Mr Nicholas John Barnes
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(as amended on day 1 of the hearing on 26 March 2018)
Whilst registered as a Social Worker and employed by Manchester City Council as a Team Manager, supervising the work of others in relation to the case involving Child A, you:
1. In respect of safeguarding concerns raised by Child A’s school on or around 18 October 2013, did not:
a) Ensure that a Section 47 outcome record was made; and/or
b) Ensure that a Section 47 outcome record was provided to all those involved in the enquiry.
2. In respect of safeguarding concerns raised by Child A’s school on or around 13 November 2013, did not instruct the allocated worker to speak with Child A by herself in order to clarify the identity of the alleged perpetrator.
3. In respect of information regarding Person B provided by the police on or around 18 November 2013, did not ensure that the Child and Family Assessment and/or Section 7 Welfare Report was updated to reflect an assessment of the potential risks to Child A from Person B.
4. Did not review Child A’s case and identify that safeguarding concerns had been raised by the Children and Parent’s Service on or around 17 June 2014 and/or you did not ensure that adequate follow-up action was taken.
5. Did not review Child A’s case and identify that safeguarding concerns had been raised by Child A’s school on or around 6 October 2014 and/or you did not ensure that adequate follow-up action was taken.
6. Following concerns relating to an injury suffered by Child A reported by Child A’s school on or around 16 December 2014, did not instruct Social Worker E to do the following or ensure that these steps were completed:
a) take steps to arrange a Strategy Meeting; and/or
b) take steps to arrange a medical examination of Child A; and/or
c) take steps to conduct a Section 47 investigation.
7. Did not review Child A’s case and identify that safeguarding concerns had been raised by Child A’s school on or around 20 January 2015 and/or you did not ensure that adequate follow-up action was taken.
8. Did not ensure that the Children and Family Assessment completed on or around 20 January 2014:
a) contained a full and/or adequate assessment of the safeguarding issues in the case; and/or
b) was completed in a timely manner.
9. On or around 2 February 2015, agreed that the case could be closed without the following documents having been completed and/or uploaded to the case:
a) Closure summary;
b) Chronology of events.
10. During the period June 2014 to January 2015 you did not adequately supervise Social Worker E, in that you did not consistently discuss Child A’s case in sufficient detail during supervision sessions with Social Worker E and/or adequately record your discussions.
11. The matters set out in paragraph(s) 1 - 10 constitute misconduct and/or lack of competence.
12. By reason of your misconduct and/or lack of competence your fitness to practise is impaired.
Amendment of the Allegation
1. The HCPC made an application to amend the Allegation. The basis of the application was to ensure clarity of what is being alleged and to reflect the evidence accurately. The Presenting Officer detailed the various changes by reference to the report prepared by the Social Worker investigating the matter on behalf of the employer. The HCPC had given the Registrant notice of the proposed amendments over six months ago. It was stressed that the terms of the amended allegation do not widen the ambit of what is being alleged and did not cause the Registrant any prejudice.
2. Part of the HCPC application was the submission of no evidence in relation to particular 9.
3. The Registrant’s Representative stated that he supported amendments which are as specific as possible and were broken down into constituent actions. He had no objections to the amendments and accepted that they accurately reflected the nature of the conduct alleged.
4. The Panel noted the admissions which had been made by the Registrant. It noted that notwithstanding these admissions the burden to prove each and every element of the Allegation remained with the HCPC.
5. The Panel approved an application by the Registrant’s Representative for two witnesses, Ms Lorraine Devlin and Ms Emily Wright, to give evidence by phone. The application was not opposed by the HCPC.
6. The Registrant was a Team Manager for a locality Team within Manchester City Council (MCC). The Registrant line managed eight social workers, including Social Worker E, who was the assigned social worker for the case of Child A.
7. Child A came to the attention of MCC following concerns relating to Child A and her mother having fled from a relationship of domestic violence to live with an individual who was known to MCC. A series of contacts and referrals were made expressing significant safeguarding concerns for a young child, Child A. Those concerns were evidenced by Child A attending school with bruising, bumps on her head, being hungry and searching dustbins for food, significant loss of weight, and displaying unsettled, sexualised and aggressive behaviour. The safeguarding concerns culminated in an incident that resulted in Child A being admitted to hospital with two broken legs.
Decision on Facts
8. Before the Panel sets out its findings of fact, it confirms that the burden of proof is upon the Council to prove the allegations to the requisite standard, namely the civil standard of balance of probabilities. There is no burden on the Registrant to prove or disprove anything.
9. The HCPC case relied upon the evidence of Ms Sara Patel, the Investigating Office whose report to MCC formed part of the HCPC evidence; and Mr Colin Barr, who was the Registrant’s line manager at MCC from October 2013 to April 2015. In addition, the Panel had within the bundle of documentation before it the sworn statement of Ms Gemma O’Sullivan who on behalf of the HCPC’s solicitors had sought to obtain the Registrant’s handwritten supervision notes prepared by Mr Colin Barr.
10. Ms Patel’s evidence was, in the Panel’s view, clear, consistent, honest, balanced and fair. She was not prone to exaggeration but was uncompromising in her expectations of the Registrant’s role as a manager, although accepting of the difficulties which existed within the department at that time.
11. Mr Barr’s testimony was credible and fair although at times his recollection was not complete.
12. The Registrant gave live evidence and called on his behalf two witnesses, Ms Emily Wright and Ms Lorraine Devlin, both of whom had been members of his team at the relevant time.
13. The Registrant’s evidence was honest and open with extensive admissions and acknowledgement of his errors and failings. He displayed genuine distress and remorse that a service user had suffered as a result of his and the department’s shortcomings.
14. The Registrant and Ms Patel had both emphasised how busy Children’s Services at MCC had been at the time of these events. This position is supported by the Ofsted report published on 1 September 2014. Within that report it is recorded within the summary of findings that:
‘Inspectors found a large number of cases (486) that had waited a considerable time for a social work assessment, resulting in a significant number of children not having been seen or their needs assessed or recorded. This potentially left children at risk. The authority was aware of this issue but had taken insufficient action to address the problem.
Quality assurance and management oversight is not robust. It has been ineffective in dealing with serious drift in the completion of assessments.’
15. Within the body of that document it is recorded that:
‘The Inspector identified 486 single assessments that had not been progressed in a timely manner, including a small number that had drifted for almost a year (from August 2013). In many cases, although work had been undertaken, it had not been recorded or recorded well. Of these, 97 children had not been visited, including 44 for a period of six months, meaning that some children had been left in situations of unassessed risk.’
16. The Panel noted that the HCPC was offering no evidence in relation to particular 9.
In respect of safeguarding concerns raised by Child A’s school on or around 18 October 2013, did not:
a) Ensure that a Section 47 outcome record was made; and/or
b) Ensure that a Section 47 outcome record was provided to all those involved in the enquiry.
Particular 1(a) – not proved
17. Within the documentation before the Panel, there was a copy of the Section 47 outcome report. During her testimony Ms Patel was taken to this document and she confirmed that in this regard her witness statement was wrong.
18. Despite the Registrant’s admission, the Panel therefore does not find particular 1(a) proved on the evidence before it.
Particular 1(b) – proved
19. The Registrant admitted this particular. In her testimony Ms Patel stated that there was no evidence that there had been distribution of this information to relevant parties. Whilst there is evidence that ‘a copy of support recommendations’ was sent to all parties there was no evidence that the Record of Outcome of Section 47 form was sent. The Panel finds this proved.
Particular 2 – proved
In respect of safeguarding concerns raised by Child A’s school on or around 13 November 2013, did not instruct the allocated worker to speak with Child A by herself in order to clarify the identity of the alleged perpetrator.
20. In this evidence the Registrant’s position was that he had been aware of the safeguarding issues raised by the school on 13 November 2013 in relation to Child A. He stated that he had spoken to Michelle Martin, an experienced Social Worker. However, he accepted that he had not asked her to establish the identity of the perpetrator and accepted that this was an oversight on his part. There is no record within the documentation that the true identity of the perpetrator had been established.
21. The Panel therefore finds this particular proved to the requisite standard.
Particular 3 – proved
In respect of information regarding Person B provided by the police on or around 18 November 2013, did not ensure that the Child and Family Assessment and/or Section 7 Welfare Report was updated to reflect an assessment of the potential risks to Child A from Person B.
22. The Registrant has admitted this particular. The Panel had copies of the Child and Family Assessment (CAFA) and the Section 7 Welfare Report neither of which included information relating to the child’s changed behaviour and an assessment of the risk at this time. The Panel therefore finds this particular proved in full.
Particular 4 – proved
Did not review Child A’s case and identify that safeguarding concerns had been raised by the Children and Parent’s Service on or around 17 June 2014 and/or you did not ensure that adequate follow-up action was taken.
23. This particular was denied by the Registrant who maintained that he had assessed this matter during supervision with Social Worker E, who was an inexperienced Social Worker. He stated in evidence that he had spoken to the Social Worker but that he had relied on what he had been told by her. He had therefore not identified safeguarding risks and had not ensured that adequate follow up action was taken. The documentation before the Panel did not record that he had identified safeguarding risks and ensured that any follow up action had been taken. The Panel therefore finds this particular proved.
Particular 5 – proved
Did not review Child A’s case and identify that safeguarding concerns had been raised by Child A’s school on or around 6 October 2014 and/or you did not ensure that adequate follow-up action was taken.
24. This particular was denied by the Registrant.
25. The Panel noted that Social Worker E, who was responsible for this case, had been placed on an Action Plan to support and monitor her work from October to December 2014. The records before the Panel contain the note ‘CAFA to be completed’. However, there was no mention of any reasons why this recommendation had been made, nor any evidence that he had ensured that adequate follow-up had been undertaken. The Panel therefore finds that this particular is proved in full.
Particular 6 – proved
Following concerns relating to an injury suffered by Child A reported by Child A’s school on or around 16 December 2014, did not instruct Social Worker E to do the following or ensure that these steps were completed:
a) take steps to arrange a Strategy Meeting; and/or
b) take steps to arrange a medical examination of Child A; and/or
c) take steps to conduct a Section 47 investigation.
26. The Registrant admits that he did not take the steps alleged. He accepted that in a supervision meeting with Social Worker E on 17 December 2014 he had been over-reliant on her self-reporting and that he should have balanced this against her inexperience and the number of incidents reported. There was nothing in the documentation before the Panel to show that the steps set out in this particular had been taken.
Particular 7 – proved
Did not review Child A’s case and identify that safeguarding concerns had been raised by Child A’s school on or around 20 January 2015 and/or you did not ensure that adequate follow-up action was taken.
27. The Registrant has denied this particular which relates to a fall and Child A going to hospital. The Registrant again stated that he relied on information from the Social Worker E, who at that time was no longer on an Action Plan.
28. The documentation shows that there had been no assessment of the situation and no scrutiny or review of the information supplied. The record shows that the recommendation was for this case to be closed. The Panel has therefore found this particular proved in full to the requisite standard based on the information before it.
Particular 8 – proved
Did not ensure that the Children and Family Assessment completed on or around 20 January 2014:
a) Contained a full and/or adequate assessment of the safeguarding issues in the case; and/or
b) Was completed in a timely manner.
29. Particular 8(a) was admitted by the Registrant.
30. The documentation before the Panel shows that there had not been a full or adequate assessment and so the Panel finds this limb proved.
31. Limb 8(b) was denied by the Registrant.
32. The Registrant stated that it was not untimely as Ms Marian Flaherty had given an extension of time to complete this. The delay in completion was because the Social Worker responsible was leaving. However, there was no record on the MiCare system to indicate any extension had been agreed either by Ms Flaherty or her successor, Mr Barr.
33. The MCC Assessment Process records that there was a normal 35-day time scale for the completion of documentation. There is information that there was informal provision for an extension to be given in appropriate situations. Mr Barr stated that if he had been asked he would have given a week’s extension.
34. Ms Patel stated that six months was well outside the timescale. In the circumstances the Panel does not accept as credible that an extension of up to 6 months to complete the task would have been given. In the Panel’s view the CAFA was not completed in a timely manner. This particular is therefore proved.
Particular 9 – No evidence offered by the HCPC.
On or around 2 February 2015, agreed that the case could be closed without the following documents having been completed and/or uploaded to the case:
c) Closure summary;
d) Chronology of events.
Particular 10 – proved
During the period June 2014 to January 2015 you did not adequately supervise Social Worker E, in that you did not consistently discuss Child A’s case in sufficient detail during supervision sessions with Social Worker E and/or adequately record your discussions.
35. The Registrant admitted this particular.
36. In evidence the Registrant had repeatedly stated that he regretted his poor supervision of Social Worker E, and with hindsight accepted that he had not documented and acted on his concerns about her competence. He accepted that he had relied heavily on what this Social Worker had told him. This is supported by the documentation evidence of supervisory sessions with Social Worker E which shows insufficient scrutiny of Social Worker E’s cases and a shortfall in action planning.
37. The Panel therefore found this particular proved.
Decision on Grounds
38. The Panel acknowledged that at this stage in the proceedings there is no burden on the HCPC. This issue was a matter for the Panel’s judgment and it considered each and every element of the matters found proved, having discounted the matters set out in particulars 1(a) and 9 from its deliberations.
39. The HCPC argued that the matters found proved individually and collectively amounted to misconduct and/or lack of competence. The Panel was taken by the HCPC to the relevant sections of the published guidance issued for social workers, which it was submitted had been breached.
40. In the Panel’s view the matters found proven are in breach of the following provisions of the Standards of Proficiency for Social Workers.
1. be able to practise safely and effectively within your scope of practice.
2.2. understand the need to promote the best interests of service users and carers at all times.
2.3. understand the need to protect, safeguard and promote the wellbeing of children, young people and vulnerable adults.
4.1. be able to assess a situation, determine its nature and severity and call upon the required knowledge and experience to deal with it.
4.4. be able to make informed judgments on complex issues using the information available.
8.2. be able to demonstrate effective and appropriate skills in communicating advice, instruction, information and professional opinion to colleagues, service users and carers.
9.2. be able to work with service users and carers to enable them to assess and make informed decisions about their needs, circumstances, risks, preferred options and resources.
9.7. be able to contribute effectively to work undertaken as part of a multi-disciplinary team.
10. be able to maintain records appropriately
41. In relation to the Standards relating to Conduct, Performance and Ethics breaches of the following provisions:
1. You must act in the best interests of service users.
5. You must keep your professional knowledge and skills up to date.
8. You must effectively supervise tasks you have asked other people to carry out.
10. You must keep accurate records.
42. The Panel appreciated that whilst there had been breaches of the standards these did not in themselves automatically constitute a finding of lack of competence or misconduct.
43. The allegation is framed in the alternative of misconduct and/or lack of competence. The Panel received advice from the Legal Assessor that in reaching a decision on this the Panel may wish to consider whether the Registrant’s acts and omissions arise out of a lack of knowledge or appreciation of what to do in the circumstances or whether they arise out of an intentional or reckless failure to do what the Registrant knew was required. It is a matter for the Panel to assess whether the Registrant’s poor judgment arises out of lack of ability or failure to carry out proper processes of assessment.
44. The Registrant had maintained that his errors substantially arose out of the organisational failings. The Ofsted Report identified that there were serious shortcomings within the service at that time. It was advanced on behalf of the Registrant that he had not intentionally failed in his new post as Team Leader but his failings also arose out of a lack of training and a heavy workload.
45. The Panel noted that the Registrant was supervising a small and largely inexperienced team and each team member was responsible for a heavy caseload.
46. In relation to the issues of lack of competence, the Panel took account of the fact that it had information before it relating to the management of only one case. However, the failings in the Registrant’s management of the two social workers assigned over time to have conduct of this case extends over a lengthy period. There is evidence that his supervision and management had been consistently poor, failing to identify shortfalls in social work processes and addressing poor record keeping which was far below what was expected of a Social Worker.
47. When considering whether the Registrant’s actions constituted misconduct the Panel took note that the failings arose out of his inexperience and lack of ability as a manager. They also noted the standards which the Registrant expected of himself and others. He had totally acknowledged his failings.
48. From the Registrant’s evidence it appeared that he had treated his Social Workers as though they worked to the same standards that he himself upheld as a practising Social Worker, trusting them to do what was required and assuming they were working autonomously and in an honest and open fashion. He ascribed to them the same degree of skills and levels of knowledge that he believed all Social Workers should have and did not adequately challenge or interrogate those working for him. Whilst the Panel appreciated that the practice of supervising may have been new to him, he was overseeing assessment processes and record keeping that failed in several significant ways to meet the basic level of practice required of all social workers without applying an acceptable level of scrutiny.
49. The Panel also noted that unusually he, as Team Manager, had, in addition, a small caseload of his own as well as extra commitments on a citywide basis. The Panel also noted the reasons and circumstances in which the Registrant had taken a management position. It resulted from a restructuring of the organisation and the Registrant had not actively sought a managerial role. He accepted the Team Leader position out of his commitment to his team and so that he could continue working within an area he knew well.
50. The Registrant’s recognition of his professional shortcomings at that time supported the Panel’s view that the Registrant’s acts and omissions arose out of his lack of ability as a manager, rather than intentional or reckless misconduct. The Panel noted that the Registrant had repeatedly requested training to assist him in undertaking his managerial role but this had not been adequately provided. The Panel noted Mr Barr’s observations that management skills were often developed through experience and observing how other managers dealt with and responded to different situations. The Panel considers this informal approach contributed to the Registrant’s inability to undertake his managerial role competently. In all the circumstances the Panel considers that the Registrant’s failings can properly be categorised as a lack of competence.
Decision on Impairment
51. In reaching its decision the Panel has noted that the test of impairment is expressed in the present tense, that fitness to practise ‘is impaired’. Whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired is a matter of judgment for the Panel. The Panel has taken into consideration the guidance issued by the Council entitled ‘Finding that fitness to practise is impaired.’
52. Rule 9 of the Health Professions Council (Conduct and Competence Committee) (Procedure) Rules 2003 (as amended) provides ‘where the Committee has found that the health professional has failed to comply with the standards of conduct, performance and ethics established by the Council under Article 21(1)(a) of the Order, the Committee may take that failure into account, but such failure will not be taken of itself to establish that the fitness to practise of the health professional is impaired’.
53. The Panel received the representations of the parties and the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Panel appreciated that in reaching a decision it should consider both the personal and the public components.
54. The Panel had before it a formal appraisal dated 10 February 2017 and 9 references from colleagues dated and submitted to the HCPC in March 2017 in full awareness of the matter alleged. These attest to the Registrant’s abilities as a Social Worker and colleague. Some refer to his respected abilities as a mentor and role model.
55. The Panel accepted that the Registrant had been placed in a difficult position when there had been an organisational restructuring. However, he had made a personal and informed decision to take the position offered. Whilst the Panel noted that in his view he had been given little focused management training, the Registrant’s long career and understanding of what was required in the two-way process of supervision would have assisted him in transferring to a more senior position.
56. The Registrant’s CV, which had been sent to the HCPC at the time when the Investigating Committee was considering whether there was a ‘case to answer’, showed that following suspension in June 2015 the Registrant had returned to work in July 2016 as a full time Social Worker at MCC. He had been a Social Worker with MCC for over 26 years at this point. It was noted that the Registrant had not been practising as a Social Worker since May 2017.
57. The Panel heard from the Registrant’s witnesses about the significant changes which had been put in place by MCC since the Ofsted report had been published. The Registrant had told the Panel that he would never again seek a management role and the likelihood of placing himself in such a position again was, in the Panel’s view, remote. In the circumstances the Panel does not find the Registrant’s fitness to practice impaired in relation to the personal component.
58. In relation to the public interest component, the Panel accepted that it was not concerned that the Registrant would pose a risk to the public in a non-managerial role. The Panel noted that there had been no criticism of his abilities until these matters arose, all of which arise out of his oversight and management of, in the main, inexperienced Social Workers. The failings of others, which he had not identified nor taken steps to correct, and his lack of adherence to standard practice and processes, was concerning in that it put service users at the risk of harm.
59. However, it was aware that the case of Child A had resulted in significant harm and the outcome may have been different had the Registrant adequately performed his function as a manager and supervisor. The Panel considers that public confidence in the profession would be undermined if a finding of current impairment were not made in circumstances where the Registrant‘s repeated lack of competence had put a vulnerable young child at risk of harm.
60. The Panel therefore makes a finding of impairment on public interest grounds.
Decision on Sanction
61. At this stage in the proceedings the Panel is identifying and applying a level of restriction which it considers is in the interests of services users the wider public and the Registrant. It appreciates that this is to be the minimum restriction necessary, balancing those three interests to achieve a proportionate and appropriate outcome.
62. The Panel heard the parties’ submissions, accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor, referred again to appropriate guidance issued by the HCPC but in particular, the Indicative Sanctions Policy issued in March 2017.
63. The Registrant’s representative placed before the Panel a copy of the Serious Case Review which had been published by the Manchester Safeguarding Children Board on 18 May 2018. This identified the extent of the problems within the Children’s Social Care which together with other agencies had led to the harm being caused to this child continuing and ultimately her being taken removed from the family setting.
64. The Panel was informed that since this case was adjourned part heard in March 2018 the Registrant’s suspension from duty had been brought to an end by a disciplinary hearing and his subsequent dismissal. These employment issues were being strenuously challenged and there was an appeal in process.
65. At this stage the Panel was able to take into account all information placed before it, including issues of personal mitigation and the information provided by the Registrant of his current financial position and the potential impact of a sanction on him and his family.
66. The Panel was mindful that sanctions should not be a punishment for past wrongdoing and should be in the interests of the public, service users, fellow practitioners and act as a deterrent to other. They should also uphold the professions standing and reputation. The Panel was therefore balancing those considerations when assessing the minimum level of restriction that will reflect the public interest concerns identified in this case with those of the Registrant. Having made a finding of lack of competence the Panel was aware that it did not have the full range of sanctions available to it.
67. To assist it in its considerations the Panel identified the following mitigating and aggravating factors.
• There is evidence of persistent and repeated failures by the Registrant, within his management and supervisory role, over a relatively long period of time;
• The actions and omissions of the Registrant within a dysfunctional organisational setting had contributed to what resulted in a very serious outcome for a highly vulnerable child.
• The Registrant has fully engaged in the HCPC process and has attended this hearing throughout;
• The Registrant during the period covered by the Allegation had encountered personal difficulties with the death of a parent;
• There has been no previous concern about the Registrant’s practice;
• Work colleagues have attested to his practice and his mentoring skills;
• There is evidence that there were widespread cultural failings at the MCC as supported by the evidence of Mr Barr, two former colleagues and the Serious Case Review;
• The Registrant made extensive admissions;
• The Registrant has demonstrated genuine remorse, insight and contrition;
• The Registrant’s actions were neither wilful nor deliberate;
• The Registrant had not been given focused training for his role as a manager;
• The Registrant had received a limited degree of supervision at the relevant time.
70. The Panel considered that this was not a matter where it could take no further action. This would not reflect the seriousness of the public’s concerns at the ultimate consequences for this child from the respondents lack of competence. Mediation was neither practicable nor appropriate.
71. A Caution Order would flag up and mark the seriousness of the Registrant’s failings and inform fellow professional of the concerns that have arisen out of his former lack of competence in a managerial role. This level of sanction would allow the Registrant to practice but with any future employer aware of the fact of these matters.
72. To assess whether a Caution Order would rightly reflect the balance the Panel has made between the Registrant’s interests and those of the public the Panel considered whether a higher sanction would better serve the circumstances of this case. Given a finding of no personal impairment the Panel concluded that a Conditions of Practice was neither appropriate nor workable in this instance. This being the case the Panel unusually went forward to consider whether the matters identified above as aggravating features were sufficiently serious to warrant a period of suspension. There were, as identified above, many mitigating factors which weighed against the imposition of such a measure.
73. The Panel has therefore concluded that it is appropriate and proportionate in this instance to impose a Caution Order for a period of three years on public interest grounds. The Panel considered that three years was the right period of time for such a mark of censure against the Registrant’s registration.
That the Registrar is directed to annotate the register entry of Mr Nicholas John Barnes with a caution which is to remain on the register for a period of 3 years from the date this order comes into effect.
No notes available
History of Hearings for Mr Nicholas John Barnes
|Date||Panel||Hearing type||Outcomes / Status|
|25/06/2018||Conduct and Competence Committee||Final Hearing||Caution|