Elaine Marlene Edwards

Profession: Social worker

Registration Number: SW06011

Hearing Type: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 10:00 19/11/2018 End: 17:00 23/11/2018

Location: Health and Care Professions Tribunal Service (HCPTS), 405 Kennington Road, London, SE11 4PT

Panel: Conduct and Competence Committee
Outcome: Suspended

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Allegation

Allegation (as amended):

During the course of your employment as a Social Worker in the London Borough of Sutton:

1. Between 10 April 2016 and 11 May 2016 you failed to adequately risk assess and/or apply the correct threshold in relation to the following service users despite three Police notifications relating to their parents:

a) Child M;
b) Child N.

3. On or around 18 April 2016, you failed to adequately assess the risk and/or apply the correct thresholds in relation to Person A, a vulnerable female.

4. On or around 20 May 2016, you failed to apply the correct thresholds in relation to Baby X.

5. Your actions as described at paragraphs 1 to 5 constitute misconduct and/or lack of competence.

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

 

Finding

Preliminary matters:

Proof of Service

1. The Panel was provided with a signed certificate as proof that the Notice of Hearing had been sent in a letter, by first class post on 20 August 2018, to the address shown for the Registrant on the HCPC register. The Notice of Hearing was also sent to the Registrant by email, on the same date.
 
2. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and was satisfied that notice had been properly served in accordance with Rule 3 (Proof of Service) and Rule 6 (date, time and venue) of the Conduct and Competence Committee Rules 2003 (as amended).

Proceeding in absence of the Registrant

3. Mr Dite, on behalf of the HCPC, made an application for the hearing to proceed in the Registrant’s absence as permitted by Rule 11 of the Conduct & Competence Rules.
 
4.  The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and took into account the guidance as set out in the HCPC Practice Note “Proceeding in Absence”.

5. The Panel determined that it was reasonable and in the public interest to proceed with the hearing for the following reasons:

a)The Panel noted that the Registrant sent an email to HCPC, dated 19 November 2018, with an attached letter dated 18 November 2018 which stated, ‘I have no intention of attending the hcpc hearing. With an employment tribunal remedy delayed until April 2019, I simply cannot afford the legal costs to competently defend my hcpc case and I place greater value on saving the emotional burden this process would inevitably follow’. The Panel was satisfied that it was reasonable to conclude that the Registrant’s non-attendance was voluntary and therefore a deliberate waiver of her right to attend and participate in person;

b)There has been no application to adjourn and no indication from the Registrant that she would be willing or able to attend on an alternative date and therefore re-listing this final hearing would serve no useful purpose;

c)The HCPC has made arrangements for three witnesses to give evidence during the hearing. In the absence of any reason to re-schedule the hearing, the Panel was satisfied that the witnesses should not be inconvenienced by an unnecessary delay and should give evidence whilst the events are reasonably fresh in their minds;

d)The Panel recognised that there may be some disadvantage to the Registrant in not being able to give evidence or make oral submissions. However, the Panel noted that she had previously provided written submissions, in a Disciplinary Appeal document dated 24 April 2017 and which are included within the HCPC bundle of documents and which went some way to mitigate any potential disadvantage to the Registrant; and

e)As this is a substantive hearing there is a strong public interest in ensuring that it is considered expeditiously. It is also in the Registrant’s own interest that the allegation is heard as soon as possible.

Application to amend the particulars

6. At the outset of the hearing Mr Dite made an application to amend the Allegation. The Registrant had been put on notice of the original proposed amendments in a letter dated 15 February 2018.

7. Mr Dite also made an application for an additional amendment to the proposed Allegation.

8. The proposed amendments were therefore as follows:

i.Stem – deletion of the words ‘at’ and ‘you’ and insertion of the words ‘in the London’;
ii.Stem – deletion of the comma after the word ‘Sutton’;
iii.Particular 1 – deletion of the words ‘ in order to safeguard and protect’ and insertion of the words ‘in relation to the’;
iv.Particular 2 – the HCPC offered no evidence;
v.Particular 3 – deletion of the words ‘ in order to safeguard and protect’ and insertion of the words ‘in relation to’;
vi.Particular 4 – the HCPC offered no evidence; and
vii.Particular 5 – deletion of the words ‘and/or recommend a strategy meeting in order to safeguard and protect’ and insertion of the words ‘in relation to’.

9.  The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and carefully considered the HCPC application to amend the Particulars. The Panel concluded, after reviewing each of the proposed amendments, that they would agree to the Particulars being amended for the following reasons:

i.the Registrant had been provided with significant notice of the HCPC’s intention to amend the Allegation, having been put on notice in February 2018, nine months before the commencement of the substantive hearing;

ii.the Registrant had not provided any objection to the proposed amendments;
iii.on the whole, the proposed amendments were to correct typographical errors and to provide further clarification of the Allegation;
iv.the proposed amendments did not seek to widen the scope of the Allegation; and
v.the Panel noted that the HCPC offered no evidence on two of the particulars (particular 2 and particular 4).

10. The Panel therefore concluded that the proposed amendments to the Allegation did not heighten the seriousness of the Allegation and therefore there was no likelihood of injustice to the Registrant.

Background

11. The Registrant is, and was at the relevant times, registered with the HCPC as a Social Worker.

12. The Registrant qualified with a Diploma in Social Work in 1994 and achieved a Higher Education Diploma in 1995.

13. The Registrant commenced employment with the London Borough of Sutton (‘LBS’) on 21st August 2013 as a Team manager for the Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub (‘MASH’) and was based at Sutton police station.

14. The MASH team has a number of responsibilities, including:

i.Processing notifications relating to safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children through the hub;
ii.Delivering an integrated service with the aim to research, interpret and determine what information is proportionate and relevant to share;
iii.Analysing information received and assessing risk, gathering further information where appropriate and disseminating the information to the most appropriate agency for necessary action; and
iv. Identifying victims and emerging risk of harm through research and analysis.

15. The Mash allocates a Red, Amber and Green (‘RAG’) rating system on receipt of information and after creating a ‘Contact Record’. It reviews the RAG rating after checks have been undertaken. The RAG ratings are a system whereby the MASH categorise how serious and therefore how urgent a matter is using the Sutton Local Safeguarding Children Board (‘LSCB’) Threshold Guidance. Decisions are made based on this guidance, using evidence and professional judgment. It is the responsibility of the manager of MASH to oversee the RAG process within MASH. The term ‘MASHing’ is a process of sharing information between agencies on cases with the aim of safeguarding children.

16. ‘Red’, or Tier 4, indicates a child is suffering or likely to suffer significant harm. This is the threshold for Child Protection Procedures. A ‘Red’ rating would lead to an urgent referral to the children’s social work assessment team (Referral and Assessment Service – ‘RAS’). The RAS will, upon receipt of a referral from MASH, decide if they agree with the rating. RAS may need to collect and collate further information and determine what next steps are appropriate. If a ‘Red’ risk rating is confirmed an urgent multi agency strategy meeting is likely to be convened under Section 47 of the Children’s Act 1989.

17. ‘Amber’, or Tier 3, indicates children who may have complex and/or multiple needs. This is the threshold for an assessment led by Children’s Social Care under Section 17 of the Children’s Act 1989. ‘Amber’ cases sometimes have indicators of risk that would lead to a decision to share information between agencies to safeguard the child.

18. ‘Green’, or Tier 2, indicates that early help may be required. Usually these cases are likely to require the provision of services from non-statutory agencies. They may then be marked as ‘no further action’ (‘NFA’).

19. In Sutton the MASH team had been in operation for over three years and is a service that underpins the safeguarding responsibilities at the initial contact stage and when a family comes to the attention of Social Care. Failures in the MASH system can negatively impact on the safeguarding responses of a number of agencies regarding children, their families, staff and on an organisation.

20. The Registrant was part of the PAN London MASH group. The Group met every three months with different London Council’s. The MASH group meeting was an opportunity for MASH members to share information and develop insights from other London Borough colleagues.

21. As a result of a MASH audit, in January 2016, examining MASH thresholds and decision-making, a MASH improvement plan was developed and provided to the Registrant in March 2016.

22. Concerns regarding the Registrant’s practice were raised at the end of June 2016 when her line manager (AK) was looking into a child death notification in relation to the baby of Person A. AK looked at the history of this case and was concerned about a previous decision made by the Registrant to risk rate a Contact Record ‘Green’ and then close the case.

23. During the same period AK was also conducting a standard audit of the Section 47 cases within RAS. The review involved AK examining child protection matters and whether correct procedures were being followed. This audit identified two additional concerns in relation to the Registrant’s decision making around risk and in respect to Children M & N and Baby X.

24. Children M and N are siblings, they were 5 and 9 years old at the time of the referrals; they were living with their birth parents, who were in the process of separating. On the night of 10 April 2016, and in the early hours of 11 April 2016, there were three notifications relating to the parents. The first notification was that the parents had an argument that escalated, during which the father of the children had alleged that the mother was addicted to narcotics. The mother took the two children to their grandparents. The second notification was in relation to the father and that he had taken tablets, saying that he did not want to live anymore. The third outlined the mother’s disclosure to the police that a couple of weeks beforehand the father had held an airgun/air rifle at her head.

25. Person A was a 17-year-old young person who was found, by Police, at the home of a person who had been identified as a priority and prolific sex offender who was also currently on bail for other sex offences. Person A was found at the address along with another young person, who had both lied to Police about their age saying that they were 18. As a consequence of these facts, the Police made a Child Sexual Exploitation (‘CSE’) referral to LBS.

26. Baby X came to the attention of LBS Social Services on 20 May 2016 when a health visitor made a referral. Baby X’s mother, as part of a ‘new baby review’, disclosed to her health visitor that Baby X’s father had been violent towards her whilst the baby was in her arms. The mother also disclosed that there was physical violence during the pregnancy. At the time of the disclosure, Baby X was two weeks old. The information indicated that the father was currently in Sweden but was expected back in 6 weeks.

27. The HCPC relied on the evidence of three witnesses who provided statements and exhibits, which included the case notes of service users. The witnesses also gave oral evidence at the hearing.

28. The Registrant was not in attendance at the hearing. However, the Panel had regard to all of the documentation from the Registrant that was available to them. 

Decision on Facts

Assessment of Witnesses

Witness JW

29. Witness JW qualified as a Social Worker in 1996, having obtained a BA (Hons) Social Science Diploma from Middlesex University. JW was, at the material time, Head of Quality Assurance for London Borough of Sutton Council.

30. On 6 July 2016 JW was asked by RN to conduct a disciplinary investigation into concerns relating to the Registrant. The scope of JW’s investigation was to cover the three specific cases outlined within the allegation.

31. The Panel found JW to be a credible and reliable witness. The Panel had no reason to doubt his recollection of events. His oral evidence was measured and balanced and consistent with his witness statement. If he was unable to recollect a particular event he said so and he provided reasons for any views he expressed.

Witness RN

32. Witness RN qualified as a Social Worker in 1992 after obtaining a Certificate of Qualification in Social Work) and BSc in Sociology and Social Studies, from Buckinghamshire College of Higher Education. His substantive post at the time within the LBS was Assistant Director, a role which he commenced in 2013.

33. In the LBS there is an internal policy called ‘Need to Know’ which describes how staff inform the Director and Assistant Director about significant events regarding children and young people. Through this policy a case (Person A) was brought to RN’s attention. He subsequently ordered a review of Person A’s case and an investigation into two other matters (Child M & N) and (Baby X).

34. The Panel found witness RN to be credible and reliable. He was clear and concise and gave compelling evidence on the cases covered.

Witness AK

35. Witness AK qualified as a Social Worker in South Africa in 1984 with a BA (Hons) in Social Work. She was appointed as Head of Service, for LBS, responsible for Referral, Assessment, Safeguarding, Children’s Emergency Duty Team, MASH, Youth offending team and Troubled Families.

36. AK commenced employment with LBS in August 2015. It was at this time that she took over line management responsibility of the Registrant.

37. The Panel found AK to be straightforward and measured. She accepted when she could not recollect things because of the passage of time. The Panel felt that AK provided a balanced view of the Registrant.

Panel’s Approach

38. The Panel was aware that the burden of proving the facts was on the HCPC. The Registrant did not have to prove anything and the individual particulars of the Allegation could only be found proved if the Panel was satisfied on the balance of probabilities.

39. In reaching its decision the Panel took into account the oral evidence of the HCPC witnesses, the documentary evidence contained within the hearing bundle as well as the oral submissions made by Mr Dite and the Registrant’s written representations.

40. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.

Particular 1

During the course of your employment as a Social Worker in the London Borough of Sutton:

1. Between 10 April 2016 and 11 May 2016 you failed to adequately risk assess and/or apply the correct threshold in relation to the following service users despite three Police notifications relating to their parents:

a) Child M;
b) Child N.

41. There was no dispute that the Registrant was employed by the LBS as a Social Worker between 10 April 2016 and 20 May 2016 and that the Registrant was under an obligation to risk assess the information received into MASH and to apply an appropriate RAG risk assessment decision rating in respect of each Contact Record created by MASH.

42. The Panel also noted that there was no dispute that the Registrant had RAG rated the Contact Record, in respect of Child M and Child N, as ‘Amber’ on 12 April 2016.

43. JW drew the Panel’s attention to the ‘toxic trio’ (drugs, domestic violence, and mental health problems) present in the received information which was seen as a combination that heightened the risk to the children. JW informed the Panel that he did not see any ‘grey areas’ in this case. AK gave clear evidence to the Panel that given the presence of the ‘toxic trio’ and an airgun/air rifle having allegedly been held to the mother’s head, the Registrant should have assigned a ‘Red’ rating to this case so that it could be passed to the RAS team immediately.

44. The Panel had regard to the Contact Record itself, which clearly noted the Registrant’s ‘Amber’ rating and which also provided the Registrant’s reasons for her decision. In her reasoning the Registrant stated;

‘I agree with SW recommendation of assessment.
Parents relationship had deteriorated with three episodes requiring police attendance within 24 hour period involving toxic trio.
There are reported to have been DA [domestic abuse] incidents and the mother disclosed previously unreported incidents whereby father has been controlling and has held an airgun to her head. There were also concerns about father taking an overdose and father has claimed that mother has been misusing substances.
Assessment is required to establish what is happening within the home, what parental plans are now and what impact this conflict is having on these children’.

45. The Panel noted the Registrant’s comments regarding her decision contained within the Disciplinary Appeal Document. However, all witnesses gave unequivocal evidence that the case should have been rated as ‘Red’ in line with the Multi-Agency Threshold Guidance document. The Panel agreed with the witnesses judgement.

46. The Panel noted that the Registrant highlighted that the children were residing with their grandparents and therefore were not at risk of immediate danger. The Panel was of the view that the situation required an urgent response given the risk factors indicated. The Registrant had information from the Police and the Ambulance Service which gave a clear indication that the children were potentially at significant risk. By marking the Contact Record as ‘Amber’ instead of ‘Red’, she did not highlight to the RAS team the level of potential risk and urgency and therefore placed the children at risk of harm for a longer period than was necessary.

47. The Panel accepts that the RAS team manager could have changed this rating but by the Registrant not applying the correct thresholds at the initial stage, this did not alert the RAS team to the urgency of the situation.  

48. The Panel found, as a matter of fact, that the Registrant was under an obligation to adequately risk assess and apply the correct thresholds to the Contact Record, concerning Child M and Child N, and that she failed to do so.

49. Accordingly, the Panel find Particulars 1(a) and 1(b) proved.

Particular 3

3.On or around 18 April 2016, you failed to adequately assess the risk and/or apply the correct thresholds in relation to Person A, a vulnerable female.

50. The Panel noted that there was no dispute that the Registrant had RAG rated the Contact Record, in respect of Person A, as ‘Amber’ on 18 April 2016.

51.  A member of the MASH then recorded various actions in relation to the Contact Record and recommended “strong advice be provided to both Person A and her mother…”.

52. The Panel noted that the Registrant subsequently assigned a ‘Green’ RAG rating, at the end of the Contact Record, on 21 April 2016. Recording her decision and agreeing with the recommendation of ‘no further action’ she states the following:

‘… Person A is almost 18 years of age but she has been found at the address of a sex offender. Police advice will have been given. We have not been able to speak with either Person A or her parent to be able to better understand how she has come into contact with this man although it appears to be linked with another young person from Croydon. Person A does not appear to be in education and we have not been able to identify any other professional working with her who may be able to offer her some advice. There were no allegations made by either Person A or the other young person. A letter has been sent to mother and Person A asking them to contact us. At which point a new contact can be created if threshold is met.’

53. All three witnesses gave evidence that this Contact Record should have been marked ‘Red’ upon receipt of the incoming information. JW gave evidence that the Police had specifically stated ‘CSE [Child Sex Exploitation] matters to consider’ and it was therefore, “clear-cut” in his opinion, that a ‘Red’ rating should have been applied. RN told the Panel that because the presenting information had indicated CSE, that Person A was at the home of a prolific sex offender and that she had given a false date of birth to the Police. He was clear that a ‘Red’ rating was required.

54. AK and JW also gave evidence regarding the PAN-London Child Protection procedures which, in broad terms, outline CSE considerations and how they should have been taken into consideration when assessing Person A.

55. The Panel had regard to the Contact Record itself, which clearly noted the Registrant’s ‘Amber’ rating on the 18 April 2016. The Panel also considered the Registrant’s comments and admissions in both the Disciplinary Appeal document and the notes from the disciplinary interview meeting, regarding how she had marked the Contact Record as ‘Amber’. The Panel had regard for her reasons for doing so.

56. However, after carefully considering the documentation the Panel were of the view that this Contact Record should have been marked ‘Red’ taking into account of the PAN-London Child Protection procedures which state:

‘…Like all forms of child sexual abuse, child sexual exploitation can affect any child or young person (male or female) under the age of 18 years, including 16 and 17 year olds who can legally consent to have sex…’.

In addition, the Police indicated that CSE was suspected.

57. The Panel understands that there was some uncertainty as to the exact age of Person A and there was a possibility that she was weeks away from her 18th birthday. However, if the Registrant had wanted to make a decision that went against the written procedures she should have sought senior management’s approval.

58. The Panel found, as a matter of fact, that the Registrant was under an obligation to adequately risk assess and apply the correct thresholds to the Contact Record, concerning Person A, and that she failed to do so.

59. Accordingly, the Panel find Particulars 3 proved.

Particular 5

5. On or around 20 May 2016, you failed to apply the correct thresholds in relation to Baby X.

60.  There was no dispute that the Contact Record in respect of Baby X was marked ‘Amber’ by the Registrant on the 20 May 2016.

61. The Panel heard evidence from all witnesses that this case should have been assessed as ‘Red’. JW drew the Panel’s attention to the age of the baby and the fact that the alleged domestic violence had occurred while the mother was holding the baby. AK informed the Panel that the Child Protection Procedures were clear that babies under 12 months are always assessed and rated ‘Red’ when matters of domestic abuse or domestic violence are concerned. AK drew the Panel’s attention to the relevant section of the PAN-London Child Protection Procedures which states:

‘Where there is domestic violence in families with a child under 12 months old, even if the child is not present, any single incident of domestic violence will fall within scale 4 [Tier 4]’.

62. The Registrant had stated in her Disciplinary Appeal document ‘I was not aware that mother was holding the baby. Had I appreciated that then I would have referred it as Red Rated’. However, the Panel noted that the Contact Record dated 18 April 2016 stated: ‘She reported that father had kicked her whilst she was holding Baby X’ and therefore this information was available to the Registrant at the time she made her rating decision. 

63. The Panel noted that all of the witnesses gave evidence that the PAN-London Child Protection procedures were clear that it did not matter whether or not the baby was being held, or whether the baby was even present at the time. The fact that the domestic violence allegedly occurred when the child was under 12 months meant that the Contact Record should have been rated as ‘Red’. AK informed the Panel that Baby X was 2 weeks old. The Panel accepted the witnesses evidence and found that the Contact Record should have been assessed as ‘Red’.

64. The Panel found, as a matter of fact, that the Registrant was under an obligation to adequately risk assess and apply the correct thresholds to the Contact Record, concerning Baby X, and that she failed to do so.

65. Accordingly, the Panel find Particulars 5 proved.

Decision on Grounds

Panels Approach

66. The Panel first considered whether any of the facts found proved amounted to misconduct. In doing so, it took into account the submissions of the parties and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Panel also considered the relevant Practice Note issued by the HCPTS, “Finding that Fitness to Practise is ‘Impaired’”, together with the HCPC’s Standards of Conduct, Performance 2012 and Ethics and the HCPC’s Standards of Proficiency Social Workers in England 2014.

67. The Panel found a breach of the following parts of the HCPC’s Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics (dated January 2016):

6.1 You must take all reasonable steps to reduce the risk of harm to service users, carers and colleagues as far as possible.

68. The Panel had real concerns about the way in which the Registrant had failed to appropriately respond to significant risk of harm in each of the three cases. The guidelines, in respect of Person A and Baby X, are clear. The expectation in respect of both cases was that they should have been assessed as ‘Red’.

69. Baby X was less than two weeks old and being held, by its mother, at the time of the alleged domestic violence. The information before the Registrant, at the time that she made her assessment, was clear. The information received indicated that there was an urgency to assess the situation in order to decide how to keep Baby X safe.

70. In respect of Person A she was a vulnerable young person under 18 years, previously known to Social Services. She was found in the home of a registered sex offender and the Police had marked the information as ‘CSE matters to consider’. By closing the case there was a missed opportunity to support Person A, improve outcomes for her and reduce the risk caused by involvement with a known prolific sex offender. 

71. The Panel was of the view that the written procedures clearly state that these circumstances require Child Protection Procedures to be instigated and therefore both of these cases should have been assessed as ‘Red’ as soon as the Registrant had received the information.

72. In respect of Children M and N, the Panel was of the view that the risk-factors outlined within the information highlighted significant risk of harm to the children. Despite the Registrant noting that the toxic-trio was present and their father had threatened their mother with airgun/air rifle this did not prompt her to assess the case as ‘Red’.

73. The Panel was of the view that if the Registrant had been in any doubt over any of the three RAG ratings of these Contact Records or was considering making a decision contrary to the procedures, then she should have consulted her senior manager AK. AK told the Panel that she could not recall the Registrant seeking her advice regarding RAG ratings on any cases.

74. The Panel considered that the above matters represented serious breaches of professional standards, falling far below the behaviour expected of a registered Social Worker, and amounted to misconduct.

75. The Panel found Particular 1(a), Particular 1(b), Particular 3 and Particular 5 each amounted to misconduct.

76. The Panel heard evidence about the volume of decisions being made by the Registrant on a daily basis and was satisfied that the Registrant was capable of making risk assessment decisions. Other than the three cases before the Panel there is no specific evidence of concerns about the Registrant’s ability to risk assess. However, the Panel’s view was that in these three cases her assessment of the information provided did not follow the relevant procedures and guidance. Given the number of assessment decisions being made on a daily basis by the Registrant, the Panel was not content that three cases, spanning 10 April – 20 May 2016, was a fair and/or representative sample of the Registrant’s work. The Panel did not therefore find the Particulars found proved amounted to lack of competence.

Decision on Impairment

77. Having found misconduct, the Panel went on to consider whether, as a result of that misconduct, the Registrant's current fitness to practise is impaired. The Panel took into account all of the evidence, the submissions made by Mr Dite and the written submissions of the Registrant in response to her Disciplinary Appeal document, dated 24 April 2017.

78. The Registrant’s conduct is remediable. However there is no evidence before the panel that the Registrant has sought in any way to remedy her shortcomings.

79. The evidence that the Panel has heard from the witnesses is that the Registrant has maintained her position regarding the initial RAG rating decisions. The Panel believes therefore that her conduct is highly likely to recur. The Registrant has provided the Panel with no reflection to indicate insight and no evidence of up-to-date training. The Panel believes that there is a real risk of repetition of her failings.

80. The Panel is particularly concerned at the Registrant’s lack of insight into her behaviour and the effect that it could have had on vulnerable service users.

81. The Panel went on to consider whether this was a case that required a finding of impairment on public interest grounds in order to maintain public confidence in the profession and the Regulator. The Panel was satisfied that a fully informed member of the public, who was aware of all of the background to this case, would have their confidence in the profession and the Regulator undermined if a finding of impairment were not made given the failings and lack of insight of the Registrant.

82. Accordingly, the Panel found the Registrant’s current fitness to practise is impaired in respect of both the personal and public component.

83. The Panel therefore concluded that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired.

Decision on Sanction

84. In reaching its decision on sanction, the Panel took into account the submissions made by Mr Dite. The Panel also referred to the “Indicative Sanctions Policy” issued by the HCPC.

85. The Panel had in mind that the purpose of sanction was not to punish the Registrant, but to protect the public, maintain public confidence in the profession and maintain proper standards of conduct and performance. The Panel was also aware of the need to ensure that any sanction is proportionate. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.

86. The Panel considered the aggravating factors in this case to be that the Registrant:

i.is an experienced Social Work manager who should have known the relevant written procedures and been able to follow them in respect of risk rating each case;
ii.failed to discuss her decisions with senior managers when she chose to depart from the written procedures; and
iii.has demonstrated an unwillingness to concede that her decision making may have been flawed in relation to each of these cases.

87. The Panel considered the following mitigating factors and found that the Registrant had:

i.a twenty year unblemished social work career, with no previous disciplinary record;

ii.provided 13 character references (7 from LBS and 6 from Surrey County Council (her previous employer)) all of whom speak highly of the Registrant. The Panel noted that the references had been provided by previous line managers, colleagues and direct reports;

iii.uncounted a challenging time at work, in which she had experienced a number of different managers and a perception of excessive case workload, alongside other additional demands being placed upon her;

iv.raised her concerns regarding workloads with senior managers;

v.been rated as ‘3’ which equated to ‘Good’ and was marked as meeting the requisite standard for her position as Social Work manager, in June 2016; and

vi.difficulties being geographically removed from her senior manager and located in Sutton Police station, in a room that was not suitable for the number of people operating from it.

88. In light of the seriousness of the misconduct, the Panel did not consider this was an appropriate case to take no further action, since this would not protect the public from the risks identified by the Panel.

89. The Panel then considered whether to caution the Registrant. However, the Panel was firmly of the view that such a sanction would not reflect the seriousness of the misconduct in this case. The Registrant’s failings put vulnerable children and a young person at risk of harm and the Panel has already concluded that there is a risk of such behaviour being repeated in the event that the Registrant decides to return to social work without remediation. A caution, therefore, would not protect the public from any such risk. The Panel was also of the view that public confidence in the profession, and the HCPC as its Regulator, would be undermined if such behaviour were dealt with by way of a caution.

90. The Panel next considered whether to place conditions on the Registrant’s registration. As identified at the impairment stage, the failings identified are of a kind that could be remedied and ordinarily conditions might have been considered to be the most appropriate sanction in this case. However, for a Conditions of Practice Order to be effective the Panel has to be satisfied that the Registrant will co-operate with any conditions imposed and to be genuinely committed to resolving the issues highlighted. In light of the Registrant’s lack of insight and limited engagement with this process, it was not possible for the Panel to formulate conditions that would be suitable, workable or realistic.

91. The Panel next considered whether to make a Suspension Order. Such an order would provide the necessary degree of protection for the public, whilst leaving open the possibility of remediation and development of insight in the event that the Registrant decided to return to practise as a Social Worker. The Panel also considered that a Suspension Order would reflect the seriousness of the Registrant’s failings and send out a clear message to the profession of the standards expected. In light of all the matters highlighted in this case, the Panel considered that this was a suitable case for a short period of suspension.

92. The Panel considered that to strike the Registrant from the Register, which is a sanction of last resort, would be disproportionate at this stage and that a lesser sanction was therefore appropriate in this case.

93. Accordingly, the Panel made an Order directing the Registrar to suspend the registration of the Registrant for a period of 6 months. The Panel was of the view that a 6 month suspension would provide the Registrant with a period of reflection and would also afford her with an opportunity to gain insight and remediate her failings.

94. The Panel considered that a reviewing Panel would be assisted by the following:

i.the Registrant’s attendance at the review hearing;
ii.her reflection on the particulars found proved;
iii.evidence of how she has kept her social work skills and knowledge up-to-date; and
iv.up to date testimonials from any employer, whether paid or unpaid.

 

Order

The Panel imposed a Suspension Order for a period of 6 months.

Notes

An Interim Suspension Order of 18 months was also imposed to cover the 28 day appeal period. 

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Elaine Marlene Edwards

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
19/11/2018 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Suspended