Mr Nicholas Joseph Blackburn

Profession: Social worker

Registration Number: SW26417

Hearing Type: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 10:00 24/06/2019 End: 17:00 26/06/2019

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

Panel: Conduct and Competence Committee
Outcome: Conditions of Practice

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Allegation

While working as a Social Worker for Stockton on Tees Borough Council between approximately 28 July 2014 and 26 October 2015, you:

1. On or around 11 March 2015, attended the home of Service User A and:

a) told Service User B that your manager would like him to leave the house but gave the impression that no one would actually check that he had done so

b) suggested to Service User B that he should just "keep his head down for a while” and said I'm dealing with it and it will all be sorted within three to four weeks", or words to that effect

c) did not inform Service User A of the reasons for the referral

d) left the property without ensuring that Service User B had left

e) Informed your manager that Service User B had left the house which was not the case.

f) Did not ask for the new address of Service User B

g) Did not check whether children lived at the new address of Service User B

h) Asked a Social Work student to speak to the children of Service User A when you should have done so yourself.

2. In relation to Service User C, on or around 12 March 2015, left a note for the service user's parents stating "if you have not responded by Thursday 19 March 2015 I will request that the police gain entry for me", or words to that effect

3. Did not take adequate steps to safeguard service users, in that you:

a) In relation to Service User D:

i. Did not speak to a Paediatrician in relation to concerns about Service User D prior to completing the Single Assessment dated 14 August 2015
ii. Did not include relevant information from a PAMS assessment in your Single Assessment dated 14 August 2015

b) Closed the case of Service User E without first contacting Lifeline, an alcohol addiction agency, for up to date information about his father

c) Did not adequately discuss allegations of abuse with Service User F

d) In the case of Service User R and his siblings, did not contact the children’s new school to establish the school’s view about their presentation and/or wellbeing

4. Made inappropriate comments about Service User F and / or their family.

5. Did not undertake and/or record on RAISE (Case Management System) the following visits and / or your attempts to visit:

a) Service User G and / or Service User H between 2 July 2015 and 12 August 2015.

b) Service User I between approximately 3 September 2015 and 30 September 2015

c) in the case of Service User J and siblings, between 7 and 14 September 2015.

d) Service User K and/or siblings between 25 June and 13 July 2015

e) Service User L between approximately 15 July 2015 and 12 August 2015

f)  Service User M between approximately 8 July 2015 and 4 August 2015

g) Service User N between approximately 9 July 2015 and 11 August 2015

h) Service User O between approximately 3 July 2015 and 21 August 2015

i)  Service User P alone without the parents present between approximately 9 July 2015 and 21 August 2015

j) Service User Q between 20 July 2015 and 27 July 2015

6. Did not complete in a timely manner:

a) Single Assessment for Service User I when asked to complete this by 22 September 2015

b) Single Assessment for Service User N until 19 August 2015; despite being told during supervision to complete it by 17 July 2015

c) Single assessment in the case of Service User P between approximately 7 July 2015 and 26 August 2015

d) Single assessment in the case of Service User O

e) Written agreement in the case of Service User R between approximately 14 September 2015 and 28 September 2015

7. Did not include sufficient detail in the following:

a) case notes on RAISE for Service User K, in that it does not     indicate:

i) who was present during the visit on 23 and/or 25 June 2015
ii) whether the step-father of Service User K can return to the home

b) Single Assessments for:

i) Service User E
ii) Service User G
iii) Service User H in that it was inadequate as you completed it before
I. Contacting Service User H’s drug service and/or
II. Viewing the Family Support Team assessments
iv) Service User K
v) Service User M
vi) Service User N
vii) Service User R
viii) Service User 1
ix) Service User 2
x) Service User 3
xi) Service User 5
xii) Service User 6

c) social worker's report for service user 1

8. Did not consistently complete:

a) case notes and/or visits within in a timely manner in respect of the following service users:

i) Service User I
ii) Service User J and siblings
iii)  Service User K
iv) Service User L and siblings
v) Service User M
vi) Service User S
vii) Service User T
viii) Service User U
ix) Service User 4

b) In the case of Service User N In relation:
i) AIM1

c) record the professionals’ details and/or concerns raised by professionals in the cases of:


i) Service User D
ii) Service User I
iii) Service User 4

9. Did not consistently file confidential information in a secure manner, in that you left loose pieces of paper containing service user names and case numbers on your desk and in your drawers.

10. Your actions at paragraph 1e were dishonest.

11. The matter described in paragraph 1e constitutes misconduct.

12. The matters set out in paragraphs 1 – 10 constitute misconduct and/or lack of competence.

13. 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 Sheridan applied to amend the Particulars of the Allegation. 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 of the Allegation, and that they reflected the evidence contained within the documentation with greater accuracy. The Panel concluded that it was in the interests of justice to allow the application in its entirety.

2. At the close of the case for the HCPC, Ms Sheridan made a further application to amend the date in Particular 5(h). The Registrant did not oppose this application. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Panel concluded that the hearing had been conducted on the basis of the proposed amended date, and that no prejudice would be caused to the Registrant by this technical amendment, albeit that it was made late in the day. The Panel decided to grant the application. 

Application to hear part of the case in private

3. The Registrant applied for part of the case to be heard in private. His application was supported by Ms Sheridan. 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.

Admissions

4. At the commencement of the hearing, the Registrant entered formal Admissions to Particulars 1(c), 1(d), 1(h), 2, 3(a)(ii), 5(a), 5(b), 5(c), 5(d), 5(f), 6(e), 7(b)(iv), 7(b)(v), 7(b)(vi), 7(b)(vii), 7(b)(viii), 7(b)(ix), 7(b)(x), 7(b)(xi), 7(b)(xii), 8(a)(i), 8(a)(ii), 8(a)(iii), 8(a)(iv), 8(a)(v).

5. In the course of giving his evidence it became apparent that the Registrant had entered his Admissions to 3 (a)(ii), 6(e), 7(b)(iv), 7(b)(v), 7(b)(vi), 7(b)(vii), 7(b)(viii), 7(b)(ix), 7(b)(x), 7(b)(xi), 7(b)(xii) in error. He applied to withdraw those Admissions, which was unopposed, and granted.

Witnesses

6. The Panel heard live evidence from:

• JC – employed by Stockton Borough Council (“the Council”) as a student Social Worker at the time

• MM – Investigating Officer employed by the Council as a Social Worker and the Registrant’s line manager

• DF – employed by the Council as a Social Worker and the Registrant’s supervisor

• The Registrant


Background:

7. From 28 July 2014 to 26 October 2015, the Registrant was employed by Stockton on Tees Borough Council (“the Council”) as a Level L Social Worker in the Assessment Team. He was expected to hold and manage complex cases and support other less experienced members of the team. He was responsible for cases involving Children in Need, Looked After Children and children on a Child Protection Plan.

8. In March 2015, MM was appointed to carry out an internal investigation into a visit conducted by the Registrant to the home of Service User A (“SUA”) on 11 March 2015. The concerns arising from that investigation now form the basis of Particular 1. It is alleged that the Registrant did not follow instructions given to him by his manager, which left SUA’s children in a position of vulnerability regarding a cohabitee, Service User B (“SUB”), who may have posed a safeguarding risk.  It is alleged, further, that the Registrant acted dishonestly when reporting back to his manager on his return from the visit.

9. MM then investigated a number of other concerns regarding the Registrant’s practice, including suggestions that:

- he had not undertaken visits to service users and/or recorded those visits
-  his case notes and Single Assessments lacked detail and had not been completed in a timely manner
-  there were communication issues in his dealings with a number of service users.

10. Formal Capability procedures were initiated on 2 July 2015 and an Action Plan was implemented. There were two subsequent performance reviews on 4 September 2015 and on 9 October 2015. The Registrant left the Council on 26 October 2015.


Decision on facts:

11. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. In reaching its decision it took into account the evidence of JC, MM, and DF, 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 service users expressing their gratitude for assistance given by the Registrant in the course of 2017;

• one testimonial from a personal acquaintance who attested to his honesty and hard work on a local committee; and

• one testimonial from a CAFCASS Service Manager who commented on one specific case the Registrant had worked on.

12. The Panel found JC, MM and DF to be credible and reliable witnesses. Their oral evidence supported their written statements.

13. The Panel found that whilst at times the Registrant had been credible and reliable in the giving of his evidence, there were other occasions when he had been inconsistent, and in relation to one area of the case (Sub-Particular 1e) he had been dishonest.


1. On or around 11 March 2015, attended the home of Service User A and:

a)      told Service User B that your manager would like him to leave the house but gave the impression that no one would actually check that he had done so

Proved 

14. At the relevant time, SUB was staying in SUA’s property with her three children.

15. On 11 March 2015, the Council received a referral in relation to SUB, from a Team Manager of a mental health team, Northumbria Healthcare. The Council was informed that SUB had mental health issues which had led to aggressive and sexually inappropriate behaviour in the past. The referral stated:

‘SUB has made it known to us that he intends to live with his girlfriend, SUA. We believe that SUA has 3 children…SUB has a learning disability and a history of a personality disorder associated with abnormally aggressive and sexually inappropriate behaviour…although I accept that there have been no apparent concerns regarding SUB since his move into the community three years ago, he has an extensive history concerning sexual behaviour and he spent sixteen years as an inpatient due to these concerns. It is also concerning that his current partner is unaware of any of the information/issues/concerns in respect of SUB. At the very least, this information needs to be disclosed to her so that she can make informed decisions about her own safety and the safety of her children’.

16. It was decided by DF that SUA should be alerted to the risks involved in allowing SUB access to her children.
 
17. DF informed the Panel that she discussed the referral with the Registrant on the day of its receipt. She said she asked him to attend SUA’s home, where SUB was staying, to ensure that SUB left the premises and had no further contact with the children, in order to protect them from the potential risk that SUB posed, whilst the necessary risk assessments were carried out. DF informed the Panel that she expected the Registrant to explain to both SUA and SUB that concerns had been raised about the possible risk that SUB posed to SUA’s children, and to provide sufficient information for SUA to make an informed decision. DF expected the Registrant to advise SUA and SUB that until a risk assessment had been completed, they would need to live separately and that contact with the children would need to be supervised. DF said that she was very clear with the Registrant about the purpose of the visit and about what should be disclosed to SUA and SUB regarding the referral.

18. DF asked JC, who was a social work student at the time, to review the referral, and to attend SUA’s premises with the Registrant.

19. JC told the Panel that she travelled to SUA’s home with the Registrant by car, and that on the way there, the Registrant told her that he disagreed with the instruction to ask SUB to leave; his reason for disagreeing was that SUB had committed no offences since his release back into the community.

20. JC said that when they arrived at SUA’s home, the Registrant explained, in the presence of both SUA and SUB, that a referral had been received from the NHS and that there were concerns regarding SUB. He explained that the purpose of the visit was to ask SUB to leave the property.

21. JC exhibited a copy of an email she sent to her tutor on the evening of the visit; she said that her recollection of events at the time when she wrote this email was better than at the time of making her witness statement and at the time of giving evidence before the Panel. The email read:

‘During the visit the social worker stated his manager had asked him to leave and that he would not be out until the next morning and that he doubted anyone would check throughout the night, (which I believe sounded as though he was telling him he could just stay…Once in the car the Social Worker told me that when I had went upstairs he had told the gentleman he needed to leave until an assessment was completed. However, this is completely different to what the social worker had said whilst I was present and I had been upstairs for less than 2 minutes. I’m worried the social worker said the man could stay in the house and that the children could possibly be at risk.’

22. JC was interviewed as part of the Council’s internal investigation, in the course of which she said:

‘[Nick] gave a very brief statement about why he had come round. Said we had received a referral and that his manager had said she would like SUB to leave, but then said that no one would be round to check this. He was not assertive on this. It was like he was suggesting it was OK to stay.’

23. JC informed the Panel that at the end of the visit, the Registrant told SUA and SUB that he would be back very early the following morning to speak to them again and that he would expect them both to be at the property.

24. In his written statement to the Panel, the Registrant stated:

“At no point did I tell SUB that no-one would be round to check following asking him to vacate the property. I have no idea where that came from, but it is totally untrue.”
He maintained this throughout his oral evidence. The Registrant   questioned the timing of the email which JC sent.

25. The Panel preferred the evidence provided by JC and DF, to that provided by the Registrant. It was clear from the evidence provided by JC that even before the Registrant entered the property it had been the Registrant’s belief that SUB should not have to leave. JC gave evidence that was clear and compelling; she had no reason for fabricating her evidence and had been sufficiently concerned to feel it necessary to contact her tutor later that day to seek advice about what had taken place. The Panel found this Sub-Particular proved.

1 b)    suggested to Service User B that he should just "keep his head down for a while” and said I'm dealing with it and it will all be sorted within three to four weeks", or words to that effect

Not Proved

26. DF informed the Panel that she spoke with SUA on 12 March 2015, the day after the visit by the Registrant and JC. DF confirmed the evidence she had given in her internal investigation interview, which had been:

‘SUA recalled the visit the night before and said the male Social Worker had said that SUB may have to leave. As soon as the female went upstairs the male Social Worker said that SUB did not have to leave, and if he kept his head down it would all be over in 3-4 weeks. The male Social Worker had also not spoken to any of the children.’

27. DF said that SUA told her that the Registrant had returned later in the evening to obtain the address of where SUB would be staying, and that the Registrant was fully aware at that point that SUB had still not left the property.

28. DF informed the Panel that she also spoke to SUB at SUA’s home on 12 March 2015, who confirmed that the Registrant had told him that it was “okay” for SUB to remain in the family home and had told him to “keep his head down and don’t leave, I’m dealing with it and it will all be sorted in a few weeks”. She said that after speaking with SUB, she personally ensured that SUB left the property

29. An employee from SUA’s children’s school, who was not called to give evidence before the Panel, gave evidence in the course of the internal investigation, and said:

‘[SUA] and her partner came in to see me around 9am. They said that the night before (Wednesday 11 March 2015) two people, a male and a female had visited the house…the concern was that they were fake social workers. They had told SUA and SUB that there were concerns around SUB’s mental health and SUB had to leave the property that evening. However, when the female went upstairs to see the children, the male said just stay the night, if anyone comes round pretend you are out and everything will be sorted. Stay the week, keep your head down.’

30. The Registrant denied suggesting to SUB that he should “keep his head down…I’m dealing with it and it will all be sorted out with in 3 to 4 weeks” or words to that effect.

31. The Panel found this Sub-Particular not proved as it was entirely reliant upon hearsay evidence from SUA and SUB and was not supported by the evidence of JC, who was not in the room at the time of the alleged discussion.

1 c)    did not inform Service User A of the reasons for the referral

Proved

32. JC informed the Panel that the Registrant did not disclose to SUA any information about the referral, other than that a referral had been received which detailed concerns about SUB and that as a result of this SUB was required to leave SUA’s home.

33. In the course of her internal investigation interview, JC said:

‘[SUA] asked why we had received something from the NHS. Nick said it was to do with SUB’s past but did not elaborate. Mum had no idea what he was talking about. SUB said he didn’t know why…he said it was linked to SUB’s past but SUB and Mum should discuss. Nothing was mentioned whilst we were all present……I was concerned he had not put mum in the picture.’

34. DF gave evidence that she would not have expected the Registrant to disclose all the details of the referral to SUA and SUB, but that she would have expected, under the “pressing needs test”, for him to disclose what he needed to in order to make SUA aware there were concerns about the mental health of SUB, and that the previous incidents that he had been involved in meant that he potentially posed a risk to her children. She said that the Registrant was an experienced social worker and would have known about the extent and type of information that needed to be shared from the referral. She said she had spoken with him about the information that needed to be disclosed when she discussed the matter with the Registrant prior to visiting SUA and SUB.

35. MM gave evidence that the Registrant should have disclosed to SUA the mental health problems relating to SUB, regardless of whether or not SUB gave consent for this.

36. The Registrant admitted this allegation of fact. In evidence he accepted that he had not informed SUA of the reasons for the referral. However he claimed that he had asked SUB for consent to inform SUA, which SUB refused. He claimed that, in those circumstances, it would have been wrong to provide the relevant information.

37. The Panel found this Sub-Particular proved on the basis of the Registrant’s Admission and the evidence provided by the HCPC that information should have been provided to SUA under the “pressing needs test” to enable her to make an informed decision about how to safeguard her children.

1 d)    left the property without ensuring that Service User B had left

Proved

38. JC informed that Panel that when she and the Registrant left the house, SUB was still present at the premises. In her internal investigation interview she said:

“We left the property. SUB was still in the house when we left.’ 

39. DF informed the Panel that she would have expected the Registrant to remain at the property until he was certain that SUB had left.

40. MM informed the Panel that the Registrant should have stayed at the property until he was sure that SUB had left. She said that this was standard practice.

41. The Registrant admitted this factual particular. He accepted that he should not have left whilst SUB was still on the premises. He expressed his remorse and regret for his actions in this regard.

42. The Panel found this Sub-Particular proved on the basis of the Registrant’s Admission and the evidence provided by the HCPC as outlined above.

1 e)    informed your manager that Service User B had left the house which was not the case.

Proved

43. DF informed the Panel that after carrying out the visit to SUA’s home, the Registrant returned to the office and spoke to her. She said he told her that SUB had left and that he had informed SUA and SUB that he would visit again the following morning at 9.30 am.

44. In her internal investigation interview, DF said:

‘When he [Registrant] returned following the visit he came to see me and I asked how it had gone. He told me that SUB had left the property and that Mum, SUA, had made a joke about him going to stay at her friends and he best not sleep with them.’

45. The Registrant told the Panel that he was asked by DF to request that SUB leave the property. He said he followed that instruction and told DF on returning to the office “the deed is done”. His evidence was that he did not mislead DF because the phrase “the deed is done” related to DF’s request for the Registrant to ask SUB to leave the property.

46. The Panel preferred the evidence of DF to that of the Registrant. DF’s evidence was that, if the Registrant had used the words “the deed is done”, she would have asked him to clarify what he meant. DF was clear in her evidence that the Registrant had said that SUB had left. The Panel found this Sub-Particular proved.

1 f)    Did not ask for the new address of Service User B

Proved

47. JC informed the Panel that whilst they were at the property the Registrant did not obtain the address of where SUB would be staying.

48. In the course of her internal investigation interview, JC said:

‘SUB had no plans as to where he was going.’

49. In his internal investigation interview, the Registrant said:

‘I didn’t take the address of where SUB was going.’

50. In his oral evidence the Registrant denied this allegation. He said that after visiting the house he returned to the office and spoke to the deputy manager of another team who asked whether he had obtained the address of where SUB was going. The Registrant replied that he had not. He said that he then returned to the SUA’s house and spoke to SUA who informed him that SUB had returned to his own house in Northumberland.

51. The Panel found this particular proved because it relates to the first visit to SUA’s home which the Registrant undertook with JC. The Registrant admitted that when he first visited the home, he had not asked about the address SUB was going to and this was in line with the evidence of JC.

1 g)    Did not check whether children lived at the new address of Service User B

Proved

52. DF said that the Registrant informed her, on the evening of 11 March 2015 that SUB was staying with a friend of SUA.

53. DF had kept a timeline which recorded:

‘Nick advised that he had spoken with the family and had requested the male leave the family home. Nick advised that he had done so and advised that male had gone to another family member. Nick was asked if the other family members had children and he stated that he had not checked this. DM and I requested that he immediately go and ensure that male was not staying in a home where children were present.’

54. The Registrant denied this allegation. He stated in his statement that SUB had returned to his own flat in Northumberland and there was no reason to check if there were children at the property.

55. The Panel preferred the evidence of DF to that of the Registrant. The Registrant said that he did not need to make enquires about any children because SUB had returned to his own flat. However, the Panel has heard that the Registrant only established during the second visit to SUA’s home that SUB was returning to Northumberland. The Allegation relates to the first visit. If the Registrant did not obtain an address the first time, it followed that he would not have had a conversation regarding children being present. Either way, during his investigation interview the Registrant said he did not check regarding the children and this was consistent with JC’s evidence. Accordingly, the Panel found this Sub-Particular proved.

1 h)    Asked a Social Work student to speak to the children of Service User A when you should have done so yourself.

Proved

56. JC told the Panel that some time after they had arrived at SUA’s property, the Registrant asked her to go upstairs and speak to SUA’s children to “check if they were okay”. JC said that she had not expected to do this, and that she was uncomfortable with the situation as she was a student social worker at the time and did not know what to do. She said that when she went upstairs, she found the children playing with their toys. She asked whether they were alright and then went back downstairs.

57. The Registrant accepted this allegation. He said that he had not regarded this as an issue at the time but now accepted that JC had not been sufficiently experienced to undertake this task.

58. The Panel found this Sub-Particular proved on the basis of the Registrant’s Admission and the evidence provided by the HCPC as outlined above.


2. In relation to Service User C, on or around 12 March 2015, left a note for the service user's parents stating "if you have not responded by Thursday 19 March 2015 I will request that the police gain entry for me", or words to that effect.

Proved

59. Service User C (“SUC”) was the unborn baby of a mother who had been subjected to domestic abuse by her partner. The Registrant was allocated to the case on 2 March 2015 to find out what was happening and to provide support for SUC’s mother.

60. The case notes indicated that the Registrant made attempted visits on 6 March 2015 and on 12 March 2015, but no one answered the door.

61. At around this time the Council received a phone call from the mother of SUC explaining that she had received a threatening note. The note was written by the Registrant, and read:

‘12/3/15, Second Visit, I visited again today, but could not gain entry to your flat. Please contact me to arrange a visit to your house for me to undertake an assessment. Please note: if you have not responded by Thursday, 19/3/15, I will request that the police gain entry for me.’

62. It was alleged that this note was inappropriate and that the Registrant should have continued to attempt to gain access rather than write it.

63. In the course of the internal investigation meeting the Registrant confirmed that he had left the note.

64. The Registrant admitted this allegation. He said that he had been deploying a procedure that was commonly used in a local authority, where he had previously worked.

65. The Panel found this particular proved on the basis of the Registrant’s admission and the evidence set out above.

3. Did not take adequate steps to safeguard service users, in that you:

a) In relation to Service User D:

i. Did not speak to a Paediatrician in relation to concerns about Service User D prior to completing the Single Assessment dated 14 August 2015

ii. Did not include relevant information from a PAMS assessment in your Single Assessment dated 14 August 2015.

Proved

66. Service User D (“SUD”) was the 22 month old child of parents with a history of poor parenting. There were concerns regarding her diet, stimulation and protection. Her sibling, Service User G, was aged five and constantly had headlice. The Registrant was allocated the case on 18 June 2015. He was expected to undertake an assessment of the situation, to include all professionals.

67. The Panel was taken to a case note entry relating to a Family Support team meeting held for SUD on 8 June 2015 which read:

‘[J.M.] and [Dr G] felt that SUD needed to be brought into hospital for a 2-3 week stay so hospital staff can monitor her…the following issues were identified in the meeting of concern: reoccurring head lice, mother manipulating professionals, poor home conditions, mother is believing SUD is ill, SUD poor development and not reaching milestones…professionals believe that mother could not parent her children without intense intervention.’ 

DK, a Paediatrician, was present at this meeting.

68. It was alleged that despite the fact that the referral had made it clear that a Paediatrician had been involved, the Single Assessment completed by the Registrant on 14 August 2015, while identifying that a Paediatrician had been involved, included only a brief synopsis of the information that had been provided. It made no reference to speaking with the Paediatrician. It was alleged, further, that whilst the Registrant referred in his Single Assessment to a PAMS assessment, which is an assessment of the parenting capacity of parents with learning disabilities. He did not include relevant information from the PAMS assessment in the Single Assessment. DF said that the Single Assessment contradicted the outcome of the PAMS assessment and it was clear that the Registrant had not read it.

69. DF informed the Panel that if the Registrant had spoken to the Paediatrician, SUD’s case would have proceeded in a different manner. A strategy meeting would have been held sooner to decide how the case should proceed, the concerns about SUD’s health would have been discussed, and an action plan would have been devised to consider what action should be taken before the case was transferred to the Fieldwork Team.

70. MM informed the Panel that there was a quick decline in SUD’s health, and that if the Registrant had considered all of the relevant information and spoken to all the relevant professionals, including the Paediatrician, action could have been taken sooner in respect of SUD’s poor health.

71. The Registrant denied this Sub-Particular. He said that he could not remember speaking to the Paediatrician, but that as he had quoted the Paediatrician in his Single Assessment, he must have done so. In cross-examination he suggested that no Paediatrician had been involved at the time when he completed his Single Assessment, and that the person named in the documentation was a GP not a Paediatrician. The Registrant said the older child (SUG) was open to the Paediatrician, but SUD was not, according to the Health Visitor, “who should have known.”

72. In relation to the PAMS assessment, the Registrant admitted this Sub-Particular. He claimed that he had read the report and he had included in it what he thought was relevant at the time. He denied that his actions had been inadequate in the safeguarding of SUD.  This was because the case remained open to Children’s Services for ongoing work.

73. DF was recalled in light of the information provided by the Registrant in cross-examination in relation to Sub-Particular 3(a)(i) and confirmed that the person referred to in the documentation before the Panel, DK, was a Paediatrician, not a GP.

74. The Panel found this allegation proved on the basis of the clear evidence placed before it by DF, as summarised above. The Registrant’s evidence, by contrast, had been unclear, vague and contradictory. It was clear that a Paediatrician had been involved, despite the fact that the Registrant appeared to question this.

d) Closed the case of Service User E without first contacting Lifeline, an alcohol addiction agency, for up to date information about his father.

Proved

75. The father of Service User E (SUE) was an alcoholic.

76. A report was provided for a strategy meeting by an alcohol addiction agency, Lifeline, which stated that the father had been discharged from the service on 4 March 2015 due to lack of engagement, as he had not attended the service since December 2014.

77. MM informed the Panel that in a Single Assessment dated 25 February 2015 the Registrant stated that the father was working with the drugs and alcohol services and would be discharged as there was no evidence of him drinking alcohol. The case was closed by the Registrant in March 2015.

78. MM said that SUE’s case was reallocated to the Registrant in August 2015 due to further concerns which arose about the father’s alcohol addiction. A strategy meeting was arranged when it emerged that the Registrant had not contacted Lifeline for up-to-date information regarding the father’s engagement prior to closing the case.  It was alleged that had he done so, he would have become aware that the father had poor engagement with alcohol services which indicated that an alcohol problem remained.

79. DF informed the Panel that:

‘During the strategy meeting, it became apparent that Nicholas Blackburn had closed the first case without consulting Lifeline for up to date information about the father’s alcohol issues. If he had done so, he would have known that the father was not engaging with Lifeline to improve his alcohol issues. He had not added the correct information to the Single Assessment regarding this.’

80. It was clear from the Single Assessment that the Registrant had spoken to Lifeline at some point, but there was no evidence in the case notes that he had contacted them for up to date information about SUE before he closed the case.

81. The Registrant denied this Sub-Particular. He claimed that he did contact Lifeline prior to the case closing. He said that he was told that SUE’s engagement with services was sporadic, but that there were no ongoing concerns regarding alcohol misuse and therefore he closed the case. He claimed that the alcohol worker must have failed to record this conversation. He accepted that he failed to put some case notes onto the system and claimed that other case notes had gone missing.

82. The Panel preferred the evidence provided by the witnesses called by the HCPC to the evidence provided by the Registrant. The fact that there was no record of the communication which the Registrant claimed to have made, strengthened the assertion that the Registrant had made no such contact. The Panel found this Sub-Particular proved.

e) Did not adequately discuss allegations of abuse with Service User F

Not Proved

83. Service User F (SUF) had a longstanding history with the Council and had several children removed from her care. Since her involvement with a new partner, there had been a positive assessment. However, since the Registrant had become involved in her case on 2 September 2015, he had raised concerns in a Single Assessment about stab wounds to her hands which were believed to be self-inflicted. She later moved into a refuge where she disclosed domestic abuse.

84. The Council received complaints that the Registrant had been overheard by other residents at the refuge making derogatory remarks when speaking to SUF. They suggested that he had been dismissive towards SUF about the instances of domestic violence. It was said that he also told members of staff at the refuge that he did not believe SUF regarding the abuse and that her partner was a “lovely man”.

85. It was alleged by the HCPC that when the Registrant learned that SUF had been suffering from domestic violence, he should have spoken to her about it, asked how she wanted to pursue the matter and explored the impact of the allegation on the three children who were living with the father at the time.

86. The Registrant denied making the comments that had been ascribed to him. He said that he interviewed SUF after she made the allegation of abuse, and that she did not in fact disclose anything to him. He said that he then undertook further work in relation to the accusations and reached the conclusion that they were not credible. It was put to him in cross-examination that he had said that he didn’t believe SUF regarding the abuse and had said that the new partner was a “lovely man”, to which the Registrant responded that whilst he may have said such a thing to members of staff, he did not do so in the presence of SUF.

87. The Panel analysed the emails that had been sent to the Council by the members of staff raising this complaint, and concluded that there was no evidence within the body of the emails to suggest that the Registrant had not adequately discussed the allegation of abuse directly with SUF. In relation to the derogatory remarks that the Registrant was alleged to have made, the Panel concluded that whilst staff had objected to the Registrant’s attitude towards SUF, they did not claim to have witnessed his discussions with SUF. In light of the way in which this Sub-Particular had been particularised, the Panel found this Sub-Particular not proved.

f) In the case of Service User R and his siblings, did not contact the children’s new school to establish the school’s view about their presentation and/or wellbeing

Not Proved

88. The parents of Service User R (SUR) had been involved in domestic violence. The case was allocated to the Registrant on 28 August 2015. The children were in local authority care. However, the parents wanted to stay together, which impacted on the safeguarding issues in respect of their children.  It was agreed that there would be a multi-agency meeting, together with an enquiry in accordance with Section 47 of the Children Act 1989 to ascertain whether the children were at risk of suffering significant harm.

89. At the relevant time, SUR moved to a new school. There was no case record to indicate that the Registrant had made contact with the new school to gather information on any concerns about their wellbeing, which he should have done.

90. The Registrant denied this allegation. He said that he had met SUR at school, and that he could not have done this without obtaining the school’s permission to do so.

91. The Panel could see from the case notes that the Registrant had recorded the fact that SUR had started at a new school on 21 September 2015 and that he had then spoken to SUR at the new school and that SUR had reported liking the new school. The Panel agreed with the Registrant that he would not have been able to have had this conversation with SUR at school without first contacting the school and speaking to staff to enquire how SUR was getting on. The Panel accepted that he would have enquired how SUR was settling in, even though he had not recorded the conversation. The Panel found this Sub-Particular not proved.

4.      Made inappropriate comments about Service User F and / or their family.

Proved

92. It was alleged that the Registrant not only told members of staff at the refuge that SUF’s partner was a “lovely man”, as referred to in this determination at Sub-Particular 3(c), but that when he was told that SUF’s three children had been born in December, he had responded by saying “Well we know what you were doing in March”, and that he had also asked members of staff whether they could “shake her”.

93. The Registrant denied making these remarks.

94. The Panel bore in mind that the emails providing the information about the inappropriate comments which the Registrant was alleged to have made contained hearsay evidence. Nevertheless, the Panel concluded that, in this instance, the hearsay material could be given sufficient weight to prove the allegation on the balance of probabilities, because the emails had been written by members of staff who could be presumed to be both reliable and honest in the provision of information in the course of their profession. In those circumstances the Panel found this Particular proved.
 
5. Did not undertake and/or record on RAISE (Case Management System) the following visits and / or your attempts to visit:

95. MM informed the Panel that the Case Recording: Policy, Procedure and Practice Guidance (the Case Recording Policy) indicates that case notes should be entered into a child’s record within a maximum of 5 working days of the event. She added that, as the Registrant’s work was being monitored over the relevant period, he had been asked to add his case notes onto a child’s record within 2 working days.

96. It was alleged that the Registrant either did not undertake visits/ attempted visits or did not record those visits/attempted visits in relation to a number of service users.

a) Service User G and / or Service User H between 2 July 2015 and 12 August 2015.
 
Proved

97. The family of Service User G (“SUG”) had been known to the social services since 2009. Service User H (“SUH”) was the father of SUG and had a history of depression and drug misuse. In July 2014, the Family Support Team became involved due to SUG’s parents needing support with issues of parenting, head lice, diet, safety and home conditions to prevent further issues of neglect. A referral was made by the Family Intervention Project on 18 June 2015. The Registrant became involved in the case as the allocated Social Worker from 19 June 2015.

98. DF provided the Panel with notes of supervision sessions which she had conducted with the Registrant on 9 July 2015, 29 July 2015, 5 August 2015 and 11 August 2015. The notes indicated that despite reminders to do so, the Registrant did not visit SUH between 2 July 2015 and 12 August 2015, when a screenshot from RAISE showed that the Registrant finally carried out a home visit.

99. The Registrant admitted this Sub-Particular. He claimed that he had visited SUH but accepted that he had not recorded this in the case notes.

100. The Panel found this Sub-Particular proved on the basis of the Registrant’s admission and evidence of DF set out above. It concluded that the notes of supervision, and the lack of recorded visits, proved that the Registrant had not visited SUH between the relevant dates.

b) Service User I between approximately 3 September 2015      and 30 September 2015

Proved

101. DF informed the Panel that there had been a total of eight previous referrals in relation to the family of Service User I (“SUI”). This resulted in Special Guardianship Orders being granted to the maternal grandmother in respect of SUI and his sibling, SUK. The Registrant was required to complete an assessment because the father of SUI had formed a relationship with a woman who was known to misuse substances and there was a history of domestic violence between the couple. As a consequence, there were concerns about the couple’s contact with SUI and SUK.

102. DF referred the Panel to a supervision session dated 25 September 2015, which referred to the fact that the Registrant had last seen SUI on 2 September 2015. A screenshot from RAISE evidenced a home visit on 2 September 2015. The next visit recorded on RAISE in which SUI is recorded as being seen is an entry dated 30 September 2015. No visits with SUI were recorded between 3 and 30 September 2015.

103. The Registrant admitted this Sub-Particular. He claimed that he had visited SUI but accepted that there was no record of this in the case notes.

104. The Panel found this Sub-Particular proved on the basis of the Registrant’s admission and evidence of DF set out above. It concluded that the notes of supervision, and the lack of recorded visits, proved that the Registrant had not visited SUI between the relevant dates.

c) in the case of Service User J and siblings, between 7 and 14 September 2015.

Proved

105. The case of Service User J (“SUJ”) was allocated to the Registrant on 7 September 2015. The case was self-referred to the Team by the adoptive parents of SUJ due to her brother’s violent behaviour.

106. DF took the Panel to the relevant case notes, which showed an attempted visit made by the Registrant on 7 September 2015, when no-one was at home. There was then a gap until 14 September 2015, when the Registrant visited again. It was alleged that SUJ should have been visited sooner due to the concerns about a high risk person living in the family home.

107. The Registrant admitted this Sub-Particular.

108. The Panel found this Sub-Particular proved on the basis of the Registrant’s admission and evidence of DF set out above. It concluded that the lack of recorded visits, proved that the Registrant had not visited SUJ between the relevant dates.

d) Service User K and/or siblings between 25 June 2015 and 13 July 2015

Not Proved

109. SUK was the sibling of SU1. The family had been known to the team since 1999. The concerns were predominantly in relation to domestic violence and allegations of physical abuse by the stepfather, as well as sexual abuse by the father. The case came to the attention of DF on 22 June 2015 after the police attended the family home following a report that SUK and SU1 had been fighting. This led to a disclosure from SU1 that her stepfather had recently subjected her to physical abuse.

110. DF took the Panel to the case notes which demonstrated that SUK was visited by the Registrant on 25 June 2015 but was not seen again until 13 July 2015. It was alleged that this was insufficient because of the level of concern in relation to the case.

111. The Registrant admitted this Sub-Particular. However, he claimed that he had been unable to visit SUK because SUK had suffered a family bereavement.

112. The Panel found this Sub-Particular not proved. The Panel recognised that the Registrant had admitted this Sub-Particular but bore in mind that he was not represented. It noted that, according to RAISE, the Registrant had visited SUK and Sibling 4 on 26 June and had seen SUK and Sibling 1 at court on 6 July. Therefore, he had seen SUK and two of the siblings between the dates identified.

e) Service User L between approximately 15 July 2015 and 12 August 2015

Not Proved

113. Between 2000 and 2015 the Council received 14 referrals in respect of Service User L (“SUL”) relating to poor home conditions, domestic violence and the father chastising his children.

114. The Registrant was allocated the case of SUL on 15 July 2015.

115. DF took the Panel to the relevant case notes which revealed that the Registrant visited on 29 July 2015, when no one was at home. SUL was not visited again until 12 August 2015, despite reminders to do so in supervision sessions conducted with DF on 29 July 2015 and 11 August 2015. DF said in evidence that this was a difficult case which merited more attempts at achieving a visit and that the position was unacceptable.

116. The Registrant denied this Sub-Particular. He claimed that he had attempted to visit SUL but that SUL had refused to see him, and that when he made a second attempt, he was informed that SUL had been arrested by the police. Both attempts were recorded on RAISE.

117. The Panel found this Sub-Particular not proved. The Panel accepted the Registrant’s evidence and took into account the entries on RAISE.

f) Service User M between approximately 8 July 2015 and 4 August 2015

Proved

118. The family of Service User M (SUM) was known to the Local Authority and there had been 23 referrals, mainly in respect of the mother’s inability to manage SUM’s brother’s aggression towards her. The case was allocated to the Registrant on 19 June 2015.

119. DF took the Panel to the relevant case notes which indicated that the Registrant had visited SUM on 7 July 2015 and that no further visit occurred until 4 August 2015. Supervision notes dated 22 July 2015 indicated that the Registrant had been instructed that visits should be conducted fortnightly.

120. The Registrant admitted this Sub-Particular. He claimed that he had pencilled in a visit but was sent off on another visit and so could not attend.

121. The Panel found this Sub-Particular proved on the basis of the evidence of DF set out above. It concluded that the lack of recorded visits, and the supervision note, proved that the Registrant had not visited SUM between the relevant dates.

g) Service User N between approximately 9 July 2015 and 11 August 2015

Proved

122. A referral had been made to the Team because Service User N (“SUN”) had distributed sexual images of a 12 year old female. The case was allocated to the Registrant on 23 June 2015.

123. DF took the Panel to the relevant case notes which indicated that SUN was seen by the Registrant on 9 July 2015, but was not seen again until 11 August 2015, a gap of 33 days.

124. The Registrant denied this Sub-Particular. He claimed that it was beyond his control that no visit had been made within this time span as SUN was on holiday and had been seen at the first available opportunity.

125. The Panel found this Sub-Particular proved on the basis of the evidence of DF set out above. It concluded that the lack of recorded visits proved that the Registrant had not visited SUN between the relevant dates. It was apparent in the RAISE records that the family had returned from their holiday by 8 July 2015.

h) Service User O between approximately 3 July 2015 and 21 August 2015

Not Proved

126. The family of Service User O (“SUO”) had been known to social services since 2012. The case was allocated to the Registrant on 3 July 2015, when a third referral was made by the drug services after the parents of SUO had refused to complete a drug screening.

127. DF took the Panel to the relevant case notes which indicated that SUO was not seen by the Registrant between 3 July 2015 and 7 August 2015.

128. The Registrant denied this Sub-Particular. He claimed that it was beyond his control that no visit had been made within this time span because SUO’s mother, who was a drug addict, had moved out, and it had been impossible to locate her until she visited her GP to collect her methadone, at which point contact was re-established.

129. The Panel found this Sub-Particular not proved on the basis that the case notes revealed a record of attempts made by the Registrant to visit on 15 July 2015, 20 July 2015 and 29 July 2015. Furthermore, the Panel noted that SUO was of pre-school age and therefore likely to be at home on an attempted visit.

i) Service User P alone without the parents present between approximately 9 July 2015 and 21 August 2015

Not Proved

130. The family of Service User P (“SUP”) had been known to social services since 2001. More than six referrals had been made in respect of the family. The Registrant was allocated the case on 7 July 2015, following a referral from the mental health services which concerned the mother’s partner’s amphetamine use and the impact on his mental health.

131. DF informed the Panel that, in the course of a supervision session on 9 July 2015, she instructed the Registrant to see SUP in the absence of her parents. However, this instruction was not carried out until 21 August 2015.

132. The Registrant denied this Sub-Particular on the basis that he had no recollection of being allocated SUP.

133. The Panel found this Sub-Particular not proved on the basis that it was not clear from supervision notes whether the Registrant had already seen SUP alone by the time of the supervision session. There are no case notes available. 

j) Service User Q between 20 July 2015 and 27 July 2015

Not Proved

134. The case of Service User Q (“SUQ”) was referred to the Team by the mental health services because the mother of SUQ had been assessed and had advised that she had physically abused SUQ.

135. In evidence, DF conceded that there was a visit recorded on 23 July, which was three days after the Registrant had been allocated the case, which was, in her view, sufficient.

136. Ms Sheridan on behalf of the HCPC accepted in closing submissions that the Panel may conclude that this Sub-Particular was not made out on the basis that, in evidence, DF conceded that there was a visit recorded on 23 July, which was three days after allocation.

137. The Registrant denied this Sub-Particular.

138. The Panel found this Sub-Particular not proved on the basis accepted by Ms Sheridan on behalf of the HCPC.

6. Did not complete in a timely manner:

a) Single Assessment for Service User I when asked to complete this by 22 September 2015

b) Single Assessment for Service User N until 19 August 2015; despite being told during supervision to complete it by 17 July 2015

c) Single assessment in the case of Service User P between approximately 7 July 2015 and 26 August 2015

d) Single assessment in the case of Service User O

Not Proved 

139. MM gave evidence that a Single Assessment, also referred to as a Social Work Assessment, is a holistic assessment of the child and the family’s situation, which social workers must complete within the statutory deadline of 45 working days.

140. Ms Sheridan accepted, on behalf of the HCPC, that the Single Assessments listed in Particular 6 had been completed by the Registrant within the 45 day deadline. However, she argued that the Registrant had nevertheless failed to complete the Single Assessments in a timely manner because he had been unable to meet deadlines set by his manager in each instance, resulting in deadlines being put back on a continual basis.

141. The Registrant argued that he had always kept within the 45 day deadline, and that the Management Reviews relied on by Ms Sheridan were management review mechanisms and were not mandatory “deadlines”.

142. Before analysing the factual matrix relating to each Sub-Particular, the Panel first considered the meaning of the stem of Particular 6, namely “did not complete in a timely manner”. The Panel concluded that it accepted the Registrant’s argument that by keeping within the 45 day deadline it could not be said that he not completed the Single Assessments in a timely manner. Furthermore, the Panel accepted the Registrant’s assertion that the reviews were part of the process adopted by Stockton, as set out on the Local Assessment Protocol Framework, seen by the Panel.   The reviews are held at 10, 25 and 40 working days, following the decision to undertake an assessment.

143. The Panel found Sub-Particulars 6(a) to 6(d) not proved on this basis.

6 e) Written agreement in the case of Service User R between approximately 14 September 2015 and 28 September 2015. 

Not Proved

144. On 28 August 2015, SUR’s mother signed a written agreement that the father could not enter the home and have unsupervised contact with the children. On 16 September 2015, DF had a telephone call from the mother who was in a refuge. DF recorded that “it may be more appropriate for her to return home rather than stay in the refuge, with a written agreement”. In her witness statement, DF was unable to say when the written statement was signed; it was not clear to the Panel whether there had been one, or two, written agreements. The Panel considered that the evidence was not reliable and the particular could not be proved.

145. In those circumstances the Panel found the entirety of Particular 6 not proved.

7. Did not include sufficient detail in the following:

a) case notes on RAISE for Service User K, in that it does not indicate:

i) who was present during the visit on 23 and/or 25 June 2015
ii) whether the step-father of Service User K can return to the home

Not Proved

146. DF gave evidence that during her review of the Registrant’s case notes for SUK, she found case notes relating to home visits conducted by the Registrant on 23 June 2015 and 25 June 2015 which did not detail who was present. Further, the Registrant had failed to add a note indicating whether SUK’s stepfather could return home.

147. DF exhibited a document entitled “Visiting Requirements; Policy & Procedure”, which set out the information which should be contained within the narrative of a case note. It included a requirement for social workers to “identify all people present at contact and if necessary add descriptors”.

148. The Registrant denied this Sub-Particular. He claimed that the case note clearly showed the relevant details.

149. The Registrant’s defence was put to DF in cross-examination. She agreed that the case notes, in their current condition, contain the relevant information, but said that this is only because the Registrant amended them after she had raised her criticism with him in supervision.

150. The Panel found these Sub-Particulars not proved on the basis that it was accepted by DF that the Registrant had updated the case notes, as requested, to show the missing detail as evidenced in the bundle. It could not therefore be said that the case notes did not indicate the details particularised.

b) Single Assessments for:

i) Service User E

Proved

151. MM asserted that in his Single Assessment dated 25 February 2015, referred to in Particular 3(b) of this determination, the Registrant stated that SUE’s father was working well with the drugs and alcohol services, whereas this did not address all the concerns about the father of SUE.

152. The Registrant denied this Sub-Particular, saying that he had never been accused of not supplying enough information in his single assessments before, and that it was not his practice to fail in this regard, nor had he done so on this occasion.

153. The Panel found this Sub-Particular proved on the basis of the evidence provided by MM and its findings in relation to 3 (b) where there was insufficient up-to-date information about the father’s disengagement from Lifeline. 

ii)     Service User G

Proved

154. MM informed the Panel that in relation to the Single Assessment completed by the Registrant in relation to SUG on14 August 2018:

“‘I could see that Nicholas Blackburn had not included enough information in the Single Assessment…He had not provided enough information about the drug misuse of the father of SUG…he also did not obtain information from the paediatrician involved with SUD and did not review previous information contained in the PAMS assessment.’”

155. The Registrant denied this Sub-Particular for the same reason as set out in Sub-Particular 7(b)(i) (Paragraph 152 of this determination)

156. The Panel found this Sub-Particular proved on the basis of the evidence provided by MM and its previous finding in relation to 3a ii) and the lack of detail about the PAMS assessment. 


iii) Service User H in that it was inadequate as you completed it before:

I. Contacting Service User H’s drug service and/or
II.     Viewing the Family Support Team assessments

Not Proved

157. In the course of giving her oral evidence, DF conceded that the Registrant was not required to provide a Single Assessment for SUH because he was an adult. Ms Sheridan accepted this. The Panel found this Sub-Particular not proved on that basis.

iv)     Service User K

Proved

158. MM asserted that in relation to the Registrant’s Single Assessment for SUK dated 2 July 2015 the following deficiencies were identified:

a. the Registrant did not ask SUK whether she was pregnant

b. SUK was not asked in any detail about the allegations of sexual abuse by her father and what her relationship was like with him

c. There was no analysis of why SUK was behaving violently or what needed to happen to improve her future.

159. The Registrant denied this Sub-Particular for the same reason as set out in Sub-Particular 7(b) (i). (Paragraph 152 of this determination).

160. The Panel found this Sub-Particular proved on the basis of the evidence provided by MM and the Single Assessment included in the bundle.

v)  Service User M

Proved

161. DF asserted that in relation to the Registrant’s Single Assessment for SUM dated 14 August 2015, the following deficiencies were identified:

a) two referrals from 13 April 2000 and 3 May 2000 were not included in the assessment history

b) incorrect details were included in the referral from 31 May 2000

c) incorrect referral dates were referenced

d) it had been incorrectly stated that SUM attended a mainstream school when this was not the case

e) there was insufficient analysis provided regarding ‘Parenting Capacity’

f) there was insufficient information provided regarding ‘Risk and Protection’ 

162. The Registrant denied this Sub-Particular for the same reason as set out in Sub-Particular 7(b)(i). (Paragraph 152 of this determination).

163. The Panel found this Sub-Particular proved on the basis of the evidence provided by MM and the Single Assessment included in the bundle.

vi)     Service User N

Not Proved

164. MM asserted that in relation to the Registrant’s Single Assessment for SUN, the Registrant:

“has not completed this Single Assessment to a sufficient standard. He has not proof read the report before sending it to DF for review and if he had done so he would have personally noticed the error contained in it. The content of the assessment, conclusion, and analysis were acceptable but the standard presented it is not what you would expect from a senior social worker”.

165. The Registrant denied this Sub-Particular for the same reason as set out in Sub-Particular 7(b)(i) (paragraph 152 of this determination).

166. The Panel found this Sub-Particular not proved on the basis that the reasons provided by MM for concluding that this Single Assessment was not of a sufficient standard contained the qualification set out in the quote above, namely that the “content of the assessment, conclusion and analysis were acceptable”. 

vii)    Service User R

Proved

167. CF gave evidence that the Registrant had missed out some very important information in his Single Assessment, namely:

“the parents’ criminal history, the mental-health history of parents, and arrangements that were in place in relation to contact with SUR. The Registrant had also not looked into the parents honesty during the assessment as this was in question, nor had he included the information and views from education professionals in the section entitled ‘Child or young person’s development needs’”

168. The Registrant denied this Sub-Particular for the same reason as set out in Sub-Particular 7(b)(i) (paragraph 152 of this determination).

169. The Panel found this Sub-Particular proved on the basis of the evidence provided by DF and the Single Assessment included in the bundle.

viii)   Service User 1

Not Proved

170. MM gave evidence that in relation to the Single Assessment completed by the Registrant for SU1:

“The Registrant copied many of the suggested amendments in the Single Assessment of SUK as it had been quality assured previously. This was not appropriate…the concerns for each child are totally different.”

171. The Registrant denied this Sub-Particular for the same reason as set out in Sub-Particular 7(b)(i) (paragraph 150 of this determination).

172. The Panel found this Sub-Particular not proved. The Panel concluded that whilst the Registrant was criticised for not focusing on SU1, it was apparent, on the face of the papers, that the Single Assessment showed a considerable focus on SU1, for example in the child or young person’s developmental needs where it details her substance abuse, self-harm, vulnerability to child sex exploitation and her involvement in crime.

ix)     Service User 2

Proved

173. DF asserted that in the Single Assessment completed by the Registrant on 5 October 2015:

“he had made statements in relation to the parenting capacity of SU2’s parents without supporting them with evidence…..The details in the “Brief overview of the local authority involvement” was poorly written and the overall analysis of the family situation was poor as it lacked detail and reflection”.

174. The Registrant denied this Sub-Particular for the same reason as set out in Sub-Particular 7(b)(i). (paragraph 150 of this determination).

175. The Panel found this Sub-Particular proved on the basis of the evidence provided by DF and the Single Assessment included in the bundle.

x)      Service User 3

Proved

176. DF asserted that in the Single Assessment completed by the Registrant:

“the section is entitled “Brief overview of local authority involvement” contained insufficient information and overall the assessment was poorly written…The section of the assessment which deals with parenting capacity was also unclear as it did not give enough detail. [The Registrant] had also not gathered the views of the father in relation to his unborn child. The mother’s disclosure of a recent instance of domestic violence had not been included… nor had the police or drug history of the father being explored. He had also not referred to the views of the mother in respect of the current situation with her children”.

177. The Registrant denied this Sub-Particular for the same reason as set out in Sub-Particular 7(b)(i). (paragraph 150 of this determination)

178. The Panel found this Sub-Particular proved on the basis of the evidence provided by DF and the Single Assessment included in the bundle.

xi)     Service User 5

Not Proved

179. DF said that she reviewed the Single Assessment completed by the Registrant for SU5 on 3 August 2015 and that she:

“had concerns about the fact that the Single Assessment was poorly written and did not contain information from the nursery where one of Service User 5’s siblings attended. [The Registrant] should have spoken to all professionals as well as the nursery and included the information in the Single Assessment”.

180. The Registrant denied this Sub-Particular for the same reason as set out in Sub-Particular 7(b)(i). (paragraph 150 of this determination).

181. The Panel found this Sub-Particular not proved. It was clear from the body of the document that SU5 was an infant, born to refugees, living in a hostel, with two siblings. The Registrant recorded speaking to the health visitor who had no concerns about SU5. He spoke to the mother and the siblings about how they were settling down but there was a note to say he could not contact the school and nursey as it was the school holidays.

xii)    Service User 6

Not Proved

182. DF said that this Single Assessment “was quality assured by another senior Social worker and then passed to her for review”. She added that the Registrant had:

“not included the appropriate information, examples of which are highlighted by my handwritten notes on the copy of the assessment, and some information was missing, which is also detailed in my handwritten notes on the copy of the assessment, and it was poorly written. He had also not thoroughly assessed the risk in relation to domestic violence nor had he considered the full impact of this on the children”

183. The Registrant denied this Sub-Particular for the same reason as set out in Sub-Particular 7(b)(i) (paragraph 150 of this determination).

184. The Panel found this Sub-Particular not proved. The Panel had been provided with a photocopy of the relevant document, parts of which had been obliterated by various post-it notes which blocked the text lying underneath. It was unclear who had written what, and DF acknowledged that there were various versions of the single assessment. In those circumstances, the Panel did not find this Sub-Particular proved to the required standard.

c) social worker's report for service user 1
  
Proved

185. DF said that she reviewed the report for SU1 completed by the Registrant and that:

“in addition to not including sufficient detail in a number of Single Assessments, [the Registrant] also failed to include sufficient detail in the Social Workers Report for SU1. This is also known as a LAC review report which is a report which is completed to review the care placement of a LAC……..It is important for all of the relevant details to be correct and to be included in the report because the information is passed to the Independent Reviewing Officer who decides whether the care placement for the child is appropriate. [the Registrant] was an experienced Senior social Worker and therefore should have known how to complete this report…. the report was poorly written and [the Registrant] had not included all of the appropriate information which is detailed in my handwritten notes on the copy of the report”.

186. The Registrant denied this Sub-Particular for the same reason as set out in Sub-Particular 7(b)(i) (paragraph 150 of this determination).

187. The Panel found this Sub-Particular proved. It was clear from the many amendments made by DF that significant changes were needed in this social worker’s report to bring it up to the standard required by the Independent Reviewing Officer.

8. Did not consistently complete:

a) case notes and/or visits within in a timely manner in respect of the following service users:

(i) Service User I
(ii) Service User J and siblings
(iii) Service User K
(iv) Service User L and siblings
(v) Service User M
(vi) Service User S
(vii) Service User T
(viii) Service User U
(ix) Service User 4

Proved except for 8 (a) v

188. DF took the Panel to the case notes in relation to each of these service users, and asserted that in each case there had an unacceptable delay between events pertaining to the service user and the entry of his events onto RAISE:
 
(i) In relation to SUI, a visit which took place on 30 September 2015 was not recorded on RAISE until 8 October 2015

(ii) In relation to SUJ, a visit which took place on 14 September 2015 was not recorded on RAISE until 22 September 2015

(iii) In relation to SUK,  the subject matter of an email from Youth Offending Team dated 6 July 2015 was not added to RAISE until 14 July 2015; a visit to the family on 13 July 2015 was not recorded on RAISE until 12 August 2015 (a delay of 23 working days); a visit to the family on 20 July 2015 was not recorded on RAISE until 12 August 2015 (a delay of 18 working days); a visit on 23 July 2015 was not recorded on RAISE until 12 August 2015 (a delay of 14 working days); a visit on 04 August 2015 not recorded on RAISE until 12 August 2015.

(iv)  In relation to SUL, a visit on 29/07/15 was not recorded on RAISE until 11 August 2015 (a delay of 11 working days).

(v) In relation to SUM, DF stated that this was not a case where there were concerns in this regard.

(vi) In relation to SUS, a visit on 7 August 2014 was not recorded on RAISE until 23 September 2014 (a delay of 33 working days); a visit on 15 August 2014 not recorded on RAISE until 23 September 2014; a Strategy Meeting on 19 August 2014 not recorded on RAISE until 23 September 2014; a Home visit on 21 August 2014 not recorded on RAISE until 23 September 2014

(vii) In relation to SUT, visits on 30 July 2014, 20 August 2014, 22 August 2014, 26 August 2014, 27 August 2014, 3 September 2014, 7 September 2014, 9 September 2014, 19 September 2014 were not recorded until 1 October 2014; and a visit on 11 February 2015 was not recorded on RAISE until 5 March1205

(viii) In relation to SUU, a visit on 22 July 2015 was not recorded on RAISE until 12 August 2015.

(ix) In relation to SU4, a visit on 29 January 2015 not recorded on RAISE until 12 March 2015; a visit on 4 February 2015 was not recorded on RAISE until 18 February 2015; a visit on 25 February 2015 was not recorded on RAISE until 4 March 2015; a visit on 26 February 2015 was not recorded on RAISE until 9 March 2015.

189. At the commencement of the hearing the Registrant admitted Sub-Particulars 8(a) (i) – (v) inclusive. In the course of giving evidence he also admitted Sub-Particulars 8(a) (vii).

190. The Panel found Sub-Particular 8(a) proved in its entirety except for 8(a)(v) on the basis of the evidence supplied by DF and the admissions of the Registrant.

b) In the case of Service User N:

i) AIM1

Not Proved

191. DF informed the Panel that an AIM1 is an assessment of a young person who poses a risk of sexual offending, which should be completed when police are investigating allegations of a sexual nature. She said that, in supervision on 9 June 2015, MM advised the Registrant that the AIM1 should be completed by 21 July 2015. In supervision on 24 July 2015, she again said that it should be completed by 11 August 2015. However, in supervision on 11 August 2015, it remained outstanding. The AIM1 was finally completed on 19 August 2015.

192. The Registrant denied this Sub-Particular, claiming that he had never completed an assessment late or out of timeframe.

193. The Panel found this Sub-Particular not proved on the basis that the stem of this Sub-Particular alleges that the Registrant “did not consistently complete”, not that he had not acted in a timely manner.

c) record the professional’s details and/or concerns raised by professionals in the cases of:

i) Service User D

Proved

194. It was alleged that professionals’ details in the case of SUD, referred to in Sub-Particular 3(a) of the Allegation, (referred to earlier in this determination) had not been recorded, in that when the Registrant mentioned in his single Assessment the involvement of a Paediatrician, he did not record the professional’s details. 

195. The Registrant denied this Sub-Particular. He said that no professional raised a concern in respect of SUD.

196. The Panel found this Sub-Particular proved on the basis that it was clear from the body of the Single Assessment that the Registrant did not record the Paediatrician’s details.

ii) Service User I

Proved

197. The Panel was referred to a note of a supervision review in relation to SUI which took place on 25 September 2015 which read:

“SA was direct to be completed by 22/09/15 – this has not been done. Professionals have not been spoken to as directed in last supervision.”

198. The Registrant denied this Sub-Particular, saying that he was not aware of any missed professional concerns in this case.

199. The Panel found this Sub-Particular proved on the basis of the information supplied by the note of the supervision review.

iii) Service User 4
   
Proved

200. The Panel was taken to an email sent to the Registrant by DF, dated 11 March 2015, which read:

‘Hi Nick, this needs a closure on also again there are only 4 case notes on this case and these are very limited…there is no evidence that you have spoken to any other professionals in relation to this family however you refer to discussions with school in your assessment. Can you please complete to an acceptable level and resend.’

201. The Registrant denied this Sub-Particular, saying that he did not recall any professional concerns raised in relation to this service user.

202. The Panel found this Sub-Particular proved on the basis of the email.

9. Did not consistently file confidential information in a secure manner, in that you left loose pieces of paper containing service user names and case numbers on your desk and in your drawers.

Not Proved

203. The Panel was provided with evidence of three occasions when the Registrant had not filed confidential information in a secure manner. These were: 4 March 2015, 11 August 2015 and 1 September 2015.

204. The Registrant denied the allegation and argued that three occasions over an 18 month period was too small a sample to be considered “consistent”. 

205. The Panel accepted the Registrant’s submission and found this particular not proved.

10. Your actions at paragraph 1e were dishonest
  
Proved

206. Sub-Particular 1(e) alleges that the Registrant informed his manager, DF, that SUB had left the house, when that was not the case.  Particular 10 alleges that his actions in so doing were dishonest.

207. The Registrant denied acting dishonestly. He accepted that SUB had not left the house by the time he, the Registrant, left. His evidence was that he did not, in fact, inform his manager that SUB had left the house. He said that the words he used to his manager, DF, to describe the situation were “the deed is done”. In cross examination, he explained what that phrase meant. He said it meant that DF had asked him to request SUB to leave, and he, the Registrant, had made that request. In other words, he was confirming that he had requested SUB to leave, but not that SUB had in fact left.

208. DF told the Panel that the Registrant had not said “the deed is done”. She said that if he had used that phrase, she would have asked him to clarify.

209. The Panel considered this Particular and the question of dishonesty in the light of the recent decision of the Supreme Court in Ivey v Genting Casinos (UK) Ltd t/a Crockfords [2017] UKSC 67. It noted the part of the judgment of Lord Hughes:
 
“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.” 

210. The Panel is clear that the Registrant informed his manager that SUB had left the property, and that at the time of doing so, he knew that SUB had not in fact left. On his own evidence, the Registrant accepted that he should have waited until SUB left the property.  The Panel concluded that, at the time he spoke to DF, the Registrant was aware that he had left SUB in the house alone with SUA and her children. The Panel concluded that, in telling DF that SUB had left the premises, when SUB had not in fact left, the Registrant deliberately provided false information to DF, and in doing so he had acted dishonestly.

Decision on Grounds:

211. Ms Sheridan reminded the Panel of the evidence provided by MM, that the Registrant had been a Level L Social Worker who would need very little guidance around complex cases and would be expected to support less experienced people in the team. She submitted that the Panel might therefore conclude that this was a case involving misconduct rather than a lack of competence on his part. She submitted that Standards 1, 3,7,10 and 13 of the HCPC Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics 2012 had been breached. She submitted that the Registrant’s behaviour amounted to a significant departure from the standards expected of a Social Worker.

212. The Registrant disputed that he had been a Level L Social Worker at the time. He said that whilst he did not accept some of the Panel’s findings, he did accept that he could not challenge them. Further, he reminded the Panel that in the course of his evidence he had accepted that some of his work had not been to the standard expected of him.

213. 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 and Schodlok v GMC [2015] EWCA Civ 769. 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. 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.
214. The Panel first considered whether the facts found proved amounted to lack of competence. The Panel accepted the evidence of MM that the Registrant had been a Level L Social Worker at the time. It reminded itself of the documentation provided by Stockton Council, which had described a Level L Social Worker as a professional who was expected to work with a high level of autonomy, to mentor agreed members of the team, and to offer support and leadership to professionals within the team. The Panel reminded itself that the Registrant was an experienced Social Worker, who qualified in 2006, and had 9 years’ experience in a similar Social Work role in Manchester before he commenced employment with Stockton Council. The Panel concluded that the Registrant’s actions and admissions had not resulted from an inability on his part to meet the standards expected of him, and that he had held the requisite knowledge and skill to carry out his work at the relevant time. The Panel therefore concluded that this was not a case involving lack of competence. 

215. The Panel went on to consider whether the facts found proved were so serious as to amount to misconduct.

216. In considering Particular 1 (with the exception of 1(b)) the Panel concluded that the Registrant’s actions and omissions, as found proved, fell seriously below the standards expected of him at the time. The Registrant had been given specific instructions on what to do, regarding a relatively straightforward task. In contradicting the instructions of his line manager he had put the children of SUA at risk of harm by preventing SUA from having all the information she needed to protect herself and her children from the possible actions of SUB, who had a known learning disability and a history of a personality disorder associated with abnormally aggressive and sexually inappropriate behavior.  Furthermore, the Registrant had a responsibility to model appropriate professional behavior to JC, a Social Work student, which he had demonstrably failed to do, resulting in JC subsequently asking her tutor for advice. The Panel concluded that this amounted to serious misconduct.

217. In considering Particular 2, the Panel concluded that whilst the Registrant’s actions could have put SUC at risk, and may have given SUC the impression that the Registrant was threatening her rather than providing her with support, this behaviour may have been a lapse of judgment on his part, and in isolation, this did not amount to serious misconduct.

218. In considering Particulars 3(a) and 3(b) the Panel concluded that the Registrant’s omissions put both SUD and SUE at significant risk of harm. The Registrant had not sufficiently explored the available evidence about these two vulnerable Service Users, and had not therefore adequately assessed the risk to them. The Panel concluded that his omissions amounted to serious misconduct.

219. In considering Particular 4 the Panel concluded that whilst the inappropriate comments made by the Registrant about SUF could not be condoned, they did not of themselves amount to serious misconduct.

220. In considering Particulars 5(a), (b), (c), (f), and (g) the Panel considered the Registrant’s actions in relation to each Service User in turn, and concluded that in each instance the gap in time between visits had been significant, given the serious and urgent concerns involved in each of these Service User’s lives, and the vulnerability of the Service Users themselves. The Registrant’s actions had placed these Service Users at risk of harm, and amounted to serious misconduct.

221. In considering Particulars 7(b) (i), (ii), (iv), (v), (vii), (ix) and (x), and 7(c), the Panel once again considered each Service User in turn, and concluded that the lack of sufficient detail provided in these Single Assessments and Social Worker’s Report had put each Service User at risk of harm. By failing to provide sufficient detail in these assessments and reports, the Registrant had insufficient information to draw sound conclusions about these families. The Panel concluded that this amounted to serious misconduct on his part.

222. In considering Particular 8(a) (with the exception of 8(a) (v)), the Panel again considered each Service User in turn. The Panel concluded that whilst there was insufficient evidence to be satisfied that the Registrant had not completed these visits within a timely manner, there was sufficient evidence to be satisfied that he had not consistently completed the relevant case notes within a timely manner. The Panel concluded that this failure on the Registrant’s part had put these Service Users at risk of harm. This was of particular importance as the Registrant worked a 4 day week leaving other social workers to rely on out of date entries and case records. The Panel concluded that this amounted to serious misconduct on his part.

223. In considering Particular 10, the Panel was clear that the dishonesty found proved amounted to serious misconduct.

224. In conclusion, it was the Panel’s judgement that the Registrant’s actions as found proved in Particulars 1, 3, 5, 7, 8 and 10 amounted to misconduct.

225. In so concluding the Panel found that the Registrant had breached the following standards:

HCPC Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics (2012)

1. You must act in the best interests of service users.
7. You must communicate properly and effectively with service users and other practitioners
10. You must keep accurate records.
13. You must behave with honesty and integrity and make sure that your behaviour does not damage the public’s confidence in you or your profession.

HCPC’s Standards of Proficiency for Social Workers (2012)

1.3 - be able to undertake assessments of risk, need and capacity and respond appropriately

1.5 - be able to recognise signs of harm, abuse and neglect and know how to respond appropriately

4.1 - be able to assess a situation, determine its nature and severity and call upon the required knowledge and experience to deal with it

10.1 - be able to keep accurate, comprehensive and comprehensible records in accordance with applicable legislation, protocols and guidelines.

10.2 - recognise the need to manage records and all other information in accordance with applicable legislation, protocols and guidelines.

Decision on Impairment:

226. The Registrant gave evidence. He informed the Panel that after his suspension from Stockton Council he had a break from work for approximately six months, before commencing work as an agency Social Worker with Wirral Council for approximately one year. Following this he worked as an agency Social Worker with Rochdale Council for approximately 2 to 3 months. In February or March of 2018 he started working for a children’s home, in a role that did not require registration as a Social Worker. This came to an end in July 2018, when he commenced agency work as a Social Worker in Wakefield, which continued until November 2018. On 4 December 2018 he began working as an agency Social Worker for Bradford Council, which came to an end 2 weeks ago.

227. The Registrant provided the Panel with a number of references. He confirmed in evidence that each reference had been obtained by his employment agency and not by him, for the purpose of obtaining further employment, rather than in connection with the current HCPC proceedings. He explained that the referees remain unaware of the existence of these proceedings. The references comprised:

• A reference from his manager at Wirral Council, dated 15 September 2017, who had known the Registrant for a period of 12 months, and who confirmed, by means of a tick box system, that his attendance, reliability and punctuality had been excellent; his professional approach, attitude to clients and colleagues, ability to work as part of a team and on his own initiative , honesty and integrity, and ability to prioritise workloads had been very good; and that his ability to cope under pressure, and his communication, interpersonal, report writing, and assessment skills had been good.

• An email from Manchester City Council confirming the Registrant’s employment as a Social Worker between 1 March 2010 and 23 July 2014.

• An undated and unsigned reference from the Registrant’s manager at Wakefield Council confirming that he had managed the Registrant between August 2018 and November 2018, in which time he had been reliable and focused, knowledgeable, respectful, accessible, clear and resilient in his interactions with the families he worked with, comprehensive in his report writing, and was trustworthy and reliable.

• A character reference dated 23 July 2018 from a colleague of over 10 years standing who had worked alongside the Registrant on a local Football Committee and who described him as hard working and trustworthy.
 
228. The Registrant told the Panel that he had completed online training in the areas of child protection, child exploitation and report writing. He accepted in cross-examination that he had already undertaken some of the training in these areas prior to the events that formed the basis of the Allegation.

229. The Registrant said that he accepted that his judgement has been called into question by the Panel. In relation to Particular 1, he said: “had I not walked out of the house I would not be here today”. He added that he should not have left SUA’s house before first checking that SUB had left, and that in doing so he had put children at risk, which has been a source of permanent regret for him.

230. He explained how, in the course of his subsequent employment as a Social Worker, he had learnt the importance of thorough and up to date case-notes. He said that he had now changed his practice in that regard, and that he was now a “model Social Worker.” He explained that he now writes up his records on the same day and ensures that the views of professionals are canvassed and included. When asked why he had acted in the way that he had at Stockton, he said that he could only think that the lengthy travel between home and work had caused him to “take my eye off the ball”.

231. He said that in relation to the allegation of dishonesty he still disputed the allegation and believed that DF had been untruthful when giving her evidence.

232. Ms Sheridan submitted that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired by reason of both the public and personal components. She submitted that the Registrant had denied a number of the Particulars, and that in relation to the dishonesty allegation he had shown no insight at all.  Ms Sheridan accepted that the Registrant had given evidence about a number of aspects of training that he has revisited. However, the Panel had not been provided with any evidence of this training, nor had he provided references from his most recent employer. Furthermore, he had been unable to give any reason for the sustained deficiencies in his performance at Stockton.

233. The Registrant submitted that he had not told his employers about the HCPC proceedings because this caused him embarrassment.  He said that his references had been obtained by the agency so he could not control whether they were signed or dated. He accepted that dishonesty had been found against him, whether he agreed with that or not, but argued that his references stated that he was honest. He accepted that he should not have left SUB in the family home. He said that he could not explain why he had acted in the way that he had, but that 11 and 12 March were dates which were of immense personal significance to him and this might have affected his actions that day.

234. 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 took note of the Practice Note on Fitness to Practice provided by the HCPTS. The Legal Assessor reminded the Panel of the case of Cohen v GMC 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 Grant –v- NMC which suggested that the Panel should consider:

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

• 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

235. In relation to Particulars 1, 3, 5, 7, and 8 the Panel accepted that in the course of giving oral evidence, the Registrant had demonstrated developing insight into the importance of focusing on the child, of respecting the instructions of his managers, and communicating with other professionals where this was indicated, in order to safeguard a service user. Furthermore, he had expressed a genuine understanding of the importance of making records relating to those under his care, and of updating them in a timely manner, generally on the same day. He spoke of the profound impact the HCPC proceedings had had on him and his practice.

236. The Panel was provided with limited independent, verifiable corroboration of the Registrant’s evidence which, in the opinion of the Panel, could have been obtained. For example, the Registrant said that he had undertaken online training in relation to report writing, child protection and child exploitation, but had not evidenced this. Furthermore, there were no references from his most recent employer in support of the remediation he said that he has undertaken. Whilst the references the Registrant provided were positive, the Panel attached limited weight to them because they were provided in ignorance of the Allegation.

237. Further, it was of concern to the Panel that, by his own admission, the Registrant was unable to provide a reason for his past misconduct.

238. For those reasons the Panel concluded that whilst the misconduct found in Particulars 1, 3, 5, 7 & 8 was capable of remediation, there was insufficient evidence of remediation and therefore there remained a risk of repetition.

239. In considering the dishonesty found proved in Particular 10, the Registrant stated that he accepted the finding of the Panel, albeit that he continued to deny his dishonesty. The Panel concluded that the dishonesty arose from a difference of opinion between the Registrant and his manager regarding the risks associated with SUB remaining in the property. This led the Registrant to deliberately mislead his manager. In his oral evidence to the Panel, the Registrant reiterated that he had said to his manager “the deed is done”. However, his manager was clear in her evidence that this had not been said. The Panel had accepted the manager’s evidence that the Registrant had not used the phrase “the deed is done.”

240. Nevertheless, the Panel concluded that the dishonesty in this case was at the lower end of the spectrum. It had not involved any personal gain for the Registrant. The Panel was of the view that the dishonesty had arisen from a well-meant, if ill-founded, empathy held by the Registrant towards SUB. The Panel accepted the Registrant’s evidence that he is now careful to follow management instructions and his assertions that he is not a dishonest person. The Panel concluded that the risk that the Registrant will repeat his dishonesty is low.

241. In all the circumstances of this case, the Panel concluded that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is impaired on the personal component.

242. In considering the public component, the Panel first considered its finding of dishonesty. It applied the reasoning referred to in Paragraph 240 of this determination, and concluded that the dishonesty in this case was at a low level and it could not be said that this brought the profession into disrepute, nor could it be said that the maintenance of standards in the profession demanded a finding of impairment on that basis.

243. However the Panel concluded that, in light of the Panel’s findings in relation to Particulars 1, 3, 5, 7 and 8, that the need to uphold proper professional standards and public confidence in the profession would be undermined if a finding of impairment were not made in the circumstances of the case. The misconduct covered by those Particulars had involved vulnerable service users who had been put at potential risk of harm over a considerable period of time. The Panel therefore concluded that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired on the public component on this basis.

244. The Panel therefore finds that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired on both the public and personal component.

Decision on Sanction:

245. Ms Sheridan reminded the Panel that the purpose of sanction was not to punish the Registrant, but to protect the public. She referred the Panel to the Indicative Sanctions Policy (ISP) and paragraph 6 in particular and drew the Panel’s attention to the need for proportionality. She further reminded the Panel to consider sanctions in ascending order.

246. Ms Sheridan submitted that whilst it was open to the Panel to impose a Caution Order, this would not address the seriousness of the misconduct, the risk of repetition or the insufficient remediation identified. She submitted that Conditions of Practice are appropriate where the misconduct is capable of remediation, where there is no persistent or general failure preventing a Registrant from practising safely, and where verifiable conditions can be formulated. She submitted that the misconduct identified in this case was wide ranging and was not isolated to a single service user. She suggested that the Registrant is not currently employed and therefore it would be difficult to impose appropriate and realistic conditions. She reminded the Panel of the concern expressed in its determination that the Registrant had been unable to provide a reason for his past misconduct. Ms Sheridan further submitted that a short Suspension Order may be appropriate if conditions were considered insufficient to protect the public.

247. The Registrant told the Panel that he accepted its findings. He asked the Panel to adopt the least restrictive sanction. He encouraged the Panel to give consideration to a Conditions of Practice Order. He accepted that he was not currently working.  However, he said that he had contacted his agency since receiving notice of the Panel’s decision on impairment today, and had been informed that obtaining a work placement would not be an issue. He assured the Panel that there would be no recurrence of his misconduct if he were to be given the opportunity to continue to work as a Social Worker.

248. 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 Indicative Sanctions Policy published by the HCPTS, and to apply the principle of proportionality by weighing the Registrant’s interests against the need to protect the public interest. She advised that the Panel should consider the least restrictive sanction first.

249. The Panel was encouraged by the Registrant’s focussed submissions, and his proactive stance in contacting his recruitment agency regarding the potential availability of future work if the Panel imposed a Conditions of Practice Order.

250. The Panel concluded that in view of the seriousness of the misconduct, to take no further action, to order mediation or to impose a Caution Order would not be sufficient to protect the public or maintain confidence in the profession and the regulatory process. The Panel agreed with the submissions made by Ms Sheridan that the Registrant’s misconduct could not be said to be isolated, limited or minor.

251. The Panel considered whether Conditions of Practice would be sufficient to protect the public and the wider public interest.

252. In considering the misconduct relating to Particulars 1, 3, 5, 7 and 8, the Panel concluded that whilst this was serious, it was capable of remediation. In considering whether there was a persistent or general failure preventing the Registrant from practising safely, the Panel concluded that whilst the misconduct had spanned a considerable time and had involved a number of failings and a number of different service users, the Registrant had already demonstrated developing insight. The Panel concluded that the Registrant should be given time to improve his insight, whilst working within a framework which would enable him to demonstrate an improvement in his practice. The Panel was reassured by the Registrant’s commitment to working within conditions and complying with them. The Panel concluded that Conditions of Practice could now be formulated which would enable the Registrant to practise without placing the public or the wider public interest at risk. The Panel concluded that the imposition of these Conditions would enable the Registrant to practise safely.

253. The Panel considered a Suspension Order but concluded that this would be disproportionate in light of the Registrant’s developing insight and the fact that Conditions of Practice could be formulated to enable the Registrant to develop his insight, remedy his misconduct and practise safely. To remove the Registrant from practice would not serve him, the profession or the public well in the long term. It was appropriate that he be given the opportunity to work with restrictions and provide a future panel with verifiable evidence of his remediation.

Interim Order:

1. Ms Sheridan applied for an Interim Conditions of Practice Order. She submitted that the Panel has already found that there is a real risk of repetition and subsequent harm if an Order is not imposed. She further submitted that, given the current Order does not come into effect until the 28 day appeal period has lapsed, or in the case of an appeal being made, which can take some time, it is appropriate to impose an Interim Order.

2. The Registrant did not raise any objections to this application.

3. The Panel is satisfied that an Interim Order is required for protection of the public. The Panel is also satisfied that an Interim Order is otherwise in the public interest. The protection of the public and the public interest outweighs the Registrant’s interests in this instance. The Panel has concluded that an Interim Conditions of Practise Order would be the appropriate order in the circumstance and that the length of that Order should be 18 months, as the Interim Order would continue to be required pending the resolution of an appeal in the event of the Registrant giving Notice of such an appeal within the 28-day period.

4. The Panel makes an Interim Conditions of Practise Order under Article 31(2) of the Health and Social Work Professions Order 2001, the same being necessary to protect members of the public and being otherwise in the public interest. This order will expire: (i) 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; or (ii) 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.

Order

Order: The Registrar is directed to annotate the HCPC Register to show that for a period of 12 months from the date that this Order takes effect (“the Operative Date”) you Nicholas Blackburn must comply with the following conditions of practice:

1. You must promptly inform the HCPC if you take up any employment which requires your registration as a Social Worker.

2. You must promptly inform the HCPC of any disciplinary proceedings taken against you by your employer.

3. You must inform the following parties that your registration is subject to these conditions:

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

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

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

4. 14 days before the substantive review of this Order you must provide the HCPC with the following:

A. a written reflective piece to demonstrate full insight into the facts found proved at the hearing and show your understanding of the impact your actions and omissions had on service users, colleagues and the reputation of the profession.

B. a verifiable report from a manager or supervisor from each of your employers within the period of this order which confirms that you:

i. consistently produce well-structured, comprehensive case notes and assessments in a timely manner;
ii. engage with appropriate professionals and colleagues in a timely manner.

C. evidence of all training undertaken within the period of this Order.

Notes

This order will be reviewed no later than 24 July 2020, or earlier if new evidence which is relevant to the Order becomes available after it was made.

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Mr Nicholas Joseph Blackburn

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
24/06/2019 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Conditions of Practice
12/11/2018 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Adjourned part heard