Ms Najma Begum

Profession: Social worker

Registration Number: SW66799

Hearing Type: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 09:00 02/07/2018 End: 16:00 05/07/2018

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

Panel: Conduct and Competence Committee
Outcome: Conditions of Practice

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Allegation

(as amended at the Substantive Hearing)

Whilst employed as a Social Worker Team Manager by Coventry City Council between 2 February 2015 and 29 October 2015:

1. Between April 2015 and October 2015 you did not conduct and/or record adequate supervision sessions with staff;

2. In relation to Child A1 and Child A2:

a) you did not inform Colleague A that Child A1 and Child A2 were returned home with Children A Mother in a timely manner;

b) you did not ensure that Child A1 and Child A2 were visited at home and/or you did not ensure any visits were recorded, between 28 August and 3 September 2015;

c) you did not progress the ICO application to Court within a reasonable timeframe.

3. In relation to Child B:

a) You did not adequately communicate with the Consultant Paediatrician regarding the concerns about Child B;

b) On or around 26 August 2015, you did not ensure that Child B’s Social Worker, Person D, undertook a risk assessment regarding whether Child B was safe with Child B Mother in hospital;

c) On or around 26 August 2015, you did not arrange and/or arrange a handover for the case regarding Child B when you left the office for non-work related reasons;

d) You did not check with the police and/or Person D that the referral regarding Child B had been received;

4. In relation to Person C, on or around 27 July 2015, you inappropriately questioned Person C regarding Child C Father and Child C Mother.

5. Your actions described at particulars 1 to 4 constitute misconduct and/or lack of competence;

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

Finding

Preliminary matters

Application to amend the Allegation

1. Mr Paterson made an application to amend the Allegation. The proposed amendments were set out in a letter to the Registrant dated 7 August 2017. Mr Paterson submitted that there was no unfairness to the Registrant, who has prepared her case on the basis of the Allegation as amended.

2. On behalf of the Registrant, Ms Agyekum did not oppose the application to amend the Allegation.

3. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.

4. The Panel agreed the HCPC application to amend the Allegation.

Hearing in private

5. Mr Paterson made an application for parts of the hearing which concerned the details of the health of the Registrant or of the witnesses to be heard in private to protect their private lives. Ms Ageykum supported the application.

6. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.

7. The Panel balanced the public interest in open justice with the interests of the Registrant and the witnesses in protecting their private lives. The Panel decided to hear part of the case in private. This decision was limited to the evidence involving health details of the Registrant and the witnesses. The remainder of the hearing was heard in public. As such, this is a redacted public copy of the private determination.

Application for evidence by telephone

8. Ms Ageykum made an application for two witnesses for the Registrant, BM and KR, to give evidence by telephone. Both witnesses had provided signed written statements.

9. The witness BM was unwell and a medical certificate was provided in support of the application. The HCPC did not oppose the application for BM to give evidence by telephone.

10. The application for KR to give evidence by telephone was on the ground that he had recently secured a position as a locum and was unable to attend due to work commitments. The HCPC opposed the application for KR to give evidence by telephone.

11. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.

12. The Panel agreed to the application for BM to give evidence by telephone on the ground that it would be fair and proportionate.

13. The Panel also agreed to the application for KR to give evidence by telephone. The Panel noted the objection by the HCPC, but decided that it would be appropriate and proportionate for KR to give evidence by telephone. The evidence of KR was narrow in its scope, and there would be an opportunity for the evidence to be tested by cross-examination and Panel questions. The Panel considered that there was no advantage to the Registrant and no disadvantage to the HCPC in the evidence being given by telephone. If the evidence was heard by telephone it would also avoid unnecessary delay.

14. During the evidence of BM it became apparent that she was unwell. The Panel had significant concerns for the welfare of BM and there were also concerns that it was not possible to hear her answers to questions. The Panel decided that the appropriate and proportionate step was to admit the written statement of BM in evidence, and to end the oral evidence. Mr Paterson and Ms Ageykum agreed that this was appropriate.

Background

15. The Registrant was a Team Manager within the Neighbourhood Services Team at Coventry City Council (the “Council”) from 2 February 2015 to 29 October 2015. The Registrant’s last day of work was 4 September 2015. Her line manager was TC, Service Manager. TC’s line manager was DC, Head of Service.

16. The Registrant supervised a team of permanent and agency Social Workers. The number of Social Workers in the Registrant’s team varied between six to ten workers, including both full time and part time workers. The Registrant’s responsibilities as Team Manager included the requirement to conduct supervision meetings with the Social Workers in her team.

17. In approximately June 2015, TC was asked to carry out a review of cases where the child had been classed as Child in Need (CIN) for more than two years. This review covered the CF15 case notes (a record of management oversight) recorded on Protocol (the Council’s electronic recording system). During his review, TC identified what he believed were gaps in the Registrant’s supervision records and discussed his concerns with the Registrant in supervision sessions on 25 June 2015 and 2 July 2015. TC decided that the Registrant’s probationary period should be extended by three months until October 2015 and the Registrant was informed of this decision by a letter dated 28 July 2015.

18. When TC returned from a period of annual leave in early September 2015, it came to his attention that there were other concerns in relation to the Registrant’s management and supervision of the Social Workers who had undertaken work in the case of Child A1 and Child A2 and in the case of Child B.

19. During the absence of TC on annual leave, his role was covered by Colleague A, an Interim Service Manager. The family of Child A1 and Child A2 were known to the Council and there had been previous social services interventions. BM, a Social Worker, was the allocated worker for the family. On 25 August 2015, a case note was recorded on Protocol about a report of domestic violence towards Children A’s mother. On 26 August 2015, there was a further note of a call from Children A’s grandmother, who had been called by Child A1 because he was unable to wake their mother. The police visited the family home and alerted social services to serious concerns about the hygiene and safety of the house. Child A1 and Child A2 were taken into the care of foster carers under police protection powers.

20. Children A’s mother did not agree to them remaining in foster care and, on 27 August 2015, BM received legal advice that there were no grounds for an Emergency Protection Order (EPO), which would allow the Council to take Child A1 and Child A2 into immediate short term protection.

21. On 28 August 2015, following a strategy discussion with the police and the Registrant, it was agreed that Child A1 and Child A2 should return home with Children A’s mother, subject to a written working agreement.

22. When TC returned from annual leave in early September 2015, a handover meeting, which was instigated by Colleague A, took place, attended by TC, Colleague A, and the Registrant. The Registrant informed TC that Child A1 and Child A2 had returned home with their mother.

23. TC and Colleague A identified a number of concerns relating to the Registrant’s management of the Child A family.

24. Person D was the Social Worker responsible for Child B. On 26 August 2015, a family support worker carried out a planned home visit to Child B and noticed bite marks on Child B’s hand and back. The family support worker informed Person D. Person D discussed the case with the Registrant and agreed that she would visit Child B where she observed the bite marks and bruising to Child B’s hands and upper arms. Person D informed the Registrant of her visit and of her observations. Person D and the Registrant agreed that Person D would take Child B to hospital with Child B’s Mother so that the injuries could be examined. A police referral form was also completed by an administrative worker at the request of the Registrant. The police did not respond to the referral and it later transpired that the wrong family name was on the form.

25. During the afternoon of 26 August 2015, the Registrant left the office at approximately 2.30pm to attend a medical appointment and she did not return to the office that day.

26. DC asked TCa, Interim Head of Safeguarding, to meet Person D and the Registrant to reflect on any learning points arising from the case of Child B. TCa met the Registrant and Person D on 2 September and identified a number of learning points.

27. On 7 October 2015, DC sent an e-mail to TC relating to a concern in relation to data protection. The Registrant had allegedly contacted Person C, who was an employee of the Council and the grandmother of Child C, in relation to matters concerning Child C.

28. On 29 October 2015, the Registrant attended a meeting which was convened to consider her grievance and to carry out a review of her extended probation.

Decision on Facts

29. The Panel heard evidence from the HCPC witnesses TC, TCa, Colleague A, Person C, and DC.

30. The Panel found that TC was a credible, reliable and measured witness. He was not a direct witness in respect of some of the matters and he was very clear when describing the matters of which he had direct knowledge, indicating matters which he did not recall. TCa was a credible, reliable and consistent witness. She confined her evidence to matters which were within her direct knowledge. Colleague A was also a credible, reliable and consistent witness. She limited her evidence to matters that she could confidently recall and was objective in her responses. Person C’s evidence was confined to one particular. She could not recall all the details of her conversation with the Registrant due to the passage of time, but was clear about the details she could recall. The Panel found that she was a credible and reliable witness. DC was a credible and reliable witness. She had no direct knowledge of most of the matters, but was able to assist the Panel with evidence in relation to the procedures, policies and expectations of the Council.

31. The Panel also heard evidence from the Registrant, and from KR (by telephone) and BM (curtailed evidence by telephone) on her behalf.

32. The Panel found that KR was a credible witness who did his best to assist the Panel. He was unable to assist in relation to the particular of the Allegation in which he may have had some involvement (particular 3) because he had no recollection. He was able to assist in providing his recollection of the supervision sessions the Registrant had carried out as his line manager.

33. The Panel appreciated the effort BM made to give oral evidence to the Panel. Her evidence was curtailed with the agreement of all parties. Her evidence was not subject to testing by cross-examination or questioning by the Panel.

34.  The Panel recognised that it was stressful for the Registrant to give evidence to the Panel. Nevertheless, the Panel was concerned that there were inconsistencies and contradictions in the Registrant’s evidence. The Panel noted inconsistencies between the Registrant’s written statement and her oral evidence and inconsistencies within her oral evidence. An example of the inconsistencies was in relation to the Registrant’s evidence relating to the arrangements for visits over the bank holiday weekend to Child A1 and Child A2, and whether visits were carried out by BM or by the Emergency Duty Team (EDT). The Panel also noted that the Registrant tended to describe what she would have done, rather than what she did on the days in question. The Panel considered that the Registrant had a poor recall of some of the events. The Panel’s overall assessment was that the Registrant’s evidence was not always reliable and the Panel had some reservations about its credibility.

Particular 1

35. Particular 1 is in two parts. The first part alleges that the Registrant did not conduct adequate supervision sessions with staff.

36. The Registrant described to the Panel the general management oversight actions she undertook which were not limited to supervision sessions. She had an open door policy which enabled Social Workers to approach her with any problems and she provided management and guidance through e-mails, conversations with Social Workers, and various auditing processes.

37. The criticism made by TC of the adequacy of the Registrant’s supervision sessions does not relate to the adequacy of the Registrant’s general management oversight of the Social Workers within her team, but to the expectation within the department that all cases would be reviewed and discussed within supervision sessions at least once every three months. TC recognised that a manager would not have time to discuss every case in each supervision session, but he expected the Team Managers to record which cases they had discussed in each supervision session, so that they could ensure that the remainder of the cases were discussed in the following supervision session. This could be achieved by using a “case listing”, a list of the cases held by each Social Worker, which could be used as a working document by the Team Manager to identify the cases that had been discussed.

38. The expectation was not set out in a written document, but it was discussed by TC in his supervision sessions with the Registrant. In every supervision meeting with the Registrant, TC included as a standard reminder “Case listing to be used in each supervision with Case holders”.

39. The Registrant told the Panel that she prioritised the more urgent cases for discussion at supervision. There were a number of low priority cases, including cases which were due to be closed by the Social Worker. The Registrant said that these low priority cases were discussed briefly during the supervision sessions.

40. In the Panel’s view the Registrant did not always maintain an accurate record of the cases she had discussed with social workers during supervision sessions. TC gave evidence that when he asked the Registrant to produce an up-to-date case listing, including cases she had discussed, she was unable to do so. In approximately June 2015, TC was asked to carry out a review of cases where the child had been classed as Child in Need (CIN) for more than two years. This review covered the CF15 case notes (a record of management oversight) recorded on Protocol (the Council’s electronic recording system). During his review, TC identified what he believed were gaps in the Registrant’s supervision records and discussed his concerns with the Registrant in supervision sessions on 25 June 2015 and 2 July 2015. Prior to the matter being raised with her by TC, the Registrant had not fully implemented a reliable system to ensure that the case of every child was discussed within a three-month period.

41. All the children within the Registrant’s team had been assessed as requiring social work intervention. Although some cases may have had lower priority, there remained a need for managerial oversight to ensure that the Social Worker was taking any appropriate action and to ensure that there was an up-to-date record of the position of the child so that duty workers who may need to respond out-of-hours were fully informed.

42. The Panel found that the Registrant did not conduct adequate supervision sessions with her staff because she did not consistently, during the period April 2015 to October 2015, ensure that the case of every child was discussed over a three-month period during supervision sessions with staff, which was the expectation within the Registrant’s department.

43. The second part of particular 1 is the allegation that the Registrant did not record adequate supervision sessions with staff.

44. The Registrant accepted that by June 2015 a backlog of the supervision records had built up and that handwritten notes she had made in the supervision meetings had not all been transferred to CF15 forms on Protocol. The Registrant gave reasons for the backlog in her statement.

45. When TC reviewed the supervision records he found significant gaps in the recording of management oversight across all of the caseloads of the Social Workers in the Registrant’s team. In their supervision meeting in June 2015, the Registrant accepted that she was behind with her supervision recording. There was subsequently an improvement and TC noted in the supervision for 14 August 2015 that the records were “up to date for July”.

46. The Council’s supervision policy requires at paragraph 8.10 that “where matters relate to an individual service user these must be recorded separately on the electronic file”. TC explained that it was acceptable for managers to make handwritten notes during supervision sessions, but these should be promptly transferred to CF15 case notes. If the information is not on Protocol it will not be known to other workers who may access the case file. The records made by the Registrant were not adequate when TC carried out his review of the Registrant’s cases. There were gaps in the CF15 reports and TC had to speak to the relevant Social Workers in person and ask them to provide information about the children’s cases.

47. The Panel found that during the period April to October 2015 the Registrant did not consistently record adequate supervision sessions with staff.

48. The Panel found particular 1 proved in relation to both conducting and recording supervision sessions.

Particular 2(a)

49. The Registrant and Colleague A had contact to discuss the family of Child A1 and Child A2 on 28 August 2015. The contact was by telephone, e-mail, and one face-to-face discussion. Colleague A was aware from the discussions that one of the options was that Child A1 and Child A2 would be permitted to return home in the care of their mother. Colleague A was also aware of the legal advice that there were no grounds for an EPO.

50. The Panel preferred the evidence of Colleague A that she was not informed that Child A1 and Child A2 had been permitted to return home in the care of their mother. Colleague A’s evidence that she was not aware was corroborated by the evidence of TC. TC described a meeting attended by the Registrant and Colleague A which took place when he returned from annual leave. He stated that Colleague A stated that she was not aware of the decision that the children should return home.

51. In her written statement, the Registrant stated that Colleague A was advised of the options, including that the children were returned home. Colleague A agrees that she was advised of the options. In her oral evidence the Registrant stated that she did inform Colleague A that the children had been returned home, but that she was not sure whether this was by telephone or in an e-mail. She later stated, when answering Panel questions, that Colleague A was informed in an e-mail which was copied to other parties including TC and DC.

52. There was no e-mail or record to support the Registrant’s account that she did inform Colleague A. The Panel found that the Registrant’s account was inconsistent and unreliable. The Panel did not find it credible that the Registrant had sent an e-mail copied to other parties and there had been no mention of such an e-mail by the Registrant herself or by the other parties involved. The Registrant was aware at the handover meeting she attended that there was an issue about whether Colleague A had been fully informed. If she had sent an e-mail, she would have mentioned it.

53. Colleague A was not informed about the decision in a timely manner because she did not become aware of the decision until after the bank holiday weekend. There was therefore no opportunity for Colleague A to comment on or act upon the decision before it was implemented.

54. The Panel found particular 2(a) proved.

Particular 2(b)

55. Particular 2(b) is in two parts. The first part is that it is alleged that the Registrant did not ensure that Child A1 and Child A2 were visited at home between 28 August 2015 and 3 September 2015.

56. The Panel first considered whether there were any visits over the five-day period, which included a bank holiday. There is no record of any visit carried out on Protocol and no other written record which indicates that a visit may have taken place. Although the absence of a record does not in itself prove that a visit did not take place, the Panel considered it highly unlikely that a visit had taken place but had not been recorded. This was particularly so because the individuals who might have carried out a visit were BM, who was an experienced Social Worker, or a member of the EDT. The Registrant made a record on Protocol on 3 September 2015, but she did not refer to the visit or identify a gap in the records.

57. The Panel found that the Registrant’s evidence in relation to whether there was a visit was inconsistent and unreliable. In her written statement the Registrant stated that she believed that she checked with BM and that her recollection is that BM advised her that a visit had taken place. In oral evidence the Registrant was more confident that a visit had taken place. She initially stated that BM had conducted the visit. However, when she was referred to BM’s statement, she said that a member of the EDT carried out the visit.

58. The Panel did not give weight to BM’s statement that she “understood” that a member of the EDT made a visit over the bank holiday weekend. The basis of BM’s understanding was not clear from her written statement.

59. The Panel decided, on the balance of probabilities, that there were no visits to Child A1 and Child A2 between 28 August and 3 September 2015.

60. The Registrant told the Panel in her oral evidence that she told BM that three visits per week were required and that this was part of the working agreement with Children A’s mother. This evidence was not corroborated by BM’s written statement. The Registrant’s oral evidence was not consistent with her written statement that she “should have stipulated the number of visits required and a timeframe for them to be concluded within”. There was also no support in the working agreement, which does not specify the number of visits.

61. BM was an experienced Social Worker and the Panel considered that it was highly unlikely that she would not have arranged the visits if the Registrant had specified that they should take place.

62. The second part of particular 2(b) is that it is alleged that the Registrant did not ensure that any visits were recorded between 28 August 2015 and 3 September 2015. The Registrant admitted this part of particular 2(b).

63. There was no record of a visit on Protocol and the Registrant did not take steps to ensure that visits were recorded, in the same way that she took no steps to ensure that visits were carried out.

64. The Panel found particular 2(b) proved.

Particular 2(c)

65. On 28 August 2015, it was agreed that the Local Authority should make an application for an ICO (Interim Care Order) so that the case could be considered by the court. An ICO requires formal notice to be given to the parents and it requires evidence, including a statement from the Social Worker, to be prepared.

66. TC recognised in his evidence that it would not be possible for the case to be considered by the court either before or immediately after the bank holiday. However, he stated that he would expect the case to be progressed by the Social Worker and by the Registrant. The progression would be the preparation of the evidence required so that the evidence could be reviewed by the legal department and senior managers. The Registrant recognised the urgency of the ICO because she recorded this in her CF15 case note on 3 September 2015.

67. It was the responsibility of the Social Worker rather than the Registrant to carry out the preparatory work of preparing the evidence for the ICO. The written evidence of BM was that she had taken steps to prepare for the ICO following the bank holiday weekend. There was a limited period of time from 2 to 5 September 2015, the latter being the last day the Registrant was at work. The Registrant stated that she relied on BM, a Social Worker with fourteen years of experience, to undertake the preparatory work and did not consider it necessary to micromanage her or chase her. There is nothing in the HCPC case which is inconsistent with the evidence of BM and the Registrant.

68. The Panel found particular 2(c) not proved.

Particular 3(a)

69. The Panel did not hear oral evidence from the Consultant Paediatrician and there was no written statement. The evidence to support the particular is hearsay evidence and there is no direct evidence.

70. On 8 September 2015, DC met with the Consultant Paediatrician to discuss a strategic matter. During the conversation the Consultant Paediatrician mentioned a concern about the case of Child B and stated that the Registrant had failed to return her calls. In oral evidence DC was unable to provide any further details about the Consultant Paediatrician’s concern, such as the time of her calls, whether they were made to the Registrant’s mobile number, or whether messages were left.

71. The Registrant has consistently stated that she did not receive any calls or messages from the Consultant Paediatrician and was not aware that the Consultant Paediatrician had tried to contact her.

72. The Panel found that the HCPC has not proved that the Registrant knew that the Consultant Paediatrician was trying to contact her and has therefore not proved that the Registrant’s communication was inadequate.

73. The Panel found particular 3(a) not proved.

Particular 3(b)

74. The Registrant, as Team Manager, had responsibility for ensuring that a Strategy Discussion took place in which the risks to Child B would be discussed. The Registrant did not take proactive steps to ensure that this process was undertaken. TCa explained that the obligation to carry out the risk assessment is on the Social Worker, but that this should be overseen by the Team Manager.

75. There is no written record of a risk assessment in respect of Child B undertaken by Person D on 26 August 2015.

76. Having spoken to both the Registrant and Person D on 2 September 2015, TCa’s interpretation of the events was that Person D had decided that Child B was safe without fully consulting the Registrant, but that the Registrant should have realised this and taken over the case. TCa recorded in her notes of the discussion that “PD did not undertake a risk assessment of whether Child B was safe with his mother in hospital and that decision appears not to have been challenged. Both Person D and the Registrant accept that this was not adequately thought through”. During the meeting Person D did not challenge TCa’s assessment that Person D did not carry out a risk assessment.

77. The Panel found that the Registrant’s account of her contact with Person D was not reliable. For example, the Registrant stood by her written statement that at 6pm she had a conversation with Person D and that Person D told her that there had been discussions with the police. This is inconsistent with the contemporaneous written record made by an EDT worker recording that the police were concerned that the injuries were not reported to them as potentially caused by Child B’s Mother until 9.10pm.

78. The Registrant’s contact with Person D was limited. Person D arrived at Hospital with Child B at approximately 4.30pm. There was no communication between Person D and the Registrant for approximately 1.5 hours. At this time the Registrant was at home following her medical appointment. The Registrant was expecting Person D to liaise with the health team, contact the police, and arrange a strategy discussion. The Registrant did not take active steps herself. She did not have sufficient managerial oversight and engagement in the case to recognise that the necessary steps had not been taken. The Registrant was expecting Person D to contact her rather than actively enquiring about the situation. The Registrant did not give a clear managerial direction to Person D to carry out a risk assessment.

79. Although the Registrant had considered some of the risks herself, she did not ensure that Person D undertook a risk assessment regarding whether Child B was safe with Child B’s Mother in hospital.

80. The Panel found particular 3(b) proved.

Particular 3(c)

81. The Registrant admitted particular 3(c).

82. At approximately 2.30pm on 26 August 2015, the Registrant left the office to attend a medical appointment. She did not arrange cover or a handover of the case.

83. The Panel found particular 3(c) proved by the evidence of TCa, Colleague A, the admission of the Registrant, and the Registrant’s evidence.

Particular 3(d)

84. Particular 3(d) is in two parts. The Registrant admitted that she did not check with the police that the referral regarding Child B had been received, but did not admit that she did not check with Person D that the referral had been received.

85. The Panel found that the Registrant did not check with the police that the referral regarding Child B had been received. A mistake had been made on the referral form and the police had not responded. The Registrant did not contact the police to confirm receipt of the referral.

86. On the Registrant’s account, the Registrant did not speak to Person D after her arrival at hospital until approximately 6pm. The Panel did not accept that Person D provided reassurance to the Registrant that the police had knowledge of the situation at approximately 6pm because this is inconsistent with the contemporaneous records. The Panel decided that the EDT contemporaneous written record was more likely to be accurate than the Registrant’s recollection of the events. The Panel did not accept that the timeline provided by the Registrant is accurate.

87. If the Registrant had checked with Person D that the referral had been received, the Registrant would have known that there was a problem with the referral and would have taken action to escalate the situation.

88. The Registrant was at home and she thought that Person D was taking all the necessary action, including chasing the police referral. She left Person D to act and did not ask questions.

89. The Panel found particular 3(d) proved with regard both to checking with the police and checking with Person D.

Particular 4

90. The Registrant had no recollection of a discussion with Person C, but she did recognise Child C’s name. The Registrant stated that she would not have contacted Person C if there was an indication on the file that Person C should not be contacted.

91. The Panel found that a conversation between the Registrant and Person C took place. Although Person C could not remember all the details of the conversation, she was clear that it was a conversation with the Registrant and that the discussion included Child C’s father. She remembered that she expressed her view about Child C’s father. Person C confirmed that the Registrant did not provide information that she did not know and that she did not make a complaint.

92. The Panel noted the content of an e-mail addressed to the HCPC from a Human Resources Adviser at the Council. The e-mail states that an Information Governance investigation was completed. There had been a failure by the Social Worker to record the mother’s change of address on Protocol and therefore contact could not be made with the mother or child. The Registrant contacted Child C’s grandmother (Person C) on 27 July 2015. Person C was already aware of the Child Protection Plan so no information was compromised. If Person C had not been aware, damage could have been caused. No information was compromised outside the family unit, but information sharing protocols were breached. This investigation is consistent with the oral evidence of Person C.

93. There was no evidence that there was an immediate risk of serious harm to Child C which would justify a departure from the requirement to obtain consent from the relevant parties before information is shared. Person C confirmed that Child C and Child C’s Mother resided with her and were safe. The requirements of the information sharing guidance should have been complied with. The conversation between the Registrant and Person C included a discussion about Child C’s father. Consent had not been obtained from Child C’s father for the disclosure of any information. The conversation between the Registrant and Person C was therefore inappropriate. Although there was no breach of data protection because Person C knew the information, there was a risk of a breach if she had not known the information.

94. The Panel found particular 4 proved.

Decision on Grounds

95. The Panel considered carefully the submissions of Ms Sheridan and Ms Agyekum and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.

96. The question of whether the proven facts constitute misconduct or a lack of competence is for the judgment of the Panel and there is no burden or standard of proof.

97. The Panel decided that none of the proved particulars constituted a lack of competence. The Registrant was an experienced Social Worker and manager, having qualified in 1996 and worked in a number of responsible management positions. She had the required knowledge, understanding, skills, and abilities. The Panel was also not satisfied that the proved particulars represented a fair sample of her work.

98. There is no statutory definition of misconduct, but the Panel had regard to the guidance of Lord Clyde in Roylance v GMC (No2) [2001] 1 AC 311: “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 conduct must be serious, in that it falls well below the required standards.

99. In considering the seriousness of the Registrant’s acts and omissions, the Panel considered the context and surrounding circumstances.

100. The Registrant worked in a busy frontline service at a time when changes and improvements were being introduced. These changes included changes to staffing within the team. At the relevant time there was not always capacity within the team for all children to be immediately allocated to a Social Worker and the unallocated cases remained within the responsibility of the manager until they could be allocated. The number of social workers within the team varied over the relevant time period covered by the Allegation. At times it was ten, which is higher than the usual range of six to nine.

101. TC knew that on some occasions the Registrant worked late in the evening because he was copied into e-mails she had sent. He discussed with the Registrant options for reducing her commuting time and maintaining an appropriate work/life balance.

102. The Panel noted that there were workload pressures which placed high demands on the Registrant. Nevertheless, the Panel did not consider that the workplace pressures described were exceptional for a manager of a frontline social work team.

103. The Panel also considered the Registrant’s health. The Registrant was referred for an Occupational Health assessment. The Registrant told the Panel that she believed that further support could have been provided to her by way of adjustments. While acknowledging that the Registrant had health issues during the period covered by the Allegation, the Panel noted that there were periods of time when the Registrant was working effectively. In addition, the Panel would have expected the Registrant to have raised the issues proactively and firmly with TC if they were having a serious impact on her ability to carry out the requirements of her role. The Panel considered that the impact of the health matters was limited in terms of the specifics of the Allegation.

104. In relation to particular 1, the Panel considered the context of the Registrant’s omission. Although she failed to conduct and record her management oversight of the social workers she supervised in accordance with the Council’s requirements, she did conduct supervision sessions with the social workers. She focussed on the cases which she judged to be more complex or involved risk. She took her management responsibilities seriously and provided support to the social workers in her team in formal supervision meetings and by her open door policy. When TC raised his concerns with the Registrant, she took action to improve her work so that it complied with the requirements. TC recorded in July 2015 that the catching up work “has largely been completed” and in August 2015 that the recording was “up to date for July”. The omission did not persist during the whole of the time period set out in particular 1.

105. The Panel considered the impact of the Registrant’s omission in particular 1. There is no evidence of any harm to service users. There was some potential for direct harm, as explained by TC. There can be a risk for any child on the caseload of a front line social work team, even though that risk may be low when compared to the children prioritised by the Registrant.

106. The Panel took the view that the Registrant’s conduct in particular 1 fell below the standards expected of a Social Worker. However, the degree of the Registrant’s culpability was limited. When the issue was drawn to her attention by TC, her response was professional and appropriate. In the circumstances, while for a period of time the Registrant fell short of the standards expected, her omission was not sufficiently serious to constitute misconduct.

107. The Panel next considered particular 2. In the Panel’s judgment the more serious omission was the failure in particular 2(b) to ensure that the children were visited at home. Child A1 and Child A2 were young and vulnerable children. Although there was insufficient evidence to support an application for an EPO, the concerns about the children were sufficiently serious that an urgent ICO application was planned. A plan for visiting the children was required to ensure that their safety and welfare was protected. The importance of a plan and resources for visits to Child A1 and Child A2 should have been the highest priority for the Registrant when the decision was made that the children should return home. When the Registrant accessed Protocol on 3 September 2015, she did not identify the absence of visits or escalate the issue.

108. Although there was no harm to Child A1 and Child A2, there was the potential for harm. The children were being returned to a home from which they had been removed by the police due to concerns about their safety and welfare. In the Panel’s judgment, the Registrant’s conduct fell well below the standards expected of a Social Worker and would be regarded as deplorable by Social Workers, and thus constitutes misconduct.

109. The Panel did not consider that particular 2(a), the failure to inform Colleague A, was an omission of the same degree of seriousness. Colleague A was aware of the option that the children might be returned home. There was no alternative course of action open because of the legal advice that an EPO was not possible. It would have been good practice for the Registrant to have informed Colleague A to assist with the planning for the safety and welfare of the children when they returned home. Nevertheless, the Panel considered that the seriousness of the Registrant’s omission is contained in 2(b) and this is not compounded by 2(a).

110. The Panel considered the facts found in particulars 3(b), 3(c) and 3(d) together. They have been grouped under one particular, which makes clear to the Registrant that they could be considered together as a group of linked omissions relating to Child B.

111. In the Panel’s judgment, the Registrant did not provide the essential management guidance to Person D that was required in the circumstances. Person D was left isolated and unsupported for a long period of time on 26 August 2015. The Registrant waited for Person D to contact her, rather than proactively communicating and obtaining the necessary information.

112. In the case of Child B, TCa explained that section 47 enquiries may have been necessary because Child B had sustained injuries. In such cases, management oversight of the work of the Social Worker is required, as set out in the government’s “Working Together to Safeguard Children” guidance (2015), which was reflected in the Council’s Child Protection procedures. If the Registrant had been proactively involved in the case, she would have been checking that the police had been alerted. The incorrect name on the referral to the police should have been identified.

113. TCa explained in her evidence that it was “really unsafe” for a Social Worker in these circumstances to be working alone without management support. The role of the manager is to assist in making decisions and to reflect on what the Social Worker has observed.

114. Although the Registrant had herself assessed some of the risks, this was insufficient in the circumstances because Person D, who had direct contact with Child B, was not involved in the assessment.

115. The Panel found that the Registrant’s conduct in particular 3 fell well below the standards for Social Workers and was sufficiently serious to constitute misconduct.

116. The Panel next considered particular 4. In her submissions to the Panel, Ms Ageykum highlighted the fact that Person C was not flagged on the system as someone who should not be contacted with regard to Child C. The Panel noted that the criticism of the Registrant’s action was not that she contacted Person C. It would have been acceptable for her to contact Person C solely to obtain information regarding Child C’s whereabouts. The Registrant’s conversation was not so limited. The way in which she asked questions about Child C and Child C’s Mother included the Registrant divulging information. This was in breach of the Council’s information sharing protocol. It involved a risk of a data protection breach which could have caused reputational damage to the Council and had the potential to damage the relationship between Person C and Child C’s mother.

117. Social Workers have access to highly sensitive personal data and it is basic practice to take care to ensure that this information is not disclosed to other family members who may not have prior knowledge unless consent is obtained from the person concerned. 

118. In the Panel’s judgment, the Registrant’s conduct in particular 4 fell well below the standards for Social Workers and was sufficiently serious to constitute misconduct.

119. In reaching its conclusions that some of the proven facts constituted misconduct, the Panel considered the HCPC “Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics” (2012) (the “Standards”). The Panel considered that the Registrant’s actions and failures breached: Standard 1, which obliged her to act in the best interests of service users; Standard 2, “you must respect the confidentiality of service users”; and Standard 8, “you must effectively supervise tasks you have asked other people to carry out”, particularly the requirement within Standard 8 that “you must always continue to give appropriate supervision to whoever you ask to carry out a task”.

120. In summary, the Panel found that that particulars 2(b), 3(b), 3(c), 3(d) and 4 constituted misconduct, but particular 1 and 2(a) did not constitute misconduct.

Decision on Impairment

121. The Panel heard further live evidence from the Registrant on the issues of insight, remediation and her current circumstances. The Panel found that the Registrant was a credible witness. The Panel also had regard to the documents in the Registrant’s bundle, including training certificates, reflections and references.

122. The Panel considered carefully the submissions of Ms Sheridan and Ms Agyekum.

123. The Panel applied the guidance in the HCPTS Practice Note “Finding that Fitness to Practise is ‘Impaired’” and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Panel considered the Registrant’s fitness to practise at today’s date.

124. The Panel first considered the personal component, which is the Registrant’s current competence and behaviour. The Panel considered that the level of the Registrant’s insight has developed during the hearing. The Panel was confident that she has a good understanding of what she should have done differently. For example, in answer to Panel questions she gave a full and comprehensive explanation of the risk assessment that should have been undertaken for Child B. In her answers the Registrant sometimes struggled to separate the difficult circumstances in which she was working and her health matters from her individual and professional responsibility for her misconduct. Nevertheless, the Registrant acknowledged and accepted the findings of the Panel, including the potential risk for service users.

125. The Panel considered that the Registrant has some insight, that her insight has developed during the hearing, and that she is on a journey towards the development of full insight.

126. The Panel next considered whether the Registrant’s misconduct is remediable. Although the misconduct could not be described as an isolated incident, it took place over a relatively short period of time and involved a small number of service users. The misconduct in particulars 2 and 3 occurred in the same week. The Registrant had an otherwise unblemished career as a Social Worker of 19 years. The misconduct in particulars 2 and 3 involved omissions. In all the circumstances, the Panel decided that the misconduct is remediable.

127. The Panel next considered whether the conduct has been remedied. The Registrant has undertaken relevant training courses and has kept her knowledge and skills up-to-date. She has not worked as a Social Worker, in paid employment, or carried out voluntary work in the social care field. The Registrant gave the Panel reassurances that she would not repeat the misconduct and would act differently in future. The Panel accepted that if she were free to practise without restriction the Registrant would endeavour to exercise more robust and proactive management oversight to prevent a repetition of misconduct and that she would seek to ensure that health concerns did not have a detrimental impact on her professional duties. However, the Panel had a concern that the Registrant’s learning and insight has not been tested in a practice environment. The Registrant is therefore not able to give the Panel a practical example to demonstrate that she has applied the lessons learned in a stressful and busy work environment
. The Registrant was not able to demonstrate to the Panel that the remedial action has been embedded into her practice. The Panel therefore concluded that the process of remediation is not yet complete.

128. The Panel’s assessment of the risk of repetition was that the risk is low, but not sufficiently low that the Panel could conclude that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is not impaired.

129. The Panel also considered the questions proposed by Dame Janet Smith in her Fifth Shipman report. In the Panel’s judgment, the Registrant has acted in the past to put service users at risk, her misconduct brought the profession into disrepute, and the misconduct involved a breach of fundamental tenets of the profession (the breaches of the HCPC Standards the Panel identified in its decision on misconduct).

130. The Panel next considered the public component, which involves the wider public interest considerations of protecting the public, upholding standards of conduct and behaviour and maintaining public confidence in the profession. The Panel has concluded that there remains a residual risk of repetition of similar misconduct. Therefore, there is an ongoing risk to service users and a requirement to protect the public. The Panel also concluded that a finding of impairment is required with regard to the need to declare and uphold proper standards of conduct and maintain the reputation of the profession.

131. The Panel considered that the Registrant’s departure from the HCPC Standards was sufficiently serious that a finding of current impairment was necessary to mark the Regulator’s disapproval of her misconduct.

132. The Panel considered that members of the public would be particularly concerned about the Registrant’s misconduct in particular 2(b). They would be dismayed that the Registrant, in a responsible role as a Social Work Manager, had not taken the necessary steps to ensure that the children were visited and had not checked on 3 September 2015 that the visits had taken place in accordance with her instructions. The Panel decided that a finding of current impairment was required to maintain public confidence in the profession.

133. The Panel concluded that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is impaired on the basis of both the personal component and the public component.

Decision on Sanction

134. In considering which, if any, sanction to impose, the Panel had regard to the HCPC Indicative Sanctions Policy and the advice of the Legal Assessor.

135. The Panel reminded itself that the purpose of imposing a sanction is not to punish the practitioner, but to protect the public and the wider public interest. The Panel ensured that it acted proportionately, and in particular it sought to balance the interests of the public with those of the Registrant, and imposed the sanction which was the least restrictive in the circumstances, commensurate with its duty of protection.

136. The Panel heard submissions from Ms Sheridan and Ms Agyekum.

137. The Panel decided that the aggravating feature was:

• the potential for harm to service users.

138. The Panel decided that the mitigating features were:

• the Registrant’s unblemished career of 19 years;

• no actual harm to service users;

• the misconduct involved a small sample of the Registrant’s cases and the particulars that involved a risk of harm to service users occurred over a short period of one week;

• the context in which the Registrant was working, a busy front line team in a transition period.

139. The Panel also considered the references in the Registrant’s bundle. They confirmed the Registrant’s good character and the quality of her work as a Social Worker prior to 2015.

140. The Panel considered the option of taking no action, but considered that the case did not fall within the category of exceptional cases as set out in the Indicative Sanctions Policy. The Panel found that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is impaired on the basis of the personal component as well as the public component and that there is a residual risk of repetition which involves a risk to service users.

141. The Panel next considered the option of a Caution Order. Although there is a low risk of recurrence of the misconduct, other aspects of the Indicative Sanctions Policy guidance on caution orders did not apply. The Panel would not describe the Registrant’s misconduct as relatively minor, there has not been full remediation of the misconduct, and the Registrant does not have full insight. A Caution Order would not restrict the Registrant’s practice as a Social Worker and would therefore not address the residual risk of harm to service users the Panel has identified. The Panel therefore decided that a Caution Order would not provide sufficient protection for the public.

142. The Panel next considered a Conditions of Practice Order. The Panel has previously found that the Registrant’s misconduct is capable of correction. This is not a case of persistent or serious failures where conditions of practice may be inappropriate. The Registrant has accepted the Panel’s findings and engaged with the HCPC process. The Panel had sufficient confidence that the Registrant will comply with conditions of practice.

143. The Panel was able to formulate realistic and verifiable conditions which addressed the residual risk of repetition. Although the Panel assessed the risk of repetition as low, the Panel was concerned that if the misconduct were to be repeated, vulnerable children or adults would be at risk of harm. The Panel therefore decided that a restriction on the Registrant’s practice that she should not work in a role that required her to manage other Social Workers was required. This condition provides protection for the public because the Registrant would not be required to undertake management oversight responsibilities and would not find herself in circumstances similar to those which arose with Children A and Child B.

144. The Panel considered that this restriction was not disproportionate or unduly onerous. Although it would prevent the Registrant from working as a manager, it would enable her to work as a Social Worker and complete the remediation process. It would ensure that the Registrant is not placed under pressure and allow her to gain confidence. The Registrant would be able to give examples to a review panel to demonstrate that she is able to take a robust approach when required and that she is managing her health appropriately. It would also enable the Registrant to update herself on new developments in Social Work before she undertook the more demanding role of a manager.

145. The Panel also considered that a requirement for supervision was appropriate. The Panel did not consider that this was an onerous condition because it is consistent with the supervision requirements for Social Workers required by the majority of employers.

146. The Panel considered the more serious option of a Suspension Order and decided that it was not required because conditions of practice provide sufficient protection for the public. The Panel decided that it would be disproportionate and punitive to suspend the Registrant.

147. The Panel concluded that a Conditions of Practice Order was the appropriate and proportionate order.

148. The Panel next considered the appropriate length of the Conditions of Practice Order. The Panel decided that 12 months was sufficient and proportionate. The Panel considered that the Registrant should be able to demonstrate full remediation and insight within this timescale. It would allow the Registrant time to obtain employment and a sufficient period of experience of work in a busy social work environment for her to demonstrate remediation to a review panel.

149. The Conditions of Practice Order will be reviewed before it expires. A review panel may be assisted by:

• a report from the Registrant’s supervisor;

• a reflective piece written by the Registrant on the development of her Social Work practice since 2015.

Order

The Registrar is directed to annotate the Register to show that, for a period of 12 months from the date that this Order comes into effect (“the Operative Date”), you, Ms Najma Begum, must comply with the following conditions of practice:

1. You must not undertake work which requires you to manage other registered Social Workers.

2. You must place yourself and remain under the supervision of a workplace supervisor registered by the HCPC and supply details of your supervisor within 14 days of commencing work as a Social Worker. You must attend upon that supervisor at least once per month and follow their advice and recommendations.

3. If you work as a Social Worker, you must provide copies of the record of monthly supervision meetings to the HCPC at least 14 days before the date of the review of this Order.

4. You must allow your workplace supervisor to provide information to the HCPC about your progress.

5. You must promptly inform the HCPC if you take up employment or contractual work as a Social Worker and if you cease to be employed or engaged.

6. You must promptly inform the HCPC of any disciplinary proceedings taken against you by your employer.

7. You must inform the following parties that your registration is subject to these conditions:

A. any organisation or person employing or contracting with you to undertake professional work;

B. any agency you are registered with or apply to be registered with (at the time of application); and

C. any prospective employer (at the time of your application).

Notes

This Order will be reviewed before its expiry.

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Ms Najma Begum

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
02/07/2018 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Conditions of Practice