Ms Roanna Althia John

Profession: Social worker

Registration Number: SW74722

Hearing Type: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 10:00 11/02/2019 End: 17:00 13/02/2019

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

Panel: Conduct and Competence Committee
Outcome: Suspended

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Allegation

Whilst placed at Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council as an agency Social Worker and between 05 January 2017 and 28 April 2018 2017, you:

1. In relation to Service User 1:

a) did not convene regular Core Group Meetings and/or did not record Core Group Meeting notes after 06 January 2017.
b) did not record information relating to the Child Protection visits undertaken on:

i) 19 January 2017

ii) 27 January 2017

iii) 13 February 2017

iv) 01 March 2017

v) 03 March 2017

vi) 20 March 2017

vi) 04 April 2017

c) did not undertaken and/or record undertaking a Child Protection visit between 05 April 2017 and 28 April 2017.

2. In relation to Service User 2:

a) did not record information relating to the Child Protection visits undertaken on:

i)26 January 2017

ii)24 February 2017

iii)15 March 2017

iv) 30 March 2017

b) did not undertaken and/or record undertaking a Child Protection visit between 31 March 2017 and 28 April 2017.

c) did not convene a Core Group meeting after 14 March 2017.

3. In relation to Service User 3;

a) did not record Core Group Meeting notes in respect of the meetings held on:

i)09 January 2017

ii)30 January 2017

iii) 27 February 2017

b)did not convene and/or record a Core Group Meeting after 27 February 2017.

c) did not record information relating to the Child Protection visits undertaken on:

i) 05 January 2017

ii) 23 January 2017

iii) 13 February 2017

iv) 01 March 2017

v) 16 March 2017

vi) 04 April 2017

d) did not undertaken and/or record undertaking a Child Protection visit after 4 April 2017.

4. In relation to Service User 4;

a) did not record information relating to the Child Protection visits undertaken on:

i) 18 January 2017

ii) 20 January 2017

iii) 09 February 2017

iv) 24 February 2017

v) 10 March 2017

vi) 20 March 2017

vii) 21 March 2017

viii) 06 April 2017

b) did not convene regular Core Group Meetings and/or did not record Core Group Meeting notes.

5. In relation to Service User 5;

a) did not adequate record information relating to the Child Protection visits undertaken on:

i) 20 January 2017

ii)17 February 2017

iii) 07 March 2017

iv) 23 March 2017

v) 12 April 2017

b) did not record adequate Core Group Meeting notes in respect of the meetings held on:

i) 19 January 2017

ii) 17 February 2017

iii) 23 March 2017

a) The matters described in paragraph 1 - 5 constitute misconduct and/or a lack of competence.

b) By reason of your misconduct and/or a lack of competence your fitness to practise as a Social Worker is impaired.

Finding

Preliminary Matters

Service

1. Ms John did not attend the hearing and was not represented.  The Panel was satisfied that notice of the hearing had been properly served on her at her registered address.

Proceeding in the Absence of the Registrant

2. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and had regard to the HCPTS Practice Note on deciding to proceed in the Registrant’s absence.  The Panel heard that Ms John has not engaged with the HCPC process and that there is no evidence that she would attend the hearing if it was adjourned to a date in the future.  Therefore, the Panel has concluded that it would be fair to proceed in her absence because there is no realistic prospect that she would attend the hearing if it was adjourned to another date.

Background

3. Ms John was employed as an agency Senior Social Worker within the Children’s Care Management team at Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council (“the Council”) from July 2015 until April 2017.  Within her role, Ms John was responsible for children who were subject to: Child in Need plans (CIN), Child Protection plans (CP) and Care Proceedings. The Registrant was also responsible for Looked After Children cases. She was line managed by EW, Registered Social Worker and Court Progression Manager within the Children in Care and Resources Team at Dudley Metropolitan Council.  At the time of the alleged incidents, EW was the Team Manager of the Children’s Care Management team at the Council. 

4. It is alleged that the Registrant failed to record adequate case notes of numerous Child Protection visits and Core Group Meetings in respect of five different service users.  There are also concerns that the Registrant did not convene Core Group Meetings and Child Protection visits within the required timescales.  EW attended the hearing and gave evidence to the Panel.

Decision on Facts

5. The Panel found EW to be a credible witness; she gave evidence without an apparent agenda, she volunteered several examples of good performance by the Registrant and was prepared to accept that on occasion her own performance, in respect of the Registrant’s supervision, could have been improved.  She appeared objective and conceded when she could not remember or did not know the answer to a question.

6. The Panel reminded itself that the HCPC has to prove the case and that it must do so on the balance of probabilities.  As Ms John was not present and not represented, in accordance with the HCPTS Practice Note, the Legal Assessor asked EW questions to test the HCPC evidence as far as practicable and the Panel has taken account of EW’s answers to those questions when considering whether the HCPC has proved its case on the facts.  The Panel considered each part of the allegation separately.

7. The Panel heard evidence from EW that Core Group Meetings (CGMs) are the occasions when all professionals involved on a Child Protection (CP) case can share information about the case and discuss the progress of a child’s CP plan.  EW told the Panel that the Council’s policy was to require CGMs every 4 to 6 weeks but the Panel also had a copy of the West Midlands Safeguarding Children Policy which set out that the first CGM is required within 10 working days of the initial child protection conference, the second CGM within 6 weeks of the first and the third and any subsequent CGMs at least every two months thereafter.  The Panel decided that it would be fairest to the Registrant to apply the rules most favourable to her, and therefore applied the timescales set out in the West Midlands policy.

8. The CGM record is a form with boxes to be ticked and boxes to be completed with narrative. 

9. EW told the Panel that it is a legal requirement set out in the national safeguarding policy (Working Together to Safeguard Children, March 2015) that Child Protection (CP) visits must take place at least every 10 working days.  However the Panel was unable to verify this from the documents provided.  The Council’s “Guidance When Recording Statutory Child Protection Visits” states that all child protection visits must take place, as a minimum, every two weeks.  Therefore the Panel has applied the standard most favourable to the Registrant.  Statutory visits are important because they present opportunities to see children in their home environments and obtain their wishes and feelings and also to allow social workers to make assessments as to whether or not children are at risk.  Statutory visits allow the Council to monitor children’s CP plans and to make sure that everything that is being asked of parents or guardians is being done.

10. Once a social worker has completed a statutory visit this information is entered onto a service user’s case note on the Children’s Case Management (CCM) record system under the “CP Plan Visit” tab. 

Service User 1

11. In relation to Service User 1 the first record of a CGM is on 6 January 2017.  Therefore, applying the standard, the second CGM should have taken place before 17 February 2017.  There is no evidence that the Registrant did convene regular Core Group Meetings because there is no evidence that any CGMs took place between 6 January 2017 and 20 March 2017.  Therefore the Panel found 1a)(i) proved.

12. The Panel was satisfied that the Registrant’s notes in respect of 6 January 2017 were not adequate because many of the boxes for information are incomplete. For 20 March 2017 and 4 April 2017, there is no CGM template completed at all. Therefore the Panel found 1a)(ii) proved.

13. In respect of 1b)(i-iii) and 1b)(v-vii), on each of the dates there is no detail in the case notes as to what was discussed.  Therefore the Panel found these proved.
The Panel has applied the Council’s guidance that child protection visits are required every two weeks.  There is no evidence on Service User 1’s file that Ms John undertook a child protection visit between 5 April and 28 April 2017.  Therefore the Panel found 1c) proved, that no CP visits took place.

Service User 2

14. In respect of each of the dates listed there is no detail in the case notes as to what was discussed during the CP visits.  Therefore the Panel found 2a) i) - iv) proved.

15. CP visits are required every two weeks.  There is no evidence on Service User 1’s file that Ms John undertook a child protection visit between 31 March 2017 and 28 April 2017.  EW gave evidence that there was nothing to suggest that a visit had taken place that had not been recorded.  Therefore the Panel found both limbs of 2 b) proved.

16. A CGM took place on 14 March 2017.  EW told the Panel that she would have expected the Registrant to have convened a further CGM before she left on 28 April 2017.  There is no record of a CGM taking place and so 2c) is found proved but the Panel is not critical of the Registrant because applying the standard set by the Council the next CGM was not due until after she had left.

Service User 3

17. The records indicate that CGMs took place on 9 and 30 January 2017 and 27 February 2017 but in respect of each of the three dates there is no further detail recorded and no detail in the case notes as to what was discussed.  Therefore the Panel found 3a)(i-iii) proved.

18. A CGM took place on 27 February 2017 and there is no record of another CGM taking place before 28 April 2017.  Applying the standard, set out in paragraph 7 above, the next CGM should have taken place before Ms John left on 28 April 2017and so the Panel found 3b) proved.

19. In respect of the CP visits on the dates listed at 3c)(i-vi) there is no detail recorded in the case notes for Service User 3.  Although it is recorded who was present, or spoken to, there is no detail of what was discussed.  Therefore the Panel found 3c)(i-vi) proved.

20. There are no records to indicate that a CP visit took place after 4 April 2017 and therefore the Panel found 3d) proved.  The CP visits are required to take place every two weeks and so a further CP visit ought to have been completed before Ms John left on 28 April 2017.

Service User 4

21. The Panel reviewed the records for CP visits on each of the dates alleged and was satisfied that the record for 24 February 2017 was adequate; the Registrant has recorded that the child was present and also details of her observation of the interaction between mother and baby. Therefore the Panel found 4a)(iv) not proved.  

22. The Panel contrasted the record for 24 February 2017 with the records for the other seven dates alleged and found that the notes on those occasions were inadequate. Although there was a record of who was seen, there was no detail of what was discussed. Therefore the Panel found 4a)(i- iii) and 4a)(v- viii) proved.

23. The records show that a CGM took place on 18 January 2017 and the Panel has carefully considered whether the record of this meeting is adequate.  The Panel decided that on the available information the HCPC had not proved on the balance of probabilities that the record of that meeting was inadequate; there is some detail about the current assessment of risk and information relating to Service User 4’s father. Therefore the Panel did not find this part of 4b) proved. 

24. There is no evidence to show that Ms John convened any CGMs after 18 January 2017 and before she left on 28 April 2017.  It is unclear whether the next CGM would have been the second CGM (required no later than 6 weeks after the first) or the third (required no later than 8 weeks after the second) so the Panel took the date most favourable to the Registrant.  Ms John should have convened a CGM by 18 March 2017 and therefore the Panel found 4b) proved in that respect.

Service User 5

25. The Panel reviewed the records for each of the dates alleged and was satisfied that the notes on each of those occasions were inadequate.  On 17 February 2017 there is a single sentence recording that the child’s wishes and feelings were expressed but it does not record any details of what they were. On 12 April 2017 there is a sentence confirming a discussion took place but no detail of what was discussed.  On other occasions there is no detail as to what had taken place beyond the mere fact that the child was present and spoken to.  Therefore the Panel found 5a)(i-v) proved.

Decision on Grounds

26. The Panel went on to consider whether the facts found proved amount to misconduct and/or a lack of competence.  The Panel accepted the advice of the legal assessor that misconduct involves some act or omission which falls short of what would be proper in the circumstances and that 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. 

27. The Panel accepted the advice of the legal assessor that a lack of competence refers to a standard of professional performance which is unacceptably low and which (save in exceptional circumstances) has been demonstrated by reference to a fair sample of the practitioner’s work. 

28. The Panel is aware from the CV submitted by the Agency on Ms John’s behalf that she has more than 30 years experience as a social worker and from EW that she was employed by the Council as a Senior Social Worker.  The Panel accepted the evidence of EW that Ms John was ordinarily a conscientious and proficient social worker who had been working at an acceptable level for more than a year before the incidents to which this allegation relates.  The Panel saw evidence of the Registrant’s ability to create good records, for example her record of the CGM on 19 January 2017 in relation to Service User 5.  The Panel therefore decided that Ms John had the knowledge and skills required to carry out the tasks required of her and that her failure to do so was not as a result of a lack of competence.
 
29. The Panel went on to consider if the facts found proved amounted to misconduct.   The Panel found that the Registrant breached the following standards of HCPC conduct, performance and ethics; standard 6 relating to identifying and minimising risk and standard 10 relating to keeping accurate records. 

30. The Panel found that the Registrant breached the following standards of proficiency relating to Social Workers; standard 1 relating to safe and effective practice and standard 10 relating to record keeping.

31. The Panel bore in mind that not every breach of the applicable standards would necessarily amount to misconduct and that the Panel was required to judge each case on its own facts.  The Panel decided that Ms John’s actions did amount to misconduct.  The examples of poor record keeping were central to child protection and not merely peripheral.  Whilst a single example might not have amounted to misconduct, there were multiple examples of poor record keeping over sixteen weeks and the Panel took account of the cumulative effect.

Decision on Impairment

32. The Panel went on to decide whether Ms John’s fitness to practise is impaired.  The Panel took account of the HCPC Practice Note ‘Finding that fitness to practise is impaired’.  It accepted the advice of the legal assessor that the test of impairment is expressed in the present tense and reminded itself that the purpose of Fitness to Practise procedures is not to punish the practitioner for past misdoings but to protect the public against the acts and omissions of those who are not fit to practise.  Although the Panel must look forward not back, in order to form a view as to whether the Registrant is fit to practise without restriction today it has to take into account the way in which the Registrant has acted in the past. 

33. The Panel reminded itself that it is necessary to distinguish between cases where misconduct is, of itself, likely to lead to a finding of impairment and cases where misconduct does not necessarily lead to a finding of impairment, because of other factors to be taken into account. Such factors usually comprise events between the date of misconduct and the date of the Panel hearing, such as a one-off event of misconduct followed by the passage of substantial time, an otherwise unblemished record, or subsequent retraining.

34. The Panel considered the two elements to impairment; the personal element which includes the Registrant’s current conduct and performance and the public element which includes the protection of members of the public and the public interest.  In the personal element the Panel considered Ms John’s past acts in order to establish whether her fitness to provide social work services is currently below acceptable standards and whether she may pose a risk to those who may need to use her services in the future. 

Personal elements

35. In assessing whether Ms John’s fitness to provide social work services is currently below acceptable standards it considered that she worked without incident from July 2015 to December 2016.  However, because Ms John has not engaged with the HCPC in response to this allegation, the Panel has no information on what she has been doing since she left the Council on 28 April 2017.

36. In assessing the likelihood of Ms John causing harm in the future the Panel has taken account of the extent of any harm caused by her to the service users referred to in the allegation and her culpability for that harm.  The Panel noted that the poor record keeping in respect of service users meant that the Council could not know whether the actions required to ensure the safety of a child had been completed, whether the risks to the child remained or if the child had been kept safe.  In respect of Service User 2 the lack of detail in his records meant that he would not have been able to look back at his records and understand why it was that the Council decided that he ought not to live with his parents.  The absence of properly detailed records also meant that service users would be required to tell their stories again to the social worker who took over their case.  In the case of Service User 5, she had been physically assaulted and repeatedly retelling her story may have been damaging to her. 

37. The Panel also considered the unnecessary additional burden caused to other social workers who were tasked with taking the cases over and who would have had to repeat some of the tasks that ought to have been completed by Ms John.  Those social workers may also have been disadvantaged by not being able to establish from the records the level of risk presented by each case.

Public elements

38. The Panel next considered the public interest which includes the need to protect service users and the collective need to maintain confidence in the profession by declaring and upholding proper standards of conduct and behaviour.  The Panel reminded itself that it is highly relevant in determining if a practitioner’s fitness to practise is impaired that first the conduct which led to the charge is easily remediable, second that it has been remedied and third that it is highly unlikely to be repeated. 

39. The Panel accepted the evidence from EW that Ms John is ordinarily a proficient social worker and therefore decided that her misconduct was out of character.  However, the Panel has no information from Ms John at all and therefore has been unable to assess whether she has appropriate insight into the seriousness of her misconduct.  Ms John has also not expressed remorse for her actions or explained how they came about or how she would make sure that they were not repeated.  The Panel notes that Ms John was given an opportunity to complete the missing records and was allowed to take her laptop with her for that purpose when she left the Council, but that she did not in fact complete the work required to bring the records up to an acceptable standard.  Therefore the Panel was unable to conclude that the risk of repetition was very low or that as a result the risk that she would bring the profession into disrepute in the future was also very low.  

40. The Panel was satisfied that a reasonable member of the public would be concerned by Ms John’s misconduct and would expect such misconduct to result in a finding of impairment.

41. The Panel was satisfied that Ms John’s current fitness to practise is impaired and as a result, the Panel finds the allegation well founded.

Decision on Sanction

43. The Panel then invited submissions on what sanction, if any, should be imposed.  The Panel had regard to the HCPTS’s Indicative Sanctions guidance and accepted the advice of the legal assessor.  The Panel was reminded that it is not obliged to impose a sanction and that in appropriate cases may decide that no further action is required.  The Panel is satisfied that a sanction is proportionate in this case because no further action is only appropriate in cases involving minor isolated lapses where the registrant has apologised, taken corrective action and fully understands the nature and effect of the lapse.  The misconduct found proved in this case took place over a period of sixteen weeks.  The incidents were not isolated and cannot be described as minor lapses for the reasons already referred to by the Panel in its decision on impairment.    

44. The Panel was reminded that a sanction may only be imposed in relation to the facts which have been found proved and cannot be imposed on a wider basis than that revealed by the facts found proved.  It has borne in mind that the purpose of Fitness to Practise procedures is not to punish the practitioner for past misdoings but to protect the public against the acts and omissions of those who are not fit to practise.  The primary function of any sanction is to address public safety from the perspective of the risk which the registrant concerned may pose to those who need to use his or her services.  The Panel is aware that it must also give appropriate weight to the wider public interest which includes: the deterrent effect to other registrants, the reputation of the profession concerned and public confidence in the regulatory process. 

45. The Panel had regard to the principle of proportionality and considered the sanctions starting with the lowest first.  The Panel rejected mediation because it would not address the public interest and service user safety concerns resulting from Ms John’s misconduct. 

46. The Panel went on to consider whether a caution order was appropriate.  The Panel decided that the misconduct was sufficiently serious and persistent that a caution order would not protect the public or maintain confidence in the profession and the regulatory process.  The misconduct was not minor in nature, there was no evidence of insight or remediation and there remains a risk of repetition. 

47. The Panel next considered whether conditions of practice were proportionate and workable and concluded that a Conditions of Practice Order was not appropriate.  The Panel has no information about Ms John’s current circumstances including whether she is in employment as a social worker or not.  The Panel also reminded itself that a Conditions of Practice Order is unlikely to be appropriate where the Registrant has failed to engage with the fitness to practise process. 

48. The Panel has decided that the appropriate and proportionate sanction is an order of suspension for six months.  A period of suspension will protect the public from the risk of repetition and act as a deterrent to others, whilst maintaining the public’s confidence in the regulatory process.  The Panel is satisfied that Ms John’s misconduct is likely to be capable of remediation and it considers that it would be fair to give her the opportunity to remedy her failings and to provide evidence to support this.  

49. The Panel tested whether a suspension order was proportionate by going on to consider the next most punitive sanction, a striking off order, but concluded that this case does not justify the ultimate sanction which striking off represents.  The Panel reminded itself that whilst these were not isolated errors, it was a period of misconduct over sixteen weeks in a career spanning thirty years.  The Panel found that Ms John was capable of working at a satisfactory standard and had demonstrated commitment to her employer prior to the period of the allegation, when the Council was experiencing difficult circumstances.  The Panel is satisfied that a right minded member of the public, in possession of all the facts, would not be discomforted by the imposition of a suspension order as Ms John has shown that she is ordinarily a proficient social worker.  This represents an opportunity for her to bring her professional performance up to an acceptable standard.

50. When considering the appropriate length of the order the Panel has had regard to paragraphs 42 and 43 of the Indicative Sanctions Policy which states that short term suspension may be appropriate in order to facilitate a staged return to practice, for example where the registrant concerned would be unable to respond to and comply with conditions of practice but may be capable of doing so in the future.
51. Accordingly the Panel has concluded that the appropriate length of the order is six months. 

52. This order will be reviewed towards the end of the six month period and this Panel would expect any future Panel to be assisted by the following;
• Ms John’s attendance at the review,
• evidence of her insight into the impact of her misconduct on service users, the profession and the public,
• evidence of her adherence to HCPC Continuing Professional Development requirements,
• information and references concerning any paid or voluntary employment and
• evidence of any training she has undertaken to address the misconduct identified. 
For the avoidance of doubt, this list is not exhaustive and it is provided only for Ms John’s assistance; she must understand that it does not bind the future Panel in any way.

Order

Order: The Registrar is directed to suspend the registration of Ms Roanna John for a period of 6 months from the date this order comes into effect.

Notes

Interim Order

1. The Panel considered the HCPC’s application for an Interim Order, pending the coming into force of the Suspension Order.  The Panel was shown the letter dated 5 November 2018 addressed to Ms John’s address in the Register warning her that the HCPC may apply for an interim order.  The Panel decided that it was fair to proceed in her absence because she has voluntarily waived her right to be present. 

2. The Panel has found that Ms John is currently unfit to practise without restriction but without an interim order she would theoretically be able to do so pending an appeal and the Panel has decided that it would not be appropriate to leave that possibility open.  The Panel has borne in mind that it is almost two years since the period of misconduct took place and that during that time the HCPC did not apply for an interim order restricting Ms John’s ability to practise.  Therefore she has been free to practise without restriction until now and the Panel has no evidence of any further episodes of misconduct during that time.  However, the Panel’s findings of fact and decision on misconduct and impairment represent a significant change in circumstances.  The Panel has no information from Ms John at all and therefore has been unable to assess whether she has appropriate insight into the seriousness of her misconduct.  Ms John has also not expressed remorse for her actions or explained how they came about or how she would make sure that they were not repeated.  Therefore the Panel has decided that an interim Suspension Order is necessary to protect members of the public and the public interest and that the appropriate period is 18 months to ensure that an order is in place during the during the appeal period and any subsequent appeal proceedings.

3. 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. 

4. 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 Ms Roanna Althia John

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
11/02/2019 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Suspended