Miss Dorothy Ribombo

Profession: Social worker

Registration Number: SW108562

Hearing Type: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 10:00 20/08/2019 End: 17:00 23/08/2019

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

Panel: Conduct and Competence Committee
Outcome: Conditions of Practice

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Allegation

(As amended on Day 1 of the hearing, namely 20 August 2019)

Whilst registered as a Social Worker and during the course of your employment with Leicester City Council, you:
 
1. In or around April and May 2017 in the case of Child 1:
 
a. Failed to visit Child 1 within timescales;

b. Failed to follow reasonable management and/ or supervision instructions in that you;
 
i. Did not obtain information regarding Child 1 's step-father's release date from prison in a timely manner and/or at all;

ii. Did not visit Child 1 when instructed to do so despite being informed that his visits were out of date.
 
2. In or around April and May 2017 in the case of Child 2 you failed to:
 
a. Complete and/or file an Annex A Report with the Family Court by 11 April 2017;

b. failed to follow reasonable management and/ or supervision instructions in that you did not complete and/ or file an Annex A report with the court when instructed to do so.
 
3. In or around April and May 2017 in the case of Child 3, failed to follow reasonable management and/ or supervision instructions in that you did not complete and/or record a Child In Need visit to Child 3 in a timely manner.

4. In or around April and May 2017 in the case of Children 4 and 5:
 
a. Did not seek appropriate management advice and/ or supervision when allocated the case directly by the Duty and Advice Team;

b. Did not complete and/ or file a S.37 report with the court in a timely manner.
 
5. The matters set out in paragraphs 1 - 4 constitute misconduct and/ or lack of competence.

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

Finding


Preliminary matters:

Proof of Service

1. The Panel was provided with a signed certificate as proof that the Notice of Hearing had been sent in a letter, by first class post, on 3 June 2019, to the address shown for the Registrant on the HCPC register.  The Panel was satisfied that Notice had been properly served in accordance with Rule 3 (Proof of Service) and Rule 6 (date, time and venue) of the Conduct and Competence Committee Rules 2003 (as amended).

Proceeding in Absence

2. Ms Thompson made an application for the hearing to proceed in the absence of the Registrant, as permitted by Rule 11 of the Conduct and Competence Rules 2003 (as amended). Ms Thompson referred the Panel to email correspondence between the Registrant and the HCPC. On 19 February 2019, the Registrant was asked by the HCPC, to confirm her name and date of birth for the purpose of verifying her email address.  The Registrant responded on 20 February 2019 and provided the information requested. On 20 June 2019, the HCPC requested confirmation that the Registrant was willing to accept service of the hearing documents by email. There was no response from the Registrant. There was also no response to the follow up email from the HCPC, which was sent on 24 June 2019, and therefore the hearing bundle was sent to the Registrant’s registered address by special delivery.  Ms Thompson informed the Panel that the bundle had not been returned by the post office.

3. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and took into account the guidance as set out in the HCPC Practice Note “Proceeding in Absence”.

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

a) The Panel noted that there was no response from the Registrant following service of the Notice of Hearing and no response following service of the hearing bundle.  In these circumstances, the Panel was satisfied that it was reasonable to conclude that the Registrant’s non-attendance was voluntary and therefore a deliberate waiver of her right to attend and her right to participate in these proceedings.

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

c) The HCPC has made arrangements for a witness to give evidence during this hearing. In the absence of any reason to re-schedule the hearing the Panel was satisfied that the witness should not be inconvenienced by an unnecessary delay and should give evidence whilst the events are reasonably fresh in her mind.

d) The Panel recognised that there may be some disadvantage to the Registrant in not being able to make oral submissions. However, the Panel concluded that this disadvantage was outweighed by the strong public interest in ensuring that the substantive hearing proceeds as expeditiously as possible.

Application to Amend the Allegation

5. At the outset of the hearing Ms Thompson made an application for particulars 1(b)(i), 1(b)(ii), 2(a), 2(b), 3, and 4(a) to be amended. The Registrant was put on notice of the proposed amendments in a letter dated 23 May 2019.

6. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. She advised the Panel that early notice and matters of clarification are less likely to cause injustice than late notice and substantial alterations that heighten the seriousness of the Allegation.

7. The Panel was satisfied that the Allegation should be amended as requested as the proposed amendments:

• provided clarification;
• avoided ambiguity;
• did not alter the substance or meaning of the Allegation as originally drafted and did not widen the scope of the HCPC’s case. 

8. The Panel concluded that the amendments would cause no injustice to the Registrant as they were minor in nature but more accurately reflected the HCPC’s case. 

9. Prior to closing the HCPC’s case Ms Thompson made a further application to amend in relation to Particular 1(a). She drew to the Panel’s attention the evidence of Witness NB, who stated that the frequency of the Child in Need visits was based on the policy within the local authority; it was not a statutory timescale.

10. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor that it is matter of judgment whether the proposed amendment is a material change which represents a tailoring of the allegation to fit the evidence which would be unfair, or a clarification of the type of timescale which would not be unfair as the underlying evidence had not changed.

11. Although the Panel recognised that it is generally undesirable for an Allegation to be amended after evidence has been heard, it was satisfied that deletion of the word ‘statutory’ from particular 1(b) provided clarification and did not constitute a widening of the scope of the Allegation. The Panel concluded that the amendment would not cause any injustice to the Registrant, as the essence of particular 1(b), is that there was a timescale which was not complied with. It was not the HCPC’s case that the status of the timescale affected the overall seriousness of the Allegation.

Background:

12. The Registrant had been qualified as a social worker for four years in Zimbabwe. She was employed as a Newly Qualified Social Worker (NQSW) with Leicester City Council (‘the Council’) between November 2016 and June 2017. During her period of employment with the Council, concerns were raised in relation to her management of a number of cases. The issues related to alleged failures:

• to conduct visits in a timely manner;
• follow management instructions;
• complete necessary documentation; and
• seek management advice.

Assessment of Witnesses:

Witness NB – Team Manager (Leicester City Council)

13. Witness NB is a Team Manager within the Child in Need (CIN) team. She was the Registrant’s line manager. Witness NB’s role was to supervise staff, chair meetings and make decisions on case performance and management. She informed the Panel that the Registrant commenced employment at the Council as a NQSW in November 2016 within the Single Assessment Team and later joined the CIN team in February 2017. Witness NB stated that she became the Registrant’s manager in March 2017.

14. Witness NB informed the Panel that the Registrant was on the Assessed and Supported Year in Employment (ASYE) programme. She explained that a caseload of 14 is the average for ASYE and that the programme for NQSWs includes a two-week induction programme, regular training, fortnightly supervision meetings with an Advanced Practitioner and monthly supervision with the Team Manager.

15. Witness NB’s oral evidence was consistent with her witness statement and there was no suggestion from her evidence that she bore any animosity towards the Registrant. She readily conceded when asked about apparent contradictions or gaps in the evidence. The Panel had no reason to doubt that Witness NB was anything other than a credible and reliable witness. 

Decision on Facts:

Overview

16. The case against the Registrant was predominantly based on the evidence of Witness NB and the documentary evidence. In determining the facts, the Panel noted that the following documents were not included within the hearing bundle:

• The job description for the Registrant’s role within the CIN team;
• The documents relating to the ASYE programme;
• The Council’s CIN policy and procedures;
• The full case records for Child 3, Child 4 and Child 5.
• The full supervision records.

17. During the hearing the Panel referred Ms Thompson to the case summary which indicated that the Registrant had submitted written representations to the HCPC which were not included in the hearing bundle. Enquiries were made and the Panel was subsequently provided with an email from the Registrant, dated 3 December 2018, in which she set out her response to the Allegation as presented to a panel of the Investigating Committee for a case to answer decision. In her response the Registrant addressed Particular 1 but states that this is the case she remembers the most and that she “cannot respond to the other allegations as I would not be able to give accurate information on them”. The Panel, having accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor, decided that it was not necessary to recall Witness NB. The Panel was satisfied that the main issues had been raised with the witness and that any conflict in evidence would be resolved in favour of the Registrant.  

Particular 1(a) – Proved

‘In or around April and May 2017 in the case of Child 1:
Failed to visit Child 1 within timescales;’

18. Witness NB informed the Panel in her witness statement that Child 1 had a voluntary CIN plan due to a history of domestic violence between mother and stepfather. The stepfather had subsequently been imprisoned by the court. There were also some concerns regarding Child 1’s aggressive behaviour in school. Witness NB stated that the CIN team was involved in order to safeguard Child 1 in preparation for the stepfather’s release from prison. The case was allocated to the Registrant in January 2017 and transferred with her to the CIN team in March 2017.

19. Witness NB stated in her witness statement and during her oral evidence that children subject to a CIN plan should be visited, by the allocated social worker, every 15 working days. She informed the Panel that this timescale was based on the Council’s policy. She stated that the Registrant would have been aware of the policy as it was communicated to her during the induction process, was included within the procedure documents on the Council laptops and was reinforced by the statistics that she circulated three times a week within the team. Witness NB informed the Panel that the statistics document highlighted in red all visits which were overdue.  She stated that the purpose of the visits is to monitor the wellbeing of the child and ascertain whether the child was at risk.

20. The Panel accepted the evidence of Witness NB. The Panel noted that the Registrant, in her response to the Allegation, stated that it was difficult to arrange a home visit because of difficulties with the mother. She stated that, at first, the case was going to be closed but when Witness NB became the Team Manager, she advised that Child 1 should be on the ‘Children in Need list’. The Registrant stated in her response that when she communicated this to the mother, the mother’s attitude changed, and it became difficult to arrange home visits. 

21. The Panel accepted that the Registrant experienced some difficulty in arranging home visits to review and assess the wellbeing of Child 1. However, the documentary evidence indicates that by the beginning of April 2017, Child 1 was considered to be a CIN but was not seen until the Advanced Practitioner, HR, saw Child 1 on 18 May 2017.

22. Based on the evidence of Witness NB and the documentary evidence the Panel was satisfied that the Registrant should have conducted at least one visit during April or May, but did not do so. There was no evidence before the Panel that there was a good reason for the omission.

23. Accordingly, particular 1(a) was found proved.

Particular 1(b) (i) – Proved (in relation to timely manner)

‘Failed to follow reasonable management and/or supervision instructions in that you;

Did not obtain information regarding Child 1’s step-father's release date from prison in a timely manner and/or at all;’

24. Witness NB stated in her witness and oral evidence that during her supervision session with the Registrant on 3 April 2017, the Registrant was not aware of the date that the stepfather was due to be released from prison. She stated that she directed the Registrant to obtain an update from the Probation Service and told her that she needed to obtain the release date by 12 April 2019. Witness NB informed the Panel that she followed this up in the subsequent supervision meeting which took place on 15 May 2017. She stated that when she found out that the release date had still not been obtained, she set another target date of 16 May 2017.

25. The Registrant made no mention of the prison release dates in her response to the Allegation. 

26. The Panel accepted the evidence of Witness NB. The Panel was satisfied that there was no evidence that the Registrant obtained confirmation of the prison release date for the stepfather of Child 1, within a timely manner, despite being given a reasonable management instruction, with a specified deadline on more than one occasion. There was no evidence before the Panel that there was a good reason for the omission.

27. Accordingly, Particular 1(b)(i) was found proved in relation to failing to obtain the release date in a timely manner.

28. The Panel noted that the Registrant was placed on desk duty on 17 May 2017 without case management responsibility and therefore had no further opportunity to obtain the release date. Thus, the Panel was unable to make a finding that she did not obtain the release date at all.

Particular 1(b)(ii) – Found Proved

‘Did not visit Child 1 when instructed to do so despite being informed that his visits were out of date.’

29. Witness NB informed the Panel that, during the supervision meeting which took place on 3 April 2017, she instructed the Registrant to visit Child 1 by 7 April 2017, as the last time that the child had been seen was on 2 March 2017. Witness NB stated that she followed this up during the subsequent supervision meeting which took place on 15 May 2017. At that meeting the Registrant confirmed that she had still not seen the child and so Witness NB stated that she instructed the Registrant to see the child the next day; i.e. on 16 May 2017.

30. The Registrant, in her response to the Allegation, explained the difficulties she had in arranging to visit Child 1, particularly given the mother’s change of attitude when the Registrant was required to inform her that Child 1 was to be placed on the CIN list. 

31. The Panel noted from the case records that the Registrant had attempted to make arrangements to visit Child 1 in May 2017 involving an attempted joint visit with HR on 9 May 2017 and again, by herself, on 16 May 2017. However, the case records do not show any attempt on the part of the Registrant to visit Child 1 by 7 April 2017 as instructed. The Panel was satisfied that the Registrant had not followed instructions to visit Child 1 by 7 April 2017 although she did attempt to do so when further instructed during May 2017. The Registrant points to the difficulties she experienced with the mother’s reluctance to engage but the Panel did not consider this to be a good reason for failing to visit Child 1, when instructed to do so, by 7 April 2017.

32. Accordingly, Particular 1(b)(ii) was found proved.

Particular 2(a) – Found Proved

‘In or around April and May 2017 in the case of Child 2 you failed to:
Complete and/or file an Annex A Report with the Family Court by 11 April 2017;’

33. Witness NB informed the Panel in her witness statement that the CIN team was involved with Child 2 because his stepfather wanted to adopt him. She informed the Panel that the child’s stepfather was the only father that Child 2 had ever known. The case was allocated to the Registrant on 25 January 2017. Witness NB explained that an ‘Annex A’ report has to be submitted to the court as part of a proposed adoption. She stated that the court procedure cannot progress without an Annex A report and the deadline for the submission of the report was 11 April 2017.

34. The Panel accepted the evidence of Witness NB that it was the Registrant’s responsibility as the allocated Social Worker to complete the report. The Panel also accepted the evidence of Witness NB that, although the Registrant had not completed an Annex A report before, she had been shown an example on the system.

35. The Registrant made no mention of the Annex A report in her response to the Allegation. 

36. The Panel noted that on 4 May 2017, when Witness NB looked at the case notes for Child 2, the report form was blank. In these circumstances the Panel concluded that the form had not been completed. The Panel noted, from the case records for Child 2, that the Registrant had undertaken preparatory work for the Annex A report but had not gone on to complete it within the time specified. There was no evidence before the Panel that there was a good reason for the omission.
 
37. Accordingly, Particular 2(a) was found proved.

Particular 2(b) – Found Proved

‘failed to follow reasonable management and/or supervision instructions in that you did not complete and/ or file an Annex A report with the court when instructed to do so.’

38. Witness NB informed the Panel that she instructed the Registrant to complete Annex A. The evidence of Witness NB was supported by the documentary evidence. The Panel noted that the case supervision record for 3 April 2017 states ‘Annex a to be completed by 11 April’.  

39. The Registrant made no mention of the instruction in her response to the Allegation. 

40. The Panel accepted the evidence of Witness NB. The Panel was satisfied that there was no evidence that the Registrant completed or filed the Annex A report, despite being given a reasonable management instruction to comply with the court deadline. There was no evidence before the Panel that there was a good reason for the omission.

41. Accordingly, Particular 2(b) was found proved.

Particular 3 – Found Not Proved

‘In or around April and May 2017 in the case of Child 3, failed to follow reasonable management and/ or supervision instructions in that you did not complete and/or record a Child In Need visit to Child 3 in a timely manner.’

42. Witness NB informed the Panel that Child 3’s mother had previously been a looked after child herself. There were concerns about the mother’s ability to manage challenging behaviour as Child 3 had put a knife to the mother’s throat. The case had been allocated to the Registrant on 12 April 2017. The Panel was provided with an email, dated 3 May 2017, in which Witness NB instructed the Registrant to visit Child 3 that day.

43. The Panel was not provided with the case records for April 2017, but the case records for May 2017 were provided. The May 2017 case records confirm that the Registrant attended the child’s home address on 3 May 2017, but there was no response. The record indicates that the Registrant sent a text message to the mother to arrange a visit and spoke with a colleague to find out more about the family. She subsequently managed to undertake a visit with that colleague on 9 May 2017. 

44. The management instruction had been given on 3 May 2017. As the Registrant attended the home address of Child 3 on that date, and was proactive in arranging another visit, the Panel concluded that she had done all that could reasonably be expected of her that day. The unsuccessful attempt to undertake a CIN visit was followed by a successful visit on 9 May 2019. In these circumstances, the Panel concluded that the Registrant had completed the visit in a timely manner.

45. Accordingly, Particular 3 was found not proved.

Particular 4(a) – Found Not Proved

‘In or around April and May 2017 in the case of Children 4 and 5:

Did not seek appropriate management advice and/or supervision when allocated the case directly by the Duty and Advice Team;

46. Child 4 and Child 5 came to the attention of the CIN team when their father made an application for a Child Arrangement Order in regard to contact. Witness NB informed the Panel, in her witness statement and in her oral evidence, that during a review of the Registrant’s caseload, she discovered that the Duty and Advice team had allocated the case of Child 4 and Child 5 directly to the Registrant. Witness NB stated that the usual procedure was for cases to be allocated to her as the Team Manager, and that she would then review the case and allocate it to a specific social worker. Witness NB stated that she would have expected the Registrant to seek advice from her, or to raise the fact that she had been allocated the case directly by the Duty and Advice team, as a matter for discussion during her supervision.

47. The Panel noted that the usual procedure was for new cases to be allocated via Witness NB. However, there was no policy or procedural documentation before the Panel in this regard. The Panel was not satisfied that the Registrant would have known that the allocation of the case directly from the Duty and Advice team had not been approved by Witness NB. The Panel took the view that the Registrant may reasonably have expected the case to be discussed during her supervision session with Witness NB in the normal way. The Panel concluded that, in the absence of any documentary evidence, it would not be fair or appropriate to rely solely on Witness NB’s expectation. Therefore, the Panel determined that there was insufficient evidence to conclude that the Registrant would have known or appreciated that she should have specifically drawn the matter to the attention of Witness NB.

48. Accordingly, Particular 4(a) was found not proved.

Particular 4(b) – Found Proved

‘Did not complete and/ or file a s37 report with the court in a timely manner.’

49. Witness NB informed the Panel that a s37 report is a report for the court under the Children Act 1989. The purpose is to enable the court to determine what type of order is required to ensure that appropriate plans are in place for the child. In her witness statement, and during her oral evidence, Witness NB confirmed that the Registrant had visited the family of Child 4 and Child 5 on 13 April 2017. It was clear from the documentary evidence that the Registrant was aware that the s37 report was due to be submitted by 22 May 2017. Witness NB informed the Panel that when she discussed the case with the Registrant on 11 May 2017, it was evident that the s37 report could not be completed by the deadline as the required checks had not been initiated. She explained that one of the actions that needed to be taken was a police check which would take approximately 2-3 weeks. She stated that as the preparatory steps had not been undertaken, the report could not be completed by the deadline.

50. The Registrant made no mention of the s37 report in her response to the Allegation. 

51. The Panel accepted the evidence of Witness NB that the s37 report was not completed in a timely manner.  There was no evidence before the Panel that there was a good reason for the omission.

52. Accordingly, Particular 4(b) was found proved.

Decision on Grounds:

Panel’s Approach

53. Having determined the facts, the Panel went on to consider grounds in relation to particulars of the Allegation that were found proved. No further consideration was given to particulars 3 and 4(a) which were found not proved.

54. The Panel was aware that determining the issue of misconduct and/or lack of competence is a matter of judgement; there is no burden or standard of proof.

55. The Panel was aware that lack of competence connotes a standard of professional performance which is unacceptably low, and which has usually been demonstrated by reference to a fair sample of the Registrant’s work.

56. In considering the issue of misconduct, the Panel bore in mind the explanation of that term given by the Privy Council in the case of Roylance v GMC (No.2) [2000] 1 AC 311 where it was stated that:

“Misconduct is a word of general effect, involving some act or omission which falls short of what would be proper in the circumstances. The standard of propriety may often be found by reference to the rules and standards ordinarily required to be followed by a … practitioner in the particular circumstances. The misconduct is qualified in two respects. First, it is qualified by the word ‘professional’ which links the misconduct to the profession ... Secondly, the misconduct is qualified by the word ‘serious’. It is not any professional misconduct which will qualify. The professional misconduct must be serious.”

57. The Panel was aware that departures from the HCPC Standards of Conduct Performance and Ethics and the Standards of Proficiency (‘the HCPC standards’) alone do not necessarily constitute lack of competence and/or misconduct.

58. The Panel took into account the oral submissions from Ms Thompson, on behalf of the HCPC, and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.

Lack of Competence

59. The Panel noted that the Registrant’s first six months of employment with the Council was a probationary period. Witness NB informed the Panel that, at the six monthly probationary review meeting held on 9 May 2017, the Council extended the initial probationary period by an additional 3 months, to provide the Registrant with the opportunity to work on specific areas of concern. These were subsequently highlighted as “Areas for development and focus for next plan” in the record of the three monthly (ASYE) review meeting held on 11 May 2017. However, on 17 May 2017, the Registrant was placed on desk duty and, as a consequence, was unable to have any contact with children or families. Her employment was terminated on 12 June 2017.

60. The Panel accepted the oral evidence of Witness NB that the Registrant did not appear to appreciate the nature of her role and the importance of the timescales as set out in the policies. The Panel noted that, in view of its findings of fact, there were four children, amongst the Registrant’s caseload, where the Registrant had failed to meet the requirements expected of her as a NQSW during a 2-month period. The Panel concluded that these cases represented a fair sample upon which the Panel could make a judgment as to the Registrant’s overall competence.

61. During the relatively short period that the Registrant was employed by the Council the four cases indicated recurring themes relating to:

• managing her workload and seeing children within timescales;
• ensuring case recording is completed in a timely way following visits to children;
• submitting reports to her manager for verification an in timely manner.

62. The Panel noted that the Registrant’s shortcomings primarily related to time management skills which are fundamental to safe and effective practice as a social worker. The Panel took the view that the Registrant’s performance in her role as a NQSW represented a departure from the following HCPC Standards of Proficiency (2016), which state that registrants must:

Standard 1.1  – know the limits of their practice and when to seek
 advice or refer to another professional

Standard 1.2  – recognise the need to manage their own workload and
 resources and be able to practise accordingly

Standard 1.4 – be able to recognise and respond appropriately to
 unexpected situations and manage uncertainty.

63. The Panel concluded that the features, referred to above, supported a finding of lack of competence.

64. Therefore, the Panel concluded that the allegation of lack of competence was well-founded.

Misconduct

65. The Panel took the view that the Registrant’s difficulties in consistently meeting the standard expected of her, despite support and assistance, demonstrated deficient professional performance, but concluded that this was not wilful, reckless or due to carelessness. The Panel noted the Registrant’s strengths, as set out in the ASYE review dated 11 May 2017, which included the ability to produce good quality written work and a willingness to learn. The Panel concluded that during the Registrant’s period of employment she appeared to be doing her best. 

66. Having determined that the Registrant’s failings were solely due to lack of competence there was no reason for the Panel to consider misconduct.

Decision on Impairment:

Panel’s Approach

67. Having found lack of competence the Panel went on to consider whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired. The Panel took into account the HCPC Practice Note: “Finding that Fitness to Practise is Impaired”, the Registrant’s response to the Allegation and the submissions made on behalf of the HCPC. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.

68. In determining current impairment the Panel had regard to the following aspects of the public interest:

• The ‘personal’ component: the current competence, behaviour etc. of the individual registrant; and

• The ‘public’ component: the need to protect service users, declare and uphold proper standards of behaviour and maintain public confidence in the profession.

Panel’s Decision

69. The Panel considered the Registrant’s current fitness to practise firstly from the personal perspective and then from the wider public perspective.

70. The Panel noted that, based on the Registrant’s response to the Allegation, she appears to acknowledge that there are deficiencies in her practice that she will need to address if she is to return to practise as a social worker at some point in the future. She stated:

‘I learnt a lot during my ASYE workshops and had a lesson working with hostile families which was an eye opener for me and I feel that if I had been given the chance I would have found a way to work with the mother in the first allegation. I feel like my time at Leicester City Council does not reflect on what I am capable of as a Social Worker. It did not help that I did not drive then but I have since had my Driver’s Licence. At the moment I am taking a break from Social Work, it has been a painful experience for me. I am not sure if I will go back to practising Social Work but if I decide to go back to Social Work I think I will definitely go back to school first and find a degree or Social Work related courses to do before jumping back in.’

71. Although the Panel noted that the Registrant demonstrated some insight, the level and scope of her insight was limited. The Registrant’s engagement with these proceedings has been minimal and there has been no engagement with the hearing itself. As a consequence, there was no evidence before the Panel that she fully understood the potential impact of her failings on service users and there was no assurance that her practice deficiencies have been addressed. The Panel was particularly concerned by the persistent nature of the Registrant’s failings and her inability to make sufficient improvements despite support and supervision. However, the Panel noted that, in her response to the Allegation, the Registrant stated that:

“…although it has been said that I did not consult my Team Manager on guidance with my cases, in theory Team Managers are said to be available when they are needed but in practice you do not find them when you need them. I sometimes found myself having to rely on colleagues for help as the Team Manager was not available and this was my experience from the Single Assessment Team and even ipn the Children in Need Team.”

72. The Panel took the view that the factual findings raise serious public safety concerns. The Registrant had been unable to make or maintain improvements to her practice which had the potential to put vulnerable service users at risk of harm. Although lack of competence is usually capable of being remedied, there is no basis on which the Panel could conclude that effective remediation has begun. As a consequence the Panel considered that there remains a risk of repetition.

73. The Panel concluded that, in these circumstances, the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired based on the personal component.

74. In considering the public component the Panel had regard to the important public policy issues which include the need to maintain confidence in the profession and declare and uphold proper standards of conduct and behaviour.

75. A significant aspect of the public component is upholding proper standards of behaviour. Members of the public would be concerned to learn that a social worker working with vulnerable children and their families was unable to work within stipulated timescales and follow management instructions, as this clearly has the potential to compromise the safety and well-being of service users. The Registrant’s conduct fell below the standard expected of a registered social worker and the Panel concluded that, until the Registrant has remediated the shortcomings in her practice, she continues to pose a risk to the public. The Panel also concluded that a finding of no impairment would fail to declare and uphold proper standards, would undermine confidence in the profession of social work and would undermine public confidence in the HCPC as a professional regulator given the nature and gravity of the deficiencies in the Registrants practice.

76. In all the circumstances, the Panel determined that public trust and confidence would be undermined if a finding of impairment is not made.

77. The Panel concludes that the Registrant’s current fitness to practise is impaired on the basis of both the personal component and the wider public interest and therefore the HCPC’s case is well-founded.

Sanction:

Submissions

78. Ms Thompson referred the Panel to the Sanctions Policy (SP) and reminded the Panel that its primary function is to protect the public and the wider public interest. She made no positive submission with regard to the sanction that should be imposed. However, she suggested that no action or imposition of a Caution Order would be insufficient given the Registrant’s serious and persistent failings, the risk to service users, the lack of insight and remediation and the risk of repetition.  Therefore, she invited the Panel to consider the remaining options from a Conditions of Practice Order onwards.

Panel’s Approach

79. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Panel was mindful that the purpose of any sanction is not to punish the Registrant, but to protect the public and the wider public interest. The public interest includes maintaining public confidence in the profession and the HCPC as its regulator and by upholding proper standards of conduct and behaviour. The Panel noted that a Striking Off Order is not available as the finding of impairment was solely based on the statutory ground of lack of competence.

80. The Panel applied the principle of proportionality by weighing the Registrant’s interests with the public interest and by considering each available sanction in ascending order of severity.

81. The Panel had regard to the SP and took into account the submissions made by Ms Thompson.

Panel’s Decision

82. The Panel at the outset of its deliberations considered the aggravating and mitigating factors.
 
83. The Panel identified the following aggravating factors:

• the Registrant omissions’ had the potential to put vulnerable service users at risk of harm and/or distress.
 
• the Registrant has shown only limited insight

• the Registrant has provided no evidence of remediation.

84. The Panel identified the following mitigating factors:

• the Registrant has no previous fitness to practise history;

• the Registrant was at the very early stages of her career as a social worker and was only part way through her ASYE when the deficiencies were identified;

• the Registrant trained in Zimbabwe where the cultural and professional expectations may differ from practice in the UK;

• the Registrant was able to work competently in some areas of practice.

No Action

85. Having taken the aggravating and mitigating factors into account the Panel first considered taking no action. The Panel concluded that, in view of the nature and seriousness of the Registrant’s lack of competence, which has not been remedied, and in the absence of exceptional circumstances, it would be inappropriate to take no action. Furthermore, it would be insufficient to protect the public, maintain public confidence and uphold the reputation of the profession.
Caution Order

86. The Panel then considered a Caution Order. The Panel noted that, although Caution Orders appear on the Register, they do not restrict a registrant’s ability to practise and took into account paragraph 101 of the SP which states:

“A caution order is likely to be an appropriate sanction for cases in which:
• the issue is isolated, limited, or relatively minor in nature;
• there is a low risk of repetition;
• the registrant has shown good insight; and
• the registrant has undertaken appropriate remediation.”
87. The Registrant’s persistent difficulty in maintaining the standards required of a competent NQSW was not minor in nature or limited. Furthermore, the Registrant has not demonstrated that the core case management skills which are required for safe and competent practice as a social worker have been addressed, nor has she demonstrated ‘good’ insight and as a consequence there is a risk of repetition. In any event, the deficiencies in the Registrant’s practice have the potential to adversely affect the safety and wellbeing of service users and therefore some restriction on her practice is required.  Therefore, the Panel concluded that a Caution Order would be inappropriate and insufficient to meet the public interest.

Conditions of Practice Order

88. The Panel went on to consider a Conditions of Practice Order. The Panel took the view that the Registrant’s deficiencies are capable of being remedied and was satisfied that appropriate, workable conditions could be formulated. In reaching this conclusion the Panel was mindful that paragraph 107 of the SP states:

‘Conditions will only be effective in cases where the registrant is genuinely committed to resolving the concerns raised and the panel is confident they will do so. Therefore, conditions of practice are unlikely to be suitable in cases in which the registrant has failed to engage with the fitness to practise process or where there are serious or persistent failings.’

89. The Panel took the view that, although the Registrant has not engaged with the hearing process, her written response of 3 December 2018 to the Allegation, and the record of the ASYE three-month review, which took place on 11 May 2017, indicates that the Registrant has a number of strengths. In particular, the Panel noted that the Registrant was able to produce good quality written work when she planned in advance and allowed sufficient time, was a supportive and helpful team member, had a calm approach, was reflective in supervision and was willing and keen to learn. The Panel also noted that the Registrant co-operated with the Council’s informal action plan. The Panel took the view that the Registrant’s strengths, and her commitment to learning, indicates that there is a realistic possibility that she would be willing and able to address the areas of her practice which need to be developed. The Panel noted that, according to Witness NB, no additional support was provided to the Registrant to assist her in adjusting to practise as a social worker in the UK. Although the Registrant is required to work at the level expected of a NQSW, as that was her role within the Council, the Panel took the view that she may have needed a longer period of adjustment.

90. Witness NB stated that the Registrant had to be removed from case management duties, which involved working directly with children and families, and was placed on desk duty. Witness NB informed the Panel that this was because she was not confident that the Registrant was able to practise ‘safely’. Whilst the Panel noted that this was a significant course of action, which indicates the level of the Council’s concern, the Panel was not provided with any detailed information which explained why, so soon after personal development goals were identified for the Registrant, it was considered no longer possible to manage the Registrant via support and supervision. The Panel was unable to assess whether the termination of the action plan was premature or justified and, in the absence of sufficient information, the Panel took the view that the Registrant should be given a further opportunity to demonstrate that she can remedy the deficiencies in her practice.

91. In these circumstances, the Panel concluded that the Registrant should be given the opportunity to return to work within a social work setting. The Panel was satisfied that this could be achieved without exposing service users to a risk of harm.

92. The Panel determined that the Conditions of Practice Order should be imposed for a period of 2 years. The Panel was satisfied that this period was appropriate as it is an indication of the length of time that the Registrant will need to address the deficiencies in her practice. In imposing this period the Panel noted that the Registrant had been unable to demonstrate sufficient improvement to her practice during the Council’s initial probationary period despite support and supervision. Therefore, the period reflects the amount of time that the Registrant will need to focus on improving her case management skills, her understanding of front-line social work in the UK and to devise and follow a plan of action targeted towards a return to unrestricted practice.

93. The Panel determined that the appropriate and proportionate order is a 2 year Conditions of Practice Order.

94. The Panel concluded that, at this time, a Suspension Order would be disproportionate and punitive and was not required for public protection as that would be met by the Conditions of Practice Order.

95. Shortly before expiry of the Order, the Conditions of Practice will be reviewed by a review panel. However, the Registrant may request an early review before the mandatory review if she believes that she is able to demonstrate that she has made sufficient progress which would justify the Order being varied or revoked.

96. Although not a condition, it would be of assistance to the Registrant and to a future reviewing panel, if the Registrant were to attend in person. A future reviewing panel would also be assisted by testimonials form the Registrant that attest to the quality and reliability of her work in either a social work or non-professional setting.

Order

Order: The Registrar is directed to annotate the Register to show that, for a period of 2 years from the date that this Order comes into effect you, Miss Dorothy Ribombo, must comply with the following conditions of practice:


1. You must promptly inform the HCPC if you are employed in a social work role which requires HCPC registration.

2. If you are employed in a social work role, you must place yourself and remain under the supervision of a senior social worker who has supervisory responsibilities.

3. The aforementioned supervisor must be registered by the HCPC and details of that supervisor must be provided to the HCPC within 7 days of commencing employment in a social work role.

4. You must work with the supervisor to formulate a Personal Development Plan designed to address the deficiencies in the following areas of your practice:

• prioritising and managing workloads;
• recognising and meeting timescales;
• recognising the limits of your practice and seeking help when required;
• recognising and responding appropriately to unexpected situations.

5. Within three months of commencing a social work role you must forward a copy of your Personal Development Plan to the HCPC. 

6. You must meet with your supervisor on a fortnightly basis to consider your progress towards achieving the aims set out in your Personal Development Plan.

7. You must allow your supervisor to provide information to the HCPC about your progress towards achieving the aims set out in your Personal Development Plan.

8. If you are employed in a social work role, you must promptly inform the HCPC of any disciplinary proceedings taken against you by your employer.

9. In seeking employment as a social worker you must inform the following parties that your registration is subject to these conditions:

A. any organisation or person employing or contracting with you to undertake professional work;

B. any agency you are registered with or apply to be registered with (at the time of application); and

C. any prospective employer (at the time of your application).

Notes

This order will be reviewed again before its expiry on 11 September 2021.

Interim Order:

Proceeding with the application in the Registrant’s absence

1. Ms Thompson made an application for the hearing to proceed in the Registrant’s absence in order to consider an application by the HCPC for an Interim Order. She submitted that the Registrant had been given notice that the HCPC may make such an application in the Notice of Hearing.

2. The Panel decided that it was appropriate to consider the HCPC’s application for an Interim Order in the absence of the Registrant because she had been informed in the Notice of Hearing sent to her on 3 June 2019 that such an application might be made, and she has not responded with regard to that warning. Furthermore, the Panel has made findings which identify clear public interest concerns, including potentially a risk of harm to service users and a need to uphold proper standards of conduct and behaviour.

Application and Response

3. Ms Thompson, on behalf of the HCPC, made an application for an Interim Conditions of Practice Order to cover the appeal period on the grounds that it was in the interests of the public and otherwise in the public interest.

Panel Decision

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

5. The Panel determined that an Interim Order was necessary for the protection of the public and was otherwise in the public interest because of the nature and seriousness of the findings against the Registrant. A member of the public would be concerned if the Registrant was able to continue to practise during the appeal period in circumstances where omissions had exposed service users to the risk of harm. Furthermore, it would be inconsistent with the Panel’s determination that there is a risk of repetition.

6. In reaching this decision, the Panel considered the impact of an Interim Conditions of Practice Order on the Registrant. The Panel determined that the public interest outweighed the Registrant’s interests and that an Interim Order is proportionate.

7. The Panel did not make an Interim Order on the ground that it was in the Registrant’s own interests.

8. The Panel decided that the appropriate length of an Interim Order is 18 months, to cover the 28-day appeal period and the time it may take for any appeal, if made, to be determined.

9. The Panel makes an Interim Conditions of Practice Order under Article 31(2) of the Health and Social Work Professions Order 2001, the same being necessary to protect members of the public and being otherwise in the public interest.  This order will expire: (if no appeal is made against the Panel’s decision and Order) upon the expiry of the period during which such an appeal could be made; (if an appeal is made against the Panel’s decision and Order) the final determination of that appeal, subject to a maximum period of 18 months.

 

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Miss Dorothy Ribombo

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
20/08/2019 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Conditions of Practice