Mr Richard William Maxwell Hunte

Profession: Social worker

Registration Number: SW26776

Hearing Type: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 09:00 27/06/2018 End: 16:00 29/06/2018

Location:

Panel: Conduct and Competence Committee
Outcome: Conditions of Practice

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Allegation

Whilst Registered as a social worker, and during the course of your employment at the

National Fostering Agency:

1. In relation to Child 1, between approximately January 2014 and December 2016 you:

a. Did not complete and/or record all required foster carer monthly home visits

b. Did not complete and/or record all required child home visits

c. Did not make a record of all Looked After Child (“LAC”) reviews

2. In relation to Child 2, between approximately 22 July 2015 and December 2016 you:

a. Did not complete and/or record all required foster carer monthly home visits

b. Did not complete and/or record all required child home visits

c. Did not make a record of all LAC reviews

3. In relation to Child 3, between approximately 17 December 2014 and 20 December 2016

you:

a. Did not complete and/or record all required foster carer monthly home visits

b. Did not complete and/or record all required child home visits

c. Did not make a record of all LAC reviews

4. In relation to Child 4, between approximately March 2016 and 20 December 2016 you:

a. Did not complete and/or record all required foster carer monthly home visits

b. Did not complete and/or record all required child home visits

c. Did not make a record of all LAC reviews

5. In relation to Child 5, 6, 7 and 8 between approximately 19 October 2015 and 20

December 2016 you:

a. Did not complete and/or record all required foster carer eight weekly home visits

b. Did not complete and/or record all required child home visits

c. Did not make a record of all LAC reviews

6. The matters described at paragraphs 1-5 constitute misconduct and / or lack of

competence;

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

impaired.

Finding

Preliminary Matters

Proceeding in the absence of the Registrant

1. At the outset of the proceedings the Registrant was neither present nor represented.

2. Ms Mond- Wedd on behalf of the HCPC, invited the Panel to accept service of the notice in accordance with the Rules and if satisfied, to proceed in the absence of the Registrant.

3. She submitted first that the Panel was entitled to proceed in the absence of the Registrant because he had been served with Notice of the proceedings in accordance with the Health and Care Professions Council (Conduct and Competence) (Procedure) Rules 2003 ("the Rules"). She submitted secondly that the Panel should exercise its discretion to proceed in the absence of the Registrant because all the evidence indicated that he had disengaged from the HCPC proceedings and so voluntarily absented himself.

4. The Panel received the advice of the Legal Assessor, which it followed and which is incorporated in its determination set out below.

5. Accordingly, the Panel approached the question in two stages. Firstly, it considered whether good service had been effected, if so, secondly whether it was entitled to proceed in the absence of the Registrant.

 

Service of Notice of the proceedings

6. The Panel received evidence in the form of a Notice dated 19 March 2018 and a certificate of service, which showed that Notice of the proceedings had been sent by first class post on 19 March 2018 to the address held by the HCPC on the Register of Social Workers.  The Panel saw that the notice contained particulars of the day, time and venue of this hearing.

7. The Panel had regard to Rule 3 of the Rules, which provides that the sending of a Notice under the Rules can be effected by sending it to the Registrant's address as it appears in the Register. It also had regard to Rule 6, which provides that a Registrant is entitled to 28 days’ notice of the hearing. It also had regard to Rule 11, which provides that "where the health professional is neither present nor represented at a hearing, the committee may nevertheless proceed with the hearing if it is satisfied that all reasonable steps have been taken to serve the notice of the hearing under Rule 6 (1) on the health professional.”

8. Finally, the Panel had regard to the guidance given to panels by the Court of Appeal in GMC v Adeogba [2016] EWCA Civ 162 that, in deciding whether reasonable steps had been taken to serve a registrant when Notice had been posted to his registered address, the Panel should bear in mind that a registrant is under an obligation to maintain an up-to-date address on the Regulator’s Register.

9. In these circumstances, the Panel was satisfied that the HCPC had taken all reasonable steps to serve Notice of the proceedings on the Registrant by posting a Notice to the address held by the HCPC on the appropriate Register.

 

Proceeding in the absence of the Registrant

10. The Panel then considered whether it should exercise its discretion to proceed in the Registrant's absence.

11. The Panel had regard to the guidance given in the HCPTS Practice Note “Proceeding in the Absence of the Registrant" (dated 22 March 2017) and to the decision of the House of Lords in R v Jones [2002] UKHL 5 and the further guidance given to panels by the Court of Appeal in GMC v Adeogba (above). It bore in mind that the discretion to proceed in the absence of the Registrant should be exercised with great care and caution.

12. It looked at the nature and circumstances of the Registrant's absence, and in particular whether his absence was deliberate and voluntary so that it amounted to a waiver of his right to appear. The Panel had regard to the fact that the Registrant had not engaged with the HCPC at any time during the proceedings.

13. It also considered whether an adjournment was likely to result in the Registrant attending at a later date, the likely length of any such adjournment, and whether there was any indication that the Registrant wished to be represented. The Panel was satisfied that there is no evidence that an adjournment would secure the Registrant’s attendance or that he would wish to be represented at any future hearing.

14. The Panel accepted that a registrant will inevitably suffer prejudice by not being able to present his or her case. Nevertheless, the Panel balanced that against the public interest in allowing the HCPC to fulfil its duty to protect the public. The Panel bore in mind the guidance given by the Court of Appeal in GMC v Adeogba that, “It would run entirely counter to the protection, promotion and maintenance of the health and safety of the public if a practitioner could effectively frustrate the process and challenge a refusal to adjourn when that practitioner had deliberately failed to engage in the process.”

15. When assessing the public interest, the Panel had regard to the fact that the HCPC had secured the attendance of a witness who had to recall events up to 3 years ago. Any further delay may have a detrimental effect upon his memory and the quality of his evidence.

16. In all the circumstances, the Panel was satisfied that it should exercise its discretion to proceed in the absence of the Registrant.

 

Amendment of the Allegation

17. At the start of the hearing, the Panel heard an application by Ms Mond- Wedd to amend paragraphs 1(b) 2(b), 3(b), 4(b) and 5(b) of the Allegation in the terms set out in the body of this determination. She submitted that the proposed amendments did not materially alter the Allegation that the Registrant faced.

18. The Panel heard the advice of the Legal Assessor, which it accepted. The Panel applied the test of whether the amendment was in the interests of justice and whether it could be made without prejudice to the Registrant. It decided it could because the amendments better reflected the evidence and did not change, and indeed clarified, the case which the Registrant had to meet. The panel was also satisfied that notice of the HCPC’s intention to apply to amend the application had been served on the Registrant on 5 October 2017 with a copy of the proposed amendments giving him ample time to respond if he had any objection.  Accordingly, the Panel allowed the amendments.

 

Background

19. The Registrant was employed by the National Fostering Agency (the NFA) as a “Supervising Social Worker” from January 2008 until 16 December 2016. Throughout that time he was responsible for supervising and supporting between 14 and 16 households of foster carers. 

20. His duties included visiting the foster carers and the children placed with them and keeping accurate records of those visits.  Mr John Terry, became the Registrant’s Line Manager in September 2015 and became concerned about the Registrant’s record keeping in or around December 2015.  He conducted a number of audits and supervision sessions focusing on the Registrant’s record keeping.  The particulars of the allegation arise from his investigations.


Decision on the Facts – the Panel’s approach to the evidence

21. The Panel considered all the evidence in this case, together with the submissions made by Ms Mond- Wedd on behalf of the HCPC.

22. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor, who reminded the Panel that the burden of proof rests with the HCPC, and that the Registrant need not disprove anything. The Legal Assessor also reminded the Panel that the standard of proof is the civil standard, namely the ‘balance of probabilities’.

23. The Panel heard oral evidence from Mr John Terry, called on behalf of the HCPC.  Mr Terry was the Team Manager of the East London Team at the NFA from 1 September 2015 until 31 August 2017.

24. The Panel found him to be a fair and balanced witness.  He praised certain aspects of the Registrant’s work, including the good relationships he had built with foster carers and the cared for children and contributions to team activities in supporting foster carers.  He told the Panel that the Registrant wrote good assessments which were fair and evidence based.  He also accepted that most of the Registrant’s case records were completed to an acceptable standard.  He had referred to the HCPC 3 of the 16 cases for which the Registrant was responsible.

25. The Panel found him to be a reliable and credible witness who gave consistent evidence. 

26. The Panel had regard to all the documents in the bundle before it, including but not limited to:

a. Mr Terry’s written statement 13 October 2017 adopted as his evidence in chief;
b. Schedule of extracts from relevant children’s records and running records for each individual child;
c. Relevant foster carer files;
d. Supervisory notes and Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) records.
e. NFA Support of Foster Carers Policy.

27. Before turning to the individual particulars of the Allegation, the Panel considered the nature of the Registrant’s work and the extent of his supervision and record keeping obligations.

28. The Panel accepted the evidence of Mr Terry that the Registrant had the following obligations.  He was required by the NFA Support of Foster Carers Policy (exhibit 20) (the Policy) to make monthly announced visits to each foster carer with whom a child had been placed, unless the arrangement had been deemed sufficiently stable for visits to take place every 2 months. 

29. He was obliged by the same protocol to see each child in placement quarterly.

30. The team of which the Registrant was part, had an established computer record keeping system upon which the visits to foster carers were recorded. 

31. The Registrant was required to make a record on the computer system of each monthly visit to the foster carers and also a separate record for each child at the placement. 

32. The records were not intended to be identical.  The foster carer record focuses on issues relating to the foster carers, any support they may require and training needs. The child record focuses on the looked after child and any difficulties and or progress s/he is making in the placement.

33. The Registrant was also obliged to carry out and record, in addition, at least 1 unannounced visit to each foster carer per annum, although the NFA decided good practice required 2 visits per annum.

34. Where the children for whom the Registrant was responsible were in local authority care, the local authorities carried out Looked after Child Statutory reviews (LAC reviews).  These were carried out by the local authority and not by the NFA.  Nevertheless, the NFA Supervision and Support of Foster Carers Policy provided that either the supervising social worker or a colleague should attend the meeting.  The Registrant was obliged to record who attended and ensure there was a summary on the system of what occurred at the meeting.

35. The Panel heard evidence from Mr Terry and accepted that a LAC review had to take place within 28 days of a child coming into care.  Another had to take place within 3 months and thereafter they must take place every 6 months.

36. The Panel was further assisted by Mr Terry’s account of how his department was organised.  He told the Panel that the social workers all worked from home, although he supervised them in monthly face-to-face meetings, which were a little more formal than they would have been if there had been the usual opportunity to meet in the office on a daily basis.

37. The Panel accepted the evidence of Mr Terry that he had paid attention to the Registrant’s record keeping from the time he was appointed as the Registrant’s line manager.  He raised concerns about record keeping with the Registrant in a supervision meeting on 26 February 2016.  Similar concerns were raised by Mr Terry with the Registrant in supervision meetings on both 18 March and 22 April 2016. Mr Terry held a Performance Improvement Meeting on 23 May and instigated a PIP.  Mr Terry held further meetings, to ensure that the plan was carried into effect, on 8 June, 20 July and 2 September 2016.

38.The plan was focused on improving the Registrant’s record keeping. Mr Terry informed the Panel that steps were taken to lighten his workload by removing 2 of his cases. 

39. He also tried to assist the Registrant by suggesting how he could spread out the Annual Foster Carer Reviews (AFCR) in order to leave more time to catch up on record keeping.

40. Mr Terry said that he never received a satisfactory explanation from the Registrant for the gaps in his record keeping, when it was satisfactory in the majority of his files.  The Registrant accepted there was a problem and blamed the computer system and his workload.   Having heard all the evidence the Panel concluded that a computer malfunction was unlikely to account for a significant amount of the  missing records in this case.   

41. Mr Terry said that over the period of the PIP he saw some improvement in the Registrant’s performance, however, it was insufficient and significantly there had been no improvement in respect of the placement relating to children 5, 6,7 and 8.   In this instance there were effectively no records of the children’s progress at all over a twelve month period, despite this being raised with the Registrant several times. 

42. Before turning to each particular of the Allegation the Panel addressed one matter, which applied to all the particulars.  Each Particular is pleaded in the alternative to allege that the Registrant did not either complete (by attending) a home visit or did not make a record of a home visit he had undertaken. 

43. Mr Terry commented on the home visits during his evidence.    He told the Panel that he had asked the Registrant about his home visits and he had assured Mr Terry that he had made the visits.  Mr Terry accepted this and explained that if the Registrant had not visited the foster carers at their home addresses as required he would have been alerted by them. This had not happened.  He considered this to support the Registrant’s assertion that the home visits had been carried out.  

44. In the light of this evidence and the other evidence from Mr Terry about the positive aspects of the Registrant’s work, the Panel accepted that the Registrant had made each of the required visits and considered in each case only whether there had been a failure of record keeping.

45. The Panel also accepted the evidence of Mr Terry that some of the information required about the children, in the 3 placements to which the Allegation relates, could be found in the foster carers’ records.   Nevertheless, it was much harder to find and link to each child than it would have been if it had been properly recorded on the individual children’s records.

46. In respect of the particulars relating to the completion of “the required child monthly home visits” at 1(b), 2(b) 3(b) 4(b) and 5 (b) the Panel considered whether it was right to find any such requirement to visit monthly in the light of the provisions of the Policy for quarterly visits.

47. The Panel found that such visits were required by the working arrangements of the team of which the Registrant was part and in particular the requirement that he make a separate record in respect of the children at each visit he made to the foster carers.  Even if he did not see the child on every visit it was NFA practice to collect and record information about each child at the foster carer visit. The Panel considered it significant that at no stage did the Registrant challenge or disagree with this requirement. 

48. The Panel also considered the position with regard to the recording of the LAC reviews at 1(c), 2(c) 3(c) 4(c) and 5 (c) of the Allegation.  There is no direct evidence that the unrecorded reviews took place.  However, the Panel accepted Mr Terry’s evidence that he had checked the LAC review tab on each child’s record and recorded his findings in contemporaneous audits which the Panel saw.  In addition the Panel had regard to the statutory nature of the reviews, the likely repercussions if the reviews did not take place together with the evidence of Mr Terry that he would  have expected the reviews to have occurred and concluded that it is more likely than not that they did.


The Allegation

Particular 1(a) proved as to not recording only

49. In relation to Child 1, the Panel accepted Mr Terry’s evidence, supported by the documents before the Panel, that the Registrant did not record foster carer monthly home visits in November or December 2014, August or September 2015 or September or October 2016.


Particular 1(b) proved as to not recording only

50. The Panel accepted Mr Terry’s evidence, supported by the documents before the Panel, that the Registrant did not record child monthly home visits to Child 1 after August 2015 until July 2016 (a gap of 10 months) and then none after August 2016 until the Registrant left his employment in 2016 (a further gap of 3 months).


Particular 1(c) proved

51. The Panel accepted Mr Terry’s evidence, supported by the documents before the Panel, that the Registrant did not record the LAC reviews due around June and December 2016.


Particular 2(a) proved as to not recording only

52. In relation to Child 2, the Panel accepted Mr Terry’s evidence, supported by the documents before the Panel, that the Registrant did not record foster carer monthly home visits in June, November or December 2016.


Particular 2(b) proved as to not recording only

53. The Panel accepted Mr Terry’s evidence, supported by the documents before the Panel, that the Registrant did not record child monthly home visits to Child 2 after September 2015 until September 2016 (a gap of 11 months) and none thereafter.


Particular 2(c) proved

54. The Panel accepted Mr Terry’s evidence, supported by the documents before the Panel, that the Registrant did not record the LAC reviews due around August and November 2015 or those in May and November 2016.


Particular 3(a) proved as to not recording only

55. In relation to Child 3, the Panel accepted Mr Terry’s evidence, supported by the documents before the Panel, that the Registrant did not record foster carer monthly home visits in June, November or December 2016.


Particular 3(b) proved as to not recording only

56. The Panel accepted Mr Terry’s evidence, supported by the documents before the Panel, that the Registrant did not record child monthly home visits to Child 3 in July or August 2015, after September 2015 until April 2016 (a gap of 6 months), after April 2016 until September 2016 (a gap of 4 months) and none thereafter.


Particular 3(c) proved

57. The Panel accepted Mr Terry’s evidence, supported by the documents before the Panel, that the Registrant did not record the LAC reviews due around April and October 2016.


Particular 4(a) proved as to not recording only

58. In relation to Child 4, the Panel accepted Mr Terry’s evidence, supported by the documents before the Panel, that the Registrant did not record foster carer monthly home visits in June, November or December 2016.


Particular 4(b) proved as to not recording only

59. The Panel accepted Mr Terry’s evidence, supported by the documents before the Panel, that the Registrant did not record child monthly home visits to Child 4 after April 2016 until September 2016 (a gap of 4 months within the 10 months he was allocated the case).


Particular 4 (c) proved

60. The Panel accepted Mr Terry’s evidence, supported by the documents before the Panel, that the Registrant did not record the LAC review due around June 2016.


Particular 5(a) proved as to not recording only

61. The Panel accepted the evidence that children 5,6,7 and 8 were all residing with foster carers at a single address from 31 October 2013 in a stable arrangement, so that the Registrant was required to make visits only every 2 months.

62. The Panel accepted Mr Terry’s evidence, supported by the documents before the Panel, that the Registrant did not record foster carer eight weekly home visits in May or June 2016.  The Panel noted that the Registrant did record an unannounced visit in June 2016.  However, it accepted Mr Terry’s evidence the recording on unannounced visits was a separate requirement.


Particular 5(b) proved as to not recording only

63. The Panel accepted Mr Terry’s evidence, supported by the documents before the Panel, that the Registrant did not record child eight weekly home visits to Child 5,6,7, or 8 throughout the whole period that he was responsible for them, (October 2015 – December 2016) except for visits to child 7 in July and August 2016.


Particular 5(c) proved

64. The Panel accepted Mr Terry’s evidence, supported by the documents before the Panel, that the Registrant did not record the LAC reviews for child 5,6,7, or 8 due around January and July 2016.

 

Decision on Grounds

65. The Panel next considered whether the facts, found proved in particulars 1-5, amounted to lack of competence or misconduct.

66. The Panel heard the submissions of Ms Mond- Wedd, who submitted that the Panel should find that each of the matters proved amounted to either lack of competence or misconduct.

67. The Panel also accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. It bore in mind that there is no burden of proof at this stage and it is a matter for the Panel’s professional judgment in reaching its decision on this question.

68. The Panel considered each particular in turn. Nevertheless, the question of lack of competence can be dealt with in the round.

69. The Panel heard no evidence that the Registrant was not competent to do his work. On the contrary, Mr Terry gave evidence that the records within the majority of the Registrant’s files (13 out of 16) were acceptable and the Registrant was in all other respects a good social worker.  He told the Panel that he had a good relationship with carers and young people in care.  He was also able to write good, well evidenced reports.

70. In those circumstances, the Panel was satisfied that there was no evidence that the Registrant was not competent to do his work.

71. It then went on to consider whether the facts found proved amounted to misconduct. It bore in mind that not every failure by a registrant will amount to misconduct. The question is whether the conduct falls sufficiently below what is expected to amount to misconduct. It looked at the circumstances and results in each case and asked whether a fellow practitioner would regard the conduct as serious. 

72. It had regard to the HCPC Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics (2012 edition – Standard 10 and 2016 edition – Standard 10) concerning the importance of keeping accurate records.  In particular in the 2016 edition:

10 Keep records of your work
  
   Keep accurate records

10.1 You must keep full, clear, and accurate records for everyone you care for, treat, or provide other services to.

10.2 You must complete all records promptly and as soon as possible after providing care, treatment or other services.


73. In each particular found proved, the Panel judged the Registrant’s conduct against those standards.

74. The Panel decided that it was fair and reasonable to deal with the particulars relating to the foster carer visits: 1(a), 2(a), 3(a), 4(a) and 5(a) together.

75. In respect of each particular, Mr Terry gave evidence that the records were just about acceptable.  He used different words in respect of each but the Panel is satisfied that they amount to the same thing.

76. In respect of most of the records the Panel found that there were only 2 or 3 entries missing over a considerable period of time.

77. In those circumstances, and applying the test set out above, the Panel does not find that any of these findings of fact are serious enough to amount to misconduct.

78. The Panel also decided that it was fair and reasonable to deal with the particulars relating to the recording of the LAC reviews in the same way.  These are Particulars 1(c), 2(c), 3(c) 4(c) and 5(c).

79. The Panel accepted that the Registrant had a responsibility to record a summary of these reviews.  However, they were primarily the responsibility of the Local Authority and the Registrant’s record was not the primary source of information for someone who needed to know what occurred in the reviews.

80. In those circumstances the Panel decided that although the record keeping was poor, the failure to provide the summary records of these reviews did not fall so far below what was expected of the Registrant as to amount to misconduct.

81. The Panel then looked in turn at the records of the required child monthly and eight weekly home visits.

82. The Panel was satisfied that these records were important because team members need to be able to access records specific to each individual child.  It was also important for the children to have a clear record of their time in care if they chose to access them at any point. 

83. The Panel also had regard to the fact that many of the failures of record keeping continued during 2016 when the Registrant had been told of the need to improve and had been made the subject of a PIP which the Panel found he had agreed to abide by.


Particular 1(b)

84. The Panel found that the Registrant left a gap of 10 months in Child 1’s records between August 2015 and July 2016 and then did not complete records for the 3 months before he left.

85. The Panel is satisfied that leaving such long gaps in Child 1’s records and persisting with the failure of record keeping in 2016, amounts to serious misconduct.


Particular 2(b)

86. The Panel found that the Registrant left a gap of 11 months in Child 2’s records between August 2015 and July 2016 and then did not complete records for the 3 months before he left.

87. The Panel is satisfied that leaving such long gaps in Child 2’s records and persisting with the failure of record keeping in 2016, amounts to serious misconduct.


Particular 3(b)

88. The Panel found that the Registrant left a 2 month gap in child 3 records in July and August 2015, a further 6 month gap after September 2015 until April 2016, a further 4 month gap after April until September 2016 and a further 3 month gap at the end of 2016.

89. The Panel is satisfied that leaving so many gaps in Child 3’s records amounts to serious misconduct.


Particular 4(b)

90. The Panel found that the Registrant left a gap in Child 4’s records after April 2016 until September 2016.  This failure occurred during the time the Registrant was subject to a PIP and was receiving help with his caseload to improve his record keeping.

91. In those circumstances the Panel is satisfied that the Registrant’s continued failure to keep proper records for Child 4 amount to serious misconduct. 


Particular 5

92. The Panel found this to be the most serious of the Registrant’s misconduct because for three of the children there were no records for over a year (15 months) whilst the Registrant was the allocated Supervising Social Worker for the foster carers.   During most of that time the Registrant was subject to a PIP and was receiving help with his caseload to improve his record keeping.

93. In those circumstances, the Panel is satisfied that the Registrants failure to keep proper records in respect to children 5,6,7, and 8 amounts to serious misconduct.

 

Decision on Impairment


94. The Panel then went on to consider whether the Registrant’s fitness to practice is currently impaired by reason of his misconduct.

95. The Panel was aware that impairment is a question for its own judgement. It heard the submissions of Ms Mond-Wedd and the advice of the Legal Assessor, which is incorporated into this determination. 

96. In particular the Panel was careful to base its decision on impairment only on those facts in respect of which it had found serious misconduct.  That is to say the Registrant’s failure to record the child monthly and eight weekly home visits.

97. The Panel also bore in mind that it was concerned with whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired.  The Panel focused on the need to protect the public and the wider public interest in the future.

98. In reaching its decision, the Panel considered both the personal and public components of fitness to practise, which includes the need to protect service users, maintain confidence in the profession and the regulatory process, and uphold proper standards of conduct and behaviour for the profession.

99. When considering the question of whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise is impaired, the Panel considered the questions posed by Dame Janet Smith in her Fifth Shipman Report and adopted by the High Court in a number of cases, including CHRE v NMC and Grant [2011] EWHC 927.

• Does the Registrant present a risk to patients/service users?
• Has the Registrant brought the profession into disrepute or is liable to do so in the future?
• Has the Registrant breached one of the fundamental tenets of the profession?
• Is it the case that the Registrant’s integrity cannot be relied upon?

The Panel considered the first two limbs to be engaged in this case.

100. It also had regard to the decision of Silber J in Cohen v GMC [2008] EWHC 581 Admin, in which he said that “there must always be situations in which a panel can properly conclude that the act of misconduct was an isolated error on the part of a medical practitioner and the chance of it being repeated in the future is so remote that his or her fitness to practise has not been impaired.” 

101. The Panel also had regard to the HCPTS’s Practice Note on Impairment “Finding Impairment.”

102. The Panel found that the Registrant’s misconduct was limited to a single aspect of his practise in the minority of his caseload.   Nevertheless, the misconduct  persisted over a considerable period of time despite repeated attempts by his Line Manager to remedy this. 

103. The Panel has found that good records are important to support and protect Service Users.   Inadequate records may mean the safety of children in care can be put at risk.   Furthermore, the responsibilities of the organisations who have a duty to support the children and ensure their safety can be compromised if accurate and timely records are not maintained. 


104. In this case, the records that the Registrant failed to make did not impact directly on the safety of children in care and there is evidence that he had collected some of the information required of him, albeit he had not recorded it where it would be readily accessible.  However, children looked after by the local authority have a right to full and accurate records about their time in care.  This information can be vital to young people, those who care for them and other professionals involved in their care.

105. The Panel first considered the personal aspect of impairment.  In particular whether the Registrant has demonstrated any insight into his conduct, provided evidence of remediation and whether there was a risk of repetition.

106. The Registrant did not attend the hearing and did not submit any information to the Panel.  Nevertheless, the Panel accepted the evidence of Mr Terry that the Registrant did not deny his failures nor did he seek to minimise the importance of good record keeping when challenged about it.

107. To that limited extent the Panel found that the Registrant had demonstrated some insight at the time.  However, since the Registrant has not placed any material before the Panel, there is no evidence before the Panel of his current level of insight.

108. Turning to remediation, the Panel noted that the Registrant’s misconduct was clearly remediable.  However, there is no evidence before the Panel that he has taken any steps to remediate other than some limited progress in some meetings with Mr Terry.  The Panel has no evidence of further remediation. 

109. In those circumstances, the Panel found it could not have confidence that there was not a risk of repetition.  In the event of such repetition the panel found there could be a potential risk to Service Users in future if the Registrant has not improved his insight and remediated.

110. The Panel then considered whether a finding of impairment was required in the wider public interest, to uphold public confidence and uphold standards for the profession.

111. The Panel found that in this case where there is a reputational risk to the profession and the need to uphold standards, the public interest was engaged. 

112. For those reasons, the Panel considered that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired on both the personal and public components.  That is to say because of the need to protect the public, maintain confidence in the profession and uphold standards.


Decision on Sanction

112. Having found that that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is impaired by reason of misconduct, the Panel considered what, if any, sanction to impose on the Registrant.

113. The Panel heard submissions from Ms Mond - Wedd on the issue of sanction. The Panel also accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and had regard to the HCPC’s Indicative Sanctions Policy (ISP).

114. The Panel is aware that the purpose of a sanction is not to be punitive but to protect the public and the wider public interest, which includes the deterrent effect on other registrants, the reputation of the profession, and public confidence in the profession and the regulatory process.

115. The Panel also bore in mind the principle of proportionality and balanced the Panel’s duty to protect the public with the rights of the Registrant.

116. The Panel had regard to the following aggravating factors:

 a) The Registrant’s misconduct continued over a considerable period despite supervision, help from his line manager and a Personal Improvement Plan.
b)  the records of 8 children and young people were involved

117. The Panel had regard to the following mitigating factors:

a) There are no other matters recorded against the Registrant in regulatory proceedings.
b) Mr Terry, who was the Registrant’s line manager and a witness called by the HCPC gave compelling evidence, which the Panel accepted, that there were many positive aspects of the Registrant’s work, including his good relationship with foster carers and young people.  He wrote good evidence based reports. Mr Terry called him a lynchpin of the team.
c) The Registrant’s misconduct was limited to his record keeping.
d) Even within this area of practise, the Registrant’s misconduct was limited to a small proportion of his caseload.
e) There was no evidence of harm to any service user.

118. In order to ensure that it imposed a sanction that was no more restrictive than was necessary to protect the public and the public interest, the Panel considered the sanctions available to it in ascending order of severity.

119. The Panel considered that mediation or to take no action would not be appropriate given the nature of the Registrant’s misconduct. Neither would protect future service users, nor are they sufficiently restrictive to protect the wider public interest.

120. The Panel next considered carefully a Caution Order and had regard to paragraph 28 of ISP:
28. 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.

121. The Panel decided that in the absence of information from the Registrant with regard to insight and remediation, the Panel could not be confident that a caution order would be sufficient to protect the public, having regard to the matters set out in paragraph 28 and the reasons for its decision on impairment.

122. The Panel then considered whether a Conditions of Practice Order would be appropriate given the nature of the Registrant’s conduct.

123. The panel had careful regard to the following provisions of ISP;
30. Conditions of practice will be most appropriate where a failure or deficiency is capable of being remedied and where the Panel is satisfied that allowing the registrant to remain in practice, albeit subject to conditions, poses no risk of harm or future harm. Panels need to recognise that, beyond the specific restrictions imposed by a Conditions of Practice Order, the registrant concerned is being permitted to remain in practice. Consequently, the Panel’s decision will be regarded as confirmation that, beyond the conditions imposed, the registrant is capable of practising safely and effectively.

124. The Panel has already found that the Registrant’s failure is capable of being remedied because it was limited to a single aspect of his practice which he had started to improve in part.  The Panel is satisfied that it is safe to allow the Registrant to practise if there are conditions in place because it accepts the evidence presented by the HCPC through Mr Terry, that the Registrant is a competent Social Worker in all other respects of his practice.

125. The Panel then considered 31 of the ISP:
31. Conditions of Practice Orders must be limited to a maximum of three years and should be remedial or rehabilitative in nature. Before imposing conditions a Panel should be satisfied that:
the issues which the conditions seek to address are capable of correction;
there is no persistent or general failure which would prevent the registrant from doing so;
appropriate, realistic and verifiable conditions can be formulated;
the registrant can be expected to comply with them; and
a reviewing Panel will be able to determine whether those conditions have or are being met.

126. The Panel has already found that the Registrant’s failures are limited in scope and capable of remediation and so not part of a more general failure that would prevent him from complying with conditions. The Panel was reinforced in this decision by the extent to which the Registrant attended supervision and other meetings connected with his Personal Improvement Plan, albeit that the plan had not achieved its objective by the time that the Registrant left his employment.
33. Conditions will rarely be effective unless the registrant is genuinely committed to resolving the issues they seek to address and can be trusted to make a determined effort to do so. Therefore, conditions of practice are
unlikely to be suitable in cases:
where the registrant has failed to engage with the fitness to practise process, lacks insight or denies any wrongdoing;

127. The Panel considered with particular care whether it could impose a conditions order in circumstances where the Registrant had not engaged with the fitness to practise process. 

128. The Panel decided that it could because of the evidence it heard and accepted that the Registrant had cooperated to a large extent with his line manager and the Personal Improvement Plan, and although his insight was at best limited, he had not denied all wrong doing.

129. Above all, the Panel was satisfied that it could draft conditions which would protect the public by ensuring that his record keeping was addressed while allowing a competent Social Worker to serve the public.

130. A Conditions of Practice Order would be the appropriate and proportionate sanction to meet the wider public interest having regard to the level of misconduct found. 

131. In order to be satisfied that a more restrictive sanction was not necessary, the panel considered whether it should impose a period of suspension.  It considered paragraph 39 of the ISP:
39. Suspension should be considered where the Panel considers that a caution or conditions of practice would provide insufficient public protection or where the allegation is of a serious nature but unlikely to be repeated and, thus, striking off is not merited.

132. The Panel was satisfied that the conditions it has drafted are sufficient to protect the public because they require the Registrant to address his failings.
Furthermore, the Panel was concerned that given the nature of the misconduct found proved, a Suspension Order in all the circumstances would be disproportionate and would not adequately balance the Registrant’s interest with protecting the public.  It is in the public’s interest to allow an otherwise competent Social Worker to be in practice albeit subject to conditions. 

133. Accordingly the Panel makes the following order. For a period of 6 months the following conditions are imposed on your registration:
1. You must formulate a Personal Development Plan (PDP) designed to address the deficiencies in your record keeping. This must include reflection on the Panel’s findings and a plan of how you will organise your work in future to avoid the failings identified by the Panel.
2. You must undertake suitable training on record keeping and organising and prioritising your work.
3. You must forward to the HCPC, 14 days before the date fixed for the review of this order:
a. A copy of your PDP
b. Evidence of successful completion of training.

4. You must promptly inform the HCPC if you are appointed, or cease to be employed, as a Social Worker by any employer.

5. You must promptly inform the HCPC of any disciplinary proceedings taken against you by your employer.
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 as a Social Worker (at the time of application);
c. Any prospective employer, seeking to employ you as a Social Worker (at the time of your application).

134. The Panel was satisfied that 6 months is long enough for the Registrant to comply with the conditions necessary to ensure that the public is protected and public confidence maintained.
 
135. Shortly before the end of the order there will be a review. The reviewing Panel may be assisted by:


a) references from your current employers and work colleagues (whether in paid or unpaid work) that attest to your standard of record keeping.


b) any other current testimonials, and independent evidence showing that your behaviour has been fully remediated. 

 

 

Order

ORDER: The Registrar is directed to annotate the Register to show that, for a period of 6 months from the date that this Order comes into effect, you, Mr Richard William Maxwell Hunte must comply with the following Conditions of Practice:

1) You must formulate a Personal Development Plan (PDP) designed to address the deficiencies in your record keeping. This must include reflection on the Panel’s findings and a plan of how you will organise your work in future to avoid the failings identified by the Panel.

2) You must undertake suitable training on record keeping and organising and prioritising your work.

3) You must forward to the HCPC, 14 days before the date fixed for the review of this order:

a. A copy of your PDP
b. Evidence of successful completion of training.

4) You must promptly inform the HCPC if you are appointed, or cease to be employed, as a Social Worker by any employer.

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

6) 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 as a Social Worker (at the time of application);
c. Any prospective employer, seeking to employ you as a Social Worker (at the time of your application).

 

Notes

The Panel did not impose an Interim Conditions of Practice Order. 

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Mr Richard William Maxwell Hunte

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status