Mrs Julie Newton

Profession: Social worker

Registration Number: SW91817

Hearing Type: Review Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 11:30 14/06/2018 End: 16:00 14/06/2018

Location: Avonmouth House, 6 Avonmouth Street, London, SE16NX

Panel: Conduct and Competence Committee
Outcome: Suspended

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Allegation

The following allegation was considered by a Panel of the Conduct and Competence Committee at the substantive hearing on 22-24 November 2017:

Whilst registered as a Social Worker and employed as a Locum Social Worker by Plymouth City Council:

1. In relation to Child A, you:

a) recorded that you had seen and spoken with Child A on 19 January 2016 when in fact the child had not been present;

b) copied (or “grabbed”) sections of the Single Assessment from the previous report prepared in or around October 2015;

c) not proved.

2. In relation to Child B, recorded that you had visited Child B at home on 03 February 2016 when in fact Child B had not been visited.

3. Your actions in relation to particulars 1 and/or 2 were dishonest.

4. The matters set out at particulars 1-3 constitutes misconduct.

5. By reason of your misconduct your fitness to practise is impaired.

The panel at the substantive hearing found particulars 1(a), 1(b), 2 and 3 proved, that particulars 1(a), 2 and 3 amounted to misconduct, and that the Registrant’s fitness to practise was impaired. The panel imposed a Suspension Order for a period of 6 months.

Finding

Preliminary Matters

Service

1. This Panel was aware that written Notice of this hearing was posted by first class post to the Registrant at her registered address on 29 May 2018 and was also sent by email. This Panel was shown documents which established the fact of the service and the identity of the Registrant’s registered address and email addresses. This Panel accepted that proper service of the Notice had been effected. In coming to this conclusion, this Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor that today’s hearing was to be treated as an adjourned hearing of the hearing fixed for 25 May 2018, and that the Notice dated 26 April 2018 and referred to in the Notice given on 29 May 2018 was effective for the purpose of giving valid notice for the present hearing. This Panel also noted that on 25 May 2018, the panel which decided to adjourn that hearing expressly found that the Notice dated 26 April 2018 “had been effected in accordance with the Rules”.

Proceeding in the absence of the Registrant

2. Ms Senior, on behalf of the HCPC, submitted that the hearing should proceed in the absence of the Registrant.

3. This Panel has not seen any representations by, or on behalf, of the Registrant and has been informed by Ms Senior that none have been received by the HCPC. This Panel was further informed that the Registrant has not engaged with the HCPC since March 2017, which was before the substantive hearing. The Panel was further informed by Ms Senior that emails were sent to the Registrant on both 6 June and 13 June 2018 to remind the Registrant of today’s hearing. Further, on 13 June 2018, an attempt was made to telephone the Registrant on both of her last known numbers. The Panel was informed via a file note that, “Both numbers did not ring, came up as void on the telephone".

4. This Panel heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.

5. This Panel was aware of the need to consider the application to proceed in the absence of the Registrant with great caution. However after giving the application very careful thought, this Panel has determined to allow it. Its reasons are as follows:

• Notice of this hearing has been properly served on the Registrant.

• The Registrant has not applied for an adjournment or otherwise engaged with the HCPC regarding this review hearing.

• The Registrant has not engaged with the HCPC since March 2017, which is before the substantive hearing.

• The Registrant did not attend and was not represented at the substantive hearing.

• There is no reason to suppose that if an adjournment was granted the Registrant would attend.

• This is a mandatory review and the existing order will expire on 22 June 2018.

• In all the circumstances, the Registrant can be regarded as having waived her right to attend.

Background

6. Between 6 July 2015 and 23 February 2016, the Registrant was employed as an agency Social Worker via the Social Care Recruitment Agency (Network Health Care) in the referral service of the Plymouth City Council (the Council) Children Young People and Family Services. During the period covered by the Allegation, in January and February 2016, the Registrant was working in the Initial Response Team in the Referral and Assessment Service (the Service). Her responsibility was to make the initial visit to children in families where concerns had been raised. Some of these families were already known to the department.

7. One of her responsibilities was to make contact with the children in the family who may be at risk and complete a report known as ‘the Single Assessment’. In order to complete a Single Assessment, a Social Worker had to speak to the child at risk and ascertain his or her views and concerns.

8. The allegation arises from the Registrant’s contact with and assessment of two children between 19 January and 3 February 2016.

9. The first, known as Child A, was 5 years old and one of four children in a family that had had previous involvement with the Service. The children were referred to the department on 21 December 2015, because the mother of Child A had reported to her Housing Officer concerns about the children having contact with their father. There was a previous history of domestic violence.

10. On 19 January 2016, the Registrant visited Child A’s family and spoke with his mother. She subsequently completed a Single Assessment in which she claimed to have spoken to Child A, when in fact Child A was not present on that occasion.

11. The second child, known as Child B, was referred to the department because of concerns raised by a midwife who had seen Child B’s father apparently behaving aggressively at the delivery of a new baby. This family was also known to the department because of a history of domestic abuse.

12. On 22 February 2016, the Registrant submitted to her Line Manager, SM, for authorisation a Single Assessment of Child B which indicated that she had seen Child B on 3 February 2016.

Hearing in November 2017

13. At the hearing in June 2017, the original panel found proved those particulars of the Allegation as are identified above. The original panel further found that in respect of particulars 1(a), 2 and 3 the facts were sufficiently serious as to amount to misconduct.

14. The original panel had regard to the HCPC Practice Note on “Finding That Fitness to Practise is ‘Impaired’” and in particular to the two elements of impairment, namely “the personal component” and “the public component”. The original panel held that the Registrant’s fitness to practise was impaired in both respects. It expressed its reasons as follows:

“The Panel is satisfied that the Registrant’s conduct, in completing false records of visits to Child A and Child B, put vulnerable service users at risk. If other members of a Social Worker’s team read that a child had been seen when he/she had not, that child risks losing the opportunity to make his or her views known.

The Panel is satisfied that producing false records in a way that is deliberate and dishonest can bring the profession into disrepute.

The Panel is also satisfied that by being dishonest, the Registrant has breached a fundamental tenet of the profession, namely the requirement to demonstrate honesty and integrity and, in the same way, has made it impossible to rely upon her integrity.

The Panel accepted that the Registrant’s misconduct occurred during a period of extreme … stress. There was no material before it to indicate that the Registrant has been dishonest in any other circumstances.

The Panel also considered the Registrant’s written submissions, in which she said that she understood the importance of proper record-keeping. Nevertheless, the Registrant fell short of demonstrating that she understood why it was important or the effect her actions could have.

The Panel acknowledged that dishonesty is not easy to remediate. Nevertheless, in the circumstances of this case, the Panel accepted that there may be ways in which it could be. However, there is no evidence before the Panel that the Registrant has begun that process and in her last communication, of 2 March 2017, she told the HCPC that she was not ready to deal with her future.

The Panel is satisfied that, until the Registrant gains full insight into her dishonest acts and begins the process of remediation, there is a continuing risk that she would repeat this behaviour if faced with stressful circumstances.

The Panel also considered the impact of the Registrant’s misconduct on public confidence in the profession. The Panel is satisfied that the confidence of reasonable members of the public in the profession and its regulatory process would be undermined if no finding of impairment were made in respect of a registrant who had falsified records. It is important that members of the public and other practitioners can trust the word of a Social Worker and can be confident that the records upon which the proper functioning of a Social Work team depend have been made honestly and accurately.

The Panel also considered its duty to uphold standards of conduct and integrity in the profession and is satisfied that that it would be failing in its duty to uphold standards if it made no finding of impairment in the case of the Registrant, who had departed from her proper standards of care to vulnerable children and sought to conceal her failures by falsifying records.

Accordingly, the Panel is satisfied that the Registrant’s current fitness to practise is impaired by reason of misconduct.”

15. The original panel concluded that a sanction was necessary. It determined that taking no action, or making a Caution Order would not be appropriate or proportionate in the circumstances of the case.

16. The original panel then considered the imposition of a Conditions of Practice Order but concluded that in this case, such an Order was inappropriate. In explaining its reasons, the original panel stated;

“The Panel is aware that it is sometimes possible to impose appropriate conditions in cases of misconduct such as this. However, in this case it is not possible to formulate appropriate conditions because the Panel knows nothing of the Registrant’s current circumstances. Even if conditions could be formulated, there is no material before the Panel from which it could conclude that the Registrant would comply with them. On the contrary, the contents of the Registrant’s last communication with the HCPC indicated that she may still not be ready to return to work even with conditions.”

17. The original panel proceeded to consider making a Suspension Order and concluded that a 6-month Suspension Order was the appropriate and proportionate sanction, both to protect the public and to meet the wider public interest. In explaining its reasons, the original panel stated:

“The Panel has considered whether the Registrant’s conduct is fundamentally incompatible with continued registration. The Panel has concluded that the Registrant’s misconduct, although serious, falls short of being fundamentally incompatible with her continued registration because it is not the most serious example of dishonesty, was not committed for personal gain, and was committed during a relatively short period and in exceptional circumstances.

Accordingly, the Panel has decided to impose a Suspension Order for a period of 6 months.

The Panel has decided on this period because it is satisfied that this period is sufficient to maintain public confidence by demonstrating that the Panel has recognised the seriousness of this case. It would give the Registrant the opportunity to build upon the insight she has developed and to address the steps that she would need to take to remediate her misconduct.”

18. The original panel stated that, given its conclusion that the impairment was remediable, a Striking Off Order would be disproportionate “at this time”. In explaining its reasons, the original panel stated:

“In all the circumstances, the Panel is satisfied that it would not be appropriate to impose a sanction of “last resort” at this time without giving the Registrant the opportunity to engage and remediate failings which appear capable of remediation, for the reasons set out above.”

19. With regard to a review by a reviewing panel, the original panel indicated what might be helpful to the reviewing panel, stating as follows:

“The Suspension Order will be reviewed before its expiry. At the review hearing, the reviewing panel is likely to be assisted by:

• The Registrant’s attendance at the review hearing;

• A reflective piece demonstrating that the Registrant has understood why her conduct was wrong, its impact on service users and colleagues and demonstrating how she would deal with a stressful personal and professional situation in the future;

• An account of her hopes for working as a Social Worker again;

• Evidence of any paid or unpaid work since this hearing;

• Character references or testimonials.”

Decision

20. Ms Senior submitted that in view of the total lack of recent engagement by the Registrant and by her failure to comply with the suggestions made by the original panel as to what would assist this Panel, the proper conclusion was that the Registrant’s fitness to practise was still impaired. She further submitted that the HCPC’s primary submission was that the Registrant’s name should be struck off the register; her alternative submission was that the Registrant should be suspended for a further 6 months.

21. There have been no representations made by, or on behalf of, the Registrant. This Panel has not received any information from or about her present employment.

22. This Panel heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.

23. This Panel is aware that it has all the powers that are set out in Article 30(1) of the Health and Social Work Professions Order 2001 (The Order) and which are summarised in the letter dated 29 May 2018 addressed to the Registrant and giving Notice of this hearing.

24. This Panel is aware that the process under Article 30(1) of the Order is one of review and not one of appeal and that its function is to determine whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise is still impaired and, if so, whether the Suspension Order under review remains the appropriate and proportionate means of public protection or should be varied or replaced by some other order.

Impairment

25. This Panel has concluded that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired. In coming to this conclusion, this Panel noted that the Registrant had not engaged with the HCPC since before the substantive hearing. She has not provided any of the material that the original panel suggested would be of assistance to a reviewing panel. This Panel determined that for precisely the same reasons as those stated by the original panel and which are summarised above, the Registrant’s fitness to practise remains impaired. Both the personal and the public component remain engaged.

Sanction

26. Having concluded that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is still impaired, this Panel proceeded to consider whether an Order is necessary; and if so, which order is appropriate, proportionate and sufficient to protect the public and safeguard the public interest. This Panel took into account the principles of proportionality, balancing the interests of the Registrant with the public interest.

27. This Panel has had regard to the contents of the “Indicative Sanctions Policy” published by the HCPC and is aware that sanctions should be considered in ascending order of severity. This Panel is aware that the purpose of sanctions is not to be punitive but to protect members of the public and to safeguard the public interest. The latter objective includes maintaining standards within the profession, together with public confidence in the profession and in its regulatory processes.

28. This Panel has concluded that to take no action, thus allowing the present order to lapse, or to impose a Caution Order would be inappropriate having regard to the nature and gravity of the matters found proved. Such outcomes would not sufficiently protect the public or the public interest.

29. This Panel concluded that a Conditions of Practice Order would not be appropriate. In substance its reasons are the same as those stated by the original panel, which are summarised above. Moreover, this Panel noted the absence of any evidence that the Registrant would be in a position to, or would comply, with any Conditions, and noted further that she had produced none of the material suggested by the original panel as being of assistance to this Panel. This Panel has no information as regards the Registrant’s present employment.

30. This Panel then considered an extension of the existing Suspension Order. It was deeply troubled by the fact that the Registrant has not engaged with the HCPC since the last hearing and in particular that she has not complied with the suggestions made by the original panel as to what would assist this Panel. However, this Panel has applied the principle of proportionality. It has taken into account the comments made by the original panel and which are set out above. This Panel concluded, albeit not without some hesitation, that on this occasion, the first review of the original order, it would be disproportionate to make a Striking Off Order. Accordingly this Panel has decided to make a further 6-month Suspension Order. However, and whilst not in any way seeking to bind any future panel, this Panel would urge the Registrant to engage with the HCPC and to comply with the suggestions made by the original panel, which are summarised above. The Registrant should understand that in the absence of engagement by her and should she not address the recommendations made by the original panel, there is a very real possibility that the next review will result in the making of a Striking Off Order. Accordingly, this Panel determines that a further 6-month suspension would be the appropriate and proportionate sanction.

Order

The Registrar is directed to suspend the registration of Mrs Julie Newton for a further period of 6 months on the expiry of the existing Order.

Notes

The order imposed today will apply from 22 June 2018.

This order will be reviewed again before its expiry on 22 December 2018.

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Mrs Julie Newton

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
23/11/2018 Conduct and Competence Committee Review Hearing Struck off
14/06/2018 Conduct and Competence Committee Review Hearing Suspended
25/05/2018 Conduct and Competence Committee Review Hearing Adjourned
22/11/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Suspended