Ms Diane Cooke

Profession: Social worker

Registration Number: SW69371

Hearing Type: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 08:00 09/07/2018 End: 16:00 11/07/2018

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

Panel: Conduct and Competence Committee
Outcome: Suspended

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Allegation

(as amended at the substantive hearing)

During the course of your employment as a Social Worker for Lincolnshire County Council:

1. Between 2011 and 2015 you stored confidential service user documents at your home.


2. On an unknown date in 2015 you attempted to dispose of confidential service user documents by giving them to an unauthorised person (Person A) to destroy.


3. On an unknown date between April 2014 and November 2014 you left confidential service user documents with an unauthorised person (Person B) and/or allowed an unauthorised person (Person B) access to confidential service user documents.


4. In relation to Service User A, between January 2015 and May 2015, you:

a) Did not complete a balanced Social Care Assessment.

b) Did not adequately investigate Child A's behaviour. [Discontinued following half time submission]

c) Did not interview Service User A's maternal grandmother and/or maternal uncle as part of the Social Care Assessment. [Discontinued following half time submission]

d) Did not adequately record the telephone calls received from Person C. [Discontinued following half time submission]

e) Did not record the discussions with Person C about contact between Service User A and his father (Person D).

f) Informed the police that you suspected Person C had mental health problems without evidence to support this. [Discontinued following half time submission]

g) Informed Service User A's teacher that Person C and Service User A shared the same bed without obtaining Person C's consent to disclose this.

h) Informed the head of Service User A's nursery that Person Chad been abused by her father without obtaining Person C's consent to disclose this.

i) Did not refer Person C to Family Support.

j) Did not record the risk analysis in a timely manner.

k) Did not complete a Child in Need plan. [Discontinued following half time submission]

l) Did not fully record the minutes for the Child in Need meetings held on 9 February 2015 and/or 19 March 2015.


5. In relation to Service User B, between March 2015 and April 2015, you did not:

a) Complete and/or record completing agency checks with the police, fire brigade and/or Service User B's nursery.

b) Fully investigate the referral in respect of Service User B. [Discontinued following half time submission]


6. In relation to Service User C, between May 2015 and August 2015, you did not:

a) Seek the views of Service User C's father.

b) Explain and/or analyse the reasons for the decision to close the case. [Discontinued following half time submission]


7. In relation to Service User D, between August 2015 and October 2015, you did not:

a) Complete and/or upload to ICS a Child in Need plan.

b) Record minutes for the Child in Need meeting held on 21 September 2015.

c) Record the views of Service User D.

d) Record the outcome and/or a risk analysis of the section 47 investigation.


8. ln relation to Service Users E, F and G, between July 2015 and October 2015, you:

a) Completed the Children's Social Care Assessment outside of the 45 working days time limit.

b) Did not complete child specific assessments in respect of Service user F and/or Service User G.

c) Did not speak with and/or record speaking with Service user F and/or Service User G.

d) Did not follow a management instruction to complete direct work with Service User E around risk taking behaviour.

e) Did not fully record the minutes for the Child in Need meeting held on 20 July 2015.

f) Did not record minutes for the Child in Need meeting held on 28 August 2015.

g) Did not record any case notes after 7 August 2015.


9. In relation to Service Users H and I, between May 2015 and October 2015, you did not:

a) Adequately complete and/or upload to ICS Child in Need plans.

b) Record minutes for the Child in Need meeting held on 16 September 2015.

c) Record the outcome and/or a risk analysis of the section 47 investigation.

d) Follow a management instruction to see Service User H alone.


10. The matters described at particulars 1 to 9 constitute misconduct and/or lack of competence.


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

 

Facts proved: 1, 2, 3, 4(e), 4(g), 4(h), 4(i), 4(l), 5(a), 7(a), 7(b), 7(c), 7(d), 8(a), 8(b), 8(c), 8(d), 8(e), 8(f), 9(a), 9(b), 9(c), and 9(d).

Facts not proved: 4(a), 4(j), 6(a), and 8(g).

Allegations Discontinued: 4(b), 4(c), 4(d), 4(f), 4(k), 5 (b), and 6(b).

Grounds: Misconduct

Fitness to practise impaired: Yes

Sanction: Suspension (9 Months)

Finding

Preliminary Matters

Private Hearing

1. At the outset of the hearing, the Panel raised the issue as to whether any matters relating to the Registrant’s health or personal issues may be heard in evidence. Mr Gill, on behalf of the Registrant, made an application for such issues, should they arise, to be heard in private. Mr Foxsmith on behalf of the HCPC had no objection to such matters being held in private. 

2. The Panel determined that, if it became necessary, such matters should be heard in private to protect the Registrant’s right to a private life and should not form part of the public record.

Application to Amend the Allegation

3. Mr Foxsmith informed the Panel prior to opening the case on behalf of the HCPC that he would be offering no evidence in respect of particulars 4(b) and 4(k). 

4. Mr Foxsmith went on to make an application for the following particulars of the Allegation to be amended:

• Particular 3 – by adding, ‘…and/or allowed an unauthorised person (Person B) access to confidential service user documents.’

• Particular 4(a) – by replacing, ‘…Child and Family Assessment…’ with ‘Social Care Assessment’.

• Particular 4(c) – by replacing, ‘…Child…’ with ‘Service User’ and ‘…Child and Family Assessment’ with ‘Social Care Assessment’…’.

• Particulars 4(e), 4(g) and 4(h) by replacing, ‘…Child…’ with ‘Service User’.

• Particulars 7(a) and 9(a) – by adding ‘…and/or upload to ICS…’.

5. Mr Gill did not object to the proposed amendments.  

6. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. She advised the Panel that early notice and minor changes are less likely to cause injustice than late notice and substantial alterations that heighten the seriousness of the Allegation. She also advised that, notwithstanding Mr Foxsmith’s confirmation that he would be offering no evidence in relation to particulars (4b) and (4k), as the Investigating Committee Panel had determined that there was a case to answer in respect of all particulars of the Allegation, it was for the Panel to determine, based on the documentary and oral evidence, whether there was sufficient evidence or not.

7. The Panel noted that the Registrant had been put on notice of the proposed amendments in a letter dated 27 July 2017. The Panel was satisfied that the Allegation should be amended as requested as the proposed amendments:

• provided helpful clarification;

• avoided ambiguity;

• did not alter the substance or meaning of the Allegation as originally drafted and did not widen the scope of the HCPC’s case. 

8. In these circumstances, the Panel concluded that the amendments would cause no injustice to the Registrant as they were minor in nature and more accurately reflected the HCPC’s case. 


Background

9. The Registrant is a registered Social Worker. She was employed by Lincolnshire County Council (the Council) as a Level 1 social worker in the Family Assessment and Support Team of the Council between 11 November 2011 and 18 March 2016. The Registrant was responsible for children under the age of 18 that were categorised as Children in Need (CIN), children requiring safeguarding from harm (Child Protection) and Looked After Children (LAC).

10. It was alleged that between 2011 and 2015 the Registrant stored confidential service user records at her home, and that she attempted to dispose of some of these by giving them to her partner, Person A, to destroy at his workplace. It was also alleged that the Registrant left confidential service user records with an unauthorised person (Person B) or allowed him to access such records.

11. Additional concerns had been raised in respect of the quality and standard of the Registrant’s work and her record keeping. In relation to Service User A it was alleged that the Registrant did not complete a balanced Social Care Assessment (SCA); adequately investigate Service User A’s behaviour, record discussions and telephone calls with the family adequately, disclosed personal information to third parties without person C’s consent, record a risk analysis within a timely manner, complete a Child in Need plan or fully record the minutes for two Child in Need meetings.

12. Similar concerns were raised in relation to the Registrant’s management and recording of cases in respect of Service Users B, C, D, E, F, G, H and I. These mainly related to the recording or timely recording of case notes, minutes for Child in Need meetings, risk analysis and Children’s SCA’s. In addition, it has also been alleged that the Registrant failed to follow management instructions and did not adequately complete Child in Need plans or child specific assessments.


Half Time Submissions

13. At the close of the HCPC’s case, Mr Gill made a half time submission that there was ‘no case to answer’ in respect of particulars 4(a), 4(b). 4(c), 4(d), 4(e), 4(f), 4(i), 4(k), 5(b), 6(b), 8(c) and 9(d). He invited the Panel to discontinue these particulars on the grounds that either no evidence had been adduced by the HCPC or the evidence was inherently weak and unreliable. 

14. Mr Foxsmith, on behalf of the HCPC, made no submissions with regards to particulars 4(b) and 4(k) as he had confirmed at the outset that he would be offering no evidence. He conceded that there was insufficient evidence to support particulars 4(i), 5(b) and 6(b) but submitted that the remaining particulars were capable of being found proved.

Panel’s Approach

15. The Panel accepted the advice of the legal assessor and took into account the HCPTS Practice Notes entitled ‘Half Time’ Submissions. 

16. The Panel distinguished between its approach to the evidence at this stage and its approach at the end of the fact finding. The Panel was aware that at this stage of the proceedings, it had to decide whether, taking the HCPC’s case at its highest, sufficient evidence had been adduced upon which it could find the facts proved. In applying the Galbraith test (R v Galbraith [1981] 2 A11 ER 1039) the Panel considered both limbs of the test and asked itself the following questions: 

i) Has the HCPC presented any evidence upon which the Panel could find that particular of the Allegation proved? or;

ii) Is the evidence so unsatisfactory, because it is tenuous, inherently weak or inconsistent with other evidence that the Panel could not find the particular of the Allegation proved? 

17. The Panel noted that where the strength or weakness of the HCPC’s case was mainly dependent on its view of a witness’s reliability, and whether on one possible view, there was evidence upon which the facts could be found proved, the particular should proceed to the next stage. In addition, the Panel also took into account the issue of weight with regards to the opinions expressed by the professionals.

Assessment of Witnesses

Witness CC – Practice Supervisor (Family Assessment and Support Team)

18. Witness CC and the Registrant were on the Newly Qualified Social Worker programme together between 2010 and 2011 but worked in different teams. The Registrant subsequently joined CC’s team and they worked together as colleagues. In November 2014 CC became the Registrant’s supervisor, which continued until October 2015. 

19. The Panel noted that with regard to her professional opinion in relation to a number of the particulars, CC appeared to change her mind more than once. For example, in respect of the SCA, CC informed the Investigating Officer, TC, as part of the Stage 2 investigation that it was not balanced. However, in her witness statement CC stated that the assessment was balanced but may have given the impression of bias because of the way that it had been written. During her oral evidence she appeared to agree that it was balanced and at other times agreed that it was not balanced depending on how the question was phrased. Her final position during her live evidence was that it was a fair and balanced report. She confirmed that she had authorised the SCA as the Registrant’s line manager.

20. Another example of CC changing her opinion related to the amended particular 5(b). This particular was amended by the Panel on the basis that in addition to a concern about the investigation itself, there was also a concern that any progress with regard to the investigation was not recorded in a timely manner. When presented with the amended particular, after being recalled, CC was clear that it better reflected the Registrant’s alleged shortcomings. However when questioned on the amended particular, after new evidence was adduced, CC’s position changed several times during cross examination and under questioning from the Panel. Her final position was that the progress of the investigation was recorded in a timely manner, however she had revised her position with regard to the investigation itself which she now asserted was inadequate. 

21. Although the Panel had no reason to doubt CC’s honesty, due to the inconsistencies in her oral evidence, the Panel did not consider her to be a wholly reliable or credible witness. As a consequence the Panel was only able to accept certain aspects of her evidence when it was supported by documentary evidence.

22. The Panel noted that in CC’s oral evidence she identified positive aspects of the Registrant’s social work practice.

Witness JH – Former Team Manager (Family Assessment and Support Team)

23. Witness JH was the Registrant’s Team Manager from April 2015 until she left the Council in March 2016. He had supervisory responsibility for CC and worked with the Registrant on a frequent basis.

24. The Panel found JH to be a credible and reliable witness. His evidence was measured, and he provided clear and consistent evidence in relation the matters upon which he had direct knowledge.

Witness TC – Independent Complaints Investigator

25. Witness TC was the Investigating Officer in relation to the complaints made against the Registrant by Person C as part of a Stage 2 investigation. 

26. TC, who is not a social worker, explained the investigation process to the Panel. He confirmed during his oral evidence that some of the conclusions that he drew as part of his investigation were based on the professional judgement of social work managers who had worked with the Registrant, and in particular CC. Although, due to the passage of time, TC was unable to recollect some of the detail of his investigation the Panel had no reason to doubt that he was anything other than an honest and credible witness. 

Witness SN, Team Manager (Family Assessment and Support Team) 

27. Witness SN was asked to conduct an investigation into allegations that the Registrant had left confidential service user documents at her home with an unauthorised person, Person A. Prior to this investigation SN had not met the Registrant.

28. SN’s evidence was narrow and specifically focused on her investigation and the policy documents associated with confidential documents. She explained the investigation process and the reason that she did not interview Person A as requested by the Registrant. The Panel found SN to be a credible and reliable witness. 

Witness JS, Assistant Director in Children’s Services

29. Witness JS knew that the Registrant was a member of staff but never worked with her directly and never had any line management responsibilities for her. JS made contact with Person B and subsequently collected the confidential documentation that he stated the Registrant had left at his home and that he had found in his garage. 

30. SN’s evidence was narrow and specifically focused on her collection of the confidential documents from Person B and the policy with regard to such documents. The Panel found SN to be a credible and reliable witness. 


Decision on Discontinuance

Particular 4(a) – Case to Answer

‘Did not complete a balanced Social Care Assessment’

31. The Panel noted that CC stated in her witness statement that the Registrant’s investigation had been balanced but ‘it was perhaps just the way in which the report had been written that indicated bias’.  During her oral evidence she confirmed that she disagreed with the audit of that assessment by another practice supervisor, SC, which classified it as ‘requires improvement/inadequate’.  The Panel was provided with a copy of the SCA and the audit.

32. The Panel noted that there were two opposing professional opinions with regard to the report, but ultimately it would be a matter for it to determine whether it was balanced or not. The Panel concluded that there was some evidence upon which it could conclude that the SCA was not balanced.

33. Accordingly, the Panel determined that there was a case to answer in respect of particular 4(a).

Particular 4(b) – No Case to Answer

‘Did not adequately investigate Child A’s (Service User A’s) behaviour’

34. The HCPC confirmed at the outset of the hearing that no evidence would be offered in respect of particular 4(b) at the outset of the hearing. 

35. The Panel noted that there was evidence that the Registrant spoke to a number of parties including Person C, Service User A, his teacher and the police. There was no evidence before the Panel that this was not adequate to inform the Registrant’s investigation into Service User A’s behaviour. The Panel also noted that CC stated during her oral evidence that the Registrant “investigated the concerns really well.” The Panel concluded that no evidence had been adduced to support particular 4(b) and as a consequence there was no realistic prospect that it could be found proved. 

36. Accordingly, the Panel determined that there was no case to answer in respect of particular 4(b).

Particular 4(c) – No Case to Answer 

‘Did not interview Service User A’s maternal grandmother and/or maternal uncle as part of the Social Care Assessment’

37. The Panel noted that there was no dispute that the Registrant did not interview Service User A’s maternal grandmother, nor did she interview his maternal uncle. However, the Panel took the view that there could only be an implied criticism of this aspect of the Registrant’s assessment if valid consent had been obtained from Person C to interview her mother and brother. There was no evidence before the Panel that consent had been obtained. In CC’s written statement she stated that she was of the view that Person C may not have consented. The documentary evidence supported CC’s oral evidence that the Registrant had conducted a thorough investigation and that CC and her managers wanted the case to be closed, as indicated in CC’s witness statement where she states  “my criticism was that we had done enough…. I had discussed this decision with my Team Manager PB and this was our unanimous view.” The Panel concluded that no evidence had been adduced to support particular 4(c) and as a consequence there was no r
ealistic prospect that it could be found proved. 

38. Accordingly, the Panel determined that there was no case to answer in respect of particular 4(c).

Particular 4(d) – No Case to Answer

‘Did not adequately record the telephone calls received from Person C;’

39. The Panel noted that the Council did not have specific guidance on the recording of telephone calls. The Panel was provided with the profile notes for Service User A which included single entries recording multiple telephone calls received from Person C. The evidence of CC was that it is acceptable practice to record multiple calls within one note on the same day with the time of each call recorded. She stated that the telephone calls could also be recorded individually. During her oral evidence CC informed the Panel that summarising multiple calls was not good practice but accepted that a common-sense approach should be adopted with regard to multiple repetitive phone calls on the same day.

40. TC stated in his witness statement and during his oral evidence that he identified one example where a telephone discussion had taken place but had not been recorded. However, he could not recall how he had reached the conclusion that a telephone discussion had taken place. The Panel noted that CC did not identify any other telephone calls that had not been summarised in the Registrant’s recording.

41. The Panel took the view that it was important to distinguish between ‘good practice’ and ‘adequate practice’. The Panel concluded that although there was evidence that the recording of multiple calls in one case note was not good practice, taken at its highest there was insufficient evidence before the Panel that this was not adequate.

42. Accordingly, the Panel determined that there was no case to answer in respect of particular 4(d).

Particular 4(e) – Case to Answer

‘Did not record the discussions with Person C about contact between Service User A and his father (Person D).’

43. The Panel noted that the evidence of TC was that the Registrant stated that she could not remember any formal discussions about contact between Service User A and Person D, other than it being brought up in the CIN meeting which took place on 19 March 2015.  He stated that he checked the minutes of the Child in Need meeting and could not find any reference to such a discussion. In his witness statement TC stated that ‘DC referred to a discussion where she made it quite clear to Person C that the contact was to be supervised by her and that Service User A would not be alone with his father at any time’. TC also stated that it was unclear how many other conversations were supposed to have taken place and no case notes could be found.

44. The Panel concluded that there was some evidence upon which it could conclude that the Registrant did not record the discussions with Person C with regard to contact between Service User A and his father – Person D. 

45. Accordingly, the Panel determined that there was a case to answer in respect of particular 4(e).

Particular 4(f) – No Case to Answer

‘Informed the police that you suspected Person C had mental health problems without evidence to support this’

46. The Panel noted that there was no dispute between the parties that the Registrant had informed the police that she suspected that Person C had mental health problems. 

47. CC was critical of the Registrant in her witness statement. She stated that social workers are not qualified to say whether someone has mental health problems or not and cannot assess or diagnose mental health issues. She also stated that without Person C’s consent the Registrant should not have spoken to the police about her concerns unless it was in the context of a S47 child protection enquiry or a strategy discussion. However, during her oral evidence, CC modified her opinion. She stated that she believed that the Registrant was asked by the police for her impression of the family and that it was relevant for the police to be informed about any suspected mental health issues. CC conceded that the Registrant was having a private conversation with a fellow professional with regard to safeguarding a child. On that basis the information the Registrant provided was not inappropriate. CC also stated that she thought that the Registrant had raised her concerns with CC and Person C.

48. The Panel concluded that within the context of a safeguarding discussion between professionals, it may be appropriate for a social worker to raise concerns regarding a service user’s mother’s mental health, as long as she did not go so far as to make a definitive ‘diagnosis’. On that basis, even when the HCPC’s evidence is taken at its highest, there is no reasonable prospect of the HCPC proving this particular.

49. Accordingly, the Panel determined that there was no case to answer in respect of particular 4(f).

Particular 4(i) – Case to Answer

‘Did not refer Person C to Family Support’

50. The Panel was provided with the notes for the CIN meeting which took place on 19 March 2015. The records indicate that the Registrant attended the meeting at Service User A’s nursery school. Included in the records of that meeting is a note which states, ‘S/W and school encouraged Person C to accept help from family support.’ The Panel noted that the encouragement to accept family support was corroborated by Person C, in her formal complaint to the Council dated 1 May 2015. Person C stated in that complaint that she ‘was not offered family support until the CIN meeting 19/3/15. I accepted on this day but SW did not make a referral. Why? ’  

51. The Panel noted that there is a distinction between an offer of family support and making a referral. The Panel was not provided with any oral or documentary evidence to confirm that prior to the referral made by CC on 28 April 2015, a referral had been made by the Registrant.  

52. The Panel concluded that there was some evidence upon which it could conclude that the Registrant did not make a referral to Family Support. 

53. Accordingly, the Panel determined that there was a case to answer in respect of particular 4(i).

Particular 4(k) – No Case to Answer

‘Did not complete a Child in Need plan’

54. The HCPC confirmed at the outset of the hearing that no evidence would be offered in respect of particular 4(k). 

55. CC stated in her witness statement that the Registrant had completed a CIN plan in relation to Service User A. Furthermore, the Panel noted that there was evidence that there was a Child in Need plan as the record of the Child in Need meeting which took place on 15 April 2015 states, ‘CIN Plan discussed’. The Panel noted that there was a copy of the completed CIN plan contained within the evidence bundle.

56. The Panel concluded that there was no evidence upon which it could conclude that the Registrant had not completed a Child in Need plan. 

57. Accordingly, the Panel determined that there was no case to answer in respect of particular 4(k).

Particular 6(b) – No Case to Answer

‘In relation to Service User C, between May 2015 and August 2015, you did not: Explain and/or analyse the reasons for the decision to close the case.

58. CC was critical of the Registrant in her witness statement. She stated that in the profile note for Service User C the Registrant had written, ‘No role is identified for Children’s Services at the present time,’ as part of the Case Note Summary, but did not explain the reasons for this decision. She also stated in her witness statement that ‘regardless of whether the case should have been closed or not, it is necessary to evidence why the case is ready to close in order to support your decision making and your analysis and conclusions are your evidence of that.’ However, CC changed her position during her oral evidence. When cross examined she informed the Panel that the Registrant’s entry in the case notes with regard to the closure of the file was ‘good enough’. She also stated that she could not recall what documents she relied on when she made her previous comment that there was no explanation or analysis.

59. The Panel concluded that there was no evidence upon which it could conclude that the Registrant had not explained or analysed her reasons for closing the case. 

60. Accordingly, the Panel determined that there was no case to answer in respect of particular 6(b).

Particular 9(d) – Case to Answer

‘In relation to Service Users H and I, between May 2015 and October 2015, you did not: follow a management instruction to see Service User H alone’

61. CC stated in her witness statement that during her supervision meeting with the Registrant, which took place on 29 May 2015, she instructed the Registrant to see Service User H alone. The Panel was provided with a copy of the supervision record and noted that it states, ‘Diane to see the children alone…’ The Panel noted that the supervision records for the meeting which took place on 7 August 2015 state, ‘SU:H…wouldn’t be seen alone before but Diane thinks he may do this now.’ In a further supervision meeting on 22 September 2015, CC, noted that Service User H had not yet been seen alone and that more needed to be done to capture Service User H’s voice.

62. The Panel noted that ‘Diane to see the children alone…’ is capable of being interpreted as a management instruction and there was no oral or documentary evidence before the Panel to indicate that Service User H had been seen alone. Therefore, the Panel concluded that there was evidence upon which it could conclude that the Registrant had not followed a management instruction to see Service User H alone. 

63. Accordingly, the Panel determined that there was a case to answer in respect of particular 9(d).

Further Amendments to the Allegation

64. Prior to announcing its decision on Mr Gill’s half time submission, the Panel invited submissions from both parties with regard to amending particulars 5(b) and 8(c). The parties were put on notice that the Panel was proposing:

• an amendment to particular 5(b) by replacing the original wording with, ‘Did not record the progress of your investigation of the referral of Service User B in a timely manner.’

• an amendment to particular 8(c) by inserting at the end ‘…alone in order to capture their voice.’

65. Mr Foxsmith supported the proposed amendment to particular 5(b) and was neutral with regards to particular 8(c).

66. Mr Gill opposed both proposed amendments. He submitted that the changes would cause substantial prejudice to the Registrant as her case had been presented on the basis of the particulars as originally worded. However he conceded that the recalling of CC to give evidence on the amended particulars could remedy the unfairness to the Registrant. 

67. The Legal Assessor advised the Panel that amendments could be made to the Allegation at any time prior to any findings of fact. She referred the Panel to the case of Doree v HCPC [2017] EWCA Civ 319 which, confirmed changes can be made to the wording of allegations very late on in the proceedings, and even after the Panel has retired. However, the later on such amendments are made, the more likely it is that some material unfairness will be caused to the Registrant. The Legal Assessor further advised that although the allegations cannot be tailored to meet the evidence that emerges during the hearing, that situation must be distinguished from cases where the proposed amendment is based on evidence which was provided to the Registrant in advance of the hearing.  

68. The Panel determined that particular 5(b) and 8(c) should be amended as proposed. 

69. The Panel was satisfied that, based on the evidence of CC, in addition to a concern about the investigation itself, there was a concern with regard to the recording of the progress of the investigation. The Panel was also satisfied that, based on the evidence of CC, the concern was that the children had not been seen alone to obtain the voice of each individual child. The Panel concluded that the amendments would more accurately reflect the HCPC’s case. In considering the risk of potential unfairness to the Registrant by a late change to the Allegation, the Panel noted that the Registrant had been provided with the hearing bundle which included the witness statement of CC, together with the associated exhibits, in advance of the hearing. The Panel also noted that CC could be recalled to address any questions that arose as a result of the amendment which in its view would remedy any disadvantage to the Registrant.

Witness CC (recalled) and Particulars 5(b) and 8(c) 

70. The Panel determined that particulars 5(b) and 8(c) should be amended. As a consequence of the Panel’s decision Mr Foxsmith made an application to re-open his case to enable CC to be recalled to give evidence by telephone. The application was granted. CC gave evidence in relation to amended particulars 5(b) and 8(c). During the course of her evidence CC stated that she could produce documents that could be of assistance to the Panel in determining when the case notes had been entered onto the system. Upon the production of these documents an application was made by the HCPC to have them adduced as evidence. There was no objection from Mr Gill, on behalf of the Registrant, and the Panel decided to grant the application. During her evidence CC made reference to these new documents which were screenshots from the ICS system. At the conclusion of CC’s evidence Mr Gill made a submission of no case to answer in relation to the amended particular 5(b).

Particular 5(b) (as amended) – No case to answer

‘Did not record the progress of your investigation of the referral of Service User B in a timely manner’

71. The Panel based its previous determination that there was a case to answer on the evidence of CC that in the 26 working days prior to her sick leave the Registrant had taken some actions to progress the s47 investigation. However, CC stated, during her oral evidence, that when she conducted her quality audit on 22 April 2015, not all of the visits had been recorded.

72. When CC was recalled her evidence changed. She had been able to obtain a computer printout which confirmed when the Registrant’s visits to Service User A were inputted onto the case management system.  The records confirmed that the visit that took place on 9 April 2015 was recorded on 10 April 2015 and that the visit on 16 April 2015 was recorded on 17 April 2015. In light of this evidence CC acknowledged that the visits had been recorded in a timely manner but revised her opinion with regard to the adequacy of the investigation itself (which was the subject of the original particular 5(b)) to now state that sufficient progress had not been made in undertaking the investigation.

73. Accordingly, the Panel determined that there was no case to answer in respect of the amended particular 5(b).

Particular 8(c) (as amended) – Case to answer

‘Did not speak with and/or record speaking with Service User F and/or Service User G alone in order to capture their voice’

74. After the Panel had decided to amend particular 8(c) Mr Gill stated that the Registrant admitted the amended particular. 

75. CC stated in her witness statement that during the supervision meeting that she had with the Registrant on 7 July 2015 she instructed her to see Service Users E, F and G alone. In CC’s audit dated 28 October 2015 she recorded that new assessments of Service User F and Service User G were needed to reassess their development and voice.

76. The Panel noted that there was no oral or documentary evidence to indicate that any attempts had been made to speak to the children alone to obtain their voice. Therefore, the Panel concluded that there was some evidence upon which it could conclude that the Registrant did not speak and/or record speaking to Service User F and/or Service User G alone to capture their voice. 

77. Accordingly, the Panel determined that there was a case to answer in respect of particular 8(c).


Decision on Facts

Panel’s Approach

78. 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.

79. In reaching its decision the Panel took into account the particulars of the Allegation which were not discontinued following the half time submission, the oral evidence of the HCPC witnesses, the Registrant’s oral evidence, the written and documentary evidence and the submissions made on behalf of both parties.

80. The Panel noted that at the outset of the hearing the Registrant admitted a number of particulars in whole or in part. The Panel took these admissions into account when determining the facts of the case. 

Particular 1 – Found Proved

‘During the course of your employment as a Social Worker for Lincolnshire County Council:

Between 2011 and 2015 you stored confidential service user documents at your home.’

81. There was no dispute between the parties that the Registrant had been employed as a Social Worker for Lincolnshire County Council. JH informed the Panel in his witness statement that on 14 October 2015, the Registrant told him that the police had raided her house and arrested her partner, Person A. CC in her statement said that during this raid the police had found work documents at the registrant’s home. JH stated that on 15 October he received a telephone call from the Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO) who informed him that they had removed a bag of confidential papers from Person A’s office which contained documents that identified children and families in cases open to the Council’s children services. JH informed the Panel in his witness statement that when he asked her about the confidential documents she stated that she had stored the documents in a locked cabinet at her home.

82. The Panel accepted the evidence of JH which was corroborated by the evidence of CC and SN. CC confirmed that JH informed him that the Registrant had disclosed that during a police search of her home, confidential work documents had been found. SN confirmed in her witness statement that when she interviewed the Registrant as part of her investigation, the Registrant admitted that she had kept confidential documents at her home address, although she stated that they were secured in a locked cupboard. The Panel was satisfied based on the evidence of SN that the documents were a ‘number of years old’.

83. The Panel concluded that the Registrant had stored confidential service user documents at her home between 2011 and 2015. In reaching this conclusion the Panel took into account the Registrant’s admission at the outset of the hearing.

84. Accordingly, Particular 1 was found proved.

Particular 2 – Found Proved

‘On an unknown date in 2015 you attempted to dispose of confidential service user documents by giving them to an unauthorised person (Person A) to destroy.’

85. The Panel accepted the evidence of JH and SN. JH informed the Panel in his witness statement that when he asked the Registrant why Person A was in possession of the confidential documents she stated that she had asked him to dispose of them. The Panel noted that the Registrant confirmed, when she was interviewed by SN, that she had provided the documents to Person A for him to shred.

86. The Panel noted that during the internal investigation the Registrant suggested that because Person A is a registered Social Worker it was appropriate for her to trust him. However, the Panel concluded that the Registrant was responsible for the confidential documents and for their disposal in accordance with the Council’s Data Protection Policy. The Panel was satisfied that Person A was not authorised to have access to the documents as he did not work for the Council and had not signed any confidentiality arrangements with the Council.

87. The Panel was satisfied that on an unknown date in 2015 the Registrant attempted to destroy confidential documents by giving them to Person A to shred and that Person A was not authorised to destroy the documents. In reaching this conclusion the Panel took into account the Registrant’s admission at the outset of the hearing.

88. Accordingly, Particular 2 was found proved.

Particular 3 – Found Proved

‘On an unknown date between April 2014 and November 2014 you left confidential service user documents with an unauthorised person (Person B) and/or allowed an unauthorised person (Person B) access to confidential service user documents’

89. The Panel accepted the evidence of JS. She informed the Panel in her witness statement that on 13 December 2016, Person B emailed the Director of Children’s Services stating that he had found confidential documents in his garage. JS informed the Panel that she made contact with Person B and arranged to attend his home address. From Person B’s home address JS collected two carrier bags which contained highly confidential documents. The Panel was provided with a chronology of the documents found within the carrier bags.

90. The Panel noted that the Registrant made only partial admissions to this particular. She suggested during her oral evidence that Person B may have taken the documents from her home without her permission. The Panel concluded that the Registrant’s suggestion was highly unlikely and undermined her assertion that that the documents were locked securely in a filing cabinet.

91. The Panel concluded that there was insufficient evidence that the Registrant left the documents with Person B, but there was sufficient evidence that she allowed him to have access to the documents. The Panel was satisfied that the Registrant was responsible for the confidential documents, including their safe storage and disposal in accordance with the Council’s Data Protection Policy. The Panel concluded that Person B was not authorised to have access to the documents as he did not work for the Council and had not signed any confidentiality arrangements with the Council.

92. Accordingly, Particular 3 was found proved.

Particular 4(a) – Found Not Proved

‘In relation to Service User A, between January 2015 and May 2015, you:

Did not complete a balanced Social Care Assessment.’

93. The Panel noted that when Witness CC was interviewed by TC as part of the Stage 2 investigation she stated that the Registrant had drawn a conclusion too quickly when she conducted the SCA in relation to Service User A. However, in her witness statement CC stated that the assessment was balanced but may have given the impression of bias because of the way that it had been written. During her oral evidence CC appeared to agree that it was balanced and at other times agreed that it was not balanced depending on how the question was phrased. CC’s final position during her oral evidence was that the SCA was a fair and balanced report which is consistent with the fact that CC authorised the assessment, as the Registrant’s line manager, on the basis that, ‘She had tried to explore everything that was going on.’

94. Although CC’s evidence was inconsistent, the Panel took the view that at the time the SCA was authorised she believed that the Registrant had done all that could reasonably be expected, given the difficult and complex nature of the case. CC stated that there was no evidence of sexual harm to Service User A, despite Person C’s assertion that he was being sexually abused by his father, Person D. CC did not appear to have any concerns at the time that in the absence of any disclosures from Service User A or any evidence of sexualised behaviour, the Registrant focussed on the potential emotional harm that Person C was causing Service User A.

95. In these circumstances the Panel concluded that the HCPC had provided insufficient evidence that the SCA was not balanced.

96. Accordingly, Particular 4(a) was found not proved.

Particular 4(e) – Found Proved

‘Did not record the discussions with Person C about contact between Service User A and his father (Person D).’

97. TC stated in his witness statement that, when he interviewed the Registrant as part of the internal investigation, she informed him that she was unable to recall any formal conversations with Person C about contact between Service User A and his father, Person D, other than during the Child in Need meeting on 19 March 2015. The Registrant informed TC that during the conversation with Person C she had made it clear that any contact would have to be supervised by her and that Service User A would not be alone with his father at any time.

98. There was no record within the case notes, or the Child in Need minutes which took place on 19 March 2015, of any discussion regarding contact. Therefore, the Panel concluded that the Registrant did not record the discussion with Person C regarding contact.  In reaching this conclusion the Panel took into account the Registrant’s admission.

99. Accordingly, Particular 4(e) was found proved.

Particular 4(g) – Found Proved

‘Informed Service User A's teacher that Person C and Service User A shared the same bed without obtaining Person C's consent to disclose this.’

100. TC stated in his witness statement that in response to Person C’s disclosure, that the Registrant had informed Service User A’s teacher that Person C and Service User A shared a bed, he interviewed Service User A’s teacher on 14 January 2015. Person C was concerned that information had been communicated to Service User A’s teacher without her consent. The teacher informed TC that earlier in the month (she could not recall the date) the Registrant told her that Service User A and Person C ‘still shared a bed’ although she could not recall the exact words used.

101. The Panel accepted the evidence of TC that CC had said that as the bed sharing issue related to personal values it should not have been shared without obtaining Person C’s consent. There was no evidence within the case files that consent had been obtained. The Panel concluded that the Registrant did not obtain Person C’s consent. In reaching this conclusion the Panel took into account the Registrant’s admission.

102. Accordingly, Particular 4(g) was found proved.

Particular 4(h) – Found Proved

‘Informed the head of Service User A's nursery that Person C had been abused by her father without obtaining Person C's consent to disclose this.’

103. TC stated in his witness statement that Person C complained that at the January 2015 Child in Need meeting the Registrant disclosed that Person C had been abused by her father to the Head of Service at Service User A’s nursery without Person C’s consent. The teacher confirmed that the Registrant had disclosed that information, although the context was disputed.

104. There was no evidence within the case files that consent had been obtained. The Panel concluded that the Registrant did not obtain Person C’s consent. In reaching this conclusion the Panel took into account the Registrant’s admission.

105. Accordingly, Particular 4(h) was found proved.

Particular 4(i) – Found Proved

‘In relation to Service User A, between January 2015 and May 2015, you:

Did not refer Person C to Family Support.’

106. The Panel accepted the evidence of CC that ‘family support workers can offer a family with support with managing money, budgeting, housing issues, parenting behaviour and much more.’ The Panel noted that the SCA for Service User A indicated that Person C had been offered Family Support which she initially accepted, but she then withdrew her consent very quickly. The note recorded that Person C ‘had initially refused family support, however, she has now agreed she would benefit from family support input’.  Person C disputed that that she had been offered Family Support prior to the Child in Need Meeting on 19 March 2015.

107. The Registrant accepted that she did not make a Family Support referral. She stated that this was because Person C withdrew her consent.

108. The Panel concluded that whether Person C was offered Family Support on one occasion or on two occasions, there was no dispute between the parties that the Registrant was offered Family Support at the Child in Need meeting on 19 March 2015. There was no evidence within the documentation to indicate that Person C withdrew her consent until her text message to CC sent on 28 April 2015. The Panel noted that on 28 April 2015 CC had spoken to Person C and made a referral to Family Support on the same day, when she realised that a referral had not been made by the Registrant. Although Person C withdrew her consent once the referral was made, there was no evidence that she withdrew her consent between 19 March 2015 and 28 April 2015. The Panel concluded that it was more likely that consent was not withdrawn by Person C between these dates. In these circumstances the Panel was satisfied that the Registrant should have made a referral to Family Support.

109. Accordingly, Particular 4(i) was found proved.

Particular 4(j) – Found Not Proved

‘In relation to Service User A, between January 2015 and May 2015, you:

Did not record the risk analysis in a timely manner.’

110. CC informed the Panel that when a s47 Enquiry is completed the social worker is required to complete a risk analysis. She informed the Panel in her witness statement that if the risk analysis cannot be completed immediately it should be completed within 48 hours of the s47 Enquiry or as soon as possible if there are safeguarding concerns.

111. The Panel noted that the s47 Enquiry was initiated on Thursday 16 April 2015. Therefore the 48-hour time period was due to expire on Monday 20 April 2015. It was not clear when the risk analysis was completed as the form is undated, but the Registrant went on sick leave on Monday 20 April 2015. The Panel concluded that as the Registrant was absent on sick leave on 20 April 2015 she would not have been able to record the risk analysis within 48 hours unless she had recorded it on 16 April 2015 or 17 April 2015. The Registrant was off work on sick leave from 20 April 2015 until 5 May 2015. Therefore, the Panel concluded that the delay was justified.

112. The Panel concluded that the HCPC had produced sufficient evidence that the delay in recording the risk analysis was unjustified and therefore not recorded in a timely manner.

113. Accordingly, Particular 4(j) was found not proved.

Particular 4(l) – Found Proved

‘Did not fully record the minutes for the Child in Need meetings held on 9 February 2015 and/or 19 March 2015.’

114. Person C complained that when she received the notes of the Child in Need meetings which had been held on 9 February 2015 and 19 March 2015, the content did not reflect the discussions that had taken place. CC informed TC when he interviewed her as part of his internal investigation that it is the responsibility of the social worker to record the minutes. CC also stated that the content of the minutes was ‘minimal’. The Registrant informed TC when she was interviewed that she could have provided more detail and that the minutes were brief due to work and time pressures.

115. The Panel accepted the evidence of TC that if the minutes are not fully recorded there is not a complete record of what was discussed. The Panel concluded that the minutes were not fully recorded. In reaching this conclusion the Panel took into account the Registrant’s admission.

116. Accordingly, Particular 4(l) was found proved.

Particular 5(a) – Found Proved

‘In relation to Service User B, between March 2015 and April 2015, you did not:

Complete and/or record completing agency checks with the police, fire brigade and/or Service User B's nursery’

117. CC informed the Panel in her witness statement that agency checks involve the sharing of information with other agencies. She stated that when a case is opened, a case allocation note will be given to the social worker which includes the agency checks that need to be completed and it will list the agencies which are known to be involved with the child. CC informed the Panel that she completed the case allocation note for Service User B on 13 March 2015 and wrote that the Registrant should liaise with health and education as a minimum. She also stated that the Registrant should contact the police and the fire brigade as they were reported to have attended when Person E set fire to Service User B’s mother’s clothes outside of her property. The case notes indicated that the Registrant read the referral on 13 March 2015.

118. The Panel accepted CC’s evidence that when she conducted a quality audit on 22 April 2015 no agency checks had been recorded by the Registrant. The Panel was satisfied that if the agency checks had been completed they would have been added to the system. The Panel concluded that the checks had not been completed and as a consequence were not recorded. In reaching this conclusion the Panel took into account the Registrant’s admission.

119. Accordingly, Particular 5(a) was found proved.

Particular 6(a) – Found Not Proved

‘In relation to Service User C, between May 2015 and August 2015, you did not:

Seek the views of Service User C's father.’

120. Service User C was referred to the Council by the police due to concerns surrounding domestic violence by Service User C’s father towards her mother. As Service User C’s father was the reason for the referral, CC informed the Panel that the Registrant should have spoken to the father to obtain a full picture of Service User C’s life. On 15 July 2015 in the audit conducted by CC one of the actions listed was for the father to be contacted before the case was concluded and on 20 July 2015 the Registrant was instructed to speak to the father.

121. The Registrant accepted that the views of Service User C were not sought. She stated that this was a reasonable and proper decision for her to have made because the father did not live at the home and Service User C had no contact with him.

122. The Panel noted that on 20 July 2015 the Registrant sent an email to CC which was uploaded into the case notes. In that email the Registrant queried the inconsistent instructions she had received from CC. The Registrant stated that on 10 June 2015 CC had confirmed that a full assessment was not required yet on 20 July 2015 CC instructed the Registrant to speak to the father. The Registrant went on to give a detailed explanation as to why, in her view, it would be ‘unproductive to visit the father.’ The Registrant expressed a hope that CC would agree with her reasoning. The next entry in the notes is confirmation from CC that the case should be closed. The Panel concluded that the direction that the file should be closed implied that CC accepted the representations made by the Registrant that visiting the father would serve no useful purpose. In these circumstances the Panel concluded that CC had accepted the Registrant’s reason for not visiting the father when she recommended case closure.

123. Accordingly, Particular 6(a) was found not proved.

Particular 7(a) – Found Proved

‘In relation to Service User D, between August 2015 and October 2015, you did not:

Complete and/or upload to ICS a Child in Need plan.’

124. CC informed the Panel in her witness statement that once a case has been open for 20 days a Child in Need meeting must be held and there must be a Child in Need plan. She stated that on 11 September she told the Registrant during a supervision session to complete a Child in Need plan by 22 September 2015. A Child in Need meeting in respect of Service User D was held on 21 September 2015. When CC conducted an audit on 16 October 2015 she recorded that a Child in Need plan was open on the system but had not been completed.

125. The Panel accepted the evidence of CC that if a Child in Need plan had been completed it should have been recorded on ICS, the electronic recording system. The Panel concluded that the Child in Need plan had not been completed and as a consequence was not recorded. In reaching this conclusion the Panel took into account the Registrant’s admission.

126. Accordingly, Particular 7(a) was found proved.

Particular 7(b) – Found Proved

‘In relation to Service User D, between August 2015 and October 2015, you did not:

Record minutes for the Child in Need meeting held on 21 September 2015.’

127. CC informed the Panel that it is the social worker’s responsibility to record the minutes of a Child in Need meeting and that this should be done within 2 working days in accordance with the Council’s Recording with Care Policy which states, ‘All recording must be included in the record within two working days of the event, unless a specific endorsed Children’s Services procedure includes a different timescale. When CC audited the file on 16 October 2015 she recorded that no minutes had been recorded.

128. The Panel accepted the evidence of CC that it is important to have a accurate record of what was discussed in the Child in Need meeting so that there is a note of what the family need and the family know what is going to happen.  The Panel concluded that the Child in Need minutes were not recorded. In reaching this conclusion the Panel took into account the Registrant’s admission.

129. Accordingly, Particular 7(b) was found proved.

Particular 7(c) – Found Proved

‘In relation to Service User D, between August 2015 and October 2015, you did not:

Record the views of Service User D.’

130. CC informed the Panel in her witness statement that the views of the child should be recorded in the SCA and that there is a specific section in the assessment entitled ‘Child/young person’s views of the assessment, analysis and next steps.’ She stated that if the social worker is unable to obtain the child’s views, the SCA prompts the social worker to explain why. She informed the Panel that if the child is old enough the child’s views should also be mentioned in the Child in Need plan. In Service User D’s SCA the Registrant had recorded that Service User D is ‘too young to understand the assessment process…’ On 11 September 2015 during a supervision session, CC informed the Panel that she told the Registrant she needed to obtain Service User D’s voice and that she should see her alone so that direct work could be completed. This indicated that CC believed that the views of Service User D could be obtained. When CC completed her audit on 16 October 2015 she recorded, ‘no voice of the child recorded in c
ase supervision or case notes.’

131. The Panel accepted the evidence of CC that obtaining the views of the child is important and is consistent with the Council’s Social Care Assessment Policy which states, ‘The child’s voice should be central to the assessments and planning at all times.’

132. The Panel concluded that the views of Service User D were not recorded. In reaching this conclusion the Panel took into account the Registrant’s admission.

133. Accordingly, Particular 7(c) was found proved.

Particular 7(d) – Found Proved

‘In relation to Service User D, between August 2015 and October 2015, you did not:

Record the outcome and/or a risk analysis of the section 47 investigation.’

134. CC informed the Panel in her witness statement that a risk analysis is required to record the outcome of a s47 investigation. The case notes relating to Service User D record that a s47 investigation was conducted on 27 August 2015. However, CC stated that when she conducted her audit on 16 October 2015 no risk analysis was recorded.

135. The Panel accepted the evidence of CC that an up to date record was required to ensure that Service User D was being properly safeguarded. The Panel concluded that the Registrant did not record the outcome and/or a risk analysis as part of the s47 investigation. In reaching this conclusion the Panel took into account the Registrant’s admission.

136. Accordingly, Particular 7(d) was found proved.

Particular 8(a) – Found Proved

‘ln relation to Service Users E, F and G, between July 2015 and October 2015, you:

Completed the Children's Social Care Assessment outside of the 45 working days time limit.’

137. CC informed the Panel in her witness statement that in accordance with the Social Care Assessment Policy, ‘The maximum time frame for the Assessment to conclude, such that it is possible to reach the next steps, should be no longer than 45 working days from the point of referral.’ The case relating to Service Users E, F and G was referred to the Registrant on 3 July 2015. CC stated that when she completed her audit on 28 October 2015 she recorded that the SCA was not submitted for authorisation until 7 October 2015. The 45th day was on 4 September 2015.

138. The Panel accepted the evidence of CC that statutory timescales are set for assessments to ensure that cases do not ‘drift’ and that children are not left in unsafe situations.

139. The Panel concluded that the SCA was completed outside of the statutory timescale. In reaching this conclusion the Panel took into account the Registrant’s admission.

140. Accordingly, Particular 8(a) was found proved.

Particular 8(b) – Found Proved

‘ln relation to Service Users E, F and G, between July 2015 and October 2015, you:

Did not complete child specific assessments in respect of Service user F and/or Service User G.’

141. CC informed the Panel in her witness statement that the case allocation note was uploaded on to the electronic system on 3 July 2015 and specifically instructs the Registrant to make the SCA child specific if all the siblings are to be assessed. A note was recorded by the Registrant later that same day indicating that she had read the case allocation note and had discussed it with her practice supervisor.

142. The Panel accepted the evidence of CC that the Registrant copied and pasted the assessment for one sibling into the assessment for the other two siblings. This meant that the individual voice of each child was not recorded. In reaching this conclusion the Panel took into account the Registrant’s admission.

143. Accordingly, Particular 8(b) was found proved.

Particular 8(c) – Found Proved

‘ln relation to Service Users E, F and G, between July 2015 and October 2015, you:

Did not speak with and/or record speaking with Service user F and/or Service User G.’

144. CC informed the Panel in her witness statement that on 7 July 2015, during a supervision session, she instructed the Registrant to see Service User F and Service User G alone to reassess their development and voice. CC stated that when she completed her quality audit on 28 October 2015 there was no record on the case file indicating that the Registrant had spoken to either child.

145. The Panel concluded that the Registrant did not speak to Service User F and Service User G to obtain their voice because, if she had done so, it should have been recorded on the case file, however, there was no recording on the case file. In reaching this conclusion the Panel took into account the Registrant’s admission.

146. Accordingly, Particular 8(c) was found proved.

Particular 8(d) – Found Proved

‘ln relation to Service Users E, F and G between July 2015 and October 2015, you:

Did not follow a management instruction to complete direct work with Service User E around risk taking behaviour.’

147. Service User E was initially referred to Children’s Services for self-harming. CC informed the Panel in her witness statement that it subsequently became known that Service User E’s friends were known to the Council due to concerns of child sexual exploitation. CC stated in a recorded case discussion on 21 July 2015 that she told the Registrant to complete direct work with Service User E. The purpose of the direct work was to explore whether Service User E was involved in the risk-taking behaviour of her friends.

148. The Registrant informed the Panel that she did undertake the work and suggested that the work may have been ‘indexed separately’. However, there was no record that the direct work had been completed and the Panel concluded that it was more likely that it had not been done. The Panel was not satisfied that there was any good reason for the non-completion of the direct work with Service User E.

149. Accordingly, Particular 8(d) was found proved.

Particular 8(e) – Found Proved

‘ln relation to Service Users E, F and G, between July 2015 and October 2015, you:

Did not fully record the minutes for the Child in Need meeting held on 20 July 2015.’

150. CC informed the Panel in her witness statement that on 20 July 2015 a Child in Need meeting was held in respect of Service User E. CC noted that the minutes of the meeting were incomplete, in that there was no list of the attendees, no record of the issues discussed, no reference was made to the Child in Need plan and no update of any progress that had been made.

151. The Panel accepted the evidence of CC that it is important that the minutes fully and accurately reflect what was discussed during the meeting so that the social worker or any colleague taking over the case can make informed safeguarding decisions.

152. The Panel concluded that the minutes that the Registrant recorded were incomplete and therefore did not fully record the Child in Need meeting that took place on 20 July 2015. In reaching this conclusion the Panel took into account the Registrant’s admission.

153. Accordingly, Particular 8(e) was found proved.

Particular 8(f) – Found Proved

‘ln relation to Service Users E, F and G, between July 2015 and October 2015, you:

Did not record minutes for the Child in Need meeting held on 28 August 2015.’

154. CC informed the Panel in her witness statement that on 28 August 2015 a Child in Need meeting was held for Service Users E, F and G. When CC conducted her audit on 28 October 2015 she noted that no minutes had been recorded. As a consequence there was no confirmation of who attended, what was discussed, what was agreed or what was going to happen.

155. The Panel was satisfied that it was the Registrant’s responsibility to record the minutes. The Panel accepted that there was no record of the minutes on the electronic system and concluded that the Registrant had not recorded them. In reaching this conclusion the Panel took into account the Registrant’s admission.

156. Accordingly, Particular 8(f) was found proved.

Particular 8(g) – Found Not Proved

‘ln relation to Service Users E, F and G, between July 2015 and October 2015, you:

Did not record any case notes after 7 August 2015.’

157. CC informed the Panel in her witness statement that there were case notes relating to a Child in Need meeting which took place on 7 September 2015 in relation to Service User E and case notes relating to a Child in Need meeting on 28 August 2015 in relation to Service User F and Service User G. She stated that there were ‘no notes from the meeting’, which the Panel took to mean there were no minutes rather than no case note entries.

158. The Panel noted that there were very brief case notes entries made by the Registrant on 28 August 2015 and 7 September 2015 and therefore there was no basis upon which Particular 8(g) could be found proved.

159. Accordingly, Particular 8(g) was found not proved.

Particular 9(a) – Found Proved

‘In relation to Service Users H and I, between May 2015 and October 2015, you did not:

Adequately complete and/or upload to ICS Child in Need plans.’

160. CC informed the Panel that on 21 May 2015 the cases relating to Service Users H and I were transferred to the Registrant. CC stated that she agreed with the Registrant that a full 40-day assessment would need to be completed alongside a Child in Need plan. She stated that this agreement was confirmed during supervision session which took place on 7 July 2015 and it was noted that it had still not been done when CC had a further supervision session with the Registrant on 7 August 2015. When the Registrant was asked why it had not been done, she stated that she thought that she had done it and would index it to the electronic system. CC informed the Panel in her statement that it had still not been done by 22 September 2015 and she gave the Registrant a deadline of 25 September 2015 to index the Child in Need plans. In the audit that CC conducted on 28 October 2015 CC recorded that a plan was open on the electronic system, but no plans had been indexed.

161. The Panel concluded that it was more likely that the Registrant had not adequately completed the Child in Need plans, rather than having simply forgotten to upload them, as she was given numerous reminders. The Panel was not satisfied that there was any good reason for the non-completion of the Child in Need plans. As a consequence of the Registrant’s non-completion of the Child in Need plans they were not uploaded.

162. Accordingly, Particular 9(a) was found proved.

Particular 9(b) – Found Proved

‘In relation to Service Users H and I, between May 2015 and October 2015, you did not:

Record minutes for the Child in Need meeting held on 16 September 2015.’

163. CC informed the Panel in her witness statement that a Child in Need meeting was held on 16 September in relation to Service Users H and I. In a supervision meeting which took place on 22 September 2015 CC told the Registrant to complete the Child in Need notes from the meeting and distribute them. CC noted in the audit that she conducted on 28 October 2015 that there were no minutes recorded for the Child in Need meeting.

164. The Panel accepted the evidence of CC that recording is important so that progress and the safeguarding of a child can be assessed. The Panel was satisfied that it was the Registrant’s responsibility to record the minutes. The Panel accepted that there was no record of the minutes on the electronic system and concluded that the Registrant had not recorded them. In reaching this conclusion the Panel took into account the Registrant’s admission.

165. Accordingly, Particular 9(b) was found proved.

Particular 9(c) – Found Proved

‘In relation to Service Users H and I, between May 2015 and October 2015, you did not:

Record the outcome and/or a risk analysis of the section 47 investigation.’

166. CC informed the Panel that a s47 investigation took place for Service User H and Service User I. She stated that the case was originally allocated to another social worker but was subsequently reallocated to the Registrant on 21 May 2015. The Panel noted that the case supervision note entered on 29 May 2015 states, ‘Diane is continuing with the s47 and will conclude with a risk analysis when she has gathered more information.’ On 22 September 2015 when CC had a supervision session with the Registrant she noted that the risk analysis was still outstanding and, in her audit, completed on 21 October 2015 she included a note that no risk analysis for the s47 investigation had been recorded.

167. The Registrant suggested during her oral evidence that she could not record the analysis because somebody else had conducted the investigation. She appeared to accept that the risk analysis was not done by herself or the previous social worker. However, she also stated during her oral evidence that the risk analysis may have been ‘indexed’ somewhere on the system.

168. The Panel was satisfied that it was the Registrant’s responsibility to complete the risk analysis and noted that she had done a significant amount of work in gathering the relevant information. However, no risk analysis was recorded. The Panel noted that the Registrant was reminded of the need to complete the risk analysis on at least two occasions. The Panel took the view that if the risk analysis had been completed it is likely that it would have been uploaded on the system. In these circumstances the Panel concluded that the risk analysis had not been completed by the Registrant and as a consequence was not uploaded.

169. Accordingly, Particular 9(c) was found proved.

Particular 9(d) – Found Proved

‘In relation to Service Users H…, between May 2015 and October 2015, you did not:

Follow a management instruction to see Service User H alone.'

170. CC informed the Panel in her witness statement that on 29 May 2015 in a supervision session with the Registrant she instructed her to see service User H alone. In the following supervision session which took place on 7 July 2015 CC’s note indicates that the Registrant would be seeing Service User H and Service User I alone. CC made a note in her audit which she conducted on 21 October 2015 that in her last two supervision sessions with the Registrant she had requested that the Registrant see Service User H alone but there was no evidence that this had happened.

171. The Registrant stated during her oral evidence that she did not see Service User H alone because his mother did not give her consent.

172. The Panel did not accept the Registrant’s account. The Panel concluded that a refusal to give consent is a significant event and if that had occurred it should have been recorded in the case records. There was no such note in the case records. The Panel concluded that it was more likely that the Registrant did not attempt to obtain consent and did not see Service User H alone. The Panel was unable to identify any good reason why the Registrant would not carry out the reasonable instruction that she had been given.

173. Accordingly, Particular 9(d) was found proved.


Reconvened Hearing (9 July 2018)

Preliminary Matters

Application for Removal of Individual

174. The Registrant chose to give evidence again prior to submissions on grounds and impairment. At the commencement of her evidence she expressed concern about the presence of an individual who was attending the hearing as a member of the public. Mr Gill submitted that the quality of the Registrant’s evidence is likely to be adversely affected as the individual is connected to a former service user. He submitted that this individual has made online and face to face threats along the lines of ‘I know where you live’ and has posted comments on a website aimed at ‘naming and shaming’ social workers. Mr Gill also informed the Panel that when the Registrant was working as a Social Worker at the Council the police had to be called during a meeting due to this person’s conduct and there had been a suggestion that he had been recording meetings and family court proceedings.

175. Mr Foxsmith, on behalf of the HCPC, was neutral with regards to the Panel’s management of the proceedings. However, he reminded the Panel of the presumption that the hearings are conducted in public.

176. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. She advised that it would not be appropriate for the Panel to make a finding with regard to the ‘threats’; the key issue is the impact, if any, on the Registrant. She informed the Panel that Rule 10(1)(g) states that it ‘may exclude from the hearing any person whose conduct, in its opinion, is likely to disrupt the orderly conduct of the proceedings.’  However, she further advised that although the special measures provisions, which apply to vulnerable witnesses, do not apply to registrants, the Panel may wish to consider whether permitting the Registrant to give evidence from the video-link room may provide a practical solution.  

177. The Panel accepted that the Registrant had genuine concerns about her ability to give her best evidence whilst the relevant individual was in the hearing room. The Panel noted that there had been no disruption to the proceedings and therefore concluded that it was not likely that the proceedings would be disrupted. However, the Panel was satisfied that in the interests of ensuring that the Registrant had a fair hearing, arrangements should be made for her to give evidence from the video-link room so that she would not have to see the relevant person whilst giving her evidence.


Decision on Grounds

Registrant’s Evidence

178. The Registrant produced a reflective piece and gave a candid account of the impact upon her of the outcome of the incidents, including these proceedings and acknowledged that there were things that she would do differently if faced with similar circumstances in the future. The Panel acknowledged that the Registrant stated in her written reflective piece that, with regards to the breach of confidentiality matter, she had ‘admitted this immediately and taken full responsibility for [her] actions.’  However, during her oral evidence, she attempted to minimise the seriousness and impact of her actions. In response to a question from the Panel regarding the length of time she had the confidential documents in her possession, the Registrant suggested that this had been for a few months and the older documents were being used for current case work. However this response was not credible given that in October 2015, when the documents were recovered, some records dated back to 2009, and the Registrant had in her
possession records relating to service users from her previous role, in the West Lindsey team, which she left in November 2014.

179. In relation to the remaining particulars she attempted to deflect at least some of the blame onto the Council on the basis that the lapses in her practice would not have happened if she had been properly supported and not allocated an excessive caseload. She repeatedly sought, during her reflective piece and oral evidence, to accept that she had made mistakes and errors of judgement whilst emphasising that she was working in a ‘toxic environment…where bullying is endemic the top bottom (sic).’  The Registrant suggested that the concerns with regards to her practice were only raised after the progression panel refused to progress her to level 2 in April 2015, despite the fact that she ‘met all the criteria.’ The Registrant appealed the decision and appeared to genuinely believe that ‘everything changed’ and she ‘went from being highly recommended for level 2’ to being viewed as ‘an incompetent worker overnight.’ However, the Panel was provided with evidence of concerns being raised with the Registrant prior to the progression panel meeting. In the Registrant’s reflective piece, she described being constantly criticised and undermined, harassed and belittled.

180. The Panel made appropriate allowances for the inherent stress involved in giving evidence but overall concluded that at times the Registrant’s appeared to be defensive and evasive. For example, during her oral evidence, the Registrant was asked by the Panel if the disclosure she made to the Head of Service User A’s nursery required consent. She was unable to provide a straightforward answer to this question.

Panel’s Approach

181. In view of the Panel’s 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.

182. The Panel took into account the written submissions of Mr Foxsmith, on behalf of the HCPC, the written submissions of Mr Gill, on behalf of the Registrant and the Registrant’s oral evidence. The Panel also took into account the Registrant’s handwritten reflective piece and her character references.

183. 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 and 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.”

184. In summary the Panel found that the factual findings relate to concerns involving: (i) the inappropriate storage and disposal of confidential documents, (ii) failing to maintain accurate and/or up to date records, (iii) inappropriate sharing of information without consent, (iv) failing to complete child specific assessments and not following management instructions to work with two service users.

Lack of Competence

185. The Panel noted that the Registrant appeared to have generally worked effectively and competently as a Social Worker prior to concerns being raised about her performance. 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. The Registrant’s character witnesses and the evidence of CC supported this assessment as they gave positive evidence of her past performance as a Social Worker. She was praised by some families for her contribution and also by the courts and management, indicating that some of her work was to a high standard.

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

Misconduct

187. The Registrant invited the Panel to take into account the contextual background in considering the issue of misconduct, which she asserted was as follows:

• An excessive workload which included a greater allocation of s47 work, via the duty system, than anyone else within the team;

• The lack of support from management;

• The absence of an appropriate level of supervision;

188. The Panel noted the evidence of CC that the Registrant’s workload was within the limits expected of a social worker with the Registrant’s level of experience and this was supported by the supervision records. The record of supervision between CC and the Registrant, dated 8 January 2015 states that the Registrant had 12 cases, which included a sibling group of two. The record for 21 May 2015 indicates that approximately 5 months later the Registrant had 7 cases: ‘…1 is to close, 2 are a sibling group and new allocation, 2 are a sibling group which [the Registrant] is completing a s7, and 2 are a transfer from another worker…’.  The Panel acknowledged that in addition to her caseload the Registrant was required to undertake s47 work and that she believed that she was overstretched. However, the Panel concluded that the workload was appropriate for the Registrant’s level of experience. The Panel accepted that the Registrant was busy but took the view that that was to be expected of a social work practitioner working within a child protection team.

189. Having reviewed the evidence, the Panel recognised that the Registrant did not always receive regular supervision. The Registrant appeared to blame this on CC, but CC’s records indicate that sessions were missed predominantly due to the Registrant’s sickness absence or cancelled at her request, at short notice.

190. The Panel considered the factual findings collectively in accordance with the themes identified in paragraph 184 above.

191. The Panel noted that in relation to inappropriate storage and disposal of confidential documents it was accepted on the Registrant’s behalf by Mr Gill that her acts and omissions amounted to misconduct. The Registrant breached data protection and confidentiality requirements, which are fundamental to the role of a registered social worker. The Panel noted that although there was no evidence in front of it of direct harm caused to service users as a consequence of the Registrant’s actions, should a service user or family member become aware of this breach, it is likely that they would lose trust in the social work profession. The Council was exposed to reputational damage. It is essential that councils have trust and confidence that employees will abide by their policies and procedures at all times. In these circumstances the Panel was satisfied that the Registrant’s culpability was high and that on that basis concluded that her acts and omissions were sufficiently serious to amount to misconduct.

192. In relation to the concerns regarding record keeping, 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 includes 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. The service users records tell a story of their life which may be viewed in the future. Without up to date records, future social workers would not know the progress of the case. Important decisions are based on the assessments and records completed by social workers.  In these circumstances the Panel was satisfied that the Registrant’s culpability was high and that on that basis concluded that her omissions were sufficiently serious to amount to misconduct.

193. The Panel concluded that the Registrant’s actions in sharing of information without consent amounted to misconduct. The Panel noted that the obtaining of informed consent, when necessary, is a fundamental requirement of all registered social workers. The Panel had no reason to doubt that the Registrant knew and understood the requirement for consent, save for circumstances where there is a risk of immediate harm, and concluded that on two separate occasions she chose to disregard that basic requirement and disclosed confidential information without first obtaining consent. In these circumstances the Panel was satisfied that the Registrant’s culpability was high and that on that basis concluded that her actions were sufficiently serious to amount to misconduct.

194. The Panel concluded that the Registrant’s actions in failing to complete child specific assessments and not following management instructions amounted to misconduct. The Registrant failed to act in the best interests of Service Users E and H and her conduct had the potential to adversely affect colleagues within her team. Confidence and trust amongst colleagues is extremely important; they should be able to expect that individuals within the team can be relied upon to work in accordance with established policies and in accordance with management instructions. In these circumstances the Panel was satisfied that the Registrant’s culpability was high and that on that basis concluded that her actions were sufficiently serious to amount to misconduct.

195. The Panel considered the HCPC Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics [2012 version] and was satisfied that the Registrant’s conduct breached the following standards:

• 1 - You must act in the best interest of service users.

• 2 – You must respect the confidentiality of service users.

• 10 – You must keep accurate records.

196. 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 for a significant period of time in relation to a number of fundamental areas of practice. The Registrant’s behaviour cannot be described as a momentary failure or a temporary lapse of judgement. The Panel noted that there was no evidence presented of harm caused to service users as a direct consequence of the Registrant’s acts or omissions. However, in the Panel’s view her conduct and behaviour presented a significant risk of harm, which was unnecessary and avoidable.


Decision on Impairment 

Panel’s Approach

197. 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.

198. The Panel took into account the submissions of Mr Foxsmith, on behalf of the HCPC, and Mr Gill, on behalf of the Registrant. Mr Gill submitted that the Registrant’s fitness to practice is not impaired.

199. In determining current impairment, the Panel had regard to the following aspects of the public interest:

• 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

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

201. The Panel acknowledged that the Registrant accepted that her actions in relation to the inappropriate storage and disposal of confidential documents amounted to misconduct. However, it was submitted on her behalf that she had reflected on her wrongdoing and had attended an information governance course and therefore her fitness to practice is not impaired.

202. 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. The Panel noted that the Registrant stated in her reflective piece that she recognised that her breaches of confidentiality demonstrated ‘poor practice on [her] behalf and could potentially have caused harm to [service users] & the [Local Authority]. Fortunately, it did not, the papers never came into the public domain.’ The Panel concluded that this comment strongly indicated that any learning the Registrant had acquired as a result of attending the course was not embedded as the documents were in the public domain. The Registrant appeared to believe that because she knew the individuals, who had been given unauthorised access to the documents, they were not members of the public. This demonstrated a lack of insight into the nature and consequences of failing to adhere to data protection policies and procedures. Despite the lack of insight, the Panel concluded that the risk of repeating the data protection breach was low. However, the Panel took the view that this was mainly due to the adverse repercussions for the Registrant rather than because she fully appreciated the significance of her behaviour.

203. The Panel noted that the Registrant’s insight was also limited in relation to the other failings, in that she was unable or unwilling to accept full responsibility for her acts and omissions. The Registrant’s focus in this hearing had been to blame her conduct on the pressures of work caused by management. She did not focus on her own shortcomings, which included failing to maintain up to date records, obtain consent and follow management instructions. The Registrant described two types of social workers, those who go out and meet with families and others who are in the office keeping their records up to date. Mr Foxsmith, in his submissions, said that it is an expectation that social workers do both and failing to do so breaches the HCPC and social work proficiency standards and the Panel concurred with this view.

204. Although the Registrant has engaged with these proceedings there was insufficient evidence before the Panel that she fully appreciates the overall gravity of her misconduct. In the Panel’s view although the Registrant made attempts to highlight her concerns to management, she did not reflect on her own shortcomings at the time or accept constructive feedback. As a consequence, the Panel was not assured that such serious misconduct would not be repeated. The Registrant informed the Panel that she has not worked as a Social Worker since January 2017. There was no evidence before the Panel that during the temporary contract that ended in January 2017 the Registrant had been able to work safely and effectively as a Social Worker. There was also no evidence before the Panel that she has kept 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 real risk of repetition. The Panel was particularly concerned by the pattern of behaviour at work over an extended period of time. As a consequence, the Panel has determined that there is a current and ongoing risk of repetition of these failings and therefore a risk of harm to service users.

205. 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 extremely concerned to learn that a social worker had inappropriately stored and disposed of confidential documents, not maintained accurate and/or up to date records in relation to vulnerable service users, not obtained valid consent before disclosing information and failed to follow management instructions. 

206. The Panel concluded that the Registrant’s acts and omissions presented a real 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 interest of service users at all times. There is a real risk that all of these features are likely to be repeated in the future.

207. 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.

208. 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.


Decision on Sanction

Submissions

209. Mr Foxsmith, on behalf of the HCPC, referred the Panel to the Indicative Sanctions Policy (ISP). He was neutral as to what sanction, if any, should be imposed. However, he suggested that Mediation or a Caution Order would be either inappropriate or insufficient. He submitted that the length of time the misconduct persisted was an aggravating factor which had to be weighed against the mitigating factors, which included the fact that no actual harm was caused to service users. 

210. Mr Gill, on behalf of the Registrant, invited the Panel to consider imposing a Conditions of Practice Order including either direct or indirect supervision. He made no submission with regards to a Suspension Order but submitted that a Striking-Off Order would be disproportionate and unfair given the nature of the factual findings and the evidence that the Registrant is capable of working to a high standard. In striking a balance between the risk to the public and the degree of protection required he invited the Panel to take into account the Registrant’s previous good character, the absence of actual harm caused, the evidence that she has produced work of a high standard in the past and the two positive references provided by former colleagues.

Panel’s Approach

211. 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.

212. The Panel had regard to its findings in relation to impairment of the Registrant’s fitness to practise on the ground of misconduct. The Panel also had regard to the ISP and the submissions made by both parties.

Decision

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

• There were several different areas of misconduct identified.

• The volume of confidential documents that were inappropriately stored and disposed of was significant, and the data protection breaches persisted for a significant period of time;

• The data protection breaches represented a fundamental departure from the basic principles of social work and the Registrant’s position of trust;

• The Council was exposed to the risk of reputational damage.

The Panel identified the following mitigating factors:

• The Registrant has fully engaged with the regulatory process and made a number of admissions at the outset of the proceedings;

• The Registrant is of previous good character as she has had no previous regulatory findings made against her;

• The Registrant has provided two positive references from colleagues who have worked with her in the past;

• The Registrant has expressed remorse which the Panel accepted as genuine;

• There is no evidence that the Registrant’s misconduct caused actual harm to service users;

• The Registrant has at times worked to a high standard which attracted praise from others.

214. 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 on her registration 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 exceptional circumstances, the Panel concluded that taking no action would be insufficient to uphold and maintain public confidence in the profession.

215. 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.”

216. 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 principles of information governance, consent, record keeping and following management instructions, all of which are fundamental to the role of a social worker. In addition, the Registrant had 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 only limited evidence of remediation. Although the Panel took the view that the data breaches were unlikely to be repeated, it concluded that whilst the risk of repetition remains, with regards to the other areas of misconduct, a Caution Order would be inappropriate. In any event, the Panel concluded that as the Registrant’s deficiencies could not be properly described as limited or isolated and given the nature and gravity of her actions, a Caution Order would be insufficient to protect the public and meet the wider public interest.

217. The Panel went on to consider a Conditions of Practice Order. The Panel noted that at paragraph 34 the ISP states:

‘Where an allegation relates to…breach of trust…, conditions of practice are unlikely to be appropriate unless the Panel is satisfied that the registrant’s conduct was minor, out of character, capable of remediation and unlikely to be repeated.

218. The Panel noted that the four areas of concern identified (data breaches, record keeping, consent and confidentiality, and following management instructions) 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. The Panel took the view that the Registrant’s full engagement with the regulatory process and her attempts to remediate her misconduct strongly indicate that she is willing to address the concerns that have been identified. The Panel also took the view that it would be possible to formulate conditions to address the Registrant’s failings such that they would be unlikely to be repeated. However, the Panel concluded that being able to formulate conditions did not, in itself, make a Conditions of Practice Order the appropriate sanction. The Panel also took into account the wider public interest. The Panel concluded that conditions would not adequately address the serious nature and gravity
of the Registrant’s conduct, given her limited insight, and so would undermine public confidence in the profession and undermine the need to uphold standards of conduct and behaviour.

219. 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 developing full insight and remediation.


220. In considering this issue, the Panel had regard to paragraph 31 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.

221. 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 future. Through her engagement with this hearing process the Registrant has demonstrated a willingness to address the deficiencies 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.

222. 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.

223. 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.  

224. 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 continued 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:

• A further written reflective piece which demonstrates the Registrant’s insight into the impact of her actions.

• Evidence that the Registrant has kept her social work knowledge and skills up to date, as by the time the Suspension Order has expired she will not have practised as a Social Worker for over 2 years. As part of the required 30 days of updating for Registrant’s returning to practise, the Registrant should consider providing evidence of Continuing Professional Development (CPD)  which may include the four areas of concern identified in this determination;

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

Order

The Registrar is directed to suspend the registration of Ms Diane Cooke for a period of 9 months from the date this Order comes into effect.

Notes

This hearing was held on the following dates:

• 19 to 23 and 26 February 2018

• 9 to 10 May 2018 (Panel Only Days)

• 9 to 11 July 2018

 

Interim Order

The Panel makes an Interim Suspension under Article 31(2) of the Health and Social Work Professions Order 2001, the same being necessary to protect members of the public and being otherwise in the public interest. 

This order will expire: (if no appeal is made against the Panel’s decision and Order) upon the expiry of the period during which such an appeal could be made; (if an appeal is made against the Panel’s decision and Order) the final determination of that appeal, subject to a maximum period of 18 months.

1. Mr Foxsmith made an application for an immediate Interim Suspension Order in view of the Panel’s substantive determination on sanction. Mr Gill did not oppose the application.

2. In considering the HCPC’s application, the Panel was mindful that when a substantive sanction is imposed, a registrant’s entitlement to practise is unrestricted while their appeal rights against the substantive sanction remain outstanding.  The Panel concluded that in view of its findings it would not be appropriate for the Registrant to return to practise unrestricted during the appeal period as there is an ongoing risk of repetition in relation to record keeping, consent and confidentiality and following management instructions. Furthermore, the harm that could result is significant. 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.

3. The Panel took the view that the imposition of an interim order would have very limited impact on the Registrant’s reputational interests because of the decision of the Panel and the substantive sanction applied. The Panel was unable to identify any other potential disadvantage. In any event the Panel was satisfied that the public interest far outweighs the Registrant’s interests and that an interim order is proportionate. The Panel did not make an interim order on the ground that it was in the Registrant’s own interests.

4. The Panel has concluded that the appropriate length of this 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 of the Registrant giving notice of an appeal within the 28-day period. 

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Ms Diane Cooke

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
09/07/2018 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Suspended
19/02/2018 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Adjourned part heard