Elizabeth Ellen Bowden

Profession: Social worker

Registration Number: SW40003

Interim Order: Imposed on 15 Dec 2016

Hearing Type: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 09:00 21/05/2018 End: 16:00 25/05/2018

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

Panel: Conduct and Competence Committee
Outcome: Suspended

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Allegation

Whilst registered as a Social Worker:
1. In respect of Family B:
a. Did not adhere to the Care Plan in that, on one or more unknown dates, you agreed and/or allowed children to stay overnight with Parent B2;
b. On or around 13 March 2015, before the Looked After Child (LAC) Review, you said to Parent B1 (mother) ‘Don’t say anything in the meeting about the overnights, I have to run it by Colleague A’ or words to that effect;
c. You did not maintain adequate case notes in relation to the Care Plan of Family B, in that you did not record details of the content of the letter from Dr Brigg’s office of 27 July 2015, which referred to overnight stays with Parent B2.

 

2. In respect of Family C, did not comply with the agreed plan set out at the LAC review dated 21 May 2015, in that you allowed and/or failed to address unsupervised contact between Person C and children of Family C.

 

3. In respect of Family A:
a. Between 4 December 2014 until 3 March 2015, did not undertake statutory visits and/or record completing statutory visits in respect of the children.
b. Did not return and/or record returning phone calls to Person A following phone contact from Person A on:
i. 27 November 2014;
ii. 12 January 2015;
iii. 19 January 2015;
iv. 22 January 2015.
c. Did not make a timely application to the Court to discharge a Care Order dated August 2013, following the LAC review recommendation on 3 September 2014.
d. Did not advise Family A of the postponement of the LAC review, from 26 February 2015 to 11 March 2015.

 

4. Your conduct as described at paragraph 1b was dishonest.

 

5. The matters described at paragraphs 1-3 amount to misconduct and/ or lack of competence.

 

6. The matters described at paragraph 4 amounts to misconduct.

 

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

 

 

Finding

Preliminary matters
Service
1. The Panel was aware that written notice of these proceedings was posted by first class post to the Registrant at her registered address on 15 February 2018. While the date of 2017 on the HCPC Proof of Service was at odds with this, it was confirmed in writing by the person who signed the Proof of Service, as no more than a typographical error, the email specifying that, “the date on the Proof of Service for Bowden should read 15 February 2018 and not 15 February 2017.” Notice was also effected by email. The Panel was shown documents which established both the fact of the service and the identity of the Registrant’s registered postal and email address. In these circumstances the Panel accepted that proper service of the notice had been effected in accordance with the rules.

Proceeding in the absence of the Registrant
2. Mr Dite on behalf of the HCPC submitted that the Panel should consider the case in the absence of the Registrant. He submitted that she had not engaged with this process since June 2017. As no explanation for her absence and no application to adjourn had been forthcoming from the Registrant, he said the Panel should consider whether any adjournment now was likely to secure the attendance of the Registrant at a future time.

3. The Panel heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor that the discretion to proceed in the absence of the Registrant was one to be exercised with the utmost care and caution, and they should  consider a number of criteria in order to effect a just outcome. The HCPTS Practice Notice ‘Proceeding in Absence’ was commended to them, as were the principles outlined in the cases of R v Jones (Anthony) [2003] 1 AC 1; [2002] UKHL 5 and GMC v Adeogba; GMC v Visvardis [2016] EWCA Civ 162.

4. The Panel took into account that a decision to proceed in the absence of the Registrant was one to be taken with great caution. Having found that service was well effected, the Panel considered the criteria outlined in the case of Jones and applied them to the facts of this case. The Panel has decided that this hearing should proceed in the absence of the Registrant. Its reasons were as follows:
a. The Registrant has not provided an explanation for her absence, nor asked for an adjournment.  She has previously engaged with proceedings at the Investigation Committee stage which evidences that she was able to so engage. This suggests that her non-engagement and non-attendance at this time is a voluntary absence and that the Registrant has chosen to waive her right to attend;
b. The Registrant has not chosen to be represented nor to make written submissions at this stage. Her non-engagement suggests that adjourning today would serve no useful purpose in terms of possible future engagement;
c. The public interest in concluding matters speedily would be impacted if the case were adjourned today, as the Allegation refers to events that took place in 2015;
d. Witnesses are present and ready today to proceed;
e. That no adverse inference would be taken from the non-attendance but in all the circumstances it would be fair and just to proceed in the absence of the Registrant.

5. The Panel did consider that the Registrant would inevitably be disadvantaged by not being either present or represented at this hearing. However, it decided that this detriment could be addressed in part by having sight of the submissions that the Registrant had made at the Investigating Committee stage. The Panel decided that this would assist it in understanding the Registrant’s case and Mr Dite accordingly made available the written documents that the Registrant had submitted to the HCPC on 5 June 2017.

Amendment of the Allegation
6. Mr Dite, on behalf of the HCPC, applied to amend Particulars 1(a), 1(c) and 4. In relation to Particulars 1(a) and 1(c), Parent “B” should be changed to Parent “B2” and “Person B” should read “Parent B2”; there is no Person B. In Particular 1(c) “Dr.Brigg’s letter” should be changed to, “the letter from Dr.Brigg’s office” and at Particular 4 “actions” should be replaced with the word “conduct”. He submitted that these were largely typographical and grammatical errors as a reading of these Particulars would make clear.  While the letter from Dr Briggs is a relatively more material change, the amendment is designed to make clear the HCPC case and improve accuracy. Mr Dite submitted that it did not materially change the HCPC case. 

7. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor that the Panel may permit amendments if it considers it just and fair to do so.  It allowed the amendments to correct the typographical and grammatical errors as well as the amendment to improve the accuracy of the HCPC case. The amended Particulars are accordingly now set out as above, with the corrections having been made, and new text replacing the old.

Application to admit Hearsay
8. Mr Dite on behalf of the HCPC applied to have the witness statement of LP, Senior Social Worker, admitted as hearsay evidence. The statement contains relevant information about Person C1 and Parents B1 and B2.  The HCPC was contacted on 15 May 2018 by LP, who indicated that she would not be able to attend this hearing for reasons of poor health. On 18 May 2018 she provided a medical certificate to confirm this. She has been on long-term sick leave from work for several months. She was not able to give evidence by telephone. Prior to this the expectation would have been that she was to attend this final hearing in person. Her evidence is relevant, and it would be fair to admit it, as any prejudice to the Registrant is reduced given the fact that the Registrant is not here to cross-examine her in any event. Mr Dite said that the Panel should admit LP’s evidence, given the serious nature of the Allegation involving vulnerable service users. He submitted that admitting the statement of LP would not make proceedings unfair.

9. The Panel noted the advice of the Legal Assessor that it should apply the civil standard of proof and that it may rely on hearsay evidence, but only if it is fair to rely on such evidence in all the circumstances.  Factors to consider included whether the witness could have attended the hearing in any guise, whether their hearsay statement was made within a reasonable time, the extent of the disadvantage to the Registrant in being unable to cross-examine her, or for cross examination to occur on her behalf or otherwise to have the evidence tested, and whether the witness had any reason to lie.

10. The Legal Assessor drew the Panel’s attention to the following cases:
 a) Thorneycroft v NMC [2014] EWHC 1565 (Admin); and
 b) NMC v Ogbonna [2010] EWCA Civ 1216.

11.  The Legal Assessor advised that the relevant principles articulated by the above cases are as follows:
a. The decision to admit hearsay evidence is not to be regarded as a routine matter. The Panel must specifically consider the issue of relevance; and if relevant then whether it is fair to admit the evidence;
b. Considerations of what weight can be attributed to the evidence once it has been admitted are not relevant to the question of whether it would be fair for the evidence to be admitted in the first place.

12. The admittance of hearsay evidence is permitted further to Rule 10(1)(b) of the Conduct and Competence Committee (Procedure) Rules 2003 (“the Rules”). In relation to what is fair to admit, the Legal Assessor directed the Panel to the necessity threshold for receiving such evidence under Rule 10(1)(c) of the Rules, which specifies that, “the Committee may hear or receive evidence which would not be admissible in such proceedings if it is satisfied that admission of that evidence is necessary in order to protect members of the public. If the Panel considers that this test is satisfied the Panel can admit the evidence but would then need to consider the weight to be addressed to it”.
13. In terms of assessing the weight to be attached to it, the focus should be on the six factors set out within section 4 of the Civil Evidence Act (CEA) 1995. This will assist with whether it would be safe and therefore just to rely on the evidence. Section 4 of the CEA 1995, as amended, deals with considerations relevant to the weighing of hearsay evidence:

 “Section 4(1):
In estimating the weight (if any) to be given to hearsay evidence in civil proceedings the court shall have regard to any circumstances from which any inference can reasonably be drawn as to the reliability or otherwise of the evidence.
Section 4(2):
Regard may be had, in particular, to the following—
(a) Whether it would have been reasonable and practicable for the party by whom the evidence was adduced to have produced the maker of the original statement as a witness;
(b) Whether the original statement was made contemporaneously with the occurrence or existence of the matters stated;
(c) Whether the evidence involves multiple hearsay;
(d) Whether any person involved had any motive to conceal or misrepresent matters;
(e) Whether the original statement was an edited account, or was made in collaboration with another or for a particular purpose;
(f) Whether the circumstances in which the evidence is adduced as hearsay are such as to suggest an attempt to prevent proper evaluation of its weight.”

14. The Legal Assessor detailed what can be considered to be “fair” will necessarily vary on a case-by-case basis, in the same way that different hearsay statements, measured against the factors set out in section 4 of CEA 1995, will be afforded different weight. This is the principle at the heart of the recent High Court judgment in R (on the application of Bonhoeffer) v the GMC [2011] EWHC 1585 (Admin). In that case Dr Bonfoeffer was denied the opportunity to cross-examine a witness where hearsay evidence was relied upon, and the decision of the Panel was quashed as a breach of Article 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights. The judgment in this case is not to be construed as giving rise to an absolute rule entitling a person facing disciplinary proceedings to cross-examine the witnesses on whose evidence the allegations against him are based. There is no such rule, either under Article 6 or in common law, even where the evidence in question is the sole or decisive evidence in the case. However, Dr Bonfoeffer’s challenge turned on the application of the general obligation of fairness to the particular circumstances of the case. As Stadlen J observed, “it is hard to imagine circumstances in which the ability to cross-examine the uncorroborated allegations of a single witness would assume a greater importance.”

15. The Panel accepted the Legal Assessor’s advice. It determined that the statement of LP was relevant to the Allegation. The Panel proceeded to consider whether it would be fair, in the circumstances, to allow it to be admitted into evidence. The Panel took into consideration the following factors:
a. The signed witness statement, with a statement of truth, is dated 11 December 2017 almost two and a half years after the incident. It is therefore not a contemporaneous record. However, LP had produced contemporaneous records of relevant matters which she had created in the course of her job as a social worker;
b. The witness statement contains second-hand hearsay in relation to a number of matters involving what is alleged to have occurred at the material time; that is what Parent B1 is alleged to have told her about what the Registrant said to them on two occasions regarding overnight stays, and what Person C1 is alleged to have said to her about what the Registrant said to them about turning a blind eye to unsupervised contact, at a time when Person C and Person C1 met up together with their children.
c. While the hearsay evidence of LP is not the sole evidence against the Registrant for the entire Allegation, it is the only evidence on which the HCPC rely for Particular 1(b) of the Allegation.  If it was admitted as evidence, while the Registrant (because she is not present) would not be deprived of the opportunity to cross-examine LP about the accuracy of her recollection, or her motive, or the possibility of any error on her part or the part of the Council, the Panel and/or Legal Assessor would be deprived of the opportunity to test any of these areas.

16. Having applied the principles set out in the cases referred to by the Legal Assessor, the Panel determined that, in the circumstances, it would be fair for the statement of LP to be admitted into evidence. While it is a significant piece of evidence that, if it were accepted as accurate and true, would significantly and adversely affect the Registrant’s case, admitting the evidence is not the same as accepting that it is accurate and true. It contained second-hand hearsay. While her witness statement is not contemporaneous it draws on evidence of contemporaneous notes. Further, the Registrant has not alleged that LP has any motive to lie, only that the parents may have. 

17. The Panel therefore granted the application to admit LP’s statement into evidence and would consider what weight to give to it at the time it came to make a decision on the facts.

Background
18. The Registrant worked as a Social Worker in the Looked After Children (‘LAC’) Service at Wakefield Metropolitan District Council, (‘the Council), from May 2012 to November 2016. An internal investigation into the Registrant’s practice was commenced following a complaint made by Person A on 3 March 2015, in relation to the Registrant’s alleged failures, such as failing to visit the family, inform them of meetings and return calls.

19. An internal investigation into this complaint took place at the Council. Subsequently, in August 2015, LP took over some of the Registrant’s cases, including the cases of Family B and Family C. At that time further matters came to light regarding Family B and Family C, and consequently further investigations were conducted by the investigating officer, HS.

20. In October 2016, the Registrant was subject to disciplinary proceedings at the Council. In November 2016, the Registrant’s employment with the Council ceased.

Decision on facts
21. The Panel has taken account of all the material before them, including the oral evidence of witnesses called on behalf of the HCPC, documentation from both parties and their submissions. The Panel has taken into account the material submitted by the Registrant at the Investigation Committee stage. The Panel accepted the advice provided by the Legal Assessor, which included that the burden of proving the facts falls on the HCPC and the standard of proof is the balance of probabilities.

22. Live evidence was heard from HS, a Team Manager for a Children and Families Safeguarding Team at the Council, who acted as the Investigation Officer for the internal Council procedures, JM, who was seconded as a Team Manager for another LAC Team at the Council, and to provide cover for other managers who worked part time, at the relevant period, but has subsequently retired, and GR, who was the Registrant’s line manager at the relevant time between May 2012 and August 2015, and a Team Manager for a LAC Team at the Council.  The Panel also took into account the hearsay evidence of LP, a Senior Social Worker at the Council who took over some of the Registrant’s caseload.

23. The Panel assessed the demeanour and evidence of each witness. The Panel considered HS to be honest and credible. She did her best to assist the Panel. Where she could not provide answers she said so. The Panel regarded JM as straightforward. She had definite views and gave clear evidence. She brought her years of experience to bear in setting out her evidence and views. The Panel saw GR as a reliable witness. He clearly outlined his expectations as a manager. He had a good recollection of some events and he was honest when he could not answer questions because of the passage of time.

Particular 1(a) – found proved
In respect of Family B did not adhere to the Care Plan in that, on one or more unknown dates, you agreed and/or allowed children to stay overnight with Parent B2;

24. It is not disputed that the children of Family B were placed at home with their mother, Parent B1, on a Care Order under the “Placement with P” Regulations. The Registrant was the allocated social worker for the case until she left the LAC team at the Council. Parent B2 had a criminal history which included having been in prison for sexual offences against young children, and was on the Sex Offenders Register for life. He had also had two previous children removed from his care because of significant injuries to one child aged three months sustained over three separate occasions. Consequently he was not allowed to reside at the family home with Parent B1 and his other children. Instead contact arrangements were put in place so that he could see his young children. The Care Plan for the children included contact with their father which was supervised by their mother. In essence, these contact arrangements were that, “Twice a week he goes to the family home or the family goes to his for tea. In addition to this they choose a day at the weekend to do an activity.” This was set out in the August 2015 Transfer Summary document created by the Registrant.

25. The Panel was told by GR that if the children’s Care Plans were to be changed and the children allowed to stay overnight with Parent B2 then this would have to be agreed with a team manager or equivalent. He added that, in fact, the circumstances of this particular case warranted a conversation with himself as Team Manager, and his own line-manager, a Service Manager, given the serious issues involved. Any change would then have to be approved by the Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) at a LAC Review meeting. JM told the Panel that Parent B1 had told her that the Registrant had agreed to Parent B2 staying overnight on Christmas Eve 2014 to help wrap presents, and to be there in the morning to enjoy a family Christmas. 

26. The Registrant has not been consistent in her version of events as recorded in the transcripts of her interviews with HS for the internal Council procedures. These transcripts were exhibited by HS as part of her evidence. During the interview on  8 April 2016 the Registrant said the following:
a. Regarding Christmas Eve: “but to my knowledge on that occasion …the children and mum were going to stay at father’s, but father again would sleep at mum’s and would be able to come down Christmas morning and it would be there, that was my understanding of Christmas Eve. Now whether he did leave that property and come back I obviously don’t know, and the second one was in the February when her boiler had broke and she rang and asked if she could stay, her and the children could stay at fathers, because the boiler had broken, which I agreed.” The Registrant was then asked “With him staying in the property?” and replied “I don’t think we even really got into that kind of discussion to be honest but those were the two times where I did say yes you can, you stay at fathers.”
b. In answer to the question “So you are saying he never stayed over in the same house?”. The Registrant replied: “To my knowledge apart  from those two occasions”.
c. The Registrant was asked “You have sort of acknowledged that you are aware that two overnights have gone ahead but in December and February?” She replied “Yes”.
d. The Registrant was asked “…would you have been assuming then that, you did know that they were staying together then  because the boiler was broken so they were staying together?” She replied “yes and I held my hands up I should have asked a manager, I should have got that agreed by a manager or whoever was around at the time”
e. The Registrant was asked ”So I think you have just sort have said then Liz that you are aware that you have sort of agreed to that overnights taking place and you should have run it by your manager or someone else?” she replied “yes”
f. The Registrant was asked “…the children were put at risk because of you permitting this overnight contact?” She replied “In hindsight yes, because his offences are his offences…as we know people hoodwink us, people do harm children, so yes I couldn’t sit here and say that hasn’t put these children at risk of harm…”
g. The Registrant was asked why there was no mention of the overnights at the LAC Review and replied “I don’t even think parents brought it up…the parents were always at the LAC Review and it just didn’t come up…”

27. The Registrant was an experienced Social Worker of nine years standing and would have known the correct procedure in this case. The Care Plans had been changed as recently as October 2014, when Parent B1 was allowed to start supervising Parent B2’s contact in daylight hours, and that this had been agreed in a formal LAC Review. The Registrant told GR and MN (the Service Manager) in an interview on 26 August 2015 that she did consult with the IRO.

28. At the meeting on 26 August 2015 between the Registrant, GR and MN, to discuss the information shared by Parent B1 regarding overnight stays with Parent B2, the Registrant admitted that she had, “agreed to father staying overnight on Christmas Eve at family’s request for normal family Christmas. Liz stated [the IRO] had been consulted and agreed. Liz acknowledged that this was not discussed with her Team manager and that she should have…Liz stated on one other occasion this year there had been an overnight which was the family’s request when the boiler broke….Liz did not state that the IRO was aware of this. Liz did not agree either with the Team Manager”. Subsequently, in the interview on 8 April 2016, she then conceded that she had not emailed the IRO, as she had previously stated, about the Christmas Eve stay, but about another matter.

29. Having carefully reviewed the transcript of the Registrant’s answers at her internal interview, the records of which she signed on 29 April 2016 as a true reflection of the meeting, and the statements of JM and LP which both state that Parent B1 told them this had happened, the Panel finds that the Registrant did agree and allow the children of Family B to stay overnight with Parent B2 on at least two occasions, on Christmas Eve 2014 and in February 2015.

Particular 1(b) – found not proved
On or around 13 March 2015, before the Looked After Child (LAC) Review, you said to Parent B1 (mother) ‘Don’t say anything in the meeting about the overnights, I have to run it by Colleague A’ or words to that effect.

30. JM stated in oral evidence that she was told by Parent B1 in a meeting on the 28 August 2015, in response to a question about why they had not raised the issue of overnights at the LAC Review meeting, that they had been told not to by the Registrant, “because it wouldn’t be extended as she had to run it past a senior colleague or words to that effect.” This was not included in JM’s statement or her internal interview. There was no direct evidence from the parents of Family B.

31. The Panel considered the multiple hearsay for this Particular. It had regard to the evidence from LP in her case notes dated 28 September 2015 recording a telephone conversation with Parent B1. The Panel considered that this is inconsistent with the oral evidence of JM. JM had been recalling a meeting at the family’s home on 28 August 2015. She was not involved in the telephone conversation between LP and Parent B1 recorded by LP as having taken place on 28 September 2015. LP’s evidence in her statement and case note is that this was when Parent B1 had made this allegation.

32. The Panel finds that the evidence of JM and LP does not support each other because of this inconsistency. JM gave evidence that she believed Parent B1 because she was genuinely worried and feared that her children might be removed from her care as she had departed from the Care Plan. However, JM’s evidence that Parent B1 made the allegation in the meeting on 28 August 2015 at her home is not supported by LP’s hearsay evidence that the allegation was made in a phone call on 28 September 2015. In this instance, there is no suggestion from the Registrant that LP is lying but rather that Family B is. The Registrant had made it clear that parents can, “lie, collude and manipulate for their own interests.”

33. The Panel accepted that there was a motive for Family B to lie and multiple explanations for why Family B said what they did to LP. The telephone call to LP on 28 September 2015 was in the context of a refusal by LP to permit the family to go on holiday together, Parent B1 was therefore aggrieved. LP’s contemporaneous case note and her statement to the HCPC say that the information about the Registrant having told the parents not to discuss overnights at the LAC Review was given to her during that telephone conversation.

34. The Panel accepted that the evidence of LP goes to what has been said to her by Parent B1, rather than the truth of that statement. The Panel took into account JM’s opinion that Parent B1 would not have known not to say anything at a LAC meeting unless told not to, but considers that an alternative explanation exists and is borne out by the chronology. The case note for the meeting at the home on 28 August 2015 does not record that Family B said anything about this alleged instruction to LP at that meeting. However, at that meeting, when LP and JM were both present, Family B were informed that a decision by a single Social Worker to allow overnight contact was not permitted and needed to be authorised. They were effectively put on notice that the Registrant had exceeded her authority and should not have done so.  Family B only raised the issue that the Registrant had told them not to say anything one month later, in a telephone call to LP on 28 September 2015, when they were trying to go on holiday as a family, despite overnights having been stopped the month before. It is possible that in this instance the Registrant became a convenient scapegoat.

35. Bearing in mind the burden and standard of proof, the hearsay evidence, and the chronology in which the evidence appears, the Panel is not satisfied that this Particular is proved.

Particular 1(c) – found not proved
You did not maintain adequate case notes in relation to the care plan of Family B, in that you did not record details of the content of the letter from Dr Brigg’s office of 27 July 2015, which referred to overnight stays with Parent B2.

36. While the letter is dated 27 July 2015, it was not date stamped as the Panel heard post usually is, and according to JM it was not entered onto the Council’s electronic system until 5 August 2015, shortly before the Registrant moved teams on 10 August 2015. There are records which account for much of the Registrant’s time between these dates. The Registrant was on holiday from 20 - 27 July 2015 and not in the office on 28 July 2015.  On 29 July 2015 she was in supervision. On 30 July 2015 she visited her new team. On 31 July 2015 she was at a funeral. The time she spent in the office was clearly limited, and what time she had there was spent completing Transfer Summaries, prior to her change in role, with some backlog to clear.

37.  While the Panel heard conflicting accounts of exactly what happened to correspondence when it came into the office, all the HCPC witnesses agreed that the administration team had responsibility for scanning and uploading letters onto the electronic Case File. GR in his evidence said that he would have expected the Registrant to inform him about such a letter, but it is not clear when the letter was received or whether the Registrant saw it. GR also stated it would be ‘good practice’ to record a case note about the letter.

38. The Panel finds that the letter is likely to have been received in the office between 28 July 2015 and 5 August 2015 when it was uploaded, probably by the administration team. The Registrant left the department on 10 August 2015. During this time the Registrant was actively ending her caseload and transferring notes before moving teams, as is supported by an extract from the note of her supervision on 29 July 2015: “Having a difficult week, with out of area visits, and funeral of X, colleagues are helping out,”. Therefore there would have been limited time for the Registrant to see the letter. The Registrant denied having seen the letter in the meeting of 26 August 2016 with GR and MN, when she said this was the first time she had seen it.

39. It is not clear if or when the Registrant saw the letter.  Accordingly, the ‘good practice’ of making a case note to reflect it may not have arisen.  As there is no evidence that the Registrant saw the letter, the Panel does not find this Particular proved.

Particular 2 – found proved
In respect of Family C, did not comply with the agreed plan set out at the LAC review dated 21 May 2015, in that you allowed and/or failed to address unsupervised contact between Person C and children of Family C.

40. Person C, the father of twins with Person C1, had a history of drug use and domestic violence. Following a care order, Person C1 (the mother) was approved as the sole carer of the children under the “Placement with P” Regulations. The mother also had a history of drug abuse and her six older children had been removed from her care. Various contact arrangements with Person C had been in place, but as stated in the 4 August 2015 Transfer Summary document produced by the Registrant: “It was agreed at a LAC review in May that Person C contact would be weekly supervised by either Liz Bowden or the contact team, until he accessed Turning Point.”

41. The record of the 21 May 2015 LAC Review noted that the contact between the children and Person C “should be supervised in the community once a week”. There was a non-molestation order in place preventing the father going to the family home.

42. LP took over as the allocated social worker from the Registrant in August 2015. The record of the statutory visit that LP conducted on 16 November 2015 notes that LP was told by the mother (Person C1) that the children were having contact with Person C when they were “out and about”. LP recorded in her case note of the visit that Person C1 said “she has blagged it for a year. I asked her what she meant and she said about her and Person C. She then informed me then Liz caught her out with Person C and Liz said I hadn’t seen anything.” LP noted that “Person C1 went on to inform me that Liz was aware that they were sneaking around and ‘left them to it’. It wasn’t until someone saw them and reported them that Liz started supervising contact”. She allegedly told them to “keep your heads down until the Care Order was discharged then no one could tell them what to do.”

43. GR told the Panel that LP had relayed to him what she had been told by Person C1 and that he was concerned about what he heard. This was recorded by him in a Management Overview case note dated 16 November 2015. GR told the Panel he relayed his concerns to his Service Manager.

44. The Registrant has provided responses to this allegation involving Family C. These are contained in her internal Council interview, her Case Note for Family C and her written submissions to the HCPC prior to this hearing. In her internal interview on 8 April 2016 the Registrant stated that she was informed by a Family Support Worker that Person C and Person C1 had been seen together in Tesco. She said that she “pulled mum on that” and told her to stay apart from Person C.

45. The Panel accept that the Registrant did challenge Person C1 when there was evidence that there had been contact between the two parents with the children present, but notes that in her interview the Registrant had accepted that, given the characters of Persons C and C1 contact was inevitable. The Registrant stated “hand on heart both parents will have snuck about and done stuff for definite”. GR in his evidence said that the Registrant’s knowledge or suspicion of unsupervised contact should have been communicated both to him and the police, which did not occur.

46. Accordingly, the Panel finds that while the Registrant took some action to address the unsupervised contact, (she told the mother not to see the father) this was insufficient given the evidence of GR regarding the actions she should have taken. The Panel therefore finds this Particular proved.

Particular 3(a) – found  proved
In respect of Family A, between 4 December 2014 until 3 March 2015, did not undertake statutory visits and/or record completing statutory visits in respect of the children.

47. The Registrant was the allocated Social Worker for two children in Family A. Person A, the mother of the family, made a complaint on 3 March 2015 in relation to the Registrant. One aspect of that complaint was that the Registrant had not visited the family since early December. The previous statutory visit that is recorded as taking place occurred on 3 December 2014. As GR told the Panel, there is no record of any subsequent statutory visit taking place before Person A made her complaint on 3 March 2015.

48. GR told the Panel that in a 26 January 2015 supervision with the Registrant she had told him that she had made a statutory visit on 13 January 2015. However when he spoke with the Registrant on 23 March 2015 regarding the complaints made by Person A and had told the Registrant that Person A had stated she had not been visited since late November or early December 2015, the Registrant then said that on 13 January 2015 she had attempted to visit but that no-one was home.

49. In her internal Council interview on 22 June 2015 the Registrant admitted that she had not made a statutory visit between 4 December 2014 and 3 March 2015, although she said that she had attempted an unplanned visit on 13 January 2015 which was not successful. The Registrant maintained in interview that she thought that since the children had been in the placement with their mother for over a year statutory visits could occur every three months and she “wasn’t massively out of requirements …”

50. GR gave evidence that the statutory requirement was for visits at least every six weeks. Although he accepted that the statute allowed for three monthly visits if there was to be continuation of the Care Order until a child turned 18, he said that this did not apply in the case of Family A as it was envisaged that the Care Order would be discharged in the near future. Given this intention, visits needed to be more frequent in order to provide the court with the necessary information to consider the discharge application. As Team Manager GR had determined that the visits should occur every six weeks and the attempt by the Registrant to visit on 13 January 2015 supports the fact that this was the agreed schedule.

51. The Panel accordingly finds that the Registrant did not undertake statutory visits every six weeks as required.

Particular 3(b) – found proved
In relation to Family A, did not return and/or record returning phone calls to Person A following phone contact from Person A on:
i. 27 November 2014;
ii. 12 January 2015;
iii. 19 January 2015;
iv. 22 January 2015.

52. GR’s email of 3 March 2015 to his Service Manager detailed the complaints that Person A had made to him regarding the Registrant. One of the issues noted was that Person A had complained that the Registrant “does not return her calls and she has left several messages for her”. The Care Director system shows records of messages left for the Registrant to call back Person A on the dates listed above.

53. All four entries requested that the Registrant call Person A. The fourth call, on 22 January 2015, was in fact made by the grandmother on Person A’s behalf but requested a call back to Person A. There is no record on the system of any of these calls being returned. The fact that the earlier calls had not been returned is consistent with the record of the message left on 22 January 2015 saying “[person A] has left a few messages so could you please ring her today”. When questioned about this in interview the Registrant said that she could not recall any calls but when she had looked on the Care Director system she had only been able to identify the call on 22 January 2015. In general she said she would have to prioritise her workload and sometimes would not return calls and would deal with issues at subsequent visits.

54. GR told the Panel that social workers are not expected to return calls immediately, but should do within a reasonable amount of time. He told the Panel that he would expect a call to be returned within a week. He also told the Panel that failure to return calls was an issue that he had previously had to raise with the Registrant, who had some time management issues that she had asked for assistance with. GR acknowledged that he had never booked a time management course for the Registrant despite making enquiries and getting funding agreed.

55. The Registrant’s rationale for not responding to calls from Person A is that she recognised that she was due to make visits imminently and decided to deal with the matter at the visit, or prioritised more urgent matters “and knew this wouldn’t be an emergency”. However, GR made clear that his expectation is that the Registrant should have returned the calls of Person A. The Panel finds that there is no evidence that the Registrant did return the calls and accordingly finds this Particular proved. 

Particular 3(c) -  found proved
Did not make a timely application to the Court to discharge a Care Order dated August 2013, following the LAC review recommendation on 3 September 2014.

56. At the LAC Review on 3 September 2014 one of the agreed “review decisions” was: “Liz to complete a current assessment in preparation for an application to discharge the Care Order- within 2 months”. This was also discussed in the Registrant’s supervision with GR on 15 September 2014. In a subsequent supervision on 22 October 2014 it was noted “Next LAC Review February 2015. Liz plans to complete re-assessment for discharge of Care Order in this time scale, then to apply for discharge”.

57. A supervision on 26 January 2015 noted that “Liz aims to write up by mid February with a view to commence discharge process at the end of February”. The 26 February 2015 LAC Review was re-scheduled to 11 March 2015 because the paperwork had not been completed by the Registrant.  However the assessment had not been done by the time of the rescheduled LAC Review on 11 March 2015.

58. The Registrant acknowledged she had not completed the documentation required for court as requested when this issue was raised with her by GR on 23 March 2015. In addition, in interview the Registrant stated: “… I will hold my hands up, I didn’t get my paperwork done to discharge the care orders”. She accepted there had been drift in the case, but also noted that it was “a case that was really really settled and really really stable”.

59. In reliance on GR’s evidence and his supervision notes and the Registrant’s comments in interview, the Panel finds this Particular proved.

Particular 3(d) – found proved
Did not advise Family A of the postponement of the LAC review, from 26 February 2015 to 11 March 2015.

60. Part of the complaint from Person A made on 3 March 2015 to GR (and relayed by him to his manager in an email written the same day) was that the LAC Review that had been scheduled for 26 February 2015 was cancelled and the Registrant had failed to inform Person A of that fact and the rescheduled date. Person A had told GR that she and the Health Visitor had waited at her home on 26 February 2015 for a LAC Review and no one arrived.

61. GR went to Person A’s home on 16 March 2015 to talk with her in more detail about her complaints. Person A had told GR that a LAC Review had in fact taken place at her house on 11 March 2015 but she had not been aware that it was to take place and “only knew about it when [the Registrant] and [the IRO] knocked on the door”.

62. This description of events accords with what the IRO said in her interview on 2 June 2015 during the internal investigation. The IRO had noted that the LAC Review did not go ahead on 26 February 2015 because the Registrant had not done her paperwork and so it was moved to 11 March 2015. She went on to say in interview that on 11 March 2015 Person A was not expecting them when they arrived for the rescheduled LAC Review. The IRO confirmed that it was the Registrant’s responsibility to inform the family that the date had been changed. She stated in interview: “… Liz told me that she had tried to ring Person A and hadn’t been able to get hold of her so sent her a text. Person A said she didn’t know we were coming when we got there”. Person A was not happy and refused to let the Registrant into her house, so the IRO went in alone.

63. The Registrant, when questioned about this by GR on 23 March 2015, had conceded that she had not spoken with Person A (or the Health Visitor) directly about the 26 February 2015 review being postponed but maintained that she had instead left a message. When questioned about this in interview, the Registrant had said she had notified the Health Visitor and Person A that the LAC Review date had changed from 26 February 2015 by leaving a “message at the Health Visitor’s office … and I left a message on Person A’s mobile phone”. She could not remember exactly when she had left these messages but said that it could have been as late as the day before. 

64. While the Panel accept that the Registrant has been consistent in telling both the IRO and her Team Manager that she left messages, neither the Health Visitor nor Family A were aware of the postponement. GR told the Panel, simply leaving a message and not actually confirming with the person concerned that they knew the meeting was being postponed was simply not good enough in these circumstances. Person A told GR that she and the Health Visitor had waited at her home on 26 February 2015 for the LAC Review and in addition on 11 March 2015 Person A had been unaware that a review was due to take place and the Health Visitor was not in attendance either.

65. The Panel considers that even if the Registrant did attempt, by leaving a message, to advise Family A of the postponement of the LAC Review, she had not taken adequate steps to check that the message was received. This Particular is therefore found proved on the basis that the Registrant’s attempt to advise Family A was insufficient and ineffective.

Particular 4 - found not proved
Your conduct as described at paragraph 1b was dishonest.

66. This Particular falls away as Particular 1(b) has been found not proved.

Decision on grounds
67. In making a decision on statutory grounds, the Panel has taken into account the submissions of Mr Dite on behalf of the HCPC and the advice of the Legal Assessor.

68. In terms of assessing a lack of competence, the Panel were assisted by the case of Holton v General Medical Council [2006] EWHC 3187 (Admin), where the High Court held that in assessing lack of competence, the standard to be applied was that applicable to the post to which the registrant had been appointed and the work they were carrying out. The Panel did note that lack of competence is different to negligence and misconduct. It “connotes a standard of professional performance which is unacceptably low and which (save in exceptional circumstances) has been demonstrated by reference to a fair sample of the Registrant’s work”. 

69. The Panel contrasted this with misconduct and the helpful definition that was provided by Lord Clyde in Roylance v GMC (No 2) [2001] 1 AC 311: “Misconduct is a word of general effect, involving some act or omission which falls short of what would be proper in the circumstances. The standard of propriety may often be found by reference to the rules and standards ordinarily required to be followed by a... practitioner in the particular circumstances.”

70. The Panel has evaluated this case as being one where the Registrant, who had nine years of experience, knew what should have been done in accordance with proper procedures, but nonetheless agreed and allowed contact that was not in accordance with the Care Plans and without first obtaining the appropriate approval. She also failed to conduct statutory visits as required, to progress the discharge of a care order and to communicate adequately with service users regarding a LAC Review. The Panel considers that these matters represent misconduct rather than lack of competence. The Registrant knew what she ought to do but did not do it. The Panel finds that Particular 3(b), taken in isolation, is not sufficiently serious to meet the threshold for misconduct. However the misconduct of the Registrant in relation to the other Particulars found proved is considered to be serious, and therefore finds misconduct in respect of Particulars 1(a), 2, 3(a), 3(c) and 3(d).

71. The Panel considered that the rules and standards ordinarily required to be followed by the Registrant would have been the HCPC Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics and the HCPC Standards of Proficiency for Social Workers in force at the time. It is the 2012 version of those Standards that are relevant for our purposes.

72. The Panel has considered the Standards of Conduct, Performance, and Ethics as a whole, and finds that the Registrant has breached:
Standard 1  You must act in the best interests of service users
Standard 7 You must communicate properly and effectively with service users and other practitioners
Standard 10  You must keep accurate records
Standard 13  You must…make sure that your behaviour does not damage the public’s confidence in you or your profession

73. In regards to the Standards of Proficiency for Social Workers, the Panel finds that the following standards have been breached:
Standard 2 be able to practise within the legal and ethical boundaries of their profession
Standard 8   be able to communicate effectively
Standard 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
Standard 10 be able to maintain records appropriately

Decision on impairment
74. Having found misconduct in respect of Particulars 1(a), 2, 3(a), 3(c) and 3(d), the Panel has gone onto consider whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired. In doing so it has taken account of the HCPTS’ Practice Note ‘Finding that Fitness to Practice is Impaired’, the submissions of Mr Dite and the advice of the Legal Assessor.

75. Mr Dite submitted that the question of impairment was for the independent judgement of the Panel but that the HCPC case was that the Registrant was currently impaired. The Panel accepted the Legal Assessor’s advice that the Panel had to consider whether the Registrant’s past misconduct as found, leads to a finding that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired.

76. The Panel has specifically considered the “personal” component, which includes looking at the current competence and behaviour of the individual registrant, and the “public” component, which includes the need to protect service users, declare and uphold proper standards of behaviour and maintain public confidence in the profession. 

77. In assessing current impairment the Panel looks forward not back. The Panel has considered established case law and noted that, in line with GMC v Meadow [2006] EWCA Civ 1390 in order to form a view as to the fitness of the Registrant to practise today, it will have to take account of the way in which she has acted or failed to act in the past.

78. In relation to the personal component the Panel has had regard to the ability and competence of the Registrant and the degree of insight the Registrant has displayed. It is clear that there were difficult personal circumstances for the Registrant at the time, and professional difficulties with her workload.  However, the Registrant has maintained that she has done little wrong. In the Panel’s view she has failed to recognise risk and the potentially serious consequences of her actions. Her responses have been largely denials and reliance on extenuating circumstances. She does not appear to accept her faults or the risks arising from them. This lack of insight and the resulting absence of remediation indicates a high likelihood of repetition.

79. In relation to the public component the Panel has considered the failures of the Registrant and concluded that the public would be shocked to know that a convicted Sex Offender who remained on the Sex Offenders Register was allowed to stay overnight with his children, who were of a similar age to his victims, without the necessary risk assessment taking place, and without the necessary authorisation, from a qualified multi-disciplinary team.  Equally, the Panel were of the view that the public would be shocked to know that a Social Worker would not seek to uphold a non-molestation order where children were at risk of being exposed to domestic violence from a parent who was addicted to heroin, again without  the necessary risk assessment taking place, or the necessary authorisation from a qualified multi-disciplinary team.

80. Accordingly, the Panel finds that there is current impairment on both the public and personal components.

Decision on sanction
81. In considering what sanction, if any, to impose, the Panel has taken account of the submission of Mr Dite which in essence was that although this is a matter for the Panel, given the lack of insight and remediation noted in its determination of impairment, that neither a caution, nor conditions of practice provided the necessary degree of public protection required in this case.  The Panel also took into account the Indicative Sanctions Policy (ISP).

82. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor that the Panel must at all times bear in mind that the purpose of imposing a sanction is to protect the public. This includes promoting and maintaining the public’s confidence in the profession, the deterrent effect to other registrants, and promoting and maintaining proper standards of conduct, rather than punishing the Registrant although it is conceded that any restriction on the Registrant’s registration may have a punitive effect. Any sanction should be no more restrictive than necessary to achieve the objective of public protection. The Panel should apply the principle of proportionality and the least restrictive means of protecting the public whilst balancing protection of the public with the Registrant’s interests.

83. The Panel find that there are both aggravating and mitigating circumstances in this case.

Mitigating factors
84. The Registrant had a heavy case load with some complex cases involving court proceedings. HH at the Council set this out in an email and this was also supported by GR. There was also evidence of staff shortages exacerbating stress for staff, and the department was clearly under strain. There is evidence from an internal departmental audit, in the summer of 2014 that in the department, overall a very high proportion of statutory visits were not completed and/ or recorded within time scales. OFSTED in 2016 had also criticised the IT system. Added to this was the fact that the Registrant’s line manager GR worked part-time and was not always available to provide advice and support.

85. The Registrant’s own personal circumstances were difficult at the time of the events in question. Two members of her family had health problems and there has been evidence that the Registrant had been greatly affected by the recent death of a Service User to whom she had been close.

86. The Registrant has produced a positive testimonial from a Child Protection Conference Chair at the Council. He said about the Registrant in 2017:

“Having been made aware of Liz’s situation, I would initially like to confirm how shocked I was to be informed concerns have been raised regarding her ability to safeguard children. During the time I have known Liz as a social worker (approx. 5 years), I have not had any concerns regarding her ability to identify risk and subsequently act to protect children…in fact in my experience of working alongside Liz, has been that the cornerstone of her practice has been her commitment to safeguarding which has been met though her tenacity, passion and at times dogged determination to ensure that she has done as much as she could to ensure that young people are protected from harm.”

87. Also in 2017 was the following from HH, an IRO at the Council who said:

“I believe that Liz prioritised keeping children at risk safe rather than completing paperwork for children that were safe…As an IRO Liz and I had several young people out of area and we often discussed cases on the journey to the reviews we were going to.”

Aggravating factors
88. However, the Panel has also had regard to the aggravating features of this case. The first of these is that the Registrant has failed to appreciate the very serious risk posed to highly vulnerable service users. Secondly, in seeking to minimise her wrongdoing the Registrant has failed to address why there were issues regarding time management and routine failures, other than citing competing pressures in a department struggling to cope. There had been on-going capability issues for some time but the Registrant has sought to minimise her part in any failings.

89. Most significant is the lack of insight displayed by the Registrant.  While there was no evidence of actual harm to any of the families who feature in the Allegation, there was clearly culpability on the part of the Registrant and a very serious risk of harm. The unsupervised and unauthorised contact which was taking place within families B and C could have continued indefinitely had the Registrant not changed roles and her caseload been taken over by another Social Worker who identified those risks. The Registrant appears to have based her risk-assessment on her own experience of service users and acted according to her own assessment of that risk, without taking into account the established procedures for changing contact arrangements. This lack of insight means that there is a high risk of repetition were similar circumstances to occur, in which the Registrant may consider that her own judgement, based on her knowledge of the service users, outweighs the statutory requirements or Council procedures.

90. The Panel has also found that the Registrant was already aware of at least two occasions when the father of Family B had stayed overnight in the same house as his children, in breach of their Care Plans, but she had failed to mention this at the March 2015 LAC Review.

91. The Panel considered the available sanctions in ascending order of seriousness. The Panel did not consider that this is a case in which it is appropriate to take no action as it has found that there is a high likelihood of repetition. Further, in view of the seriousness of the case, to take no action would not be appropriate as it fails to address the serious issues raised, the risk to service users and the public interest.
 
92. The Panel next discounted mediation, as this is not a case where there is only a dispute between two parties.

93. Imposing a Caution Order would be inappropriate given the Registrant’s failure to evidence insight or to demonstrate any remedial action taken. The Registrant’s breach of professional standards is serious and such an order would be insufficient to protect the public, maintain confidence in the profession and maintain confidence in the regulatory process. 

94. The Panel next considered a Conditions of Practice Order but determined that this would be insufficient and unworkable given the Registrant’s lack of insight at this stage the Registrant has not engage with this hearing and there is no indication that she  would comply with any conditions imposed upon her.

95. Moving onto a Suspension Order, the Panel took account of the fact that the Registrant had disengaged with the fitness to practice process after the Investigating Committee stage and had not demonstrated insight into her failings and the resulting risks to service users, in particular Families B and C.

96. The Panel was mindful of the previous good practice that the Registrant was said by her referee to have demonstrated before she moved to the LAC Review Team. The skills and attitude of the Registrant have been referred to positively by more than one person at the Council. The Panel did not regard this as a case where there is evidence that suggests the Registrant will be unable to resolve or remedy her failings. If that were the case, striking off would be the more appropriate option, but in the Panel’s view if the Registrant is able to demonstrate insight her conduct is capable of remedy. It is not incompatible with continued registration. As she has not attended this hearing but had engaged at an earlier stage, the Panel has decided to give the Registrant the opportunity to develop and demonstrate insight into her failings. While the Panel accepts that a Suspension Order will deprive the Registrant of the opportunity to practise as a social worker, it considered that, given the current lack of insight, no lesser sanction would adequately protect the public at this time.

97. A period of twelve months was considered the appropriate length of a Suspension Order. This would allow the Registrant time to reflect on events, including this regulatory process, and the opportunity (if she wishes to take it to develop and demonstrate her insight.  The Panel is of the view that although the Registrant’s misconduct is potentially remediable, it has not yet been remedied and the public interest requires the imposition of a substantial sanction to reflect the very real risk posed to very vulnerable service users.

98. The Panel therefore determined that a Suspension Order for twelve months was the only appropriate order in this case.

99. A future panel is likely to be assisted by the Registrant’s attendance at the review hearing, evidence that she understands the seriousness of the risks and their potential consequences, evidence of any training undertaken in relation to safeguarding children and the statutory requirements, and evidence that the Registrant has undertaken continuing professional development to maintain her competence.

Order

That the Registrar is directed to suspend the registration of Mrs Elizabeth Ellen Bowden for a period of 12 months from the date this order comes into effect. 

Notes

This order will be reviewed again before its expiry on 22 June 2019.

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Elizabeth Ellen Bowden

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
21/05/2018 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Suspended