Mr Ian Michael

Profession: Social worker

Registration Number: SW30565

Interim Order: Imposed on 22 May 2017

Hearing Type: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 09:00 03/09/2018 End: 16:00 05/09/2018

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

Whilst registered as a Social Worker and working at Northumberland County Council between 21 November 2016 and 10 February 2017:

1. In relation to Service User A:

a) Between 1 December 2016 and 10 February 2017 you did not undertake weekly visits to the service user;

b) You did not complete and/or record required actions following notification on the morning of 24 January 2017 of an incident of domestic violence, in that you:

i. did not consult your Team Manager;
ii. did not promptly contact the Police and/or health services;
iii. did not arrange for a strategy discussion to take place;
iv. did not make immediate arrangements for the service user to be seen that day;
v. did not visit the child Service User A until directed to do so by your Team Manager;
vi. did not commence a section 47 investigation

2. In relation to Family B:

a) You did not complete and/or record required actions following notification of concerns on 24 November 2016, in that you:

i. did not commence a section 47 investigation;
ii. did not promptly contact the Police and/or the Pediatrician and/or the school and/or other agencies;
iii. did not promptly contact the service user’s family, Family B, and/or obtain details of the service users’ Family B for a safety plan;
iv. did not visit the service users Family B that day and/or within the following 10 days;
v. did not complete and/or record a written agreement with Family B;
vi. did not book an Initial Child Protection Conference within two days;
vii. did not complete and/or record a risk assessment;

b) Between 24 November 2016 and 10 February 2017, you did not respond to the Paediatrician who was seeking the date of the Initial Child Protection Conference;

3. In relation to Service User C, you did not complete and/or record required actions following your allocation of the case on 19 December 2016, in that you:

a) did not commence a section 47 investigation;

b) did not visit the service user until 21 December 2016;

c) did not arrange for a strategy discussion to take place in a timely manner;

4. In relation to Service User D, between 28 December 2016 and 27 January 2017, you did not commence and/or complete a section 47 investigation;

5. In relation to Family E, between 19 December 2016 and 10 February 2017, you did not:

a) complete and/or record a section 7 report;

b) complete and/or record a Child and Family assessment;

c) undertake adequate visits to the service user

6. Your actions described at particulars 1 to 5 constitute misconduct and/or lack of competence;

7. 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 4 May 2018, sent to the Registrant at his registered address, giving Notice of today’s hearing, and determined that service had been complied with 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. The Panel heard and accepted the legal advice from the Legal Assessor, who referred it to the case of the GMC v Adeogba [2016] EWCA Civ 162, and the principles to be considered when deciding whether or not to proceed in the absence of the Registrant. The Panel had in mind the need to exercise its discretion to proceed with the utmost care and caution, particularly because the Registrant was not represented.

3. The Panel noted that the Registrant had responded to the Notice of today’s hearing and so was satisfied that he was aware the hearing was due to go ahead today and that, in the event that he did not attend, the hearing could go ahead in his absence. He had also completed the Response Pro-Forma and Pre-Hearing Information Form, in which he made it clear he would not be attending the hearing. Furthermore, in an email dated 14 August 2018, the Registrant stated that he had no will or intention to practise as a Social Worker again and wished to seek voluntary removal from the Register.

4. In light of that correspondence, the Panel decided that the Registrant had voluntarily waived his right to be present and his right to be represented at this hearing. The Panel noted that the Registrant faced serious allegations and there was a clear public interest in the matter being dealt with expeditiously. The Panel considered an adjournment would serve no useful purpose, because it seemed most unlikely that the Registrant would attend on another occasion given his stated intentions. Furthermore, the Panel noted he had not requested an adjournment. The Panel took into account that there was a witness in attendance and was concerned about the effects of delay on her memory if the matter were to be adjourned.

5. The Panel concluded that it was in the interests of justice that the matter should proceed notwithstanding the absence of the Registrant. The Panel would draw no adverse inferences from the Registrant’s non-attendance.

Application to amend

6. At the outset of the hearing, Ms Parry applied to amend Particular 3(c) to add the words, “in a timely manner.” This followed further investigations by the HCPC and was intended to clarify the allegation against the Registrant and to reflect the evidence relied on. The Registrant, who had advance notice of the proposed amendment, had not indicated any opposition to the application.

7. The Panel heard and accepted the legal advice from the Legal Assessor that it could amend the Allegation provided it was satisfied that it was fair to do so and that the proposed amendment could be made without injustice. The Panel noted that the Registrant had not indicated any opposition to the application and that the amendment requested more accurately reflected the evidence and did not make the Allegation against the Registrant more serious or onerous. The Panel was satisfied that the amendment could be made without causing any injustice and so decided to allow the amendment requested.

Background

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

9. The Registrant commenced his employment as an Agency Social Worker at Northumberland County Council (“NCC”) on 21 November 2016. Concerns surrounding the Registrant’s practice came to light on 27 January 2017, when he asked the Senior Manager, FB, to authorise a number of assessments he had completed. When FB reviewed the case she noticed that there were tasks that had not been completed and this led her to examine the Registrant’s entire case load. It is alleged that she found a large number of tasks outstanding on multiple cases, as reflected in the Allegation above. The Registrant was advised about the concerns with his practice on 31 January 2017 and given one week’s notice to complete the outstanding tasks. His employment with NCC ended on 10 February 2017.

10. The HCPC relied on the evidence of one witness, FB, Senior Manager in Specialist Services at NCC. She had provided a statement and exhibits, which included the case notes for the Service Users involved. She also gave oral evidence at the hearing.

11. The Registrant was not in attendance but had provided some brief written representations about his personal circumstances.

Decision on Facts

12. The Panel considered with care all the evidence presented, together with the submissions made by Ms Parry on behalf of the HCPC. The Panel noted that in the Response Pro-Forma and Pre-Hearing Information Form, the Registrant had denied all the particulars of the allegation; however, he had not provided any written submissions other than those that referred to his personal circumstances as referred to above. He did, however, accept that his fitness to practise at the time was impaired. The Panel heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and bore in mind that it was for the HCPC to prove its case and to do so on the balance of probabilities. It was not for the Registrant to disprove the allegation.

13. The Panel found FB to be a clear, credible, honest and reliable witness, who spoke with authority about what the Registrant should have done in the various situations he was presented with. She appeared to have good knowledge of the cases in question and to know the families concerned. The Panel found her to be a balanced and fair witness who readily conceded that there were issues with the Registrant’s line manager and some lack of supervision. She set out clearly NCC’s policy and the Children’s Act, together with other local policies which detailed the timescales and duties on the Registrant to carry out the matters which, she said, he should have done.

14. The Registrant, as is his right, had not provided any alternative explanation or account for the Panel to consider, but the Panel did take into account his written representations where appropriate.

15. The Panel considered each of the particulars separately and came to the following decisions.

Particular 1(a)

16. FB said, “Service User A is a 3 year old child who had significant previous involvement with social services. His parents had a history of drug use and his mother had previous children removed from her care. Service User A had been a Child in Need for some time and concerns had escalated around the level of care that the parents were providing. It got to the point where Service User A’s grandmother was providing full time foster care under a Regulation 24 arrangement, due to the substance misuse and neglect of his parents. Due to the Regulation 24 arrangements Service User A required weekly visits until the first LAC (Looked-after child) review on 19 December 2016. After this, the visits needed to be conducted every two weeks. However, [the Registrant] did not conduct these weekly visits. He visited Service User A on 12 December 2016 and then not until 24 [January 2017] when the incident in question occurred. A Family Placement Worker was conducting separate visits to Service User A’s grandmother following the Regulation 24 arrangement which began on 12 December 2016. [The Registrant] would have known to conduct weekly visits as this is within the LAC guidance; and he would have been directed by his Team Manager. [The Registrant] advised that he was experienced in LAC, CP (Child Protection), and care proceedings upon his application for the post.”

17. The Panel accepted the evidence of FB that the Registrant had not undertaken all the required weekly visits between 1 and 19 December 2016 whereafter, according to FB, he should have been carrying out visits every two weeks. The Panel noted that he did not carry those out either. He should have visited by 5 December 2016 and then once again before 19 December 2016. During that period he visited once, on 12 December 2016, and thus the Panel found proved that weekly visits were not carried out between 1 December and 19 December 2016, in that there should have been two such visits in that period.
Particulars 1(b)(i), 1(b)(ii), 1(b)(iii), 1(b)(iv) and 1(b)(v)

18. FB said, “On 24 January 2016 at 08:33, Service User A’s nursery reported a serious incident whereby Service User A’s mother had been under the influence of alcohol while bringing Service User A to the nursery and that there had been a domestic violence incident. The police Child Concern Notification (CCN) had not been received at this point and was not received until 15:15 the same day. The mother had been punched in the head and had gone out into the street in the early hours of the morning; neighbours had then called the police. Service User A had been in the care of his parents when this incident had taken place which was a clear breach of the care arrangement (Regulation 24), as Service User A was not in his grandmother’s care. The police had observed the child in the home when they arrived and documented this.


Upon review of the record from that day; the call came in from the nursery to [the Registrant] at 08:33 to say that Service User A’s mother had been assaulted by her partner. [The Registrant] had then made a phone call to the grandmother with no response at 08:55. He contacted the minor injuries unit in Blyth at 13:46 to request details of the mother’s head injury. At 14:40 he made a phone call where the mother answered the grandmother’s phone. The mother said to [the Registrant] that she was on her way to see her solicitor and she was leaving her partner. She said that things had been getting worse over the past months. [The Registrant] agreed to contact her over the next two weeks; this was his plan […] to liaise with the family. At 15:04 there is a record of a written referral of assault from the minor injuries unit at Blyth. At 15:15 there is a copy of a child concern notification (CNN). At 17:00 a discussion is recorded to have taken place, however, this was written up at 19:00 the following day retrospectively.

[The Registrant] should have contacted his Team Manager who would have spoken to me about the issue. As there were safeguarding concerns this incident required management oversight to agree the strategy, course of investigation, and to seek agreement to request a foster placement. The Team Manager is part of all strategy discussions, meetings, and outcomes. [The Registrant] would have known to carry out these actions because he was an experienced Social Worker. These actions are also required as part of the Working Together guidance. Our electronic systems also prompt and require the Social Worker to speak to management and gain approval at different stages. For example, for a child who needs to become looked after or requires a foster placement there needs to be a discussion with a manager and the system would ask the Social Worker to confirm which manager had approved that course of action. Additionally, [the Registrant] worked in a very open plan office and if he had any uncertainty he would be expected to ask a manager for guidance.” 

19. FB also said “[the Registrant] should have responded straight away to the information that came in from the nursery as this was a serious domestic violence incident. A strategy discussion should have taken place with the police and a paediatrician …”

FB added, “[the Registrant] should have made arrangements to see the child immediately. [The Registrant] had to be prompted and told to make arrangements to accommodate Service User A in a safe placement. He failed to recognise that this was required. [The Registrant] prepared a statement for the Court regarding Service User A. Ultimately, the potential impact of [the Registrant’s] actions were that the care needs of Service User A were neglected due to the serious domestic violence issue and volatility of the parents.”

20. FB also said, “[the Registrant] briefly saw Service User A in the grandmother’s house on the day of the incident, but this was after he had already been back to the office and I had told him to go and see the child.”

21. The Panel accepted FB’s evidence that, in the circumstances presented to him, the Registrant should have completed and recorded certain required actions following notification on the morning of 24 January 2017 of an incident of domestic violence, as reflected in particulars 1(b)(i) to (v). This included: consulting his Team Manager (particular 1(b)(i); promptly contacting the police and/or health services (particular 1(b)(ii); arranging for a strategy discussion to take place (particular 1(b)(iii); making immediate arrangements for the service user to be seen that day (particular 1(b)(iv); and visiting Service User A before being directed to do so by his Team Leader (particular 1(b)(v). From the documentation provided, there was no evidence to suggest the Registrant had done any of these things. The clear inference from FB’s evidence was that he had not carried out any of these acts. Accordingly, the Panel found all these particulars proved.

Particular 1(b)(vi)

22. FB said, “At the end of 24 January 2016 I was reviewing all of the care proceedings cases and I came across this incident. I noted that [the Registrant] had not started a Section 47 investigation and that the child was still in the care of the grandmother and parents. I contacted [the Registrant] to tell him to accommodate Service User A in a safe placement. He had completely failed to recognise the risks for this child and that there had been a breach of the care agreement.”

23. The Panel accepted FB’s evidence that, in the circumstances, the Registrant should have carried out a Section 47 investigation. There was no record to show that the Registrant had carried out such an investigation and the Panel therefore concluded that he had not done so. Accordingly, the Panel found this particular proved.

Particular 2(a)(i)

24. FB said, “There are five children in Family B; one of these children is Service User B. On 24 November 2016 the case was allocated to [the Registrant] due [to] the results of a Child Protection Investigation and Medical assessment. At the assessment a strange pattern of bruising had been identified on Service User B. It was not possible for the paediatrician to determine whether the injury was deliberate or accidental; medical photography was required for the bruising. [The Registrant] needed to ensure that checks were carried out with the police [or] any other family members that may have had access to the child to ensure that there was a safety plan in place.


When I reviewed [the Registrant’s] involvement in this case I noted that no action had been taken at all. On 30 November 2016 there was no medical report, no police checks, no safety plan, and no risk assessment. The risk assessment was required because there were numerous unexplained bruises to the child. A full report of those injuries had not been obtained and it was not known who caused them but the injuries were believed to be non-accidental. Because of this, the care of the children should have been supervised by someone who had been assessed as a safe relative. The risk assessment required would involve police checks to see which relatives were safe enough for this supervision. These police checks and the risk assessment not being completed by [the Registrant] left Service User B open to risk.

He also needed to carry out a Section 47 investigation to ensure the safety of the children in the family within 10 days.”

25. The Panel accepted FB’s evidence that, in the circumstances, the Registrant should have carried out a Section 47 investigation. There was no record to show that the Registrant had carried out such an investigation and the Panel therefore concluded that he had not done so. Accordingly, the Panel found this particular proved.

Particular 2(a)(ii)

26. FB said, “[the Registrant] should have arranged a strategy discussion with the police and a Paediatrician. He should have arranged for police checks to take place on the family members and have put a safety plan in place.”

27. The Panel accepted FB’s evidence that, in the circumstances, the Registrant should have promptly contacted the police and others. There was no record to show that the Registrant had made any such contact and the Panel therefore concluded that he had not done so. Accordingly, the Panel found this particular proved.

Particular 2(a)(iii)

28. FB said, “For the safety plan to be put in place, [the Registrant] needed to find out who had care of the children at which times. It had not been possible to determine who had been involved in Service User B’s care when the injury had been sustained. [The Registrant] should also have identified another adult, possibly a grandparent, who would supervise/oversee the care of the child whilst the local authority made further inquiries.”

29. The Panel accepted FB’s evidence that, in the circumstances, the Registrant should have promptly contacted the service user’s family and/or obtained details of the service user’s family for a safety plan. There was no record to show that the Registrant had made any such contact or obtained any such records and the Panel therefore concluded that he had not done so. Accordingly, the Panel found this particular proved.

Particular 2(a)(iv)

30. FB said, “[the Registrant] visited this family on 1 and 21 December 2016. He should have visited the family on the date the notification of injuries was received. A follow up visit should then have been made within 10 days so that the Section 47 investigation could be completed. We expect the investigation to be completed within 10 days so that the children and parents are seen and information is gathered; this also gives time to pull together the risk assessment. [The Registrant] would have known about these timescales because he would have spoken to a manager about how to proceed and it is also within NCC procedure and the guidance on the electronic system. Each child and parent needed to be seen separately.”

31. The Panel accepted FB’s evidence that, in the circumstances, the Registrant should have visited the service user’s family that day and/or within 10 days. There was no record to show that the Registrant had carried out any such visit within the 10 days and the Panel therefore concluded that he had not done so. Accordingly, the Panel found this particular proved.

Particular 2(a)(v)

32.  FB said that the Registrant did not “draw up a written agreement with the family to outline the reason for the investigation. The written agreement was required for the family to be informed of the concerns and to advise them of the safety plan and how this would work; this is required as standard for any family in this position.”

33. The Panel accepted FB’s evidence that, in the circumstances, the Registrant should have completed a written agreement with Family B. There was no record to show that the Registrant had completed any such written agreement. The Panel therefore concluded that he had not done so and found this particular proved.

Particular 2(a)(vi)

34. FB said, “Our guidance at NCC and the Working Together guidance requires these timescales for completing inquiries and agreeing next steps. Any experienced Social Worker, which [the Registrant] claimed to be, knows that you have time limits around your investigations. With NCC, the arrangements are that you book in an urgent conference if needed, for example, in a situation where there are unexplained injuries. At NCC these conferences need to be held in tight timescales. A booking for an Initial Child Protection Conference (ICPC) should have been made within the first two days in line with NCC policy. This was with a view to having the ICPC arranged with all attendees in the event that it was required; if it was no longer required it could be cancelled. If [the Registrant] was unsure he should have checked with other staff members, but he would have been aware of our policies. Within our electronic system there is also guidance at every step to advise of the number of days that tasks need to be completed within. The ICPC was required to ensure that this could progress to a multi-agency conference, due to the number of bruises and lack of explanation. [The Registrant] advised that he was experienced with CP (Child Protection) and care proceedings upon his application for the post; which is how he would have known to carry out these actions.”

35. The Panel accepted FB’s evidence that, in the circumstances, the Registrant should have booked an Initial Child Protection Conference within two days, in line with NCC’s policy. There was no record to show that the Registrant had booked such a conference within two days and the Panel therefore concluded that he had not done so. Accordingly, the Panel found this particular proved.

Particular 2(a)(vii)

36. FB said “For the safety plan to be put in place, [the Registrant] needed to find out who had care of the children at which times. It had not been possible to determine who had been involved in Service User B’s care when the injury had been sustained. [The Registrant] should also have identified another adult, possibly a grandparent, who would supervise/oversee the care of the child whilst the local authority made further inquiries. [The Registrant] did not complete a risk assessment for Service User B.

The risk assessment was required because there were numerous unexplained bruises to the child. A full report of those injuries had not been obtained and it was not known who caused them but the injuries were believed to be non-accidental. Because of this, the care of the children should have been supervised by someone who had been assessed as a safe relative. The risk assessment required would involve police checks to see which relatives were safe enough for this supervision. These police checks and the risk assessment not being completed by [the Registrant] left Service User B open to risk.”

37. The Panel accepted FB’s evidence that, in the circumstances, the Registrant should have carried out a risk assessment. There was no record to show that the Registrant had carried out such an assessment and the Panel therefore concluded that he had not done so. Accordingly, the Panel found this particular proved.

Particular 2(b)

38. FB said, “… the Paediatrician reported her concerns that there had been no response from her attempts to contact the Social Worker, [the Registrant]. This concern was raised at a later Initial Child Protection Conference. I know that several calls were made by the Paediatrician to [the Registrant] which were not returned. Ultimately it was [the Registrant’s] responsibility to obtain copies of the reports but the Paediatrician could have come back through [the] Team Manager if they were receiving no response.”

39. The Panel accepted FB’s evidence that, between 24 November 2016 and 10 February 2017, the Registrant did not respond to the Paediatrician who was attempting to contact him about the date of the Initial Child Protection Conference. The Panel recognised that this particular relied on the hearsay evidence provided by FB. However, the Panel was content to give this evidence due weight as it had found FB to be a reliable and credible witness. There was no record to show that the Registrant had responded to the Paediatrician and the Panel therefore concluded that he had not done so. Accordingly, the Panel found this particular proved.

Particulars 3(a), 3(b) and 3(c)

40. FB said, “This case came through the emergency duty team due to an allegation of sexual abuse by Service User C and his adult brother against Service User C’s younger half sibling. The case was allocated to [the Registrant] on 19 December 2016 to ensure that there was an appropriate investigation and risk assessment in place. On this date, [the Registrant] contacted the police and agreed with management direction that Service User C needed to become a looked after child (LAC) as there was a potential conflict of interest between him and his older brother as a result of the need to consider him as a potential victim and perpetrator.

In order to comply with statute, Section 20 consent and the decision to look after a child should have started before the child was placed with anyone. We expect this to be updated on the system with evidence that this is a legal arrangement within 24 hours. This is Section 20 of the Children’s Act 1989, and it must be agreed in writing by the parents of the child. Notifications of a child becoming LAC needs to trigger a number of actions, such as arrangement to allocate an Independent Reviewing officer, hold a review within 28 days, arrange a health assessment, and set up a personal education plan.

[The Registrant] did not commence a Section 47 investigation and did not hold a strategy discussion on the matter until 10 days later on 29 December 2016. The strategy discussion was not then completed until 17 January 2017. As a result of this delay there was no clear risk assessment for Service User C and due to the nature of the allegation; other children around Service User C, as well as Service User C himself, were potentially at risk of harm. [The Registrant] did not visit Service User C until 21 December 2016 which was not an acceptable delay. In the case notes from this visit there is no mention of a Section 47 investigation, neither is there any mention of a Section 47 investigation in the case notes from his visit with the grandparents on 23 December 2016. The Section 47 investigation needed to be started on 19 December 2016, given that Service User C had been placed alongside his adult brother with his grandparents by police, and it had not yet been established whether he was a victim of abuse himself. Ten days was not an acceptable delay because the allegation was sexual and was therefore police initiated. My concern was that [the Registrant] had failed to consider whether there were issues of potential perpetrator and victim for both boys. This was not known at that point. As an experienced Social Worker, [the Registrant] was expected to consider the safety of the children, which he had not done. The Strategy Discussion needed to be timely, in line with the Working Together guidance and NCC policies. It is expected that, within 24 hours there will be a response to a concern where a child may be at risk of significant harm.

Ultimately, [the Registrant] should have held a strategy discussion on receipt of the referral to day time services from EDT (Emergency Duty Team) due to the severity of the allegations; and he should have visited Service User C straight away to carry out a risk assessment because serious allegations of abuse had been made. The Strategy Discussion needed to be straight away, as above. [The Registrant] needed to go to see Service User C to see what his needs were and consider these needs. He would have known to do this due to his experience as a Social Worker, due to the NCC policy and procedures, and guidance under Working Together. There were also plenty of managers who were accessible for [the Registrant] if he had any questions about the process. When Social Workers are allocated work to complete by management they are told how to progress the matter, so [the Registrant] would have had a manager telling him what to do to progress the matter. As mentioned above, the police had arranged for Service User C and his older brother to be put in their relative’s care, though these relatives did not understand the extent and severity of the allegation that had been made. A strategy meeting needed to be held with the involvement of the Youth Offending team discuss AIM assessments (Assessment Intervention Moving on) and to discuss getting Service User C back into school. Service User C needed to be placed with a foster carer and visited within one week of being placed with them which is statutory arrangement (Children’s Act 1989) for a Looked After Child (LAC), meaning he needed to be seen within 1 week of placement. He also required a statutory visit every two weeks subsequent to this up until the first LAC review and until there was a clear plan for the child.

Service User C was placed with a foster carer on 30 December 2016. A request for Service User C to become a looked after child was not started until 11 January 2017 even though he had been placed in foster care on 30 December 2016. The records and legal documents required for this placement were still not started on the electronic system on 1 February 2017.”

41. The Panel accepted that the Registrant was allocated the case of Service User C on 19 December 2016. The Panel also accepted FB’s evidence that in the circumstances the Registrant should have: commenced a Section 47 investigation; visited the service user before 21 December 2016; and arranged for a strategy discussion to take place in a timely manner, normally within 24 hours, particularly due to the severity of the allegations. There was no record to show that the Registrant had commenced a Section 47 investigation or that he had visited Service User C until 21 December 2016; nor was there any record to show that he had arranged for a strategy discussion to take place in a timely manner, as it actually took place 10 days later. The Panel therefore determined that these particulars were found proved.

Particular 4

42. FB said, “A strategy meeting was held regarding Service User D (an unborn baby) on 23 December 2016, due to information raising serious concerns about the safety of the child. [The Registrant] did not attend the meeting but recorded in a case note of 29 December 2016 the plans and work needed relaying in detail to the midwife involved. This meeting required the Team Manager to complete an urgent application for Court and the Social Worker to complete a Section 47 investigation.

The baby was born on 26 December 2016. [The Registrant] was allocated as the Social Worker to Service User D on 28 December 2016; a Section 47 was to be completed. There had been a delay with the previous Social Worker not recognising the level of actual concern due to the mother’s mental health.

On 27 January 2017 I spoke with [the Registrant] about his other cases and identified that he had not progressed the strategy in this case and had not completed the Section 47 investigation as required.”

43. The Panel accepted FB’s evidence that, in the circumstances, the Registrant should have completed a Section 47 investigation following the strategy meeting regarding Service User D. The records show that the Registrant did commence a Section 47 investigation but it had not been completed and signed off. Accordingly, the Panel found this particular proved on the basis that it had not been completed.

Particulars 5(a), 5(b) and 5(c)

44. FB said, “There were issues in respect of Family E as there was an on-going dispute between the parents, who had separated. It had been reported that the mother had suffered harassment and that the children had witnessed verbal and emotional abuse during contact. There were concerns regarding the mother’s new partner as there was a dispute between him and the father. Service User E1’s father was in prison and Service User E2’s father was involved in the dispute as mentioned above.

This case was allocated to [the Registrant] on 11 November 2016. He was required to complete a home visit within four days of allocation, in line with NCC guidance, for a Children and Families Assessment to be started, alongside a Section 7 report. Ideally the Section 7 report needed to be completed within 6 weeks which is the standard time frame to complete this set by the Court. The Section 7 report was not completed by [the Registrant].

[The Registrant] did visit the children’s mother for an assessment but did not visit the father. Therefore he did not see the father with the children and could not complete an assessment of this interaction. Therefore, the Children and Families assessment was not completed. The Child and Families Assessment was required due to the application to Court. [The Registrant] did not undertake adequate visits to Service User E1, E2, and Family E. This was poor practice on his behalf, as it was his responsibility to assess the children for the purposes of preparing the report for the Court. I would expect any Social Worker, especially an experienced Social Worker, to carry out adequate visits.”

45. The Panel noted the date that FB said the Registrant was allocated Family E, but considered this to be an error since it pre-dated his employment at NCC. The records showed that the Registrant first made contact with Family E on 23 November 2016 and suggested he was allocated this case on 21 November 2016. The Panel accepted FB’s evidence that in the circumstances the Registrant should have carried out more visits to the family than he did in order to have been able to complete a Child and Family Assessment and thereafter completed a Section 7 report.  He carried out the first home visit on 29 November 2016, but his next visit was not until 11 January 2017. The Panel was satisfied that this was not sufficient. Furthermore, he had not visited the father so would not have been able to complete a proper assessment of the family. Accordingly, the Panel found these particulars proved on the basis that the Registrant had not undertaken adequate visits to the family, had not completed a Child and Family Assessment, and the Section 7 report had not been completed.

Decision on Grounds

46. The Panel first considered whether any of the facts found proved amounted to misconduct. In so doing, 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 and Ethics and the HCPC’s Standards of Proficiency for Social Workers in England.

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

2  Communicate appropriately and effectively

6 Manage risk

7 Report concerns about safety

10 Keep records of your work

48. The Panel also found breaches of the following parts of the HCPC’s Standards of Proficiency for Social Workers in England:

1 Be able to practise safely and effectively within their scope of practice

2 Be able to practise within the legal and ethical boundaries of their profession

4 Be able to maintain fitness to practise

10 Be able to maintain records appropriately

49. The Panel considered there to be serious concerns about the way in which the Registrant had been conducting his practice during this two-month period. His caseload included particularly vulnerable service users and their families and his inaction put them at risk of emotional, physical and, in one case, sexual harm. He failed to carry out important visits, failed to carry out risk assessments, failed to notify the police and other agencies about important matters, and failed to arrange for strategy discussions to take place. In relation to four service users, he failed to complete a Section 47 investigation, the purpose of which is to safeguard children who have been identified as at risk. Of particular concern was that, in relation to Service User A, the Registrant made a positive decision not to take action when action was clearly needed. The consequences of the Registrant’s inaction was that the care needs of Service User A, a 3-year-old child with volatile parents who had serious domestic violence issues, were neglected. In the fifth case, the Registrant failed to complete the Section 7 report which was needed by the Court.

50. The Panel considered this combined conduct represented a serious breach of professional standards, fell far below the behaviour expected of a registered Social Worker, and amounted to misconduct.

51. Accordingly, the Panel was satisfied that the statutory ground of misconduct was well founded.

52. Having found misconduct, there was no need for the Panel to consider lack of competence, which was in the alternative.

Decision on Impairment

53. 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 the evidence, the submissions made by Ms Parry, and the brief written submissions provided by the Registrant. The Panel noted that the Registrant accepted that at the time he was at NCC, his fitness to practise was impaired.

54. The Panel found widespread and serious failings by the Registrant in some of the most fundamental and basic of tasks required to be completed by a Social Worker carrying out work in the critical field of child protection. Those failings led to the very real risks identified by FB in her evidence and could have caused harm to those vulnerable children for whom he had a responsibility. The Panel acknowledged FB’s candid acceptance that there were issues with the Registrant’s Team Leaders at the time (there was a change in Team Leader at the end of 2016). However, as FB pointed out, there were many other people that the Registrant could have turned to for advice and assistance if he felt it was needed.

55. The Registrant had said in his Response Pro-Forma and Pre-Hearing Information Form that he denied the allegations, but other than saying he was not supervised as he felt he should have been, he provided no further account, challenge or explanation. He did, however, accept that he had returned to work too soon and that his fitness to practise was at that time impaired. Accordingly, the Panel was able say he had some insight into his conduct, albeit he had not made any admissions to the matters alleged. The Panel considered that the matters found proved were of a kind that could be remedied. However, there was no evidence that they had been, or would be (given the Registrant’s stated intentions of not returning to practise as a Social Worker), and thus there was a very real concern that if the Registrant were to decide to return to working as a Social Worker, he would repeat the same failings. This would clearly put vulnerable service users and the public at further risk of harm. The Panel therefore concluded that the Registrant’s fitness to practice was currently impaired on public protection grounds.

56. The Panel went on to consider whether this was the type of 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 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 widespread and critical failings of the Registrant. Accordingly, the Panel did find the Registrant’s current fitness to practise impaired on public interest grounds as well as public protection grounds.

57. The Panel therefore concluded that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired and that the case is well founded at the impairment stage.

Decision on Sanction

58. In reaching its decision on sanction, the Panel took into account the submissions made by Ms Parry, together with the written submissions provided by the Registrant. The Panel also referred to the “Indicative Sanctions Policy” issued by the HCPC. The Panel had in mind the fact that the purpose of sanctions 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 cognisant of the need to ensure that any sanction is proportionate. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.

59. The Panel considered the aggravating factors in this case to be: repeated failings in relation to five separate service users over a two-month period; a failure to comply with important timescales which were there to safeguard vulnerable children; a positive decision not to take action in relation to Service User A; a real risk of emotional, physical, and, in one case, sexual harm to particularly vulnerable children; and limited insight.

60. The Panel considered the following mitigating factors: no previous disciplinary record in a long and unblemished career as a Social Worker; some reflection and insight at the date of this hearing, as shown by the Registrant’s acceptance that his fitness to practise at the time of the incidents was impaired; extenuating personal circumstances that may have impacted upon his ability to work to the required standard; a challenging time at work in which, according to FB, the team was going through a difficult transition; limited supervision at work due to acknowledged issues with his Team Leaders; and remorse, the Registrant having offered his “humblest apologies”.

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

62. 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 at risk of harm and the Panel has already concluded that there is a risk of such behavior being repeated in the event that the Registrant decides to return to social work. 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 behavior were dealt with by way of a caution.

63. 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 which 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 his case. FB detailed the areas she identified where the Registrant needed to develop. She said he “needs significant development on knowledge of working together, child care legislation, information gathering and risk assessment processes in completing Section 47 investigations and children and families assessments; support to develop and understand effective planning processes.” In light of the Registrant’s clearly stated intention of not intending to return to practise as a Social Worker, his limited insight and limited engagement with this process, and his serious and persistent failings over a ten week period, it was not possible for the Panel to formulate conditions that would be suitable, workable or realistic.

64. 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 improved insight in the event that the Registrant decided to return to practice 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 that such conduct was not to be tolerated. In light of all the matters highlighted in this case, the Panel did not consider this was a suitable case for a short period of suspension.

65. 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.

66. Accordingly, the Panel made an Order directing the Registrar to suspend the registration of the Registrant for a period of 12 months.

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

• the Registrant’s attendance at the review hearing;

• a reflective piece;

• evidence of remediation.

Order

That the Registrar is directed to suspend the registration of Mr Ian Michael for a period of 12 months from the date this Order comes into effect.

Notes

This Order will be reviewed again before its expiry.

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Mr Ian Michael

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
03/09/2018 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Suspended