Mr Martin Christopher Ferris

Profession: Social worker

Registration Number: SW24389

Hearing Type: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 10:00 22/07/2019 End: 17:00 26/07/2019

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

Panel: Conduct and Competence Committee
Outcome: Caution

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Allegation

Whilst registered as a Social Worker and during your employment with Staffordshire County Council between 2015 and 2017, you:

1.On 24 November 2016:

a) Signed off Contact and Referral forms for Service User 1 and/or Service User 2 in your manager's name and/or

b) Backdated the signature on the Contact and Referral Forms to the 16 November 2016 and/or

c) Signed off the Contact and Referral Forms when you were not to complete any managerial duties and/or without your manager’s knowledge and/or consent.

2.In relation to Service User 3:

a) Did not explore safeguarding concerns that:

i. Service User 3’s mother was using heroin;

ii. Service User 3 had missed health appointments;

iii. Service User 3 was having contact with a man who was alleged to be his mother’s pimp; and/or

iv. Service User 3 was having contact with his father, who was known to be a perpetrator of domestic violence and/or a user of drugs and alcohol and/or was known to have carried weapons and/or have mental health problems.

b) did not complete the Child Social Work Assessment for Service User 3 in a timely manner.

3. In relation to Service User 4:

a) Did not appropriately recognise and/or respond to safeguarding concerns that Service User 4 had been smacked by his father;

b) Did not raise the alleged concerns noted above in particular 3a:

i. at a Child in Need meeting; and/or

ii. with Service User 4’s father.

c) did not detail and/or record Service User 4’s needs, feelings and/or wishes following your Child in Need meeting.

4. In relation to Service User 6, between 2015 - 2016, you:

a) Only met Service User 6 on two occasions;

b) Did not follow up actions regarding Service User 6 in a timely manner.

5. In regards to Service User 8:

a) On the 19 September 2015, undertook an Initial Visit Following Referral, and did not see Service User 8 during your visit; and/or

b) On the 14 October 2015 visited Service User 8 and did not detail and/or record Service User 8’s needs, feelings and/or wishes following your visit.

6. Your actions in paragraph 1 were dishonest.

7. The matters set out in paragraphs 1 and 6 constitute misconduct.

8. The matters set out in paragraphs 2 to 5 constitute misconduct and/or lack of competence.

9. By reason of your misconduct and/or lack of competence your fitness to

    practise is impaired.

Finding

Preliminary matters:

Application to amend the Allegation

1. At the outset of the hearing, Ms Luscombe applied to amend some of the Particulars of the Allegation in minor respects. The Registrant, who had been given advance notice of this, did not oppose the application. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Panel concluded that the amendments did not increase the scope or gravity of the Allegation, were technical in nature, and that it was in the interests of justice to allow them.

Application to hear part of the case in private

2. The Registrant applied for part of the case to be heard in private. His application was supported by Ms Luscombe. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and decided that part of the hearing should be conducted in private, pursuant to Rule 10 of the Health and Care Professions Council (Conduct and Competence Committee) Procedure Rules 2003 (“the Rules”), for the protection of the private life of the Registrant and members of his family.

Admissions

3. At the commencement of the hearing, the Registrant entered formal Admissions to Particulars 1(a), 1(b), 1(c), 2 (b), 3(b)(i), 5(a), and 5(b).

Witnesses

4. The Panel heard live evidence from:

• HS – Commissioning Manager, now employed by Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council and previously was employed by Staffordshire County Council and who acted as the Investigating Officer.

• SB – Locality Manager employed by Staffordshire County Council and the Registrant’s Line Manager

• The Registrant


Background:

5. In 2005, the Registrant qualified as a Social Worker and commenced employment with Staffordshire County Council (‘the Council’). At the time of the Allegation, in 2015 - 2016, he was employed as an Advanced Practitioner Social Worker and was a senior member of the development team. In that role he held fewer cases than other social workers because he dealt with more complex cases.

6. In October 2015, he was placed on an informal Performance Improvement Plan (‘PIP’) due to concerns about timeliness in relation to completing assessments, completion of Child In Need Plans and the quality of his written work. SB held monthly meetings with him. On 3 March 2016, this became a formal process and meetings were held weekly because it was felt that his work was not improving.

7. Particular 5 of the Allegation relates to the first alleged incident in time, namely 19 September 2015. This was shortly before the Registrant was placed on the PIP. He was required to meet with a 7 year old child, Service User 8 (‘SU8’), for an initial visit. It was alleged that as part of this visit, he should have spoken to the child individually and made a record of any concerns raised by SU8. However, whilst a visit to SU8’s home took place on 19 September 2015, SU8 was not seen by the Registrant on that occasion. According to the case notes, SU8 was not seen by the Registrant until 14 October 2015, and this was at school.

8. Particular 4 of the Allegation spans the period 19 June 2015 to 19 February 2016. During this time, SU6 should have been seen every 4 weeks. It was alleged that the Registrant only visited twice and that he did not follow up his actions in a timely manner. This came to light when SU6 was hospitalised for mental health reasons and was seen after-hours by another member of staff.

9. Particular 2 of the Allegation relates to Service User 3 (“SU3’), whose case was allocated to the Registrant on 3 February 2016. Safeguarding concerns had already been highlighted by a previous Social Worker on 14 January 2016. It was alleged that on 5 February 2016, a meeting took place with SU3’s mother but SU3 himself was not seen. SU3’s mother was known to have taken heroin in the past and was being prescribed methadone. Concerns came to light via another staff member in March 2016 that the mother was using heroin again and that SU3 was spending weekends at his father’s, who was known to have a criminal record including domestic violence. SU3 was also having contact with a man who was alleged to be his mother’s pimp and he was missing health appointments. It was alleged that the Registrant failed to complete a Child Social Work Assessment within 40 days of being allocated the case, and that he failed to assess specific risks and follow policy and procedure in relation to the concerns raised.

10. On 17 March 2016, a performance review took place and it was confirmed that the Registrant would not undertake any further managerial duties, to enable him to focus on casework.

11. Particular 3 of the Allegation asserted that on 21 March 2016 the Registrant was alerted to a report made by Service User 4’s (“SU4’s”) mother that SU4 had been slapped in the face by his father. It was alleged that the Registrant should have investigated this as a possible safeguarding risk but that he did not raise the concerns with SU4’s father. It was said that during a discussion about this case with SB on 21 March 2016, the Registrant was explicitly told that this was a safeguarding concern and that he needed to follow it up. A Child In Need meeting took place on 3 May 2016 but the Registrant did not record SU4’s wishes and feelings following this meeting.

12. Particular 1 of the Allegation relates to November 2016 when a referral was made for Service User 1 (“SU1”) and Service User 2 (“SU2”). This required a Contact and Referral form to be completed by a Team Manager or an Advanced Practitioner. Allegation 1 is that, knowing he was not entitled to do so because he had been instructed not to undertake any managerial duties, nor been working as an Advanced Practitioner since March 2016, Mr Ferris completed the Contact and Referral form, signed it off and backdated it using SB’s name. He was going to be allocated the case but normally SB would write a detailed plan for Mr Ferris on the Contact and Referral Form.

13. Particular 6 of the Allegation alleges that the actions in Particular 1 were dishonest.

14. The Registrant submitted a document entitled “Response to Allegations”. He also gave evidence before the Panel. He had admitted Particulars 1(a), 1(b), 1(c), 2(b), 3(b)(i), 5(a), and 5(b) at the commencement of the hearing, and in the course of giving evidence he made admissions to Particulars 2(a), 3(a) 3(c) and 4 (b). He said that he regretted his actions.  He apologised to the Panel. He continued to deny Particulars 3 (b) (ii) and 4(a). The detail of his evidence is incorporated into the body of the individual decisions set out in this determination.

Decision on facts:

15. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. In reaching its decision it took into account the evidence of HS, SB, MF, and the documentation provided by them. It also took into account:

• The Registrant ’s oral evidence;

• the written submissions compiled by him for the hearing;

• his good character;
 
• two references supplied by him from employers.

16. The Panel found HS to be credible, consistent and helpful. Her evidence was limited in scope to Particular 1 which was the subject of her investigation.

17. The Panel found SB to be credible. She appeared to have a good grasp of the detail. She was balanced and positive about the Registrant, and appeared to bare no malice towards him.
 
18. The Panel found the Registrant to be honest and credible. He had clearly thought about his practice and now accepted many of his shortcomings demonstrating a significant degree of insight and genuine remorse for his actions. Whilst highlighting some mitigating circumstances at the time of these matters he did not seek to use these to excuse his actions nor did he seek to attribute blame to others. The Panel was particularly struck by his recognition of the wider implications of his past behaviour for the public and his profession. 

Particular 1: On 24 November 2016:

(a)  signed off Contact and Referral forms for Service User 1 and/or Service User 2 in your manager's name and/or

(b)  backdated the signature on the Contact and Referral Forms to the 16 November 2016 and/or

(c)  signed off the Contact and Referral Forms when you were not to complete any managerial duties and/or without your manager’s knowledge and/or consent.

Particular 6: Your actions in paragraph 1 were dishonest.

19.  SB informed the Panel that SU’s 1 and 2 were siblings who had been referred to the Council on 16 November 2016. On 28 November 2016, SB learnt that the Contact and Referral forms for SU1 and SU2 had been signed off in her name. She had not given permission for this. She had allocated the cases to the Registrant.

20.  HS was asked to conduct an investigation into this. As part of the investigation she interviewed the Registrant, on 22 December 2016. He admitted that he had signed and backdated the forms without his manager’s knowledge or consent, and that he should not have done so, for which he apologised.

21.  It was alleged by the HCPC that signing off and backdating the Contact and Referral forms was dishonest.

22. In evidence, the Registrant accepted that his actions had been wrong. He said that he had reflected on this over the last two years in the course of his practice, and had not repeated his behaviour. He said he was regretful and embarrassed and accepted that not informing SB had been the wrong course of action. He had panicked about the timeliness of the Contact and Referral form and had made the situation worse by backdating the forms and not saying anything about it. He accepted that  a member of the public would take the view that his actions had not been honest.  He said that his behaviour had been a one off and that he had learnt some serious lessons from the event. He said “I accept it was wrong and stupid and impacted on Service Users and on my agency and I let a lot of people down including myself. At the time I knew it was wrong but I panicked. I don’t think it was a premeditated act. By signing it, it did not further the process with regard to helping my practice and ultimately the action had a dramatic effect on my position within the Authority”.

23. The Panel considered the evidence with care and concluded that on the basis of the evidence provided by SB and HS, together with the Registrant’s admission, Particular 1 was proved in its entirety.

24. In relation to Particular 6, the Panel considered the issue of dishonesty in accordance with the recent decision of the Supreme Court in Ivey v Genting Casinos (UK) Ltd t/a Crockfords [2017] UKSC 67, and in particular the part of the judgment of Lord Hughes which stated:

“When dishonesty is in question the fact-finding tribunal must first ascertain (subjectively) the actual state of the individual’s knowledge or belief as to the facts. The reasonableness or otherwise of his belief is a matter of evidence (often in practice determinative) going to whether he held the belief, but it is not an additional requirement that his belief must be reasonable; the question is whether it is genuinely held. When once his actual state of mind as to knowledge or belief as to facts is established, the question whether his conduct was honest or dishonest is to be determined by the fact-finder by applying the (objective) standards of ordinary decent people. There is no requirement that the defendant must appreciate that what he has done is, by those standards, dishonest.” 

25.  The Panel concluded that the Registrant’s actions had been dishonest. The Registrant had admitted that he signed and backdated the forms when he had no authority to do so. The Panel accepted that on his own admission he had signed in SB’s name, without her authority, and without informing her that he was doing so, in order to progress the case, and thereby reduce the chances of him being subject to criticism as part of the PIP process. The Panel accepted the Registrant’s evidence that this had not been premeditated and that he had acted on this one isolated occasion out of a sense of panic, for reasons that were misconceived. He had done so in the knowledge that he should not have signed and should not have backdated the forms. The Panel concluded that, on his own admission, he had known that he should not have done this at the time, and that by the standards of ordinary people his behaviour was dishonest. In so concluding, the panel took into account the Registrant’s previous good character.

Particular 2: In relation to Service User 3:

a) did not explore safeguarding concerns that:

i. Service User 3’s mother was using heroin;
ii. Service User 3 had missed health appointments;
iii. Service User 3 was having contact with a man who was alleged to be his mother’s pimp; and/or
iv. Service User 3 was having contact with his father, who was known to be a perpetrator of domestic violence and/or a user of drugs and alcohol and/or was known to have carried weapons and/or have mental health problems.

b) did not complete the Child Social Work Assessment for Service User 3 in a timely manner.

26. SB informed the Panel that at the time of allocation to the Registrant, on 3 February 2016, SU3 had been 9 years old, living with his mother and attending a special school due to his additional needs. His father was known to present a risk in respect of threatening behaviour.

27.  SB said that there were several safeguarding concerns that came to light during supervision on 14 January 2016 with the previous social worker.

28. 2(a)(i) Heroin use - SB said that during a case discussion with the Registrant on 22 March 2016, he disclosed that he had received information from SU3's school that SU3’s mother had told them that she was using heroin again at the weekends. She had said that SU3 was not at home when she was using heroin as he was staying with his dad at weekends.

29.  2(a)(ii) Missed appointments - SB said that the Registrant had documented a telephone call on 29 July 2015 that he had received from a Paediatrician reporting that SU3 had missed appointments with Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS). The Registrant had documented that he informed the Paediatrician that the then-allocated social worker was on sick leave and so he would look into the case and contact the family. According to Social Care records, the Registrant visited the mother of SU3 on 6 August 2015. SB could find no follow up record of the Registrant establishing how many appointments had been missed or any record of the Registrant discussing this issue with the mother. SB said she would have expected the Registrant to explore this issue with the parent to assess the risk and also to ensure that the mother understood the concerns. SB said she would expect to find case notes and, further, the Registrant was requested to complete an assessment and this information would need to be included in the assessment. As the allocated Social Worker was not in work, SB expected the Registrant to feedback whether the case needed allocating to another worker but he had not done so.

30.  2(a)(iii) Contact with mother's alleged pimp - SB said that there had been several safeguarding concerns raised by SU3’s previous Social Worker on 14 January 2016. The Registrant was aware of these pre-existing concerns, but had not disclosed that there had been concerns raised by the father of the Service User that a male person known as 'grandad' was the mother's pimp, with whom SU3 was allegedly staying overnight. This was not followed up by the Registrant when the case was allocated to him on 3 February 2016. SB said that she would expect the Registrant to follow up on these concerns through assessment and discussion with SU3, the mother and the unknown male to establish whether there were any safeguarding concerns. The Registrant was instructed to complete an assessment on 3 February 2016 and to explore these concerns further but he did not do so.

31.  2(a)(iv) Visits with father - SB said that it was documented within the write-up completed by the Senior Family Support Worker of a home visit made to SU3's mother on 5 February 2016 (during which the child was not seen by the Registrant) that the mother disclosed that SU3 was having contact with his father at his father's address on Fridays. The father was a known perpetrator of domestic violence, was a drug and alcohol user, and had mental health problems. The father was also supported by a probation officer. Previous notes on SU3's file indicated that the father had been charged for violent offences, had been known to carry weapons, and had spent time as a psychiatric inpatient. SB said that the Registrant should have assessed the risk and followed policy and procedure in relation to this.

32.  SB said that in supervision with the Registrant on 15 February 2016, SU3's case was discussed. The Registrant apologised for not seeing SU3 on his visit of 5 February 2016. SB asked the Registrant to see SU3 by the end of that week.

33.  SB said that the records revealed that the Registrant received a telephone call from the school on 22 March 2016, and was made aware that SU3 was now staying over at his father's house every weekend.

34.  2(b) Completing assessment in a timely manner - SB said that the need for a Child Social Work Assessment came to light following the referral which came into the team on 6 January 2015.  The assessment was required to determine needs and risks and to identify how Children's Services would respond to the referral. The assessment should have been completed within 45 working days of receipt of the referral. The Council requests that Social Workers complete the assessment within 40 days to enable time for management sign off. The Registrant was allocated the case on 03 February 2016. SB said she would have expected an initial visit form to be completed within 7 days of this allocation and the full assessment to have been completed within 40 days. She said that she was unsure when she discovered that an assessment had not been completed following this referral in accordance with these timeframes. She said that as an experienced practitioner with responsibility for supporting other staff, the Registrant was aware of this information.

35.  In evidence, the Registrant said that he had held SU3’s case previously but it had then been reallocated to a colleague on their return to work as SB felt they should complete the work they had started on the case at the beginning of 2016. This Social Worker left his post very suddenly, prompting SB to reallocate his cases. The Registrant said he felt that he did respond appropriately to the concerns. He had visited the child's mother at home with a colleague and visited the child himself at school. He had documented these visits and informed SB. He also informed SB that SU3's mother was prescribed Methadone, which she collected regularly and also kept appointments with health professionals for her own needs.

36.  The Registrant said that there had been no discussion between SB and him regarding referring to the Safeguarding Team at that point. He said that he would have done this as a competent practitioner if needed. He was also aware of the importance of building evidence in cases where there are safeguarding concerns. He had worked since that time as a Safeguarding Social Worker for two different authorities. He disputed that he did not recognise or respond to safeguarding concerns with SU3. He agreed that he did not respond to them thoroughly. He said that in the course of his work for the Childrens’ Disability Service, social workers did not investigate safeguarding concerns themselves; they would be discussed and transferred to the appropriate Safeguarding Team. He accepted that although he was not directed by SB, he could have discussed with her the appropriateness of taking advice from the Safeguarding Team. He appreciated that there had been significant drift with this case, however he was not responsible for this. He said that he was informed by SU3's class teacher that neither herself nor any of the classroom staff had any safeguarding concerns regarding SU3.

37.  He said that his former colleague had raised a concern regarding SU3's mother’s friend being "her pimp". These were shared with SB who again did not recommend he speak with safeguarding colleagues. There was no evidence at this time to suggest the friend was involved in soliciting. He disputed Particular 2(a)(i) as once again these concerns were discussed with SB as was appropriate practice. However regarding the suggestion that he was a pimp, the Registrant said that on reflection he should have looked at the situation more thoroughly at the time.

38.  The Registrant worked closely with SU3's Home School Link worker who had known SU3's mother over a number of years and the FSW from his own team. A Home School Link Worker would have undertaken appropriate training to safeguard children so the Registrant respected their opinions regarding the mother and SU3. They had worked with the family for a significant period and had remained involved over the period that the former social worker had been involved. The Registrant respected the opinions of both these colleagues and their input on this case informed his own practice with regards to the concerns regarding SU3's mother and father, respectively. With regards to SU3's father, he also liaised with his Probation Officer. The Registrant accepted, now that he had had additional safeguarding experience that he could and now would investigate the concerns more thoroughly.

39.  In relation to Particular 2(b) the Registrant said this assessment had supposedly been started by his former colleague and then passed back to himself which had caused a significant drift in the assessment being completed. He accepted that given this and during the time he was the case holder, he should have ensured this was completed in a timely and thorough fashion and he regretted that it was not. Furthermore, he accepted that this could have impacted on the Service User and any Social Worker who later took over the case.

40.  Under cross-examination, the Registrant admitted shortcomings in his response to the safeguarding concerns set out in each of the Sub Particulars in Particular 2. He stated that the work that he had undertaken since the time of the Allegation had given him insight into the need to be more proactive in response to such safeguarding concerns. The Registrant accepted that he did not respond promptly or proactively to the information that SU3’s mother was alleged to have begun using heroin again. Similarly, he conceded that he did not investigate why SU3 had missed a series of health appointments.

41.  With regard to the Allegation that SU3 was having contact with a man known as ‘grandad’ who was alleged to be SU3’s mother’s pimp, the Registrant accepted that he should have taken steps to speak to this man as well as SU3 and SU3’s mother to ascertain this individual’s identity. The allegation set out in Particular 4 contains a number of significant risk factors relating to SU3’s father that should have given the Registrant real cause for concern and prompted immediate action on his part to safeguard SU3. During evidence given under cross-examination the Registrant accepted that his actions in this regard had been insufficient in relation to the risk presented by SU3’s father. Taking all of the evidence into consideration the Panel found Particular 2 proved in its entirety.

Particular 3: In relation to Service User 4:

a)  did not appropriately recognise and/or respond to safeguarding concerns that Service User 4 had been smacked by his father;

b) did not raise the alleged concerns noted above in particular 3a:

iii. at a Child in Need meeting; and/or
iv. with Service User 4’s father.

c) did not detail and/or record Service User 4’s needs, feelings and/or  wishes following your Child in Need meeting.

42.  Service User 4 was 5 years old at the time of allocation to the Registrant. Service User 4 had a diagnosis of autism and resided with his mother, her partner and his younger sibling.

43.  This case was allocated to the Registrant on 18 November 2015.

44. 3(a)Recognising Safeguarding Concerns - SB informed the Panel that on 21 March 2016, a Senior Family Support Worker shared a text message with the Registrant from SU4's mother stating that SU4 had been slapped across the face by his father for screaming in the night and waking everyone up, when staying at his father's house for the weekend. SB said that on receiving this information, she would expect the Registrant to go and see the child and to establish what had happened and whether the threshold for a referral to safeguarding had been met. This would be established through speaking to the child, observing any physical evidence and speaking to the father as the alleged perpetrator. She said that there is guidance and information for this provided by the Staffordshire Safeguarding Children Board, and that the Registrant also had previous experience of child protection and had completed training which was a mandatory requirement of his role.

45. SB said that on receiving the information about the allegation, the Registrant discussed the concern with her on 21 March 2016. They agreed that this was a safeguarding concern and that the Registrant needed to see the child and follow up with the parents to establish what had happened and whether the threshold for child protection had been met. However, this recognition was only reached after some prompting by SB.

46. SB said that the Registrant clarified during this discussion that he had completed the Martin Calder 4 day Risk Assessment training and completed his post qualifying award. He said that he could not identify any training needs at the time. He contacted the Specialist Safeguarding Unit to discuss the allegation. He was advised to gather more information before a decision on threshold could be met. He contacted the Specialist Safeguarding Unit again on 22 March 2016; however he did not provide enough information, as the concern had not been explored with the father. SB said that it was the role of the child's disability social worker to guide the Specialist Safeguarding Unit in respect of the impact on the child with a disability.

47. 3(b) Raising the safeguarding concerns – SB said that the Registrant did speak to SU4’s mother and saw SU4. SB said that the Registrant should have spoken to the father on receiving the allegation. Although the Registrant visited the father on 5 April 2016 there was no record that the allegation of smacking SU4 was discussed during this visit. The Registrant said it was not appropriate to discuss the allegation on 5 April 2016 as SU4 was present. However, the Registrant said he recalled meeting the father prior to 5 April 2016 to discuss the allegation, however he had not recorded this visit. The Registrant did eventually discus the concerns raised with the father during a visit on 3 May 2016.

48. SB said that the Registrant did not mention the allegation during the Child in Need meeting. The Registrant admitted this Particular from the outset of the hearing and recognised that it was appropriate to discuss the allegation during this meeting. The father denied the allegation.

49.  SB said that the consequences and risks in this case were due to a lack of sufficient follow up by the Registrant and that it had not been determined as to whether harm had occurred to SU4. There also remained a risk that harm could potentially be ongoing as SU4 continued to stay at his father's address every weekend.

50. Particular 3 (c) Recording the child’s, needs, feelings and/or wishes - SB said that a Child in Need meeting took place on 3 May 2016. She said that in the section for recording the child's wishes and feelings, it was apparent that SU4's views, wishes and feelings were not recorded. SU4, in contrast to the majority of the children that they worked with, communicated verbally. SB would have expected the Registrant to have met with SU4 and completed direct work with him to establish his likes/dislikes, what was important to him and anything that he was worried about. SB said that she had checked the recording following this meeting and could find no evidence that the Registrant completed this piece of direct work to gather SU4's wishes and feelings.

51. In evidence, the Registrant said that SU4's parents were estranged and not always on good terms; there was a lot of antagonism from the maternal side of the family towards father and his parenting abilities. The Registrant believed it was his duty to distinguish what was fact from conjecture with a view to safeguarding the needs of SU4, and to be balanced in his practice with both sides of the family and to collect as much information as possible. He reported all his actions back to SB and documented his actions.

52. The Registrant said that he did follow up specific safeguarding concerns by means of a visit to SU4 at school and a subsequent visit to the father and stepmother. The Registrant said that he was currently holding cases where concerns need immediate responses and he continued to do this. He could recognise now that he could have responded quicker in relation to SU4, however he did follow up the concerns. He was not aware of SU4 being marked or having a bruise when he with met him at school, as he would have immediately fed-back to SB and contacted the Safeguarding Team if this had been the case. He accepted now that he should have acted with greater diligence given the concern raised. The Registrant added that he felt he had lacked confidence and should have probed the allegation in greater detail with SU4 and that that was something that he would do now as he felt more confident.

53. The Registrant said he could not recall the exact chronology of events in the case as he had no notes to refer to. He did discuss the concerns with the father and stepmother when he visited them at their home and spoke with SB about this, but was not given any direct advice to contact the Safeguarding Team about the concerns. He met SU4 at school and asked him to discuss his feelings about going to his father’s home. SU4 was reluctant to speak but was happy to write down his wishes and feelings, which he did. He did this in the presence of his classroom assistant. The Registrant said they talked about this and that SU4 stated he was happy to return to his father’s and had no worries about being there. The Registrant was not made aware that any further information had been disclosed by SU4. In conversation at the time with his classroom assistant, she stated that what SU4 had told the Registrant was consistent with what he had told her. The Registrant said he also observed SU4 at his father's house and he was very happy, chatty and relaxed in his surroundings. He said he did discuss the allegation with the father and stepmother in their meeting and discussed appropriate parenting with them and about being mindful of the use of physical chastisement.

54. The Registrant said that at the time, SU4 was displaying some challenging behaviours at home and within school. There had been several meetings and communications between the school and himself regarding their concerns about SU4’s behaviours. He would run out of class and had tried to abscond from the premises on more than one occasion. He was aware from conversations with SU4's mother that SU4 was referred to the local mental health service for children. SU4's school was considering whether it was appropriate for SU4 to attend a more specialised school which could cater for his specific needs. The Registrant said that if this situation arose again he would bring it to everyone’s attention within the meeting.

55. The Registrant said that in retrospect and again through his safeguarding experience of the last two years, if he had a similar case now, where a child had made an allegation of physical harm, he would now look to make a Safety Plan. This would have been with SU4's father and step mother. The plan would have addressed directly that both father and stepmother should not use any form of physical chastisement.

56. Particular 3(a) Did not appropriately respond to safeguarding concerns – During cross-examination, the Registrant accepted that he had not responded appropriately to these safeguarding concerns. He recognised that he should have acted more promptly and identified that he should have instigated a Safety Plan with SU4’s father and step-mother. On this basis this Particular is found proved.

57. Particular 3(b)(i) Did not raise concerns at a Child in Need meeting – The Registrant admitted this Particular form the outset and his admission was supported by the evidence of SB and the documentary evidence. This Particular is found proved.

58. Particular 3(b)(ii) Did not raise concerns with SU4’s father - the documentary evidence details that the Registrant did discuss the allegation of smacking on 3 May 2016 with SU4’s father. The Registrant gave evidence that he had discussed the allegation with SU4’s father prior to 5 April 2016, but that he had failed to record this meeting. Taking into account the Registrant’s openness regarding his shortcomings at the time, the Panel accepted the Registrant’s evidence with regard to this undocumented meeting and this Particular is found not proved on the basis of both the unrecorded meeting and/or the meeting of 3 May 2016.

59. Particular 3 (c) Did not detail and/or record SU4’s needs, feelings and/or wishes – The Registrant admitted this Particular during the course of evidence given under cross-examination. The Panel viewed the recording in the Child in Need Plan made following the meeting on 3 May 2016. This stated “He was quiet but came round a bit when his grandad spoke to him. He did say he was ok but was reluctant to speak further. I said I would come and see him again another time.” The Panel was of the view that this recording did not capture SU4’s needs, feelings and/or wishes and hence this Particular is found proved.
  Particular 4: In relation to Service User 6, between 2015 - 2016, you:

a) only met Service User 6 on two occasions;

b) did not follow up actions regarding Service User 6 in a timely manner.

60.  SU6 was 15 when the case was allocated to the Registrant. SU6 had a diagnosis of Asperger's syndrome and communicated verbally, but was not attending school. The case was allocated to the Registrant on 19 June 2015.

61. Particular 4(a)Visits with Service User 6 - SB informed the Panel that as a Child in Need, she would expect that the Registrant would visit SU6 at a minimum frequency of every 4 weeks as set out in the Child in Need Policy.

62. SB said that there was no active social work input in the case. She said she reviewed the case following being alerted to a Mental Health Act Assessment taking place out of hours.  She recorded in a key decision on 25 February 2016, that concerns had been raised by the Registrant about SU6's mental health since November 2015, yet the Registrant had only recorded one visit to SU6, on 9 February 2016, which was not consistent with the statutory timescales. The Registrant was aware of the mental health concerns as there were case recordings where he had discussed mental health needs. There was no detail in this recording of any conversation that took place with SU6.

63.  SB said that on 19 February 2016, SU6 was supported by an out of hours social worker during a Mental Health Act assessment. It was recorded on 25 February 2016 that "[Service User 6] stated that his social worker, Martin, he has only met twice and feels he has not done his job. He stated that he needs a social worker who can put a plan in place for him." From this SB understood that SU6 felt let down by the Registrant.

64. In evidence, the Registrant said that SU6 was a very highly intelligent young man who under different circumstances would not have met the disability services criteria. He said that long periods of the time working with SU6 had been punctuated with periods of self-harm which resulted in more than one spell in hospital. During this time he did carry out home visits and saw SU6 at school. He liaised with professionals from his school, CAMHS, Action for Children and the Local Authority Education Department, and also his mother. He accepted that SU6 expressed dissatisfaction, but this was because SU6 was used to receiving one-to-one support and had not had a social worker before.

65. He said that regardless of protocol, at Staffordshire a culture had developed whereby it was acceptable to visit every 3 months. He accepted that he should have taken responsibility to comply with the statutory guidelines.

66. He said he did put a CIN Plan in place and that he was following up the action points until he went off on sick leave. SU6's case was subsequently closed by his Team Manager. He was later informed that he no longer needed to be involved. He believed that he engaged with SU6 and his family effectively and had met with SU6 on more than two occasions. He could not provide dates but could remember visiting the family home and specifically SU6 more than twice.

67. Particular 4 (a) Only met SU6 on two occasions – The case records in relation to SU6 contained details of four meetings between the Registrant and SU6 on the following dates: 30 June 2015, 21 January 2016, 11 February 2016, 11 March 2016. On this basis this Particular is found not proved.

68. Particular 4 (b) Did not follow up actions regarding SU6 in a timely manner - The Registrant admitted this Particular during the course of his evidence given under cross-examination. Concerns regarding SU6’s deteriorating mental health had been recorded by the Registrant in November 2015, however the Registrant did not visit SU6 again until 21 January 2016 which was both inconsistent with statutory timescales and the level of concern regarding SU6’s mental health. This Particular is found proved.

Particular 5: In regards to Service User 8;

a) On the 19 September 2015, undertook an Initial Visit Following Referral, and: a) did not see Service User 8 during your visit; and/or

b) On the 14 October 2015 visited Service User 8 and did not detail and/or record Service User 8’s needs, feelings and/or wishes following your visit.

69.  SU8 was 7 years old when referred to the Council. The referral stated that SU8 had a diagnosis of autism and the request was for a needs assessment and to explore support during the school holidays. The case was allocated to the Registrant on 14 September 2015.

70. Particular 5(a) Visits with Service User 8 - SB informed the Panel that an initial visit to the Service User is the commencement of the assessment process. The visit is designed to gather further information from the referral and to guide an initial decision making process and the likely course of action that will be taken. This can include whether there are any safeguarding concerns. A vital part of the initial visit is to see the child and ideally speak to the child alone, if appropriate in terms of their age and understanding. This is to ensure the child's well-being/safety and it also informs the assessment. The Social Worker is able to describe the needs of the child, any observations and any concerns raised by the child.

71. SB said that the initial visit to SU8’s residence had taken place on 19 September 2015, but SU8 had not been seen. The Registrant did not visit SU8 until 14 October 2015 and this visit took place at school which did not constitute a statutory visit. This visit took place outside the 7 day statutory timescale from the initial referral.

72. SB said that as an experienced practitioner, the Registrant was aware that the child was to be seen within 7 days of the referral. This was also set out in Working Together to Safeguard Children 2015 and Staffordshire Safeguarding Children Board assessment of Children in Need and their Families and Child Social Work Assessment Policy.

73. Particular 5(b) Record Service User B's feelings and wishes - SB informed the Panel that as a part of the initial visit, there was a separate section on the recording form for the Social Worker to record the Service User's wishes and feelings. It was expected that the allocated Social Worker would describe the Service User's needs in respect of health (disability), education, emotional/behavioural needs, and self-care needs. It was also expected that there would be evidence that the Social Worker had engaged directly with the child to ascertain their views on their own situation, their likes and dislikes. This was set out in the Child Social Work Assessment Policy.

74.  SB said that during the initial visit to SU8’s home, the Registrant did not see SU8. The Registrant completed a visit to SU8 at school on 14 October 2015, however he did not record SU8's wishes and feelings.

75. In evidence, the Registrant admitted that he did not see SU8 on his initial visit. He said he tried to fit in this visit prior to going on Jury Service. The family were known to Children's Services previously and although this referral had not resulted in further action, the family were initially reluctant to engage with the new referral and did not respond to the Registrant’s initial attempts to make contact. He had left phone messages on the family answering machine and had noted this at the time and informed SB. He accepted that it was usual and good practice to see the child on the initial visit. On reflection he would have followed it up with another visit.

76. SU8's mother was unsure why a referral had been made. He felt it was appropriate to try and reassure her by meeting her on a one- to-one basis. He accepted that a child should normally be seen at an initial visit. On his return from Jury Service and after gaining SU8's mother’s consent, as is appropriate practice, he visited SU8 at school and gained his wishes and feelings. He also communicated and took advice from his teacher and classroom assistants and Home/School Link Worker on how best to gain SU8's wishes and feelings appropriately. He also followed this up with another home visit and was able to collate sufficient evidence from these visits to complete the assessment.

77. Particular 5 (a) Undertook an initial visit and did not see SU8 during the visit – By his own admission the Registrant did not see SU8 when he undertook an initial visit on 19 September 2015 following the referral. In any case as this visit was to SU8’s school and not at his home it would not have met the criteria for a statutory visit. For these reasons this Particular is found proved.

78. Particular 5 (b) Visited SU8 and did not details and/or record SU8’s needs, feelings and/or wishes – The Registrant admitted this Particular from the outset of the hearing. During his meeting with SU8 on 14 October 2015, the Registrant recorded the following in the section headed ‘Child’s wishes and feelings’ as part of the CIN Contact Visit record:

“Service User 8 communication is limited he did engage with myself briefly and appeared happy and settled within school. He was fascinated by my badge and pulled this not in an aggressive way, but to get a closer look and appeared very curious to look at the face on the badge. I told him it was me. He spoke to himself but this was inaudible. I did observe him moving around the class and staff used verbal prompts for him to use the toilet, which he did.”


In the Panel’s judgement, the above recording is simply a recitation of events rather than an adequate detailing of SU8’s needs, feelings and/or wishes and hence this Particular is found proved.


Decision on Grounds:


79. Ms Luscombe submitted that Particulars 1 – 6 each amounted to misconduct. She submitted that the Registrant was an experienced Social Worker and that the issues in this case were serious. She submitted that Standards 1, 2, 6, and 7 of the HCPC Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics 2012 and Standards 1 and 4 of the HCPC’s Standards of Proficiency for Social Workers had been breached. She submitted that the Registrant’s behaviour amounted to a significant departure from the standards expected of a Social Worker.

80. The Registrant made no submissions at this stage and left the issue of misconduct to the judgement of the Panel.

81. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor who addressed the Panel on the meaning of lack of competence and misconduct. She referred to the case of Roylance –v- General Medical Council No 2 [2001] 1 AC p311, Nandi v GMC [2004] EWHC 2317 and Schodlok v GMC [2015] EWCA Civ 769. She advised that in determining whether the facts found proved amounted to misconduct, the Panel should consider whether they amounted to a serious departure from the standard of conduct that could properly be expected of a social worker performing the role that the Registrant was employed to perform at the time. The Panel should also consider whether the conduct would be regarded as deplorable by fellow practitioners. She advised that in considering lack of competence, the Panel should ask whether the Registrant’s professional performance was unacceptably low as demonstrated by a fair sample of the Registrant’s work. She advised that the Panel should judge the Registrant by reference to his post at the time.

82. The Panel first considered whether the facts found proved were so serious as to amount to misconduct.

83. In considering Particular 1 in conjunction with Particular 6, the Panel concluded that the Registrant’s dishonesty in relation to the facts found proved in Particular 1, had clearly fallen seriously below the standards expected of him at the time. The Panel accepted that his behaviour had not been premeditated, and that he had panicked about the progress of the case and his PIP. The Panel also accepted that this was an isolated incident of dishonesty. Nevertheless the Registrant had known that it was wrong to act in the way that he did, and the Panel concluded that the Registrant’s dishonesty in relation to the Contact and Referral Form amounted to serious misconduct.

84. In considering Particular 2, the Panel concluded that the Registrant had not explored serious safeguarding concerns which had put SU3 at risk, and this had been compounded by not completing the Child Social Work Assessment. The Panel concluded that this amounted to serious misconduct.

85. In considering Particular 3(a) and 3(b(i), the Panel concluded that in not responding to the safeguarding concerns that arose from the fact that SU4 had allegedly been smacked  by his father, the Registrant had placed SU4 at risk of further alleged physical harm. He had not raised the concerns in the course of a meeting which was designed for that very purpose. The Panel concluded that this amounted to serious misconduct.

86. In considering Particular 4(b) the Panel concluded that in not following up actions regarding SU6 in a timely manner, the Registrant had placed SU6 at risk of harm and this amounted to serious misconduct.

87. In considering Particular 5, the Panel considered that that it was a fundamental requirement for a Social Worker to see a child service user during the initial visit and to record the child’s needs, feelings and wishes following his visit. The Registrant’s failure to do so amounted to serious misconduct.

Decision on Impairment:


88. Ms Luscombe submitted that the Registrant’s behaviour had fallen far below the standard expected of a registered professional, and that his fitness to practise is currently impaired by reason of both the public and personal components. She urged the Panel to consider what steps the Registrant had taken since the time of the Allegation to ensure that any problems that he came across in the future regarding perceived lack of support in the workplace would not affect his actions.

89. The Registrant provided the Panel with written submissions and gave further evidence at the impairment stage.

90. The Registrant informed the Panel that since the Allegation he had worked as an Agency Social Worker, first, for Wrexham County Borough Council (“Wrexham”) from May 2017 to July 2018, and then for Stoke-on-Trent City Council (“Stoke-on-Trent”), from July 2018 to the present day. He said that he had informed both employing agencies of the HCPC proceedings.

91. In describing his employment as a Social Worker in Wrexham, the Registrant said that he had worked in safeguarding for the Family Support team. He said that this had enhanced and informed his practice, and since then he had been able to work at a faster pace. He had held a caseload of approximately 26 cases, which had involved Child Protection and Children In Need cases. He was not aware of any concerns that had been raised by his line managers about any aspect of his practice.

92. The Registrant said that he moved from Wrexham to Stoke-on-Trent for family reasons as it was nearer to home. He worked within the Safeguarding Team at Stoke-on-Trent from July 2018 to February 2019, holding a varied and complex caseload. He said he was not aware of any significant concerns regarding his practice whilst working there. He outlined to the Panel some of the measures that he had put in place to improve his performance, such as using an electronic diary to plan his time.
 
93. The Registrant said that he did not intend to apply for senior Social Worker roles in the future. He recognised that having observed colleagues and the level of stress they were put under, he was happier focusing on his practice.

94. The Registrant said that he regretted his actions. He said that he had been fortunate to have been able to practise since the date of the Allegation, and that his subsequent practice had given him insight into how lacking his practice had been at the time, how it impacted on Service Users, and how he had let his profession down. He recognised that he had been in a position of trust and his practice had not been what it should be.

95. He said that he had used his time since the date of the Allegation to reflect extensively on the events and on his own practice. He said that he understood the importance of insight. He stressed how he regretted his past actions and understood how it could have impacted on the public perception of Service Users, the Local Authority and the Social Work profession.

96. He said that since the Allegation he had not needed to be put on a Performance Plan and he had managed caseloads within busy, fast moving teams. He had written court reports which required a high level of analysis and insight. He had also given evidence and been cross - examined in court proceedings as a witness called on behalf of the Local Authority. He said that he had proved since May 2017 that he could be an effective practitioner who seeks support when needed, places Service Users’ needs as a priority, is a valuable member of a social work team and practises both within relevant regulatory standards and with honesty and integrity.

97. He said, in answer to panel questioning, that if his anxiety levels increased in the future he would recognise them, and that if he reached the point where he was struggling to prioritise his work and felt that things were getting on top of him, he would seek help, and that the mistake that he had made in the past was to try to solve problems without seeking support. He said that if he were to be faced with the same type of problem as that encompassed by Particular 2 in the future, he would visit the mother and would return to his Line Manager to discuss the possibility of contacting the Safeguarding Team for their input.

98. The Registrant provided the Panel with material which he hoped would  demonstrate remediation relevant to the misconduct which related to Particulars 1 and 6. This consisted of a copy of email correspondence from his current employment, in which he had been asked to authorise an assessment, and which he had refused to undertake on the basis that he had no such authority to do so. 

99. The Registrant provided the Panel with two references from Stoke on Trent.

100. The first reference, dated 24 June 2109, was written by his line manager and team manager, who stated

“Mr Ferris as part of a new intervention that was set up to work with children and families on a duty basis, the idea being that the social worker would respond quickly to a case and risks [sic] assess the current situation. Mr Ferris’s assessment of the family will ensure that resources are in place to support the family ensuring that the children are safe and not at risk of harm.

Since Mr Ferris has been part of the team that I manage I have had no concerns in relation to his practise as a social worker. Children and families have been seen within timescales and child and family assessment [sic] completed within the 45 days as required. He is a valued member of the team and is able to support new members to the team, as well as having student social worker work alongside him as part of their placement with the safeguarding teams.

Mr Ferris has undertaken a number of S47 investigations with the skills and compassion that is required in these difficult investigations and has shown that he is able to support the children and their families. Mr Ferris has built up a good working relationship with the other agencies in the community which assist him in his assessment of the children and families he works with and therefore he is able to produce good assessments that have a clear outcome.

Throughout my time of managing Mr Ferris I have found him to be open, honest and trustworthy. I have not had any reason to doubt Mr Ferris’s integrity”.

101. The second reference, also dated 24 June 2019, was written by the Principle Manager of the Safeguarding and Support Team for the Children and Family Services at Stoke-on-Trent, who confirmed that he had had sight of the concerns relating to the hearing, and stated:

“Martin worked as an agency Social Worker in my safeguarding team from July until end of February 2019, when he moved across to work in the newly formed Assessment and Intervention Teams.
Martin has retained a family from my safeguarding team that are subject to care proceedings from when he worked on my team, so I have continued to have line management responsibility for this allocation. Proceedings are ongoing so I have continued to supervise Martin in relation to this matter.

I have found Martin to be honest and trustworthy for the duration of time I have worked with him at Stoke-on-Trent City Council. I have not had any cause to doubt Martin’s integrity.

During his time on my team Martin was responsible for a high-volume, complex caseload, with a mix of assessments, Child in Need, Child Protection, Public Law Outline and care proceedings cases.

Generally Martin was able to keep on top of recordings and meet deadlines. I recall a small number of occasions where Martin did get a bit behind with this and when we discussed this in personal supervision Martin was able to address this and improve his performance, which negated the need to invoke any form of HR process.

In terms of Martin’s judgement and assessment skills, I have no significant concerns in relation to this and feel that with appropriate support and guidance Martin makes sensible and defensible decisions around his casework. As stated above Martin has had a number of cases that have been/are still in care proceedings. These pieces of work have stood up to judicial scrutiny and there has not been any negative feedback in respect of this.

Martin has been open in relation to some personal issues he has been experiencing at home and in a positive and healthy way he has accepted and been receptive to support in supervision and more informally from his peers. Martin presents as being a committed and dedicated social worker”.

102. In considering whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired by reason of his misconduct, the Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and consulted the Practice Note on Fitness to Practice provided by the HCPTS. The Legal Assessor reminded the Panel of the case of Cohen v GMC [2008] EWHC 581 and advised the Panel to ask itself whether the misconduct was easily remediable, whether it had been remedied and whether it was highly unlikely to be repeated. She also reminded the Panel of the case of Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence v (1) Nursing and Midwifery council (2) Paula Grant [2011] EWHC 927 which suggested that the Panel should consider:

•   whether the Registrant had presented and/or continues to present a risk to patients

•   whether the Registrant had brought and/or is liable to bring the profession into disrepute

•   whether the Registrant had breached and/or is liable to breach one of the fundamental tenets of the profession

•   whether the Registrant had in the past acted dishonestly and/or was liable to act dishonestly in the future


103. The Registrant had demonstrated to the Panel’s satisfaction how, over his past two years of employment as a Social Worker, he had learnt the importance of exploring safeguarding concerns, following up actions, and completing Assessments, in a timely manner. He had spoken of the profound impact the HCPC proceedings had had on him and his practice. He had produced excellent testimonials from two line managers at his current workplace.

104. The Panel took into account the references from the Registrant’s current managers, evidencing that in the course of his recent work as a Social Worker, he had consistently attended children and families within timescales and had completed child and family assessments within the 45 days’ timescale as required. It was the view of the Panel that he had clearly remediated the concerns reflected in Particulars 2 to 5.

105. In considering the misconduct relating to Particulars 1 and 6, the Panel concluded that the dishonesty in this case was at the lower end of the spectrum. The Registrant had said that he believed at the time of signing and backdating the Contract and Referral forms that he would gain from his actions, in that he presumed that his PIP would be compromised if the forms were not submitted in good time. He had said in evidence that “the PIP was something that was worrying me, so putting myself in a better position was something I was concerned with at the time. That was a key motivation for doing what I did. It was wrong”. He had accepted that he had not told SB about what he had done because he had known it was wrong, and that he had known what the implications were. The Panel had made a finding of dishonesty in this regard. However, the Panel accepted that the Registrant’s anxiety to improve his PIP had been linked to a genuine desire to continue working as a Social Worker, and to progress the case of SU1 and SU2. The Panel acknowledged that whilst he had not formally accepted his dishonesty, he had always accepted that what he had done was wrong. The Panel accepted that he had acted in a moment of panic and in a way that was out of character and was an isolated incident. The Panel accepted the Registrant’s evidence that he had not acted dishonestly since, and accepted that he had learnt from his error. The Panel took into account the email trail which had been produced by the Registrant from his current employment to show that he had recently refused to authorise an assessment in place of his manager without authority. The Panel accepted that this showed some remediation of the misconduct relating to Particulars 1 and 6.

106. The Panel concluded that in the course of giving oral evidence, the Registrant had demonstrated good insight into the damaging effect of his past dishonesty on the reputation of the profession and its regulator. Whilst the Panel recognised that he had not formally admitted his dishonesty, he had always accepted that what he had done was wrong, and had accepted that the public would regard his behaviour as being dishonest, and had demonstrated a genuine understanding of the effect that a finding of dishonesty would have on the reputation of the profession and his regulator. The Panel concluded, in light of this insight, together with the fact that he had worked for over 2 years without further concerns in this regard, that it was highly unlikely that he would repeat his dishonesty.

107. The Panel found that he had demonstrated excellent insight into his misconduct in relation to Particulars 2 to 5. He had satisfied the Panel that he genuinely regrets his actions and understands the impact of them on the public. Again, the Panel concluded, in light of this insight, together with the fact that he had worked for the past 2 years without further incident, that it was highly unlikely that he would repeat the misconduct reflected by these Particulars.

108. In those circumstances, the Panel concluded that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is not currently impaired on the personal component.

109. In considering the public component, the Panel concluded that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is not currently impaired by reason of his misconduct relating to Particulars 2 -5. The Panel concluded that the reputation of the profession and its regulator, and the need to maintain standards, was satisfied by the fact that the Registrant had now remediated his failings in relation to this part of the Allegation and shown full insight and genuine remorse.

110. However in relation to its finding of dishonesty, the Panel concluded that whilst the Registrant’s dishonesty fell at the lower end of the spectrum, nevertheless the need to uphold proper professional standards and preserve public confidence in the profession demanded a finding of impairment in this regard.

111. The Panel therefore finds that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired on the public, but not the personal component, on the basis of the misconduct relating to Particular 6 alone.

Decision on Sanction:


112. Ms Luscombe referred the Panel to the most recent Sanctions Policy. She reminded the Panel to consider the aggravating and mitigating features of the case, and to consider the range of sanctions in ascending order. She submitted that the choice of sanction is a matter for the Panel’s judgment.

113. The Registrant submitted that his dishonesty amounted to an isolated incident, committed in a moment of panic, and that he had learnt from his error. Striking off or suspension would be disproportionate, and would have a catastrophic effect on his personal life, as he is the main breadwinner. He urged the Panel to impose a Caution Order.


114. The Panel heard and accepted the advice provided by the Legal Assessor who reminded the Panel that the purpose of sanction is not to be punitive but is to protect the public and the wider public interest. She encouraged the Panel to consult the current HCPTS Sanctions Policy and to apply the principle of proportionality by weighing the Registrant’s interests against the public interest. She advised that the Panel should consider the least restrictive sanction first.

115. The Panel concluded that aggravating features of the case were:

•   The  dishonesty had been a breach of trust

•   The actions relating to Particulars 2 to 5 had the potential to result in Service User harm.

116. The Panel considered that mitigating features of the case were:

•   Good insight
•   Remorse
•   Early apology
•   Thorough reflection
•   Remediation
•   Taking responsibility for actions, rather than seeking to apportion blame elsewhere
•   Engaged with the regulator throughout with the process
•   Has engaged in Continuous Professional Development since the tie of the Allegation
•   Remediation through working as a Social Worker without incident for over 2 years
•   The dishonesty had been an isolated incident
•   The dishonesty had occurred in a moment of panic and had not been premeditated
•   Previous good character

117. The Panel concluded that in view of its finding of dishonesty, to take no further action would not be sufficient to maintain confidence in the profession and the regulatory process and mediation would not be appropriate in this case.

118. The Panel consulted the Sanctions Guidance, which indicated that a Caution Order is likely to be appropriate in cases in which the issue is isolated, limited or relatively minor in nature, where there is a low risk of repetition, where the Registrant has shown good insight and where the Registrant had undertaken appropriate remediation. As is apparent from the body of this determination, the Panel had found each of these to be applicable to its findings in this case.

119. The Sanctions Guidance also indicated that a Caution Order should be considered in cases where the nature of the allegation means that meaningful practice restrictions cannot be imposed but a Suspension Order would be disproportionate. The Panel concluded that no meaningful conditions could be formulated to address the finding of dishonesty, and the Panel had already concluded that the other findings of misconduct had been remediated and required no further measures to protect the public.

120. The Registrant’s dishonesty had taken the form of a single act, of almost instantaneous duration, in relation to which the Registrant had accepted his wrongdoing from the outset. This, together with the numerous mitigating factors, led the Panel to the conclusion that a Caution Order was the appropriate and proportionate Sanction in the unusual circumstances of this case.

121. The Panel decided that a period of one year was appropriate and proportionate given the fact that the Registrant had clearly learnt a salutary lesson and the public interest was satisfied by the existence of a sanction in the context of the numerous mitigating factors that existed.

122. Having decided that Conditions of Practice were clearly inappropriate in the circumstances because no meaningful Conditions could be devised, the Panel considered a Suspension Order, but concluded that this would be disproportionate in light of the Panel’s findings on impairment. Furthermore, it would be wrong to deprive the public of a good Social Worker.

Order

Order: That the Registrar is directed to annotate the register entry of Mr Martin Christopher Ferris with a Caution which is to remain on the register for a period of 1 year from the date this order comes into effect.

Notes

Right of Appeal:


You may appeal to the High Court in England and Wales against the Panel’s decision and the order it has made against you.

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

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Mr Martin Christopher Ferris

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
22/07/2019 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Caution