Miss Samantha C Buckeridge
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During the course of your employment as a Registered Social Worker at Middlesborough [sic] Council, you:
1) On or around 20 December 2016 signed a Section 17 form purporting this to be the signature of Person A;
2) On or around 29 December 2016, signed a Section 17 purporting this to be the signature of Person B;
3) Until questioned about the funds, withheld money meant for Person A’s grandchildren:
a) On 20 December 2016 amounting to approximately £63. 28; and/or
b) On 29 December 2016 amounting to approximately £163.28.
4) In relation to Person A’s grandchildren, did not complete the following documentation for a Special Guardianship Assessment in a timely manner:
a) DBS checks; and/or
b) Special Guardianship references; and/or
c) Special Guardianship medical; and/or
d) An updated and/or accurate support plan.
5) In relation to Child C:
a) Did not make case recordings in a timely manner; and/or
b) Recorded visits to Child C in foster care which did not take place.
6) Did not visit Child C in placement and/or in respite care in accordance with the Middlesborough [sic] Council Looked After Child visiting policy.
7) In relation to Child C, did not obtain information in relation to Child C's father as requested by a paediatrician in a medical in or around April 2016.
8) In relation to Child C, between February and May 2016, did not complete a permanency report for presentation to the Agency Decision Maker ('ADM') resulting in the ADM panels on 22 February and 3 May 2016 being cancelled.
9) In respect of Child D, born in February 2016:
a) Did not make case recordings in a timely manner.
10) The matters at 1, 2, 3 and 5(b) were dishonest.
11) The matters at paragraphs 1, 2, 3, 5b) and 10 constitute misconduct.
12) The matters set out in paragraphs 4, 5a) and 6 to 9 constitute misconduct and/or lack of competence.
13) By reason of your misconduct and/or lack of competence your fitness to practise is impaired.
Service of Notice
1. The Panel found that there had been good service of the Notice of Hearing by a letter dated 12 November 2018 which informed the Registrant of the date, time, and venue of the Hearing.
Proceeding in the Absence of the Registrant
2. Ms Sheridan made an application for the hearing to proceed in the absence of the Registrant. She informed the Panel that the Registrant has not engaged with the HCPC.
3. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and had regard to the HCPTS Practice Note “Proceeding in the Absence of the Registrant”.
4. The Panel noted that there is no explanation for the Registrant’s absence and that she has not applied for an adjournment of the Hearing. In the circumstances, the Panel concluded that the Registrant’s absence is voluntary and that she has waived her right to attend. There was no information to suggest that she might attend a hearing at a later date. The matter dates back to events in 2016 and involves an allegation of dishonesty. The Panel considered that there was strong public interest in the case being heard without delay. Although the Registrant may be prejudiced by not attending the Hearing, the Panel concluded that her interests were outweighed by the public interest in expedition.
Application to amend the Allegation
5. Ms Sheridan made an application to amend the Allegation. The proposed amendments were to clarify the Allegation and for consistency with the witness evidence, but they did not expand the scope or seriousness of the Allegation. The Registrant was given notice of all the proposed amendments in a letter dated 8 November 2018, with the exception of a minor amendment to particular 4 to correct a typographical error.
6. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.
7. The Panel agreed to the proposed amendments. The Panel decided that the proposed amendments would not involve any unfairness to the Registrant and that the amendments were appropriate.
Hearing in private
8. Ms Sheridan made an application for part of the hearing to be heard in private if the evidence were to cover details relating to the health or family circumstances of the Registrant or her family members.
9. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.
10. The Panel decided that it was appropriate to hear part of the case in private. This decision was limited to detailed evidence about the health of the Registrant and family members.
Exclusion of evidence
11. The Panel noted that the Hearing Bundle included a letter dated 26 May 2017 which had not been sufficiently redacted to exclude all the findings of fact in relation to the matters in the Allegation which were made by the Registrant’s employer. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Advisor that it should not consider or take into account any conclusion reached by another decision maker in relation to the factual matters in the Allegation.
12. The Panel decided to exclude the inadmissible findings. It was careful to disregard any finding in this letter which was negative or prejudiced the Registrant in any way.
13. The Registrant was a Social Worker in the Assessment and Care Planning Team as part of Middlesbrough Safeguarding and Children’s Services. She qualified as a Social Worker in 2011 and had been employed by Middlesbrough Council (the “Council”) since 23 January 2012.
14. From February 2016, following a restructure within the Council the Registrant was managed by MDM, a Team Manager. Concerns regarding the Registrant’s practice first came to light in April 2016 when she approached MDM requesting additional support regarding her caseload. An informal action plan was introduced. A further informal action plan was implemented on 17 October 2016 due to issues being raised again regarding the Registrant’s late recording of case notes. Sustained improvement was not achieved and on 12 December 2016, a formal action plan was implemented.
15. However, shortly after the implementation of that plan, concerns arose in relation to the Registrant’s conduct with regards to Person A. On 4 January 2017 an Assistant Team Manager, JF, received a telephone call from Person A requesting financial support to purchase medicine and pay an electricity bill. Person A was allocated to receive a fostering allowance of £163.28 for Children A. The first allowance was to be given on 20 December 2016 to Person A by the Registrant. The second instalment was to be given to Person A by the Registrant on 29 December 2016. JF advised Person A that she had already received her fostering allowance and could not receive any further financial support at this time. Person A then stated she had only received £100 from the Registrant on 20 December 2016, and nothing more. JF passed on these concerns to MDM by e-mail on 6 January 2017.
16. When MDM returned to work on 9 January 2017, she asked the Registrant whether she had given Person A her fostering allowance. The Registrant confirmed that she had. The payment of money to service users is confirmed by a Section 17 form. In the case of the fostering allowance for 20 and 29 December 2016 the Section 17 form is signed by the Registrant, MDM and a Service Manager. The form also contains a section for the Registrant to confirm collection of the money and for the service user to confirm receipt of the money, by both name and signature. The form dated 20 December 2016 appeared to show Person A’s signature confirming receipt of £163.28. The form dated 29 December 2016 appeared to show the signature of Person B, the granddaughter of Person A in relation to receipt of £163.38. The Registrant told MDM that she had forged the signature on the 20 December form or words to that effect.
17. Shortly after MDM had spoken to the Registrant about the missing allowance the Registrant returned to her office to inform her that she had found cash in her desk drawer amounting £63.28. This tallies with the amount that had been missing from the payment that Person A should have received on 20 December 2016.
18. Later that day MDM returned to her desk to find an envelope containing £143.28 with a post-it note on top of it. The note read “I hate my life! Was in my glove box with some anadin, tomato sauce and tena lady!! My head not in the game-sorry!” This sum was approximately £20 short of the £163.38 that should have been paid to Person A on 29 December 2016.
19. CN, an Independent Reviewing Officer of the Council, was appointed to carry out an investigation. She investigated the incident involving the payment of the fostering allowance and other concerns about the Registrant’s practice.
20. A further allegation concerned the completion of documentation for Children A’s Special Guardianship Assessment. The Council’s plan for Children A recommended that a Special Guardianship Order (SGO) was made to Person A so that she could continue to care for the children as their guardian. After the Registrant had been suspended, SN, a Level L Social Worker at the time, was asked to attend a final hearing in respect of the SGO on 16 January 2017. When she attended at court SN identified that documentation had not been completed. There were also difficulties relating to a support plan that had been prepared by the Registrant.
21. CN also investigated concerns in relation to Child C, a Looked After Child. The Registrant had made records of visits to Child C on the Council’s database that did not match the records made by the Foster Carer for Child C (Foster Carer 1). The requirement was that the Registrant should visit Child C at least weekly in the first month of placement and at least once per month thereafter. If the visits only occurred as recorded by Foster Carer 1, the Registrant had not conducted visits as required.
22. A further concern in relation to Child C related to the completion of a Child Permanency Report (permanency report) to be presented to the Agency Decision Maker (ADM) at an ADM panel meeting. The role of the ADM is to make a decision about whether the proposed plan is the right plan for the child. The permanency report is a substantial report which is prepared by the Social Worker setting out key information relating to the child and the child’s history. LA, who was at the time an Assistant Team Manager in the Council’s adoption service, met the Registrant on 23 November 2015 to agree a timescale for the Registrant to prepare the permanency report for Child C. It was agreed that the report would be prepared in time to be presented to the ADM Panel on 22 February 2016. The ADM Panel did not proceed on 22 February 2016 and was rearranged for 03 May 2016 but did not proceed on this date either. The documents indicate that the Registrant’s permanency report was completed and finalised on 25 May 2016. The ADM considered the case on 31 May 2016.
23. A further concern investigated by CN was the timeliness of the Registrant’s case notes in respect of Child C and Child D and in particular whether the notes were recorded within five days of the visit being undertaken, as was expected. BG conducted case reviews for Child D and informed MDM of a concern about whether case notes had been recorded by the Registrant.
24. The Registrant was further criticised for failing to obtain medical information in relation to Child C’s father which was requested by the assessing paediatrician in April 2016, following an earlier request made in November 2015 by a different doctor.
Decision on Facts:
25. The Panel carefully read and considered the documents in the HCPC bundle of documents.
26. There were no documents or written submissions from the Registrant other than the statement produced in respect of the meetings on 17 and 20 March 2017 which the Registrant attended in the course of the disciplinary investigation. The Registrant signed this document on 27 April 2016 and provided two pages of amendments.
27. The Panel heard evidence from the HCPC witnesses, MDM, CN, BG LA, and SN.
28. The Panel found that MDM was a credible witness. She was a fair and balanced witness who was able to describe the Registrant’s strengths as a Social Worker. She had a good recollection of the events and gave a clear explanation when she was asked about details such as the Registrant’s caseload.
29. The Panel found that CN was a credible and straightforward witness. She was less sure in some of her answers, but was a fair-minded witness.
30. The Panel considered that the documentary evidence was more reliable than the oral evidence of BG. The Panel found that there was confusion in BG’s evidence and that her answers were not always accurate in relation to the case notes.
31. The Panel found that LA was a credible witness. Her evidence was limited because she had only one meeting with the Registrant. She was able to give a clear explanation of the normal process for preparing reports for ADM meetings.
32. SN was initially reluctant to give the Panel her views about the Registrant. She described the Registrant as having a very different personality from herself. The Panel considered that there was some negativity on the part of SN towards the Registrant. This had an impact on the weight the Panel gave to SN’s evidence.
33. The Panel made a careful assessment of the weight it should give to the hearsay evidence of Person A, Person B, Foster Carer 1 and Foster Carer 2, bearing in mind that this evidence was not subject to testing by the Panel. In all the circumstances the Panel decided that it was appropriate to give weight to the hearsay evidence. All the statements were obtained as part of a formal investigation and were completed close to the date of the relevant events. The evidence of Person A and Person B was consistent with other undisputed evidence. The Registrant’s own account of the events was consistent with the account of Person A that only £100 was received by her. Foster Carer 1 and Foster Carer 2 had no reason to lie about the number of visits and their evidence was based on their contemporaneous records. The Panel was satisfied that the hearsay evidence was reliable.
34. The Panel found particular 1 proved by the oral evidence of MDM and the documentary evidence.
35. When MDM first spoke to the Registrant on 9 January 2017 about the Section 17 form for the payment on 20 December 2016 the Registrant admitted that she forged Person A’s signature. Although the Registrant later gave an explanation that she had written Person A’s name on the form because Person A had her hands full, the Panel decided that her initial response was more likely to be correct because of the surrounding circumstances.
36. Those circumstances were that Person A did not receive the full fostering allowance of £163.28. She only received £100. The Registrant gave no explanation for a signature confirming receipt of £163.28 when Person A had received substantially less money, nor did she explain why she had initially admitted forging Person A’s signature.
37. The Panel found particular 2 proved by the oral evidence of MDM and the documentary evidence.
38. Person B did not receive the fostering allowance of approximately £163.28 on 29 December 2016. This is confirmed by the evidence that on 9 January 2017 the Registrant returned £143.28 to MDM with the post-it note stating that she had found the money in the glove box of her car.
39. Person B stated that she did not sign the Section 17 form and the Panel accepted that this was so. It was unlikely that she would sign the Section 17 form if she had not received any or all of the £163.38 stated on the form.
40. The Panel inferred from the above that the Registrant had signed the Section 17 form.
41. The Panel found particular 3 proved by the oral evidence of MDM and the documentary evidence.
42. The Registrant returned to MDM two sums of £63.38 and £143.28. The returned payment of £143.28 was approximately £20 less than the sum which should have been paid to Person B. The Panel accepted that Person B did not sign to confirm receipt of any money on 29 December 2016 and the Panel decided that she did not receive any money. The Registrant therefore retained the sum of approximately £20.
43. The Panel decided that the Registrant did not accidentally retain the sums of approximately £63.28 and £163.28. It was not likely that the Registrant would have been so careless with funds for service users on two occasions only one week or so apart. The Registrant also returned most of the money very soon after she was challenged by MDM.
44. The Panel also noted that the payment of £163.28 to Person A would have required the Registrant to count out and hand over coinage as well as notes to Person A. It would have been obvious to Person A and to the Registrant that she was not handing over the correct sum, if she handed over only notes. The Panel decided that the money was deliberately withheld by the Registrant.
45. The Panel found particulars 4(a), 4(b) and 4(c) proved by the oral evidence of CN and SN and by the documentary evidence.
46. The DBS checks, Special Guardianship references and Special Guardianship medical had not been completed by 16 January 2017, which was the date of the final court hearing to consider the application for Special Guardianship.
47. It was the Registrant’s responsibility to work with Person A to complete the documentation. The Registrant had taken the first steps to obtain a DBS check several months prior to the January 2017. She had been sent an e-mail with links to complete the form, but the process had not been completed.
48. It was also the Registrant’s responsibility to obtain details of referees from Person A and follow this up by contacting each referee to obtain a reference. She should also have worked with Person A to arrange the Special Guardianship medical.
49. The Registrant’s explanation to CN in respect of these matters was that until her suspension on 9 January 2017 she was endeavouring to complete this work, but that she had unsuccessfully chased Person A countless times. Having reviewed the documentary evidence, the Panel noted that there was some support for the Registrant’s statement that Person A was uncooperative with the Special Guardianship process. The Panel therefore accepted that the Registrant was endeavouring to complete this work up to the date of her suspension.
50. The documentation was not obtained in a timely manner primarily because of the lack of co-operation from Person A.
51. The Panel found particular 4(d) not proved.
52. At the Special Guardianship Final Hearing on 16 January 2017 SN had access to a support plan prepared by the Registrant in anticipation of the hearing. The support plan had not been signed either by the Registrant or by MDM. However, the Panel noted that the Registrant was suspended on 9 January 2017 and that she told CN that she had not sent the support plan to the court. The Panel found that the HCPC has not proved that the Registrant did not complete the support plan in a timely manner, given that the plan appeared to be ready or almost ready to submit before 9 January 2017.
53. The criticism of the Registrant in respect of the accuracy of the report is that the report described financial assistance for Children A which had not been approved by the Provision and Placement Panel. The Registrant’s explanation was that she wrote the report in anticipation that the funding would be agreed, following verbal conversations with a manager. Although the Registrant had not obtained approval from MDM, the Panel concluded that the Registrant had written the report in anticipation that funding would be granted. The Registrant had not signed the report to confirm its accuracy.
54. In these circumstances, the HCPC has not proved that the report was not provided in a timely manner or that it was inaccurate.
55. The Panel found particular 5(a) proved by the documentary evidence and the oral evidence of CN.
56. The Registrant accepted that her case recording was not timely and this was the reason for implementation of the informal performance plans.
57. In respect of Child C the records show that on 19 August 2016 the Registrant finalised records on the Council’s database in respect of contact with Child C relating to dates including 15 December 2015, 13 January 2016, 3 February 2016, 12 February 2016, 17 February 2016, 09 March, 05 April 2016, 04 May 2016, 17 May 2016, 14 June 2016, 29 June 2016 and 22 July 2016.
58. The expectation was that records should be completed within five working days. The Panel noted from the papers that other Social Workers did not meet this expectation in their case recording. Nevertheless, on any view, a record made several months after the event is not a timely record.
59. Although it was possible that the record could have been “created” on the database system on an earlier date and “finalised” on the later date of 19 August 2016, CN confirmed that that was not the case in respect of the records she reviewed in her investigation. The Registrant did not suggest that she “created” the records at an earlier date.
60. The Panel found particular 5(b) proved by the documentary evidence, including the statements of Foster Carer 1 and Foster Carer 2 and the oral evidence of CN and Child C’s records.
61. CN carried out a review of the contemporaneous notes of Foster Carer 1. Those notes showed that the Registrant visited Child C on only four occasions in her placement, whereas the notes recorded by the Registrant on the system showed regular visits in accordance with the Council and statutory requirement for monthly visits. The Registrant’s notes indicated that she saw Child C on seventeen occasions.
62. The Panel decided that the Registrant’s notes for the disputed visits were fictitious. The records of Foster Carer 1 show that she had a period of respite when she was away from the foster home from 26 June 2016 to 4 July 2016. During this period of time, the Registrant wrote a case note for a looked after child visit on 29 June 2016 (finalised on 19 August 2016). The Registrant recorded “No concerns identified. Child C continues to do well within placement and his contact at home is being managed well”. Foster Carer 2, who cared for Child C during respite, stated that she did not have a visit from the Registrant. This evidence is consistent with the Registrant’s statement that she did not see Child C with any other foster carers.
63. This conclusion was further supported by the evidence that Foster Carer 1 reported in her review dated 27 January 2016 that she had raised “issues with the visiting of the social worker”. Foster Carer 1 also reported some concerns with the development of Child C. This was inconsistent with the Registrant’s positive case notes.
64. The Panel found particular 6 proved.
65. The Panel has found that the Registrant did not visit Child C in accordance with the records in her own case notes. The Panel determined that she visited only on the four occasions between February and November 2016 as recorded by Foster Carer 1.
66. The Council’s Looked After Child Visiting policy requires visits to the child in her placement at least once per week in the child’s first month of placement and then at least monthly. The Registrant did not visit Child C in accordance with these requirements.
67. The Panel found particular 7 proved by the documentary evidence and the evidence of MDM.
68. On 17 November 2015 a request was made by a Community Paediatrician for the Registrant to clarify the medical history of Child C’s father with his family doctor. By April 2016 this work had not been completed and a further request was made by a Paediatrician in a letter sent to the Registrant dated 20 April 2016. The summary section of this letter stated: “Social Worker to clarify Child C’s father’s medical history with his family doctor (this advice was given since Initial Health Assessment of Children Looked After, 17 November 2015)”.
69. The Registrant’s explanation was that she had delegated the task to the Health Visitor who had clarified the position. However, the information was not passed to the Paediatrician.
70. By January 2017 this matter remained outstanding so far as the Paediatrician was concerned. On any view this was not timely, given that the request was made in April 2016.
71. If the Registrant had delegated the task to a Health Visitor, it remained her responsibility to ensure that the information was provided to the Paediatrician, which she failed to do.
72. The Panel found particular 8 proved by the documentary evidence and the oral evidence of CN and LA.
73. LA explained the standard process for ADM Panels. The permanency report must be sent to the administration team two weeks before the panel meeting. In some cases the Social Worker contacts the administration team and an extension of time can be agreed, but there must be an involvement by the Social Worker in this process. If the report is not provided within this time the slot allocated for the relevant child will be cancelled either by the Social Worker or by the administration team.
74. LA confirmed that at the process planning meeting with the Registrant on 23 November 2015 the Registrant agreed a date for the ADM meeting of 22 February 2016.
75. The permanency report for Child C was not completed by the Registrant, on her own admission, until sometime in May 2016. The report was completed and finalised on 25 May 2016.
76. Although the Registrant put forward suggested reasons for the cancellation of the slots for the ADM Panel to consider Child C’s case on 22 February 2016 and 3 May 2016, that she was on annual leave on 22 February 2016 and attending a Court Hearing on 3 May 2016, the Panel decided that it was more likely that the slots were cancelled in advance of those dates because the permanency report was not prepared. The Panel drew this inference because the Registrant’s leave dates do not include 22 February 2016, and because the permanency report was not completed by the Registrant in either February 2016 or April 2016.
77. The Panel found particular 9 proved by the documentary evidence.
78. The Registrant did not dispute that her case recording had fallen behind. This was the reason for the implementation of both the informal performance plans.
79. The records for Child D show that records were “finalised” on the database on 17 August 2016 and 19 August 2016 in respect of work carried out on this case on dates including 02 March 2016, 07 March 2016, 11 March 2016, 18 March 2016, 25 March 2016, 29 March 2016, 01 April 2016, 19 April 2016 and 12 May 2016. On any view, a record made several months after the contact or visit is not timely. The records were audited by BG and it was evident that not only had the Registrant not finalised them, she had not created them in a timely fashion either.
80. The Panel found particular 10 proved. The Registrant’s conduct in particulars 1, 2, 3 and 5(b) was dishonest, applying the standard of ordinary reasonable people.
81. The forging of Person A’s signature on the Section 17 form was a deliberate act intended to conceal the fact that the Registrant had herself retained part of the money intended for Children A. There could be no honest explanation for the forging of the signature. The Panel earlier rejected the Registrant’s explanation that she signed the form on behalf of Person A because Person A had her hands full.
82. Similarly, there could be no honest explanation for making a false statement that Person B had signed the Section 17 form when she had not. This statement was untrue and was intended to conceal the fact that the Registrant had herself signed the Section 17 form.
83. The Panel earlier concluded that the withholding by the Registrant of the sums of approximately £63.28 and £163.28 was deliberate rather than accidental. The Registrant gave no explanation for the retention of these sums. The Registrant only returned this money to MDM when she was challenged. She knew that she should not have retained this money and this was dishonest.
84. In relation to particular 5(b) the Panel noted the high number of incorrect entries. The Registrant was writing her notes some months after the events and if there had been one or two incorrect entries the Panel might have decided that the Registrant was careless or mistaken. However, there were more than ten incorrect entries. The Panel drew the inference that the Registrant was intending to create a false trail of records to demonstrate her compliance with the requirement to visit Child C. Therefore, the Panel decided that the Registrant’s actions were dishonest.
Decision on Grounds:
85. The question of whether the facts found proved constitute misconduct or a lack of competence is for the judgment of the Panel and there is no burden or standard of proof.
86. There is no statutory definition of misconduct, but the Panel had regard to the guidance of Lord Clyde in Roylance v GMC (No 2) 1 AC 311: “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 conduct must be serious in that it falls well below the standards.
87. The Panel first considered particulars 1, 2, 3, 5(b) and 10 which are alleged to constitute misconduct. As a Social Worker the Registrant was trusted with funds which were intended for the care of Person A’s grandchildren and trusted to make honest records of her visits to Child C which were required for Child C’s safety. The Registrant breached that trust and acted dishonestly in relation to forging Person A’s signature, forging Person B’s signature, withholding monies intended for Person A’s grandchildren, and recording visits for Child C which did not take place. The Registrant’s dishonest conduct would be regarded as deplorable by members of the public and the profession.
88. In the Panel’s judgment the Registrant’s dishonest conduct was well below the required standards for Social Workers and was sufficiently serious to constitute misconduct.
89. The Panel considered whether particulars 4(a), (b) and (c), 5(a), 6, 7, 8 and 9 constitute a lack of competence. The Registrant was an experienced Social Worker and had successfully achieved promotion to level K which is one grade above a qualified Social Worker. Although organisational skills were not her strength, there was nothing to indicate that she lacked the knowledge, skill, or ability to carry out the basic tasks of a Social Worker.
90. Although there was evidence that at the time of the events the Registrant was struggling with difficult issues relating to her circumstances at home involving the health of family members, she was also reassuring her manager that she was managing well, that the difficulties were not impacting her work and that she had managed to catch up on her work.
91. The Panel decided that the particulars 4(a), (b) and (c), 5(a), 6, 7, 8, and 9 did not constitute a lack of competence.
92. The Panel next considered whether these particulars constituted misconduct. In deciding whether or not the conduct was sufficiently serious, the Panel took into account the context and surrounding circumstances.
93. The Panel decided that the Registrant’s conduct in particulars 4(a), 4(b) and 4(c) was not sufficiently serious to constitute misconduct. One of the significant reasons the Registrant did not complete the required documentation in a timely manner was the lack of co-operation from Person A. The Registrant can be criticised for failing to escalate the situation to her manager and to take more pro-active steps. Nevertheless, the Panel decided that her conduct was not sufficiently serious to constitute misconduct. It was below the standards expected of a Social Worker, but in the Panel’s judgment it was not well below those standards.
94. The Panel decided that the Registrant’s failure to make case recordings in a timely manner for Child C and Child D (particulars 5(a) and 9(a) were each sufficiently serious to constitute misconduct. The Panel noted that other Social Workers failed to complete notes within the expected timeframe of five days. Nevertheless, the Registrant’s delay in completing the notes of several months was entirely unacceptable and well below the expected standards. The consequence of the late recording is that there was no accurate picture of whether the needs of the child were being met, and in particular whether the child was safe. Social Workers reviewing the case would not be able to identify any pattern of behaviour, identify any risk, and make the correct decisions for the child.
95. In the Panel’s judgment the Registrant’s conduct in particular 6 was sufficiently serious to constitute misconduct. The purpose of the requirements for regularly visiting the child in the Council’s Looked After Child visiting policy is to ensure that the child is safe and that their needs are being met. These requirements are a basic minimum and Social Workers must comply with them. There were no exceptional circumstances to explain the Registrant’s failure to comply with the requirements. The Registrant did not pick up the concerns of Foster Carer 1 about the development of Child C.
96. The failure to obtain information in relation to the health of Child C’s father as required by the paediatrician, particular 7, was sufficiently serious to constitute misconduct. The request had been made for a second time, several months after the first, which should have alerted the Registrant to its importance. It was not sufficient for the Registrant to delegate this task to others because it was she who had received the request and it was she who was responsible for following it through as the child’s Social worker. The investigations were important because of the possible implications for Child C’s health if there was a genetic link.
97. The conduct in particular 8 of failing to complete the permanency report resulting in the cancellation of the ADM sessions to consider Child C was sufficiently serious to constitute misconduct. The Registrant’s conduct delayed the consideration by the ADM Panel by several months and therefore potentially delayed the finalisation of Child C’s adoption. The consequence of this was that Child C remained in care for longer than necessary and subject to a Care Order which required ongoing monitoring and visiting. The permanency arrangements for Child C were not finalised until eleven months after he was born.
98. In reaching its decision that the Registrant’s conduct was sufficiently serious to constitute misconduct the Panel considered the HCPC Standards of conduct, performance and ethics (2016) standards 6, 8, 9 and 10. The Panel also considered that the Registrant’s actions were a breach of the Standards of proficiency for Social workers (2012) standards 1, 2, 3, 9 and 10.
Decision on Impairment:
99. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and had regard to the HCPTS Practice Note “Finding that Fitness to Practice is Impaired”. The Panel considered the Registrant’s fitness to practise at today’s date.
100. The Panel first considered the personal component which is the Registrant’s current behaviour.
101. The Registrant has not engaged with the HCPC and there is no information about her current circumstances, level of insight, or any remediation she has undertaken.
102. As far as the Panel is aware, the Registrant has never provided a proper explanation for her actions and has never expressed any remorse for the same.
103. The Panel accepted that the Registrant’s difficult circumstances at home might have contributed to her extremely poor judgment, or to her misconduct involving the organisation of her work. However, there was no evidence that there has been a change in those circumstances or any evidence of a change in the Registrant’s attitude.
104. When the Registrant was challenged by MDM she returned a large part of the money she had withheld. However, this action does not indicate that she had insight at that time in relation to her dishonest behaviour. The Registrant has not demonstrated to the Panel that she has gained any insight since January 2017.
105. Dishonesty is not easy to remedy, and in this case the dishonesty was not an isolated incident. The Registrant was dishonest in relation to money intended for service users on two occasions and in relation to the recording of visits for Child C. The dishonesty was in the course of the Registrant’s professional responsibilities and involved a breach of trust.
106. There was no evidence before the Panel to indicate that there was no ongoing risk of repetition of dishonesty or of the Registrant’s misconduct in relation to case recordings, conducting visits to children in accordance with the required timescale, timely completion of documentation, and obtaining information requested by the paediatrician.
107. The Panel therefore decided that the Registrant’s fitness is impaired on the basis of the personal component.
108. The Panel next considered the wider public interest considerations including the need to uphold standards of conduct and behaviour and to maintain confidence in the profession and the regulatory process.
109. The Registrant’s repeated dishonest conduct was a very serious departure from the HCPC required standards. The Panel considered that it was necessary to mark the Regulator’s disapproval of such a serious breach and that this required a finding that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is impaired.
110. A finding of current impairment is also necessary to maintain confidence in the profession and the regulatory process. An informed member of the public would be concerned by the Registrant’s past dishonest behaviour. In particular, the dishonest conduct in particulars 1, 2 and 3 involves the misuse of funds which were intended for vulnerable service users and the dishonest conduct in particular 5(b) is a breach of fundamental requirement for all Social Workers to make an honest record of contact with service users. The dishonest record for Child C put Child C at risk of harm.
111. The Panel therefore concluded that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is impaired on the basis of the personal component and the public component.
Decision on Sanction:
112. In considering which, if any, sanction to impose the Panel had regard to the HCPC Indicative Sanctions Policy (ISP) and the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Legal Assessor referred to case law guidance in relation to dishonesty including Khan v General Medical Council  EWHC 301.
113. The Panel reminded itself that the purpose of imposing a sanction is not to punish the Registrant, but to protect the public and the wider public interest. The Panel ensured that it acted proportionately, and in particular it sought to balance the interests of the public with those of the Registrant, and imposed the sanction which was the least restrictive in the circumstances commensurate with its duty of protection.
114. The Panel decided that the aggravating features were:
• the dishonesty occurred in the performance of the Registrant’s professional duties;
• the dishonesty found was not an isolated incident;
• the dishonesty involved different forms of dishonest behaviour and indicated a pattern of conduct;
• vulnerable service users were put at risk of harm;
• the absence of any real evidence showing insight, remorse or regret from the outset and throughout these proceedings.
115. The Panel decided that the mitigating features were:
• the Registrant’s difficult home circumstances involving the ill health of family members;
• no fitness to practise history.
116. The Panel considered the option of taking no action, but decided that the misconduct was too serious and that this option would not address the risk of repetition the Panel has identified.
117. The Panel next considered a Caution Order. The Panel did not consider that the guidance in the ISP for Caution Orders applied. The conduct was not isolated or minor and there was a risk of repetition. A Caution Order would also not be sufficient to address the wider public interest considerations because of the gravity of the misconduct, involving a breach of a fundamental tenet of the profession that a Social Worker shall be trustworthy and honest.
118. The Panel next considered a Conditions of Practice Order. The Panel considered that conditions could not be formulated to address the Registrant’s dishonesty. Further, the Registrant has not engaged with the HCPC and the Panel cannot have confidence that she would comply with conditions of practice. A Conditions of Practice Order would also be insufficient to mark the gravity of the Registrant’s misconduct.
119. The Panel next considered the option of a Suspension Order. A Suspension Order would guard against the risk of repetition of dishonesty in professional practice while the Registrant was suspended. However, Suspension Orders are more appropriate where there is a prospect that the Registrant can be rehabilitated to the Register as a safe practitioner. In this case there was nothing to indicate that the Registrant is motivated to take steps to reduce the risk of repetition.
120. The Panel also considered whether a Suspension Order was a sufficiently severe sanction to act as a deterrent effect to other Registrants and to maintain public confidence in the profession and the regulatory process. The dishonesty in this case was repeated and occurred in the course of the Registrant’s professional work. Members of the public would be very concerned that the Registrant forged signatures, took money intended for vulnerable service users, and created false records for a vulnerable child who was in the care of the local authority. The Registrant was not honest in carrying out her primary task as a Social Worker of ensuring that the children in her care were safe. In these circumstances the Panel considered that a Suspension Order would not be sufficient.
121. Before it discounted the option of a Suspension Order the Panel carefully evaluated the mitigating circumstances. The absence of fitness to practice history was a minor factor, when weighed against the seriousness of the Registrant’s misconduct. The Panel recognised that the Registrant was facing very difficult circumstances at home at the time of the events. However, as a professional, she was responsible for her own decision to continue to work. It was her responsibility as a Social Worker to manage her circumstances and stop working if she was not able to do so safely and effectively. The Panel noted that her manager offered support to the Registrant, including counselling. The Panel therefore decided that the mitigating factors carried little weight and did not indicate that a Suspension Order was appropriate and proportionate.
122. The Panel considered the more restrictive sanction of a Striking Off Order. The Panel noted that the criteria in the ISP for a Striking Off Order applied; in particular this case involved serious dishonesty and a breach of trust. The Registrant has not engaged at all with the HCPC and has not attended the hearing to give reassurances to the Panel that the dishonesty will not be repeated. In these circumstances the Panel decided that a Striking Off Order was appropriate and proportionate. A Striking-Off Order would mark the seriousness of the Registrant’s misconduct, protect the public, act as a deterrent to other Registrants, and maintain the reputation of the profession.
123. In reaching its decision the Panel took into account the Registrant’s financial and reputational interests, but decided that they were outweighed by the need to protect the public and by the wider public interest considerations. The Panel decided that the appropriate and proportionate Order was a Striking Off Order.
The Registrar is directed to strike the name of Samantha C Buckeridge from the Register from the date this Order takes effect.
Interim Order Application:
Proceeding in Absence:
Ms Sheridan submitted that the Panel should hear her application for an Interim Suspension in the absence of the Registrant.
Panel’s decision on proceeding in Absence:
The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.
The Panel decided that it was fair and appropriate to proceed and hear the application in the absence of the Registrant. The Registrant was advised in the Notice of Hearing dated 12 November 2018 that an application for an interim order might be made. There was nothing to indicate that the Registrant wished to make submissions in relation to this application and it was in the public interest to proceed.
Application for an Interim Suspension Order:
Ms Sheridan made an application for an Interim Suspension Order for the maximum period of 18 months to cover the 28 day appeal period and the time that might be required to conclude any appeal.
Panel’s decision on Interim Order:
The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.
The Panel decided that an interim order was necessary for the protection of the public. The Panel has identified a risk of repetition and a potential risk to the public which is ongoing. The Panel also considered that an interim order was otherwise in the public interest. A member of the public would be shocked or troubled to learn that there was no interim restriction in place.
The Panel did not consider that the risks in this case could be addressed by an Interim Conditions of Practice Order because of its earlier conclusions that conditions would not be sufficient to protect the public or the public interest.
The Panel decided to make an Interim Suspension Order for a period of 18 months, the maximum duration, to allow sufficient time for the disposal of any appeal.
Interim Suspension Order:
The Panel makes an Interim Suspension 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.
History of Hearings for Miss Samantha C Buckeridge
|Date||Panel||Hearing type||Outcomes / Status|
|12/02/2019||Conduct and Competence Committee||Final Hearing||Struck off|