Mrs Vilmia Waldron

Profession: Social worker

Registration Number: SW65169

Hearing Type: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 10:00 11/04/2019 End: 17:00 12/04/2019

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

Panel: Conduct and Competence Committee
Outcome: Caution

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Allegation

Whilst registered as a Social Worker and working with The Adolescent and
Children's Trust (TACT):

1. On or around 12 January 2017, you attended a meeting at Service User A's
home and:

a) took Person A, an unauthorised member of the public, with you

b) told Service User A that you were accompanied by a Social Worker who
was not from TACT, or words to that effect, when this was not
the case

2. You:

a) Told Service User A that you were too busy to attend a
planning meeting with Service User A on 16 February 2017

b) told Service User A that no one could attend the 16 February 2017
planning meeting in your place

3. You did not attend pre-arranged visits on or around:

a) 24 January 2017 to Service Users B

b) 30 January 2017 to Service Users C

c) 8 March 2017 to Service Users B

4. On an unknown date between January and March 2017, you did not
take appropriate action as a result of Service User A advising you that one
Service User E who was in Service User A's care was missing for a week in that you did not:

a) complete an incident form

b) arrange a visit to the family

c) make attempts to phone the carers

d) record the incident on CHARMS, the electronic database system

e) report the matter to the Local Authority Out of Hours Social Worker

5. The matter at paragraph 1(b) was dishonest.

6.  The matters set out in paragraphs 1c, 2a, 2b, 3a, 3b, 3c and/or 3c 4
constitute misconduct and/or lack of competence.

7. The matters set out in paragraphs 1a, 1b and/or 4 5 constitute
misconduct.

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

Finding

Preliminary matters

Application to amend

1. At the outset of the hearing, Ms Thompson made an application to amend the allegation to clarify what was alleged and to more accurately reflect the evidence relied on. The Registrant had been notified by letters, dated 12 February 2018 and 11 June 2018, of the proposed amendments and did not raise any objection to them.

2. The Panel considered the application and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor that amendments could be made provided they did not cause injustice. The Panel was satisfied that the amendments requested did indeed clarify matters and more accurately reflected the evidence relied on by the HCPC. The Panel noted the lack of opposition by the Registrant and was satisfied that the amendments could be made without causing any injustice. Accordingly, the Panel allowed all the amendments requested and as detailed above.

Admissions

3. Following the amendments to the allegation, the Registrant admitted Particulars 1(a), 1(b), 2(a), 2(b), 3(a), 3(b), 3(c), 4(a) and 4(b).

Background

4. The Registrant is, and was at all material times, registered as a Social Worker with the HCPC.

5. The Registrant was an agency Senior Supervising Social Worker at the Adolescent and Children’s Trust (TACT) from 17 November 2016 to 10 March 2017. This role involved recruiting, assessing, training and supporting a diverse range of foster carers and working with vulnerable children.

6. It is alleged that on 12 January 2017, the Registrant visited Service User A’s home with Person A, her husband, and told Service User A that Person A was a Social Worker colleague. Person A was not a Social Worker and was not authorised to attend the visit to Service User A.

7. It is also alleged that the Registrant did not take appropriate action after being made aware that one of Service User A’s foster children, Service User E, had gone missing. It is also said that the Registrant failed to attend pre-arranged meetings with various Service Users, including Service User A, whom she told that there would be no one available to attend on her behalf.

8. Service User A was approached by the solicitors acting on behalf of the HCPC and asked if she would provide a statement. However, she refused to engage for health and personal reasons and consequently she was not a witness in this case. Instead, the HCPC relied on the evidence of the TACT Area Manager, BC, who worked with the Registrant on a daily basis and was also her Line Manager.

9. The Registrant provided detailed written submissions in advance of the hearing and also gave live evidence to the Panel.

Decision on Facts

10.  In reaching its decisions on the facts the Panel took into account the oral evidence of BC and the Registrant, together with all the documentary evidence and the submissions made by the parties. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and bore in mind that it was for the HCPC to prove its case on the balance of probabilities. It was not for the Registrant to disprove the allegations.

11. The Panel found BC to be a credible witness, who did her best to provide the Panel with accurate evidence. However, she had some difficulty remembering matters and relied largely on what others had told her. As a consequence, the Panel felt her evidence added little to the matters it had to decide on the facts.

12. The Panel found the Registrant to essentially be a credible witness. She was candid about her visit to Service User A with her husband and she had admitted all but two of the matters alleged. However, the Panel felt she had a tendency to be defensive when dealing with Panel questions about her annual leave and thus the Panel considered she was less credible when it came to the accuracy of her evidence in relation to particular dates.

13. The Registrant admitted Particulars 1(a), 1(b), 2(a), 2(b), 3(a), 3(b), 3(c), 4(a) and 4(b). In light of the evidence relied on by the HCPC in relation to these Particulars, the Panel was satisfied that these admissions were appropriately made and accepted them. These Particulars were therefore found proved.

14. However, in relation to Particular 3(c), which alleged that the Registrant had not attended a pre-arranged visit to Service User B on 8 March 2017, the Panel noted that on 1 March 2017, the Registrant had been instructed not to attend any further visits to any Service Users after that date. Thus, although as a matter of fact she did not attend that visit, the Panel attached no culpability to the fact that she had not done so.

15. The only Particulars in dispute were 4(c) and 5. In relation to 4(c) the HCPC relied on the evidence of BC and in particular her note made on 8 March 2017 of a meeting she had with the Registrant. In her note she recorded, “Vilma did not arrange a visit to the family or made attempts to phone the carers.” In her oral evidence she said she asked the Registrant if she had made any attempts to call the Service User, however she could not remember the Registrant’s response. She also said, in answer to a Panel question, that she had not been aware that it had been the Registrant who had taken an Out of Hours call from Service User A about Service User E going missing on 16 February 2017. She said she had just returned from leave when she had the meeting with the Registrant and had not had time to look at all the records.

16. The Registrant said that she had spoken to Service User A on the telephone on 10 February 2017 and 16 February 2017, because she had been the Out of Hours Social Worker on duty when Service User A called to say there were issues with Service User E. This was supported by the TACT notes, recorded on the computer system CHARMS and produced at pages D32 and D33 of the bundle. The Registrant said she did speak to Service User A at least twice on the phone and discussed the child, where they were and what was happening, between the first out of hours call on 10 February 2017 and the second call on 16 February 2017. She added that Service User A would not always answer the phone and there were times she had called but did not get an answer.

17. The HCPC had not produced the full CHARMS records and so it was not possible for the Panel to know what was or was not recorded. In any event, the Registrant said that she would not always record failed phone call attempts on CHARMS. The HCPC therefore only had Service User A’s hearsay evidence and that of BC. In light of the answer given by BC about not knowing what the Registrant’s response was to her question “Did you attempt to call the Service User?” and the evidence of the Registrant that she did, the Panel could not be satisfied that the Registrant had not made attempts to phone the carers as alleged. The Panel therefore found Particular 4(c) not proved.

18. With reference to Particular 5, this alleged that the Registrant had been dishonest when saying that the person who had accompanied her to Service User A’s home was a Social Worker when in fact he was her husband and not a Social Worker. The Registrant said she was not being dishonest, it was just the result of the particular circumstances. She said that the carers lived in an area that was unfamiliar to her. The journey planner advised 2 to 3 hours to travel (by train) to Dunstable and then a taxi to the address. She said she was concerned and her husband suggested he accompany her to the station where he could wait until she had returned from the carers home. That, then, was the plan. However, they got off at the wrong station, which was 12 miles from the carers’ address. They therefore both took a taxi to Service User A’s home with the intention of her husband finding a nearby cafe or pub to wait in whilst she carried out the visit. However, the taxi driver was unfamiliar with the area and when they arrived they found they were in the middle of nowhere and the taxi driver left very quickly.

19. The Registrant said it was cold, raining and muddy and she made a spur of the moment decision not to leave her husband wandering around farmland in terrible weather in an unknown area. She said she knocked on the door and introduced herself and informed Service User A that she had brought a colleague and was it okay if they came in too. Service User A, she said, was very welcoming and invited them both in. However, it soon became apparent that there was nowhere convenient for him to wait while they had their meeting, which had to be confidential, so her husband had to leave and wait outside.

20. The Registrant said that after their meeting Service User A said she felt guilty that her colleague had to go outside in the rain and she asked if he was a Social Worker from TACT. It was in response to that question that she, on the spur of the moment, foolishly said he was a Social Worker, but not with TACT. She said it was not her intention to mislead Service User A about who he was it was just that it seemed the simplest thing to say and was done out of embarrassment, having already referred to him as a colleague. She said she had been concerned for her husband’s welfare, it was not something she would normally do and she regretted that it happened. She denied being in anyway dishonest. The Registrant said she could not turn the clock back, but she knew it was completely wrong to have taken her husband to Service User A’s home and she should simply have said who he actually was.

21. The Panel asked itself what had the Registrant done, why had she done it, was her belief genuine and would the ordinary decent person find that to be dishonest. The Panel accepted the somewhat unusual circumstances that led to the Registrant’s husband first of all accompanying her to the address and thereafter being let into the house. The Panel considered it was foolish and wrong of her to have taken her husband to the house, but more importantly not to have said from the outset who he was. The Registrant recognised this and said that she wished that is what she had done. The Panel accepted, however, that in saying he was a Social Worker, the Registrant had responded to a question put to her and had provided a spontaneous response without thinking about what she was saying. The Registrant said that she had not intended to mislead the carer, but that was the inevitable outcome. It was a lie and telling lies, even if done to save embarrassment is still not being truthful. Furthermore, it was not a trivial lie in the context of a visit to Service User A. Service User had been asking whether the individual that she had let into her house was a Social Worker and he was not. This increased the seriousness of the lie and the Panel considered that the ordinary decent person would understand it in that context and find it to be dishonest. The Panel therefore found Particular 5 proved.

Decision on Statutory Ground

22. The Panel next considered whether the facts found proved amounted to misconduct and/or a lack of competence as alleged. In so doing it took into account all the evidence and the submissions made. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.

23. The Panel considered the Registrant to be in breach of the following parts of the 2016 Standards of conduct, performance and ethics applicable to all HCPC Registrants:
 1 Promote and protect the interests of service users and carers
 5 Respect confidentiality
 7 Report concerns about safety
 9 Be honest and trustworthy

24. In relation to Particulars 1(a), 1(b) and 5, the Panel did consider it was serious to have not provided the true identity of her husband when attending the visit on 12 January 2017. As already stated, the Panel accepted that there were extenuating circumstances that resulted in her husband accompanying her to the location and thereafter into the house. However, Service User A, quite rightly, would have wanted to know the nature of the person she had let into her home and she had been deceived into thinking he was a Social Worker. The Panel accepted that there was no gain or malicious intent on the part of the Registrant, only a foolishness and a desire not to be embarrassed having first introduced him as a colleague. However, she twice lied to Service User A about the true identity of the man she was with and who Service User A then allowed into her house. The Panel accepted that her response to the question put to her had been spontaneous but it was still a lie, which she readily accepts. Furthermore, the Panel noted that when the Executive Director of Children’s Services spoke to the Registrant about this matter on 1 March 2017, the Registrant said to him that she did visit Service User A with a Social Worker friend and she was surprised it was an issue. There was thus a third opportunity to disclose the true identity of the man who had accompanied her on the visit, but the Registrant still maintained the lie.

25. In the Panel’s view, this behaviour fell far short of the standard expected of a registered Social Worker. Whilst recognising that there is a spectrum of dishonesty and that this was not the most serious instance of such behaviour, it was sufficiently serious to constitute misconduct.

26. The Panel did not consider the matters found proved in Particulars 2, 3 and 4 represented a fair sample of the Registrant’s work and therefore they did not find there to be a lack of competence in this case. The Panel then went on to consider whether any of those facts amounted to misconduct.

27. In relation to Particulars 2(a) and (b), the Registrant admitted that she had told Service User A that she was too busy to attend a planning meeting with her on 16 February 2017 and that there was no one else who could attend on that day. She said that she was unable to attend the meeting due to prior appointments and she had informed Service User A of this. She had also informed the Social Worker allocated to Service User E and asked to be updated after the meeting. She said she also informed AP, the senior manager who was covering for BC, who was away on annual leave. The Registrant said that it was a particularly busy week, with BC away and the Registrant covering the Out of Hours with no support. The Registrant said that she was also tasked with facilitating a Skills to Fostering three day  training course to the two student Social Workers while BC was away. The Registrant had not observed this training herself and was now expected to facilitate it. She was told to read the manual and that the students would help. The Registrant said it was an in-depth course which required intense preparation which she had to do during the evening whilst also covering the Out of Hours calls. She said this was on top of her full and varied case load. It was for these reasons that she was unable to attend the planning meeting herself.

28. With reference to saying there was no one else who could attend in her place, the Registrant explained that the team was made up of her and two qualified Supervising Social Workers who were both out of the office. The other staff members were two student Social Workers and a Family Placement Officer, none of whom carried out visits.

29. The Panel accepted the Registrant’s account of why she had been unable to attend the planning meeting and why no one else could attend in her place. She had informed the Foster Carer, spoken to the child’s Social Worker and informed management. In all the circumstances, the Panel did not consider this behaviour amounted to misconduct.

30. In relation to Particular 3 the Panel has already indicated that it finds no culpability in 3(c), because the Registrant had been clearly instructed not to carry out any visits after 1 March 2017, so she could not have visited Service User B on that day. With reference to the other two visits not attended, 24 and 30 January 2017, the Registrant said that she had been on annual leave and that this was an oversight because she had not transferred her dates into the new 2017 electronic diary. The Panel noted that her electronic diary, which was provided by the HCPC as part of its case, showed the Registrant as on annual leave on 24 January but not 30 January. The Registrant said in evidence that she had extended her holiday in Spain to two weeks, but that this had not made it into her new paper diary or the electronic diary. The Panel considered this to have been very poor practice and disorganised. Two Service Users were denied a visit on a day they were expecting and this would doubtless have had a negative impact on the reputation of TACT. However, the Panel did not consider this to be so serious that it amounted to misconduct.

31. In relation to Particulars 4(a) and (b), the Panel was concerned with the Registrant’s explanation that she had not completed an incident form when told that Service User E, a child in foster care, had gone missing. The Registrant said that she did not want to blur the roles between her role as Supervising Social Worker to the foster carers and that of the Social Worker allocated to the child, Service User E. The Registrant said that from her own experience in Child Protection it would be the role of the child’s Social Worker to fill out the incident form and so she assumed it was the same situation here. Having made that assumption she did not complete the incident form. The Panel considered that, at the very least, she should have spoken to someone and confirmed whose responsibility it was to complete the incident form. Had she done so she would have learned that it was her responsibility. As a consequence no incident form was completed and that could have impacted upon the safe return of Service User E, who was described as a child who was over sexualised and vulnerable.

32. The Registrant accepted that she had not taken appropriate action by not arranging to visit the Service User A following the report that Service User E was missing. She said that the child’s Social Worker arranged a meeting with her manager and they visited Service user A. She was aware of the meeting, but could not fit it into her diary because it was at very short notice and at a time that she was also covering Out of Hours. The Registrant said that in her diary that day she had a mandatory team meeting and an annual review.

33. The Panel considered that the Registrant’s failure to complete an incident form, or at the very least to have made enquires about whose responsibility it was to complete such a form, together with her failure to arrange a visit to the Service User A fell far short of the standard expected of a registered Social Worker and were each sufficiently serious to amount to misconduct.

34. In summary, therefore, the Panel found no lack of competence, but found misconduct in relation to Particulars 1(a), 1(b), 4(a), 4(b) and 5.
Decision on Impairment

35. Having found misconduct in relation to Particulars 1(a), 1(b), 4(a), 4(b) and 5, the Panel then considered whether, as a result thereof, the Registrant’s fitness to practice was currently impaired. In doing so it took into account the submissions made by the parties and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.

36. The Panel had been advised by the Legal Assessor that an important factor when considering current impairment is whether the conduct which led to the allegations is remediable, that it has been remedied and that it is highly unlikely to be repeated. In relation to Particulars 1(a), 1(b) and 5 and the specific, rather unusual set of circumstances, the Panel considered it highly  unlikely that the Registrant would repeat such behaviour and there was, therefore, no requirement for a finding of impairment on public protection grounds. However, the Panel did consider this was a case that warranted a finding of impairment on public interests grounds. The Panel was satisfied that a fully informed member of the public would have their confidence in the profession and the regulator undermined if a finding of impairment were not made in circumstances whereby a Social Worker had repeatedly lied about the identity of a person who had been with her when she made a home visit.

37. In relation to Particulars 4(a) and (b), the Panel was of the view that the failures identified are capable of remedy. However, the Registrant had shown limited insight into these failures and there was insufficient evidence before the Panel that they had been remedied. There was, therefore, a risk that they could be repeated and the Panel accordingly found the Registrant’s fitness to practice to be currently impaired on public protection grounds in relation to Particulars 4(a) and (b).The Panel was also satisfied that a fully informed member of the public would have their confidence in the profession and the regulator undermined if a finding of impairment were not made in circumstances whereby a Social Worker had failed to take the appropriate action to safeguard a vulnerable child and support Service User A.

38. The Panel therefore determined that, in relation to Particulars 1(a), 1(b) and 5, the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired on public interest grounds alone and that, in relation to Particulars 4(a) and (b), her fitness to practise is impaired on both public protection and public interest grounds and that the allegation of impairment is well founded.

Sanction

39. In reaching its decision on sanction, the Panel took into account the submissions made by the parties, together with all the written evidence and all matters of personal mitigation. The Panel also referred to the guidance issued by the Council in its Indicative Sanctions Policy (“ISP”). The Panel had in mind 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.

40. The Panel considered the aggravating factors in this case to be: the dishonesty was in the course of carrying out social work duties; a breach of trust by taking a member of the public into a Service User’s home; not isolated in that she lied twice on the day and then once more to a manager; Service User felt unsupported; potential psychological impact on Service User A; limited remediation.

41. The Panel considered the following mitigating factors; lengthy unblemished career; matters giving rise to misconduct limited to one family; a low risk of repetition; stressful work environment following a poor induction, a heavy workload, a lack of support and staff shortages; dishonesty not for personal gain or motivated by any malicious intent.

42. As already indicated by the Panel, the dishonest behaviour in this case, whilst not to be in any way condoned, was at the least serious end of the spectrum. It was out of character and highly unlikely to be repeated. It was not for personal gain and arose out of a specific, unlikely to be repeated, set of circumstances which left the Registrant feeling utterly ashamed of herself and the impact on Service User A. The other matters in relation to Service User A were limited to knowing when to complete an incident form and ensuring appropriate visits are carried out, matters which the Panel believed the Registrant to be able to sufficiently address herself without the need for formal structures such as conditions. The Panel was cognisant of the need to be proportionate in deciding the appropriate sanction and that meant taking into account the fact that the Registrant has been unable to find work over the last two years and as a consequence suffered significant financial loss. The Registrant has been in practice as a Social Worker for 19 years and has an otherwise unblemished record. However, her behaviour, in particular the telling of lies in the circumstances in which she did, was serious and it would not, therefore, be appropriate to take no further action. It was important to send out the message that this sort of behaviour is not to be tolerated. In all the circumstances the Panel was satisfied that this was not an appropriate case in which to take no further action.

43. The Panel therefore decided to make a Caution Order for a period of three years. Such an Order would mark the seriousness of the misconduct whilst allowing an otherwise
competent Social Worker to return to practice.

44. The Panel considered whether to place conditions on the Registrant’s registration, but concluded that such a sanction was not proportionate or appropriate in this case for the reasons given above.

45. That concludes this hearing.

Order

ORDER: That the Registrar is directed to annotate the register entry of Mrs Vilmia Waldron with a caution which is to remain on the register for a period of three years from the date this order comes into effect.

Notes

Right of Appeal

You may appeal to the High Court in England and Wales against the Panel’s decision and the Order it has made against you.
Under Article 29(10) of the Health and Social Work Professions Order 2001, any appeal must be made within 28 days of the date when this notice is served on you.  The Panel’s Order will not take effect until the appeal period has expired or, if you appeal, until that appeal is disposed of or withdrawn.

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Mrs Vilmia Waldron

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
11/04/2019 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Caution