Mrs Eulale Brown-Hickling

Profession: Social worker

Registration Number: SW40360

Hearing Type: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 09:00 30/05/2018 End: 16:00 01/06/2018

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

Panel: Conduct and Competence Committee
Outcome: Suspended

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Allegation

During the course of your employment at Islington Council Children Services from November 2010 to May 2013 you:

1) In relation to Child A:

a. information was disclosed to you by Person A in relation to Person B's violent past and you did not advise your manager of the information disclosed.

2) In relation to Child B you:

a. did not make and/or record enquiries as to whether Child B was taking medication as part of her psychiatric treatment until February 2012;
b. did not seek approval regarding Child B taking medication as part of her psychiatric treatment;
c. were advised prior to March 2012 by Child B and/or Child C of their concerns regarding Person C and you did not:

i. make and/or record enquiries regarding the background and suitability of Person C living at the foster home until August 2012.

d. did not maintain detailed or timely case records.

3) In relation to Child D you did not:
a. record all statutory visits;
b. undertake and/or record life story work;
c. make and/or record any adequate enquiries in relation to Child D being reported missing;
d. Maintain detailed and timely case records.

4) In relation to Child E, F and Child G you did not maintain detailed and timely case records.

5) In relation to Child H you did not:

a. record all statutory visits in a timely manner;
b. did not complete and/record the follow up on all actions required from Child/Young Person's Adoption Review dated:

I. 19 December 2011.

c. Did not maintain accurate and timely case records.

6) In relation to Child I you did not:

a. Maintain detailed and timely case records.

7. The matters described in paragraphs 1 to 6 constitute misconduct and/or lack of competence.

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

Finding

Preliminary Matters

 

Amendments


1. Ms Sheridan, on behalf of the HCPC, applied for the amendments to particulars 1, 3 and 6 of the Allegation as set out in the letter sent to the Registrant dated 4 August 2015. A further amendment was sought to add the words “any adequate” into particular 3(c) before the word “enquiries”.

2. The Registrant had no objection to any of the amendments sought.

3. The Panel accepted the Legal Assessor’s advice that it could make amendments if the amendments were not unfair or prejudicial to the Registrant and the proposed amendments reflected the evidence in the HCPC’s case. The Panel determined that it would allow all the amendments sought because there was no injustice or unfairness arising from them and, as amended, the Allegation would reflect the HCPC evidence.

Hearing in private


4. Ms Sheridan applied for the parts of the hearing dealing with any evidence relating to any health condition of the Registrant to be heard in private as permitted by rule 10(1)(a) of the Health and Care Professions Council (Conduct and Competence) (Procedure) Rules 2003 (“the Rules”).

5. The Registrant opposed the application on the basis that she wanted her dyslexia to be openly discussed in this hearing.

6. The Panel considered the submissions and accepted the Legal Assessor’s advice that it should also have regard to the HCPTS Practice Note “Conducting hearings in private” March 2017.

7. The Panel determined that, in accordance with the Registrant’s wishes, the whole hearing would be heard in public.

Background


8. The Registrant was employed as a Social Worker by the London Borough of Islington (“Islington”) in the Children’s Services Department from August 2006. In or around 2010 concerns arose about the Registrant not completing her write ups, reports, and not seeing her service users within time scales. It was agreed to deal with these concerns informally and the Registrant was provided with adjustments. There was initial improvement, but further concerns were raised about the matters in 2011 and 2012 that are now the subject of the Allegation concerning nine service users.

HCPC evidence


9. Witness 1 was the Team Manager for Islington’s Children Looked After Team until November 2013. She confirmed the contents of her witness statement dated 30 July 2015 which set out her professional relationship at Islington with the Registrant and her disciplinary procedure investigation into the concerns about the Registrant’s ability to practise social work, resulting in her written report dated 15 April 2013. That report covers the deficiencies set out in the Allegation of records being made months late, or not at all, and necessary actions not being taken by the Registrant. Witness 1 also stated that the Registrant had a minimal case load at this time of 6 – 8 children with no court cases, whereas other social workers had a caseload of up to 12 children and at least two court cases.

10. Witness 1 explained that it was a basic principle at Islington, as stated in Islington’s written policy for “Recording Values and Principles”, paragraph 10, that “records should be updated as information becomes available or as decisions or actions are taken as soon as practicable or, at the latest, within 2 working days.” Witness 1 said that she was aware that the Registrant believed that she may have dyslexia, and that this might result in poor spelling and grammar in written records, but it was not a reason for the Registrant not discussing issues concerning service users with her immediate line manager. Witness 1 explained that the service users were children in the most vulnerable circumstances, and timely records, prompt reporting of concerns to managers and taking follow up actions, were all extremely important.

11. Witness 2 has been a Child Protection Co-ordinator within Islington’s Safeguarding and Quality Assurance Team since 2005. He confirmed the contents of his witness statement dated 29 July 2015 in which he detailed his findings of the audit he made of the Registrant’s records concerning the relevant eight service users. He completed that audit at Islington’s request between 31 July and 3 August 2012. He considered there were serious deficiencies with the Registrant’s record-keeping being poor or absent in respect of children B, D, E, F, G, H and I.


Further application to amend


12. Ms Sheridan applied to amend particular 2(c) by deleting the words “prior to March” and substituting “on or around July”, because Witness 1 had given evidence that the concerns regarding Person C had first arisen on 30 July 2012, as recorded in her own case note report of that date. She submitted that the amendment was justified to ensure that the case was not under-charged in accordance with the Court of Appeal’s judgment in PSA v HCPC (Doree) [2017] EWCA (Civ) 319.

13. The Registrant opposed the application on the basis that to amend the particular 2(c) at this stage would be unfair to her.

14. The Panel accepted the Legal Assessor’s advice that the case of PSA v HCPC (Doree) was authority for the principle that a regulatory tribunal could amend an allegation to fit the facts it found proved, even after all the evidence had been heard. The Panel had to consider whether, if the amendment was made, it was likely to make a substantial difference to the ultimate finding of misconduct, fitness to practise or any sanction.

15. The Panel determined that it would be appropriate to allow the amendment sought. The amendment was being sought before the close of the HCPC’s case and the Registrant would therefore be able to address particular 2(c) as amended when she presents her own case. Given the Allegation as a whole, this was not a significant amendment in the Panel’s view and there would not be any particular unfairness to the Registrant when balanced against the public protection nature of these regulatory proceedings.

16. Witness 3 was the Deputy Team Manager in Islington’s Children Looked After Team (LAC) from 2005 to 2014, and had sat next to and supervised the Registrant from 2008. She confirmed the contents of her witness statement dated 15 March 2016 dealing with the particular 1(a) of the Allegation and the Registrant’s failure to inform management of information she learned affecting Child A. That information was relevant to the protection of Child A about whom there were concerns that she may be at risk of sexual exploitation. On 14 June 2012 the Registrant had learned from Person A that the adult (Person B) whom Child A had been visiting, had “a violent pass [sic] and he is anti social workers because of his experience with them”. Witness 3 explained that she had only learned of that information on 12 July 2012 when she was speaking to Person A herself, and Witness 3 realised that the Registrant had not acted on the information by informing her managers, namely herself or Witness 1. This was a failure to follow standard procedure, as set out in paragraph 5.13 of the national guidelines “Working Together to Safeguard Children” (2010), regarding concerns about a child’s safety and welfare. Witness 3 said she had no doubt that the Registrant knew what to do in her role, but was not doing it.

17. In cross-examination, Witness 3 accepted that a concern about Person B was already known to her because it was discussed in a TAC meeting on 30 May 2012 and noted in the case notes. On 12 July 2012 Witness 3 telephoned Person A and asked for the outstanding information that was required about Person B. Person A had told Witness 3 that she had given the further information to the Registrant on 14 June 2012.

18. Witness 4, a consultant psychologist did not give oral evidence but provided written psychological assessment reports on the Registrant, dated 15 December 2016 and 29 August 2017. Those reports set out Witness 4’s assessment of the Registrant’s dyslexia and the nature and extent of her cognitive difficulties. In the Registrant’s own bundle of documents presented to the Panel there was a copy of questions put by the Registrant to Witness 4 dated 13 September 2017, and Witness 4’s answer to those questions dated 19 September 2017.


Registrant’s evidence


19.  The Registrant gave evidence and said that she qualified as a social worker in 1991. She than worked continuously as a social worker in and around London, completing her social work degree in 1994. She said that initially teams were generic, but over the years teams have become more specialised. In December 2005 the Registrant decided that she would move from agency work into a permanent position with a local authority, and gained a full-time job with Islington in 2006 until 2013. Since 2014 she has been working in a residential children’s home supporting the residents, and later became a deputy manager supporting and supervising the care staff. Her current employers are aware of her dyslexia and have provided her with administrative support for note taking and record-keeping. The Registrant then moved to the fostering section where her role is to support newly qualified social workers and act as a placement reviewing officer, and also is care co-ordinator for adults with disabilities, and remains in this job. She does not have a caseload of her own, but supervises two care managers on a weekly basis in her role of care co-ordinator which involves auditing of files. The Registrant produced an undated reference from her employer Sherico Care Homes. She did not think that this role required registration with the HCPC as a social worker.

20. The Registrant said she has gone on a number of courses, covering child sexual exploitation, child trafficking, care-planning, safeguarding, Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA) training, is undertaking level 5 in health and social care management and has completed the practice teaching certificate, and level 3 PTLLS. She said how she always aims to keep abreast of what is happening in the care field.

21. During her time at Islington, she said that her workload had been reduced, not to the level stated by Witnesses 1 and 3, but to 10 cases and one court case. Islington had always known about her possible dyslexia, and the Registrant believed Witness 1 would always have known this. As at 20 July 2012, she said that the equipment provided by Jobcentre Plus to support her work was ready, but this was not progressed by Islington. The Registrant said that Islington should have provided these reasonable adjustments for her dyslexia at a much earlier stage of her employment.

22. In respect of Child A, the Registrant said that she tried to give information to Witness 1 on 14 June 2012 following her school visit, but Witness 1 was on her way out, and she did not see her again that day. The following day she said she organised a strategy meeting which Witness 1 attended and she said everything was discussed at that meeting.

23. In cross-examination, the Registrant denied that on 14 June 2012 Person A first told her that Person B had a violent past, even though her own case note recorded that. The Registrant agreed that the need for details of the concerns about Person B had been identified at the TAC meeting on 30 May 2012. The Registrant maintained that Person A had given her no new information on 14 June 2012. As regards the strategy meeting, the Registrant denied that the idea of a strategy meeting only arose on 13 July 2012, not 15 June 2012, and the idea came from Witness 1, as recorded in the case notes, rather than the Registrant.

24. Children B and C were siblings aged 12 and 16 years and had been her cases for about a year. Person C was the foster carer’s adult son. The Registrant said that she was completely unaware that Child B was receiving psychiatric treatment or any medication and was only aware of Child B having art therapy. The Registrant said she only became aware of the medication in February 2012 and requested further details from the mental health social worker, as recorded in her case note of that date. That day, the Registrant reported this to Witness 1 and Witness 3 that this resulted in a team meeting, which included the Psychiatrist, on 22 February 2012. She said that the meeting was minuted by Witness 3. As for concerns about Person C’s background and suitability, the Registrant said none were expressed to her by either Child B or Child C.

25. In cross-examination the Registrant could not explain why many of her entries in the case notes were recorded as being finalised many months beyond the two-day Islington policy requirement, or why some entries had virtually none or virtually no detail. The Registrant maintained that the first time she learned of Child B having prescribed medication was 6 February 2012 and did then discuss this with both Witness 3 and Witness 1.

26. The Registrant said that she did record all statutory visits for Child D. She did start life story work with Child D in an album scrapbook, and informed Witness 3 about this during supervision. Several TAC meetings had been held, starting in February 2011, for Child D when she went missing, and Witness 3 attended several of these meetings which were concerned with how to deal with it. As for her record-keeping for Child D, the Registrant said she did this to the best of her ability, but this would have been improved with appropriate work support being supplied by Islington.

27. The Registrant accepted in cross-examination that she had not made a case note recording her statutory visits to Child D on 29 September 2011, 25 October 2011, 19 December 2011 and 12 January 2012, but said that she had to prioritise other matters and the lack of work adjustments for her dyslexia meant that certain tasks were not completed. She would have had her notes of the visits to assist her, but the lack of support generally led to her being unable to make full and timely case records. She said that, whether she made her record and finalised it at the time it was made, varied.

28. With regard to Child D going missing, this is recorded as occurring on many occasions in January through to March 2011, then again on several occasions in the period February to August 2012. The Registrant did not record any enquiries about the reason for Child D’s absences, but the Registrant said that she did make visits to Child D, probably after most absences, to discuss the reasons and would have kept her managers fully informed.

29. Life story work for Child D was required by Witness 3 from 24 March 2011 according to the case notes. The case notes record Witness 1 reminding the Registrant of this on 23 May 2011, and on 31 May 2011. Witness 3 is recorded as telling the Registrant to commence the life story work with Child D from 15 May 2011. A case note dated 21 November 2011 records that life story work had not yet begun, and Witness 1 had chased the Registrant again about this on 2 December 2011. In cross-examination the Registrant said that she had begun life story work and could not understand why the records stated otherwise.

30. Children E, F and G were another sibling group, Child H was a four year old boy, and Child I was a young baby girl at significant risk. The Registrant said she believed that she had kept records for these children to the best of her ability and could not now remember why the records in 2011 and 2012 were incomplete. With regard to Child H, the Registrant said that her managers were aware of her work to meet the actions sought by the Adoption Review Committee on 19 December 2011.

31. At the close of evidence, Ms Sheridan formally offered no evidence on particular 5(c) on the basis it added nothing to what was already alleged in particular 5(a). Ms Sheridan also applied to amend particular 2(c)(i) by adding a specific date, namely 16 August 2012. The Registrant said that she could not comment as she was not legally qualified. The Legal Assessor repeated the advice that he gave earlier in the hearing regarding the proposed amendment to the stem of particular 2(c), and the Panel accepted that legal advice. Having considered the application, the Panel allowed the amendment on the basis that there was no unfairness to the Registrant as the date had been the subject of questioning during the hearing.

32. Ms Sheridan also referred the Panel to Witness 4’s psychology reports as hearsay evidence, The Panel received and accepted the legal advice from the Legal Assessor in relation to its admissibility and weight.

Decision on facts


33. Ms Sheridan submitted that there was sufficient evidence adduced by the HCPC for the Panel to find each of the remaining particulars of the Allegation to be found proved on the balance of probabilities.

34. The Registrant submitted that she did not know the process to get a diagnosis of dyslexia and to get an Access to Work Assessment, and the onus was on her employer to obtain these. She submitted that her problems with paperwork were due to her dyslexia and the lack of proper support at work.

35. The Panel accepted the Legal Assessor’s advice that the burden on proving the particulars of the Allegation rested at all times on the HCPC, and the standard of proof was on the balance of probabilities.

36. The Panel carefully reviewed all the oral and documentary evidence. With regard to the witnesses who gave oral evidence, the Panel assessed their evidence as follows. The Panel found Witnesses 1, 2 and 3 to all be credible and fair, each saying if they could not recall matters and none displaying any animosity towards the Registrant. Witness 2’s evidence was limited to his audit of the case notes, which, he volunteered,  was not as thorough as he would have liked. The Panel therefore found their evidence to be reliable. As regards the Registrant, she had a very good recollection of all the children involved, but a rather unclear recollection of events relating to the absence of records. The Registrant’s answers were evasive at times, and the Registrant persistently sought to pass responsibility on to others, but the Panel accepted that the Registrant was doing her best to assist the Panel with her best recollections.


Particular 1(a) - proved


37.  The record of the TAC meeting held on 30 May 2012, which the Registrant attended, shows that Person A revealed the name of Person B and said that he was “known to the police”. The Registrant’s own case note of her statutory visit to Child A at school on 14 June 2012 records that Person A revealed to her that Person B had a violent past and that she would bear this in mind when she spoke with her manager. The only reason given by the Registrant for not passing this information on to her manager, Witness 1, was that when she went to speak to Witness 1 the next day, Witness 1 was rushing out of her office to a meeting. The Panel rejected the Registrant’s account of informing Witness 1 the following day and prefers the evidence of Witness 1 that she knew nothing of Person B’s violent past until speaking to Person A herself on 12 July 2012.

Particular 2(a) – proved


38.  The Panel note that he Registrant’s first record in the case notes of Child B, that Child B was being prescribed medication is contained in an email dated 2 February 2012 from the Registrant to a colleague requesting information as to why medication was commenced, how much was being prescribed and the start date. The Registrant stated that she needed this information “to discuss with senior managers”.


Particular 2(b) – proved


39. The Registrant’s email dated 2 February 2012 shows that she knew that the medication had been prescribed by Child B’s named doctor. Witness 1’s evidence was that the Registrant would have known that the senior manager needed to know of that medication and approve its use because Child B was a (LAC), but she had not informed either of her managers, Witness 1 or Witness 3 about the medication. The Registrant said that she reported this to Witness 1 and Witness 3 and sought further information from the mental health team. She said that resulted in a TAC meeting on 21 February 2012. Witness 3 recorded in the supervision notes that there was a TAC meeting on 21 February 2012, and that it included “treatment plan from (CAMHS)”. However, this does not reveal that Witness 3 knew of the prescribing of any drugs or that the Registrant sought approval of Child B taking prescribed drugs.

Particular 2(c)(i) – not proved


40. Witness 1 is recorded in the case notes as sending an email to the Registrant on 30 July 2012 that Person C, who lived in the foster carers’ household with Child B and Child C, “thinks he is an alien”. Witness 1 directed the Registrant to find out about Person C, including what kind of medication Person C was on, by 15 August 2012. The Registrant did not make or record her enquiries in this regard until 16 August 2012. However, the stem of this particular alleges that the Registrant was advised by Child B and/or Child C of their concerns regarding Person C on or around July 2012. The Panel has found no evidence to establish that either child told the Registrant of concerns about Person C on or around July 2012.

Particular 2(d) - proved


41.  Child B seriously self-harmed and was taken to hospital on 20 December 2011. The Registrant visited Child B on 24 January 2012, but her record is only one line. There is no detail of what happened at the visit and what was discussed. There was a TAC meeting concerning Child B on 21 February 2012 which the Registrant recorded she would not be able to attend. The Registrant had supervision with Witness 3 that day and was instructed to speak to Child B and the parents about the outcome of the meeting. The Registrant has made no record of the outcome of the TAC meeting and her note of the meeting on 6 February 2012 with Child B and her parents does not record anything about telling them of the outcome and their reaction to it. The Registrant “finalised” both of these case notes as complete many months later, when they were clearly not detailed or timely case records. Those are just two instances of many unsatisfactory case records made by the Registrant in respect of Child B.

Particular 3(a) - proved


42.  The case notes show that the Registrant made no record at all of the content of her statutory visits to Child D on nine occasions, namely:

29 September 2011
25 October 2011
21 November 2011
19 December 2011
12 January 2012
10 February 2012
30 March 2012
16 April 2012
20 July 2012

Particular 3(b) - proved


43. The Registrant was reminded by Witness 3 on 24 March 2011 to undertake life story work with Child D. On 23 May 2011 Witness 1 emailed the Registrant further reminding her to undertake this work. On 31 May 2011, during supervision, Witness 3 again reminded the Registrant to start the life story work. Following a complaint from the school, this work is recorded in an email to the Registrant on 2 December 2011 by Witness 1 as still outstanding. Finally, in supervision with Witness 3 on 19 March 2012, the Registrant said that Child D did not want to participate as she was not interested in her past.

Particular 3(c) - proved


44. Between 17 January 2011 and 22 July 2012, the Registrant did not record any adequate enquiries in relation to Child D going missing. The Registrant did not suggest in evidence that she had made any such enquiries. On 16 occasions the Registrant simply recorded “Not returned”; on two occasions the Registrant only recorded “Awol”; and on one occasion recorded “Child D has not returned to foster home and has been reported missing to Police”. 

Particular 3(d) – proved


45. The evidence produced by the HCPC witnesses revealed that the computerised case note system did not record when case note recording was commenced, it only recorded when a case was completed (“finalised”). It was therefore not possible to know when the Registrant had started a case note record and whether she had complied with paragraph 10 of Islington’s Safeguarding Policy required: “Information should be updated as information becomes available or decisions or actions are taken as soon as practicable or, at the latest, within 2 working days.”

46. A number of statutory visits were recorded as taking place however, there is no record of the details of these case visits on 9 occasions.

Particular 4 – proved

47. The Registrant’s case notes in respect of statutory visits to Child E and Child F on nine occasions are entirely blank. Those dates are:

21 September 2011
18 October 2011
5 December 2011
11 January 2012
23 February 2012
20 March 2012
1 May 2012
30 May 2012
19 July 2012
 
48. The Registrant’s case notes in respect of statutory visits for Child G on two occasions are entirely blank. Those dates are:
26 January 2012
30 May 2012

Particular 5(a) - proved


49.  At the time the audit was carried out by Witness 2 on 3 August 2012 there were 5 statutory visits that were not written up. The dates of these visits were:

13 February 2012
9 March 2012
30 April 2012
28 June 2012
3 July 2012

The Panel note that these were all written up subsequently

Particular 5(b)(i) – proved

50. There was a Child/Young Person’s Adoption in relation to Child H on 19 December 2011, but the Registrant failed to record the completion of a life story book and a later life letter which were both required to be completed by 20 January 2012. In the absence of any record, the Panel determined that neither task had been completed. 


Particular 5(c) – not proved


51.  No evidence was offered by the HCPC.


Particular 6(a) - proved


52. The Panel accepted Witness 2’s evidence of his audit of the case notes for Child I, and that there were no records at all made by the Registrant for the dates as set out below as at the time of this audit. The Panel accept that when Witness 2 carried out his audit there were no records competed by the Registrant. The
Panel noted that there were records finalised on 13 August 2012 by the Registrant, (after the audit was completed) for the following contact dates;

10 July 2012
13 July 2012
16 July 2012
19 July 2012
23 July 2012
24 July 2012
27 July 2012

Grounds


53. Ms Sheridan submitted that the Panel would exercise its own judgement upon the questions of whether the proven facts amounted the statutory ground of lack of competence or misconduct. She submitted that lack of competence would be demonstrated by an unacceptably low standard of performance based on a fair sample of the Registrant’s work. Ms Sheridan, relying on Roylance v GMC [2000] 1 AC 311, submitted that misconduct was different and referred to Lord Clyde’s judgment in that case:


“misconduct involved some act or omission, falling short of what would be proper in the circumstances, which was linked to the profession … though not necessarily occurring in the carrying out of [professional] practice, and serious.”  
 
54. The Panel accepted and applied the Legal Assessor’s advice that the grounds of lack of competence and misconduct required a serious falling short of the required standards in order to find impairment of fitness to practise and that guidance on what might constitute misconduct was stated in CHRE v NMC & Grant [2011] EWHC 927 (Admin). In addition, following McDermott v HCPC [2017] EWHC 2899 (Admin), the Panel accepted, as advised by the Legal Assessor, that if the Panel determined that any of the proven facts amounted to lack of competence or misconduct which was serious, the Panel needed to consider whether the Registrant’s dyslexia explained that lack of competence or misconduct.

55. With regard to the ground of lack of competence, the Panel determined that the proven facts in particulars 2(d), 3(a), 3(d), 4, 5(a) 5(c) and 6(a) of the Allegation did not amount to lack of competence. All these related to the Registrant’s failure to make either any or any proper case records, but there was plenty of evidence from the case notes that the Registrant was able to, and had made, good detailed case notes on many other occasions. The Panel considered that those recording failures were not fully explained by the Registrant’s dyslexia and, therefore, because of the risk posed to these vulnerable service users by incomplete and timely records, was serious and amounted to misconduct. In reaching this decision the Panel took account of Witness 4’s reports.

56. The Registrant said that she had made her employer aware of the possibility of her having dyslexia at the start of her employment, but had not been proactive in obtaining a formal diagnosis until 2012 which then enabled the Access to Work assessment to be undertaken. She blamed her employer for not taking appropriate steps without taking responsibility for her role in this.

57. The Panel determined that particular 2(a) did not amount to either lack of competence or misconduct, because there was no evidence that the Registrant was aware that Child B was taking medication as part of her psychiatric treatment prior to February 2012. The Registrant could therefore not have been expected to make or record her enquiries about that medication prior to February 2012.

58. All the service users that the Registrant was allocated at Islington were very vulnerable children. The Panel determined that the facts proved in particulars 1(a), 2(b), 3(b), 3(c), and 5(b), which all involved the Registrant’s failure to carry out actions required, amounted to misconduct. Those failure gave rise to a risk of harm to each of the children concerned and were, therefore, to be considered as serious failings by the Registrant. The Panel concluded that none of those failings could be explained by the Registrant’s dyslexia, and were failings in the core professional tasks of her social work at Islington.

59. In the Panel’s view, those failings amounted to breaches of paragraphs 4.3, 5.7, 6.1, 6.2, 6.3 and 6.4 of the published professional standards which then applied to social work, namely the General Social Care Council’s “Codes of Practice for Social Care Workers” 2010.

Impairment


60. The Panel carefully considered the proven facts, the submissions of the parties, the HCPTS Practice Note “Finding fitness to practise to be ‘impaired’” and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.

61. The Panel noted that there was no evidence of the Registrant’s remediation of proven deficiencies in her role as a registered social worker relating to her failings with regard to both record-keeping and carrying out necessary tasks and enquiries. The Panel considered that the Registrant displayed limited insight into her past failings by her continued insistence that she is a good social worker but was let down by Islington failing to provide her with sufficient support given her dyslexia. Her failings had led to a real risk of harm to the vulnerable children whom she was employed to support, and her limited insight leads to the present risk of repetition of those failings if she were to resume unrestricted social work practice. Additionally, these extensive failings would put the public’s confidence in the social work profession and its regulation at risk if there were no finding of current impairment. The Panel also took the view that it would be failing in its duty to promote and maintain proper standards in social work if it did not make a finding of impaired fitness to practise. Accordingly, the Panel does find that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired by reason of her past misconduct.

Decision on sanction

62. Ms Sheridan submitted that the appropriate and proportionate order, if any, required in this case was entirely a matter for the Panel in accordance with the HCPC’s “Indicative Sanctions Policy” March 2017. She reminded the Panel that it had determined that an aggravating feature of the case was that the Registrant’s failures had given rise to a risk of harm to each of the vulnerable child service users. Ms Sheridan also drew the Panel’s attention to its determination on impairment where the Panel had stated that she has limited insight into her failings.
 
63. The Registrant had prepared written submissions which the Panel received. The Panel clarified orally with the Registrant several matters within the written submissions. The Registrant said she had lost her employment since the hearing adjourned in January 2018 and after the interim Suspension Order was put in place. She said part of her employment required her to be a registered social worker. She clarified that she had not undertaken any further training in the interim period but had read The Guardian and trawled the internet.  The Registrant said that she now recognised that she needed to be more open, and be more ready to seek assistance. She said that she recognised the importance of maintaining her skills and the importance of case-recording for service users. The Registrant also stated that she was not suggesting that the Panel were biased against her on the grounds of appearance, race or colour, which could have been an interpretation of her written submissions.

64. The Panel accepted the Legal Assessor’s advice that:

a) the appropriate sanction, if any, is a matter for the independent judgement of the Panel;
b) the Panel must at all times bear in mind that the purpose of imposing a sanction is to protect the public in accordance with the over-arching objective of the exercise of the HCPC’s powers set out in Art. 3(4) of the 2001 Order, as amended. This includes promoting and maintaining the public’s confidence in the profession and promoting and maintaining proper standards of conduct. The purpose of a sanction is not to rehabilitate the Registrant, nor to punish the Registrant, although a restriction on the Registrant’s registration may have a punitive effect;
c) The Panel should consider the impact of a particular sanction on the Registrant, but it is not the primary consideration;
d) the Panel must take account of the HCPC’s guidance in its published “Indicative Sanctions Policy” March 2017, which includes the need for the Panel to exercise the principle of proportionality. This means that if a sanction is required, the sanction imposed should be the minimum appropriate sanction to achieve the over-arching objective. If the Panel deviates from the Policy, it should state clear and cogent reasons for so doing.

65. The Panel considered all the evidence, the submissions of Ms Sheridan, the written submissions of the Registrant as clarified orally and the “Indicative Sanctions Policy” March 2017.
 
66. The Panel first considered what were the aggravating and mitigating features in this case. There were four aggravating features: the repeated nature of the failings; the length of time over which the failings occurred; the fact that a number of service users were involved; and the seriousness of the risk presented to those service users by the Registrant’s failings. The Panel identified two mitigating features: the Registrant’s previous lack of any regulatory concerns since her qualification in 1995; and the fact that the Registrant had fully engaged in this regulatory process.

67. The Panel also noted that the misconduct occurred whilst Registrant had a reduced workload, and that the Registrant had, to date, not taken steps to remediate her proven failings because she had lacked insight into those failings. Nor had the Registrant taken any steps to maintain her skills and knowledge since October of last year. However, in her submissions at this stage, the Registrant had displayed some insight by her recognition of the misconduct and the need to seek assistance at an earlier stage.

68. The Panel determined that taking no action, mediation or a Caution Order would not be sufficient or proportionate in this case. The misconduct had not been isolated or limited in nature, nor had the misconduct been relatively minor with a low risk of repetition.

69. The Panel next considered a Condition of Practice Order. The Panel determined that such an order would not be sufficient or proportionate in this case because, as stated in paragraph 33 of the “Indicative Sanctions Policy”, conditions of practice are unlikely to be suitable where, as here, there were serious and persistent overall failings.

70. The Panel therefore moved on to consider a Suspension Order. Paragraph 42 of the “Indicative Sanctions Policy” states that suspension may be appropriate “where a less restrictive sanction would:

• be unlikely to provide adequate public protection;
• undermine public confidence; or
• be unlikely to have a deterrent effect upon the Registrant concerned or the profession at large ……..”

71. The Panel determined that all three of those indicators applied. The failings amounting to misconduct had been persistent over a substantial period of time and were serious and wide-spread. There was a risk of repetition of the misconduct at this time and any repetition would present a real risk to service users and the wider public. The Panel also recognised that it had a duty to uphold and declare proper standards for social workers, and public confidence in the profession and its regulation would be undermined if this Panel imposed a lesser sanction for this misconduct.
 
72. The Panel considered whether a Striking Off Order was the appropriate order. Paragraph 48 of the “Indicative Sanctions Policy” states:

“Striking off should be used where there is no other way to protect the public, for example, where there is a lack of insight, continuing problems or denial. A registrant’s inability or unwillingness to resolve matters will suggest that a lower sanction may not be appropriate.”
 
73. The Registrant has begun to show insight and has expressed a willingness to address her failings and acknowledged that “having gaps in my work… it’s not safe” she said she would seek assistance earlier and keep her records up to date. The Panel therefore determined that a Striking Off Order would not be the appropriate order to make and would be disproportionate.

74. Accordingly, the Panel determined that the appropriate, sufficient and proportionate order to make in this case is a Suspension Order.

75. The Panel considered what the duration of the Suspension Order would be. It recognised that the Registrant has been the subject of an Interim Suspension Order since the end of January 2018. The Panel considered that the duration of the Suspension Order must be proportionate to the misconduct and must be sufficient to achieve public protection, to maintain public confidence in the profession and to send a sufficient signal to the profession and the Registrant to maintain and promote proper standards in the profession. Balancing all these matters, the Panel determined to make a Suspension Order for 12 months.

76. Before the expiry of the Suspension Order, the order will be the subject of a review hearing. That future reviewing panel may be assisted by evidence from the Registrant of her further insight into her misconduct and remediation of that misconduct by, for instance:

a) the Registrant’s written reflections on the misconduct and the impact of that misconduct upon service users, her employers and the profession, with an explanation of how she will work differently in the future;
b) evidence of Continuing Professional Development (CPD) and other activities undertaken since this hearing, whether in employment of not, addressing the misconduct and the maintaining of her professional skills and knowledge;
c) references and testimonials from any organisation or employer for whom the Registrant has undertaken paid or unpaid work.

Order

Order:  The Registrar is directed to suspend the registration of Mrs Eulale Brown-Hickling for a period of 12 Months from the date this order comes into effect.

Notes

Application for Interim Order


1. Ms Sheridan applied for an Interim Order to be made pursuant to Article 32(1) of the Health and Social Work Professions Order 2001, as amended. Ms Sheridan submitted that an Interim Order of suspension should be made as it was necessary to protect the public or otherwise in the public interest during the appeal period before the substantive order came into effect. She submitted that the Panel’s finding on the risk to service users by a repetition of the misconduct, because of limited insight and lack of remediation, gave rise to the necessity for an Interim Order. Ms Sheridan submitted that no appropriate realistic, or viable conditions of practice could be formulated to protect the public in view of the Registrant’s persistent failures and the findings of the Panel.
 
2. The Registrant submitted that she objected to the making of an Interim Order as she said it was unnecessary because the Panel was already imposing a Suspension Order. The Legal Assessor and Ms Sheridan then explained to the Registrant the fact that the substantive Suspension Order would only come into effect either 28 days from now or, if she appealed against it, when her appeal was determined. Having clarified that, the Registrant said that she had no further submissions in respect of the Interim Order application. 

3. The Panel considered all the guidance in the HCPTS Practice Note “Interim Orders” September 2017. The Panel accepted the Legal Assessor’s advice that its task was to carry out a risk assessment given the findings of fact, ground, impairment and sanction made in this case. The Panel recognised that it may make an Interim Order if the Panel is satisfied that it is necessary for the protection of the public, or is otherwise in the public interest, or in the interests of the Registrant. The Panel also recognised that if it considered an order should be made, it must apply the principle of proportionality, balancing the public interest with the Registrant’s own interests, and only impose an Interim Order that is sufficient to guard against the risk that the Panel has identified.

4. The Panel determined that an Interim Order was necessary for the protection of the public and was otherwise in the public interest. The misconduct found by the Panel in this case was in respect of essential tasks in social work – proper and timely record-keeping, the carrying out of enquiries, following up tasks, and sharing information of concern with managers in order to protect service users. Service users need protection from the risk of repetition of this misconduct. Proportionate measures are required to maintain the public’s confidence in the profession and its regulation and to declare and uphold proper standards of conduct.

5. The Panel first considered Conditions of Practice. Conditions of Practice needed to be workable, verifiable, practicable and address the concerns in the case. The Panel determined that, as with its substantive order determination, it could not devise Conditions of Practice that would provide adequate protection to the public and the wider public interest given the nature of the misconduct and the likelihood of the repetition of the misconduct.

6. As Conditions of Practice would not provide sufficient or appropriate protection, the Panel determined that the only sufficient and proportionate Interim Order is one of Suspension. That would be for a maximum period of 18 months to cover the appeal period and until any such appeal is dealt with.

Interim Order:

The Panel makes an Interim Suspension Order under Article 31(2) of the Health and Social Work Professions Order 2001, the same being necessary to protect members of the public and being otherwise in the public interest. This order will expire upon the determination of any appeal against the substantive Suspension Order or after 28 days if no appeal is made, subject to a maximum period of 18 months.

 

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Mrs Eulale Brown-Hickling

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
30/05/2018 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Suspended