Mrs Bernadette M Dinkin

Profession: Social worker

Registration Number: SW49907

Hearing Type: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 10:00 26/11/2018 End: 17:00 28/11/2018

Location: Health and Care Professions Tribunal Service (HCPTS), 405 Kennington Road

Panel: Conduct and Competence Committee
Outcome: Struck off

Please note that the decision can take up to 5 working days to be uploaded onto the HCPTS website. Please contact one of our Hearings Team Managers via tsteam@hcpts-uk.org or +44 (0)808 164 3084 if you require any further information.

 

Allegation

Whilst registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) as a Social Worker, during 2016 you;

  1. Shared your own personal family information with Family 1.
  2. Maintained contact with Family 1 after your employment contract with Northamptonshire County Council had been terminated, in that you:

    1. Commented on a Facebook post made by the Father of Family 1; and / or

    2. Contacted the Mother of Family 1 on or around 2 September 2016 to advise that you were prepared to make a statement on her behalf for a hearing in on-going Care Proceedings relating to Famiy 1.

  3. Provided a statement in support of Family 1 during Court proceedings, which:
     
    1. Was provided after your employment contract with Northamptonshire County Council had been terminated; and / or

    2. Contained inappropriate information about your personal and family circumstances.
  4. The matters set out in paragraphs 1- 3 amount to misconduct and / or lack of competence.

  5. 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 had sight of a letter dated 31 August 2018, sent to the Registrant at her registered address, giving notice of today’s hearing, and determined that the Registrant had been served with notice of the hearing in accordance with the Health and Care Professions Council (Conduct and Competence Committee) (Procedure) Rules 2003 (“the Rules”).

Proceeding in the Absence of the Registrant

2. Ms Manning-Rees applied to proceed in the absence of the Registrant.

3. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor, who took the Panel to Rule 11, and to the guidance given in the cases of Tait v The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons [2003] UKPC 34, R v Jones (2003) 1 AC 1 and GMC v Adeogba [2016] EWCA Civ 162.

4. The Panel was informed that there had been no communication from the Registrant.

5. The Panel concluded, on the basis of this information, that the Registrant was aware of the hearing and had chosen not to attend. She had not made an application to adjourn, and there was no suggestion that she would attend if the hearing adjourned. The Panel had been informed that two witnesses were to be called on behalf of the HCPC and concluded, in all the circumstances, that it was in the public interest for the matter to be heard expeditiously, and that it would be right to proceed in the absence of the Registrant.

Proceeding in Private

6. Ms Manning-Rees Registrant applied for part of the case to be heard in private. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and decided to hear part of the hearing in private, pursuant to Rule 10 of the Health and Care Professions Council (Conduct and Competence Committee) Procedure Rules 2003 (“the Rules”), as to do so was in the public interest.


Background

7. On 20 January 2016, the Registrant was employed as a Social Worker with Northamptonshire County Council ('the Council') within the Safeguarding and Care Planning Team, North 4.

8. The Registrant was designated the role of Social Worker for Family 1.

9. On 31 March 2016, the Registrant’s employment with the Council formally ended.

10. In October 2016, a Care Proceedings hearing commenced in relation to the children of Family 1.

11. The HCPC’s case is that after the Registrant had ceased employment with the Council she engaged in communication with Family 1 prior to their Care Proceedings. JL took Facebook screenshots of communication that had taken place between the Registrant and the Father of Family 1. She forwarded these to NT.

12. Further, the HCPC’s case is that at the Care Proceedings hearing, a statement was submitted to the Court, written by the Registrant on behalf of Family 1. The submission and content of this statement raised concerns that the Registrant had maintained contact with Family 1 post-employment and had shared personal information with them, contrary to the conduct expected of a registered Social Worker.

13. The District Judge in the Care Proceedings requested that the matter be referred to the HCPC.

Witnesses

14. The Panel heard from two witnesses called on behalf of the HCPC:

• NT – Social Worker and Team Manager at Northamptonshire County Council

• JL – Social Worker and Practice Manager at Northamptonshire County Council


Decision on Facts

15. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. In reaching its decision the Panel took into account the evidence provided by the witnesses called by the HCPC, together with the bundle of documentary evidence produced by them. The Registrant had not submitted any documentation.

16. The Panel found both witnesses called by the HCPC to be credible and consistent. They gave factual evidence and had not speculated on matters outside their knowledge.

Particular 1 – Found Proved

Shared your own personal family information with Family 1.

17. JL exhibited the statement which she said the Registrant had written for the court. It was said that this contained personal family information, which had been shared with Family 1 as part of the proceedings.

18. In the statement the Registrant stated:

“I found that due to my personal situation that I was able to use my advantage whilst working with [Family 1]. I was able to empathise, offer advice and support to both….As [Mother of Family 1] was explaining her feelings, worries and fears, I was able to provide that support as I know exactly where she was coming from and [Mother of Family 1] appreciated this”.

19. The Panel was also taken to Paragraph 13 of the District Judge’s judgment which stated:

“Her statement that has been filed shows signs of poor judgment upon the face of that document. It seems that she shared personal details of similar experiences….with [Mother of Family 1]…”

20. On the basis of the evidence provided by JL, which included the statement said to have been written by the Registrant, together with the content of the judgment of the District Judge, the Panel concluded that the Registrant had submitted a statement to the court, and had shared the contents of that statement with those who were present at the hearing. The Panel deduced that Family 1 must have been present at the Care Proceedings hearing. The Panel concluded the statement contained a range of personal family information relating to the Registrant’s health, employment and domestic relationships. On that basis, the Panel found Particular 1 proved.

Particular 2(a) – Found Proved

Maintained contact with Family 1 after your employment contract with Northamptonshire County Council had been terminated, in that you:

a. commented on a Facebook post made by the Father of Family 1;

21. NT informed the Panel that the Registrant had been employed by the Council through an agency from 20 January 2016 to 31 March 2016.

22. JL informed the Panel that at around the time of the Care Proceedings hearing, which was held in October 2016, she was made aware through the Mother’s disclosure as part of the Care Proceedings, that there had been communication between the Registrant and Family 1. She searched the Facebook accounts of both parents of Family 1, and discovered conversations between the Registrant and the father of Family 1. She took screenshots of these and produced them in evidence.

23. The screenshots revealed communication from the Registrant to the Father of Family 1, sympathising with the fact that there had been a bereavement in the family.

24. The Panel concluded, on the basis of the evidence provided by NT, JL and the screenshots, that after the Registrant’s contract with the Council had been terminated, the Registrant had maintained contact with Family 1 by commenting on a Facebook post made by the Father of Family 1, and accordingly the Panel found Sub-Particular 2(a) proved.

Particular 2(b) – Found Proved

Maintained contact with Family 1 after your employment contract with Northamptonshire County Council had been terminated, in that you:

b.  contacted the Mother of Family 1 on or around 2 September 2016 to advise that you were prepared to make a statement on her behalf for a hearing in on-going Care Proceedings relating to Family 1.

25. NT produced an email dated 5 October 2016 from a solicitor involved in the Care Proceedings of Family 1 which read:

“I confirm that the Legal Representatives for Mother 1 advised at Court on 2nd September that Mother had received electronic/phone communication from [the Registrant]. [The Registrant] had advised that she was prepared to make a statement on behalf of mother for the final hearing in the ongoing Care Proceedings”.

26. The Panel was also taken to Paragraph 8 of the District Judge’s judgment which stated:

“[Mother of Family 1] sought to adduce evidence form [the Registrant] whom she told the court had remained in touch with  her and contacted her via Facebook, that is, [the Registrant] contacting Mother, and offering to act as a witness on her behalf”.

27. The Panel had sight of the statement which the Registrant submitted for the purposes of the Care Proceedings, referred to earlier in this determination.

28. The Panel concluded, on the basis of the evidence provided by NT, the existence of the statement itself, and the content of the District Judge’s judgment, that after the Registrant’s contract with the Council had been terminated, the Registrant had contacted the Mother of Family 1. This contact took place on or around 2 September 2016 to advise that she was prepared to make a statement on behalf of the Mother of Family 1 for a hearing in the on-going Care Proceedings, and accordingly, the Panel found Sub-Particular 2(b) proved.

Particular 3(a) – Found Proved

Provided a statement in support of Family 1 during Court proceedings, which:

 a.  Was provided after your employment contract with Northamptonshire County Council had been terminated;

29. NT informed the Panel that the Registrant had been employed by the Council from 20 January 2016 to 31 March 2016, when her contract was terminated.

30. NT and JL informed the Panel that the Registrant’s statement in support of the Mother of Family 1, dated 15 September 2016, was submitted on the first day of the final hearing, which had commenced on 6 October 2016.

31. The Panel concluded, on the basis of the evidence provided by NT and JL, together with the statement itself, that after her employment contract with the Council had been terminated the Registrant provided a statement in support of the Mother of Family 1 during Court proceedings, and accordingly the Panel found Sub-Particular 3(a) proved.

Particular 3(a) – Found Proved

Provided a statement in support of Family 1 during Court proceedings, which:

b. contained inappropriate information about your personal and family circumstances.

32. JL asserted that the Registrant had written about her personal life in the statement she provided to Court.

33. The Panel had sight of the statement which stated:

“I found that due to my personal situation that I was able to use my advantage whilst working with [Family 1]. I was able to empathise, offer advice and support to both… As [Mother of Family 1] was explaining her feelings, worries and fears, I was able to provide that support as I know exactly where she was coming from and [Mother of Family 1] appreciated this”.

34. The Panel was also taken to Paragraph 13 of the District Judge’s judgment which stated:

“Her statement that has been filed shows signs of poor judgment upon the face of that document. It seems that she shared personal details of similar experiences….with [Mother of Family 1]…”

35. The Panel concluded, on the basis of the evidence provided by JL, together with the contents of the judgment, that the Registrant had provided a statement in support of the Mother of Family 1 during court proceedings, which contained inappropriate information about her personal and family circumstances, and accordingly the Panel found Sub-Particular 3(b) proved.


Decision on Grounds

36. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor, who addressed the Panel on the meaning of lack of competence, misconduct and impairment. She referred to the cases of Roylance v General Medical Council No 2 [2001] 1 AC p311 and Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence v (1) Nursing and Midwifery Council (2) Paula Grant [2011] EWHC 927.

37. The Panel first considered whether the facts found proved amounted to a lack of competence. The Panel concluded that while there was some indication of poor quality of work during her employment with the Council, it had not been provided with a fair sample of the Registrant’s work and that therefore there was insufficient evidence to make a finding of lack of competence.

38. The Panel went on to consider whether the facts found proved were sufficiently serious to amount to misconduct.

39. The Panel had heard from JL that the communication conducted between the Registrant and Family 1 after her contract with the Council had come to an end was inappropriate in that it crossed professional boundaries. NT said that she had never known a statement to be provided by a Social Worker for the purpose of court proceedings after the Social Worker had left the service. She also said that it had not been appropriate for the Registrant to share with any service user the type of detail concerning her personal life that the Registrant had included in the statement she provided for the Court. In relation to the Facebook communication, she said that it was not normal for a social worker to communicate with a service user by means of Facebook in any circumstances. On the basis of this evidence the Panel concluded that the facts found proved were serious.

40. The Panel concluded that the Registrant had breached the following HCPC “Standards of conduct, performance and ethics”:

1 you must act in the best interests of service users

3 you must keep high standards of personal conduct

41. The Panel concluded that the Registrant had also breached the following HCPC “Standards of Proficiency for Social Workers in England”:

3.1  understand the need to maintain high standards of personal and professional conduct

3.4 be able to establish and maintain personal and professional boundaries

9.1  understand the need to build and sustain professional relationships with service users, carers and colleagues as both an autonomous practitioner and collaboratively with others

42. The Panel concluded that the Registrant’s behaviour fell seriously short of what was expected of a social worker in the circumstances, and amounted to misconduct.


Decision on Impairment

43. In considering whether the Registrant is currently impaired by reason of her misconduct, the Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and took note of the HCPTS Practice Note “Finding that Fitness to Practise is ‘Impaired’”.

44. The Registrant’s behaviour in failing to maintain a level of objectivity by remaining in contact with the family, by providing a statement to the Court on behalf of the Mother of Family 1 when her contract had been terminated, and by making contact with the Father of Family 1 by Facebook, caused the potential for harm. Her remit had been to protect the children of Family 1, and this had been usurped by her support for the parents of Family 1.  Further, the Registrant’s conduct undermined the Council and the efforts being made by her former colleagues to safeguard the children of Family 1.

45. The Panel had not been provided with any evidence of remediation, remorse or insight. The Registrant had not engaged with the HCPC process. She had not provided any written submissions, nor attended the hearing.

46. In those circumstances, the Panel concluded that the Registrant presents a high risk to service users. The Panel therefore finds the Registrant to be currently impaired on the basis of the personal component.

47. The Panel also concluded that the wider public interest demands a finding of impairment. The Registrant had failed the children of Family 1 and had blurred professional boundaries by remaining in contact with the parents of Family 1 and by sharing her personal family information. The Panel concluded that public confidence in the profession and the regulatory body would be undermined if a finding of impairment were not made.

48. The Panel therefore finds that the Registrant is currently impaired.


Decision on Sanction

49. At this stage of the proceedings, Ms Manning-Rees informed the Panel that on 14 July 2017 the Registrant’s registration with the HCPC had been suspended for a period of 12 months.  That period of suspension was then extended on review on 1 June 2018 for a further 12 months. That case related to the Registrant’s conduct whilst employed by Birmingham City Council (“BCC”)  as a Grade 5 Social Worker in the Family Support and Safeguarding Kitts Green Team, when on or around 26 August 2015 she dishonestly used property belonging to BCC as collateral to obtain a loan from a Cash Generator shop in Coventry. She then commenced employment in Northamptonshire on 20 January 2016, terminating on 31 March 2016. An Interim Suspension Order had been imposed on 16 May 2016 in relation to the events of August 2015. It followed that the Registrant’s misconduct in relation to the current matter, relating to Family 1, occurred at a time (September / October 2016) when the Registrant was already the subject of an Interim Suspension Order.

50. In considering what sanction, if any, to impose, the Panel took into account the submissions made by Ms Manning-Rees and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Panel referred to the HCPC’s “Indicative Sanctions Policy” in arriving at its decision.

51. The Panel bore in mind that the purpose of sanction is not to be punitive, but is to protect the public and the wider public interest. It has acted proportionately, balancing the interests of the Registrant with those of the public interest, and considered the range of available sanctions in ascending order of seriousness, starting with the option of taking no action.

52. The Panel found the following to be aggravating features of this case:

• The Registrant’s misconduct had undermined the efforts of colleagues to protect service users at a time when the Registrant had left the Council.

• The misconduct had been to the potential detriment of vulnerable children of Family 1.

53. The Panel found that there were no mitigating features. Whilst the Registrant had referred to various potential difficult features of her personal life in the statement she submitted to the court as part of the Care Proceedings, she had not attended this hearing to evidence that, nor had she submitted any documentation to this Panel to that effect.

54. The Panel concluded that, in view of the seriousness of the case, to take no further action, to order mediation, to impose a Caution Order or to impose Conditions of Practise, would not be sufficient to protect the public, maintain confidence in the profession and maintain confidence in the regulatory process. Furthermore, the Registrant’s behaviour had been attitudinal in nature and therefore Conditions of Practise would be inappropriate.

55. The Panel went on to consider a Suspension Order and concluded that this would not be sufficient to protect the public or the wider public interest. The misconduct was serious, and the Registrant had not provided the Panel with any evidence of remediation, remorse or insight, and in those circumstances the Panel’s concluded was that she was highly likely to repeat her behaviour.

56. In all the circumstances of the case, the Panel concluded that a Striking Off Order was the only order that was sufficient to protect the public. Such an order was necessary due to the seriousness of the misconduct, as set out earlier in the Panel’s determination. The Registrant had chosen to involve herself in Care Proceedings to the potential detriment of the safeguarding and welfare of the children of Family 1. The Panel had received no reassurance that the misconduct would not reoccur; in the circumstances of this case alone, the Panel concluded that a Striking Off Order was appropriate and proportionate.

57. However the situation before this Panel was further compounded by the fact that the Registrant’s misconduct occurred at a time when she was already subject to an Interim Suspension Order imposed by her regulator for a matter of dishonesty relating to her employment. That matter had since been found proved and the Registrant is currently subject to a substantive Suspension Order as a result. Whilst the facts of that matter were of a different nature to the current hearing, the Panel took into account the Registrant’s apparent disregard for the seriousness of fact that she was the subject to an Interim Order at the time when she embarked on her current misconduct.

58. In all the circumstances of the case, the only appropriate and proportionate order is a Striking Off Order.

Order

The Registrar is directed to strike the name of Bernadette M Dinkin from the Register on the date this order comes into effect.

Notes

 

 

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Mrs Bernadette M Dinkin

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
26/11/2018 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Struck off
01/06/2018 Conduct and Competence Committee Review Hearing Suspended
15/06/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Suspended
25/04/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Interim Order Review Interim Suspension