HCPC, and the Registrant’s written representations.


111.The Panel accepted the Legal Assessor’s advice. The Panel was aware that lack of competence can be distinguished from misconduct in that it indicates an inability to work at the required level and that it connotes a standard of professional performance which is unacceptably low which has usually been demonstrated by reference to a fair sample of a registrant’s work. The Panel was aware that breach of the standards alone does not necessarily constitute misconduct. The Panel also bore in mind the explanation of that term given by the Privy Council in the case of Roylance v GMC (No.2) [2000] 1 AC 311 where it was stated that:

“Misconduct is a word of general effect, involving some act or omission which falls short of what would be proper in the circumstances. The standard of propriety may often be found by reference to the rules and standards ordinarily required to be followed by a … practitioner in the particular circumstances. The misconduct is qualified in two respects. First, it is qualified by the word ‘professional’ which links the misconduct to the profession ... Secondly, the misconduct is qualified by the word ‘serious’. It is not any professional misconduct which will qualify. The professional misconduct must be serious.”

Decision on Grounds


Lack of Competence


112. The Panel noted that the Registrant appeared to have worked effectively and competently as a social worker when she initially commenced her 3-month contract with the Council. Witnesses 1 and 2 both provided positive evidence of her social work skills indicating that she was capable of working to a high standard. In these circumstances, the Panel was satisfied that the Registrant knew what was expected of her as a social worker and was capable of working to the required standard but did not do so on occasions as determined by the Panel’s factual findings.

113. The Panel therefore concluded that the Registrant’s acts and omissions did not amount to a lack of competence.

Misconduct

114. The Panel concluded that collectively, the Registrant’s acts and omissions demonstrated a failure to act in the best interests of 11 young service users. Her conduct also had the potential to adversely affect colleagues within her team. Confidence and trust amongst colleagues is vital; they should be able to expect that individuals within the team can be relied upon to work in accordance within established policies and in accordance with management instructions.

115. Although there was no evidence before the Panel of direct harm being caused to service users as a consequence of the Registrant’s acts and omissions, the service users were exposed to the risk of harm as a result of the non-attendance of the Registrant at statutory meetings and reviews.  This was an unnecessary and avoidable risk as it meant that childrens’ Child Protection Plans were not being properly monitored to ensure their progression. The service users and their families were particularly vulnerable to domestic abuse and physical and emotional abuse.  The Panel was satisfied that the Registrant’s acts and omissions were sufficiently serious to be characterised as misconduct.

116. In relation to the concerns regarding the non-completion of paperwork, the Panel concluded that the Registrant’s omissions amounted to misconduct both individually and collectively. The Registrant as a qualified social worker, had a professional obligation to safeguard and protect the well-being of vulnerable children. This included maintaining accurate and up to date records. Service users, their families and the public have the right to expect that the Registrant in performing her professional role would maintain appropriate records as important decisions are based on the assessments and records completed by social workers.  Given the significance of record keeping in child protection and safeguarding, the Panel was satisfied that the Registrant’s omissions were sufficiently serious to amount to misconduct.

117. The Panel considered the HCPC Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics [2016 Edition] and was satisfied that the Registrant’s conduct breached the following standards:

• 1 - You must promote and protect the interests of service users and carers.
• 2 – You must communicate appropriately and effectively. 
• 10 – You must keep accurate records.


118. The Panel was aware that breach of the standards alone does not necessarily constitute misconduct. However, the Registrant’s conduct and behaviour fell far below the standards expected of a registered practitioner. The Registrant was an experienced social worker and repeatedly failed to meet the standards expected of her in relation to the lives of the young people that she was responsible for protecting. Moreover, the misconduct concerned around half her allocated cases over a period of eight weeks. The actions the Registrant was required to undertake were fundamental to her area of practice and  could not be described as limited or a momentary failure.


Decision on Impairment 


Panel’s Approach


119. Having found misconduct, the Panel went on to consider whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired. The Panel took into account the HCPTS Practice Note: “Finding that Fitness to Practise is Impaired” and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.


120. The Panel took into account the submissions of Ms Manning-Rees, on behalf of the HCPC, and the Registrant’s written representations. 


121. In determining current impairment, the Panel had regard to the following aspects of the public interest as cited in the HCPTS Practice Note:

• ‘The ‘personal’ component: the current competence, behaviour etc. of the individual registrant; and
• The ‘public’ component: the need to protect service users, declare and uphold proper standards of behaviour and maintain public confidence in the profession. ‘

Panel’s Decision


122. The Panel considered the Registrant’s current fitness to practise firstly from the personal perspective and then from the wider public perspective.


123. The Panel noted that at the time the Registrant’s written representations were prepared, she stated that she was undertaking online training and study which included a Management and Leadership course. She listed other courses by their acronyms but provided no details with regard to the course content or learning objectives. The Panel recognised that attending an appropriate course is often beneficial, but it is the learning that has been achieved as a consequence, which is of paramount importance. As the Registrant did not attend the hearing, the Panel was unable to assess what the Registrant had learnt from attending these courses. The Panel also noted that the Registrant referred to her poor health but again, no details were provided.


124. The Registrant expressed regret and remorse in her written representations but the level and scope of her insight was limited. She appeared unable or unwilling to accept full responsibility for her acts and omissions. There is insufficient evidence before the Panel that the Registrant fully appreciates the overall gravity of her misconduct and as a consequence, the Panel was not assured that such serious misconduct would not be repeated. There was no evidence before the Panel that the Registrant has been able to work safely and effectively as a social worker since her contract with the Council was terminated in May 2016. There was also no evidence before the Panel that the courses that she has undertaken have been sufficient to keep her social work skills and knowledge up to date. In the absence of a sufficient level of insight and adequate evidence of remediation, the Panel concluded that there is a risk of repetition. The Panel was particularly concerned by the pattern of behaviour at work over a short but significant period of time. As a consequence, the Panel determined that there is a current and ongoing risk of repetition of these failings and therefore a risk of harm to service users.


125. The Panel heard evidence from both witnesses that the Registrant was initially enthusiastic about her work and they cited examples of her good practice.  However, they also stated that her work deteriorated quite suddenly and it was not clear why.


126. In considering the public component, the Panel had regard to the important public policy issues which include the need to maintain confidence in the profession and declare and uphold proper standards of conduct and behaviour. Members of the public would be concerned to learn that a social worker had not maintained accurate and/or up to date records in relation to vulnerable service users and had not ensured that statutory meetings and reviews were held which are core tasks for a social worker. 


127. The Panel concluded that the Registrant’s acts and omissions presented a risk of harm to service users, brought the profession into disrepute, and breached a fundamental tenet of the profession by failing to act in the best interests of service users at all times. There is a risk that all of these features are likely to be repeated in the future.


128. In all the circumstances, the Panel determined that public trust and confidence and professional standards would be undermined if a finding of impairment is not made.


129. The Panel concluded that the Registrant’s current fitness to practise is impaired on the basis of both the personal component and the wider public interest and therefore the HCPC’s case is well-founded.


Sanction


Submissions


130. Ms Manning-Rees, on behalf of the HCPC, referred the Panel to the Indicative Sanctions Policy (ISP). She was neutral as to what sanction, if any, should be imposed. However, she submitted that a Conditions of Practice Order would be inappropriate because the Registrant has demonstrated only limited engagement with the regulatory process.


Panel’s Approach


131. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Panel was mindful that the purpose of any sanction is not to punish the Registrant, but to protect the public and the wider public interest. The public interest includes maintaining public confidence in the profession and the HCPC as its regulator and upholding proper standards of conduct and behaviour. The Panel applied the principle of proportionality by weighing the Registrant’s interests with the public interest and by considering each available sanction in ascending order of severity.


132. The Panel had regard to its findings in relation to impairment of the Registrant’s fitness to practise on grounds of misconduct. The Panel also had regard to the ISP, the HCPC’s oral submissions and the Registrant’s written representations.


Decision


133. In determining the appropriate sanction, if any, the Panel took into account the aggravating and mitigating factors. The Panel identified the following aggravating factors:


• The absence of full insight into the shortcomings of the Registrant’s practice during the relevant period and therefore a risk of repetition;

• The shortcomings related to cases involving 11 particularly vulnerable service users over a period of 8 weeks;


• As a direct consequence of the Registrant’s acts and omissions, there was a risk of potential harm to service users;

• There is no evidence of remediation;

• The Registrant’s acts and omissions demonstrated a failure to undertake fundamental tasks despite repeated reminders.

134. The Panel identified the following mitigating factors:
• There was some engagement from the Registrant during the investigation stage which included providing the HCPC with written representations;

• The Registrant expressed some remorse in written representations and a degree of insight; albeit limited;


• The Registrant is of previous good character as no adverse regulatory findings have previously been made against her;

• The Registrant’s ability to work to a high standard including positive engagement with families attracted praise from Witnesses 1 and 2.

135. The Panel first considered taking no action. The Panel concluded that, in view of the nature and seriousness of the Registrant’s misconduct, to take no action would be wholly inappropriate. Although the Panel accepted that there were a number of mitigating factors, it was not satisfied that collectively these amounted to exceptional circumstances which justified no action. In the absence of these, the Panel concluded that taking no action would be insufficient to uphold and maintain public confidence in the profession.

136. The Panel went on to consider a Caution Order.  The Panel noted paragraph 28 of the ISP which states:
“A caution order is an appropriate sanction for cases, where the lapse is isolated, limited or relatively minor in nature, there is a low risk of recurrence, the registrant has shown insight and taken appropriate remedial action. A caution order should also be considered in cases where the nature of the allegation means that meaningful practice restrictions cannot be imposed but where the registrant has shown insight, the conduct concerned is out of character, the risk of repetition is low and thus suspension from practice would be disproportionate. A caution order is unlikely to be appropriate in cases where the registrant lacks insight.”


137. The Panel took the view that the Registrant’s misconduct could not be described as minor as her behaviour represented a significant departure from the key principles and statutory requirements of child protection and safeguarding, which are fundamental to the role of a social worker. In addition, the Registrant has demonstrated only limited insight into the impact of her misconduct on her professional standing as a registered social worker, the profession as a whole and the wider public interest and had provided no evidence of remediation. The Panel took the view that, whilst the risk of repetition remains, a Caution Order would be inappropriate. In any event, the Panel concluded that as the Registrant’s misconduct could not be properly described as limited or isolated and given the nature and gravity of her acts and omissions, a Caution Order would be insufficient to protect the public and meet the wider public interest.

138. The Panel went on to consider a Conditions of Practice Order. The Panel noted that at paragraph 33 the ISP states:
‘Conditions will rarely be effective unless the registrant is genuinely committed to resolving the issues they seek to address and can be trusted to make a determined effort to do so. Therefore, conditions of practice are unlikely to be suitable in cases:


• Where the registrant has failed to engage with the fitness to practise process, lacks insight or denies wrongdoing;

• Where there are serious or persistent overall failings;…’

139. The Panel noted that the significant areas of concern identified: not attending or cancelling meetings and reviews; not rescheduling meetings and reviews, and not completing paperwork within the required timescales, are all capable of being remediated provided that there is a willingness and a commitment on the part of the Registrant to address the shortcomings in her practice and any underlying causes. The Panel took the view that the Registrant’s limited engagement with the regulatory process and her limited attempts to remediate her misconduct indicates that she may be willing to address the concerns that have been identified but this is insufficient to justify the imposition of a Conditions of Practice Order. There has been no engagement from the Registrant since June 2017 and therefore no up to date information before the Panel with regards to the Registrant’s employment circumstances, the level of her current skills and knowledge or her health. The Panel took the view that it would not be possible to formulate appropriate conditions in the absence of full engagement from the Registrant.  The Panel also took into account the wider public interest. The Panel concluded that as the Registrant has shown only limited insight into the serious and persistent nature of her misconduct, conditions would undermine public confidence in the profession and the need to uphold standards of conduct and behaviour.

140. The Panel next considered a Suspension Order. A Suspension Order would re-affirm to the Registrant, the profession and the public the standards expected of a registered Social Worker. The Panel noted that a Suspension Order would prevent the Registrant from practising as a Social Worker during the suspension period, which would therefore provide protection to service users and the public. However, a Suspension Order would also provide the Registrant with the opportunity to consider carefully the decision of this Panel and properly focus on the issues of insight and remediation.

141. In considering this issue, the Panel had regard to paragraph 41 of the ISP which states:
‘If the evidence suggests that the registrant will be unable to resolve or remedy his or her failings then striking off may be the more appropriate option. However, where the registrant has no psychological or other difficulties preventing him or her from understanding and seeking to remedy the failings then suspension may be appropriate.’

142. The Panel determined that the Registrant’s conduct and behaviour is capable of being remedied provided that she is willing to engage in meaningful reflection and take steps to demonstrate that such behaviour is firmly in the past and will not be repeated in the future. Although the Registrant has not engaged with the hearing process, the Panel noted that the Registrant indicated in her written representations that she had not ruled out a return to practice in the future. Therefore, the Panel took the view that the Registrant may be willing and able to address the deficiencies in her practice that have been identified and there was no evidence before the Panel that there are psychological or any other reasons which would prevent the Registrant from doing so. In these circumstances, the Panel determined that the Registrant should be made subject to a Suspension Order.

143. Prior to confirming the appropriateness of a Suspension Order, the Panel considered whether there was any merit in imposing a Striking Off Order. The Panel noted that a Striking Off Order is a sanction of last resort and concluded that whilst there was a realistic possibility that the Registrant would be able to address the deficiencies in her practice, imposing the ultimate sanction would be disproportionate and punitive in nature. Furthermore, the Panel recognised that there is a legitimate public interest in permitting an otherwise competent social worker to continue to practise their profession for the benefit of the public. Therefore, the Panel determined that a Suspension Order should be imposed.

144. The Panel determined that the Suspension Order should be imposed for a period of 9 months to mark the seriousness of the Registrant’s conduct and to maintain the public’s confidence in the regulatory process.  The Panel was satisfied that this period was the minimum necessary to reflect the nature and gravity of the Registrant’s misconduct and to declare and uphold the standards expected of a registered Social Worker. The Panel was also satisfied that this period would provide the Registrant with the opportunity to take appropriate steps to remediate her previous misconduct and demonstrate that she is fit to return to unrestricted practice in the future.  

145. The Suspension Order will be reviewed shortly before expiry. Although this Panel cannot bind a future panel, the review panel may be assisted by the Registrant’s engagement and evidence that the Registrant has reflected on the Panel’s findings and made significant steps to facilitate a safe and effective return to practise, which may include:

• Attendance at the review hearing.

• A written reflective piece which demonstrates the Registrant’s insight into the impact of her acts and omissions on service users, the profession as a whole and the wider public interest.

• Evidence that the Registrant has kept her social work knowledge and skills up to date, for example evidence of Continuing Professional Development.

• Up to date and relevant testimonials from paid or unpaid work.


• Medical evidence and/or reports (if appropriate).

Interim Order Application:

Proceeding with the application in the Registrant’s absence


146. Ms Manning-Rees made an application for the hearing to proceed in the Registrant’s absence to consider an application for an interim order.


147. The Panel decided that it was appropriate to consider the HCPC’s application for an interim order in the absence of the Registrant because she had been informed in the Notice of Hearing sent to her on 1 May 2018, that such an application might be made, and she has not responded with regard to that warning. Furthermore, there are no additional factors which would justify deviating from the Panel’s decision to proceed in absence at the outset of the hearing. In these circumstances, the Panel was satisfied that (i) the Registrant had voluntarily chosen not to participate in these proceedings, (ii) no useful purpose would be served by adjourning the HCPC’s application and (iii) as a substantive order has been imposed there is public interest in ensuring that an interim order application is consider as expeditiously as possible.


Decision


148. In considering the HCPC’s application for an immediate Interim Suspension Order, 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 findings on impairment and the Suspension Order it has imposed, it would not be appropriate for the Registrant to return to practise unrestricted given the potential risk of harm to service users and the ongoing risk of repetition. 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 maintain and uphold trust and confidence in the profession and the regulatory process. The Panel did not make an interim order on the grounds that it was in the Registrant’s own interests.


149. 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.


150. 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. 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

Order

Order: That the Registrar is directed to suspend Mrs Mary Josephine Foster from the Register for a period of 9 months.

 

Notes

 

 A meeting of the  Conduct and Competence Committee took place at HCPTS London on Tuesday 31 July 2018 to 03 August 2018.

 

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Mary Josephine Foster

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
31/07/2018 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Suspended