Miss Elaine Marlene Edwards

Profession: Social worker

Registration Number: SW06011

Hearing Type: Review Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 10:00 20/05/2019 End: 12:00 20/05/2019

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

Panel: Conduct and Competence Committee
Outcome: Suspended

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Allegation

The following Allegation, as amended at the substantive hearing, was found proved by a Panel of the Conduct and Competence Committee at a Substantive Hearing on 19 – 22 November 2018.

During the course of your employment as a Social Worker in the London Borough of Sutton:

1. Between 10 April 2016 and 11 May 2016 you failed to adequately risk assess and/or apply the correct threshold in relation to the following service users despite three Police notifications relating to their parents:

a) Child M;

b) Child N.

2. [HCPC Offered No Evidence]

3. On or around 18 April 2016, you failed to adequately assess the risk and/or apply the correct thresholds in relation to Person A, a vulnerable female.

4. [HCPC Offered No Evidence]

5. On or around 20 May 2016, you failed to apply the correct thresholds in relation to Baby X.

6. Your actions as described at paragraphs 1 to 5 constitute misconduct and/or lack of competence.

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

Finding

Preliminary Matters

Service

1. A Notice of Hearing dated 16 April 2019 was sent to the Registrant at her registered address, by first class post and also by email. The letter gave notice of the hearing date of 20 May 2019. The Panel had sight of a signed certificate of posting.

2. There had been no response to the Notice of Hearing from the Registrant.

3. The Panel was satisfied in the circumstances that there had been proper service of the Notice of Hearing in accordance with the HCPC (Conduct and Competence Committee) Rules 2003 (“the Rules”).

Application to Proceed In Absence

4. Ms Iskander, the Presenting Officer for the HCPC, submitted that the hearing should proceed in the Registrant’s absence. She confirmed that the HCPC had received no contact from the Registrant in response to the Notice of Hearing. The Registrant had not been in contact with the HCPC since the substantive hearing in November 2018. The current Order is required to be reviewed in a timely manner and it was in the public interest that the hearing proceed today.

5. The Panel considered the submissions of the HCPC Presenting Officer. It accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and referred to the guidance in the HCPTS Practice Note of September 2018, “Proceeding in the Absence of the Registrant”.

6. The Panel was mindful that its discretion to proceed in the absence of the Registrant was one which must be exercised with great caution and with the overall fairness of the proceedings at the forefront of its mind. It considered the matter in accordance with the factors set out in the case of R v Jones (Anthony) [2003] 1 AC 1HL and the guidance in the case of GMC v Adeogba and GMC v Visvardis [2016] EWCA Civ 162.

7. The Panel noted there had been no contact from the Registrant in response to the Notice of Hearing. There was no indication that she wished to attend the hearing but was for any reason unable to do so, or that she sought an adjournment on any ground. There had been no contact from her regarding the current review hearing.

8. The Panel noted that the Notice of Hearing sent to the Registrant informed her of the Panel’s power to proceed in her absence and explained fully the powers which would be available to the Panel at this hearing. The Panel also noted a further email sent by Ms Iskander of the HCPC to the Registrant on 6 May 2019. This again explained the powers available to this Panel at the review hearing and encouraged the Registrant to attend and engage with the review process, including offering her the opportunity to participate by telephone. Ms Iskander confirmed that she had also attempted to contact the Registrant by telephone on 17 May 2019. She had left a voicemail message about the hearing for the Registrant.

9. The Panel concluded that the HCPC had made all reasonable efforts to engage with the Registrant.

10. The Panel noted the guidance in the case of Adeogba (above) which refers to the obligation upon a registered professional to engage with their regulator in relation to disciplinary proceedings. The Panel concluded in the light of the history in this case that the Registrant had disengaged from the HCPC process and had voluntarily waived her right to attend this hearing. The Panel concluded she would be unlikely to attend on a future occasion if the matter were adjourned today and therefore an adjournment would serve no useful purpose.

11. The Panel also took into account the overall fairness of the hearing. The Panel was aware that it must consider the public interest in regulatory proceedings being dealt with as expeditiously as possible and that the current order must be reviewed before its expiry on 20 June 2019.

12. In the circumstances, the Panel was satisfied that it was appropriate in the public interest that this matter should proceed today, in the absence of the Registrant. The Panel was satisfied that it would be able to ensure that the hearing is conducted as fairly as circumstances permit.

Background

13. The circumstances of the Allegation found proved against the Registrant were that she qualified with a Diploma in Social Work in 1994 and achieved a Higher Education Diploma in 1995. At the relevant time, she was employed with the London Borough of Sutton (‘LBS’) as a Team manager for the Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub (‘MASH’) and was based at Sutton Police Station.

14. The MASH team had a number of responsibilities, including: (i) Processing notifications relating to safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children through the hub; (ii) Delivering an integrated service with the aim to research, interpret and determine what information is proportionate and relevant to share; (iii) Analysing information received and assessing risk, gathering further information where appropriate and disseminating the information to the most appropriate agency for necessary action; and (iv) Identifying victims and emerging risk of harm through research and analysis.

15. MASH allocated a Red, Amber and Green (‘RAG’) rating system on receipt of information and after creating a ‘Contact Record’. It reviewed the RAG rating after checks have been undertaken. The RAG rating was a system whereby MASH categorised how serious and therefore how urgent a matter was using the Sutton Local Safeguarding Children Board (‘LSCB’) Threshold Guidance. Decisions were made based on this guidance, using evidence and professional judgment. It was the responsibility of the manager of MASH to oversee the RAG process within MASH. The term ‘MASHing’ referred to a process of sharing information between agencies on cases with the aim of safeguarding children.

16. ‘Red’, or Tier 4, indicated that a child was suffering or likely to suffer significant harm. This was the threshold for Child Protection Procedures. A ‘Red’ rating would lead to an urgent referral to the children’s social work assessment team (Referral and Assessment Service – ‘RAS’). The RAS would, upon receipt of a referral from MASH, decide if they agreed with the rating. RAS may need to collect and collate further information and determine what next steps are appropriate. If a ‘Red’ risk rating was confirmed an urgent multi agency strategy meeting was likely to be convened under Section 47 of the Children’s Act 1989.

17. ‘Amber’, or Tier 3, indicated children who may have complex and / or multiple needs. This was the threshold for an assessment led by Children’s Social Care under Section 17 of the Children’s Act 1989. ‘Amber’ cases sometimes have indicators of risk that would lead to a decision to share information between agencies to safeguard the child.

18. ‘Green’, or Tier 2, indicated that early help may be required. Usually these cases were likely to require the provision of services from non-statutory agencies. They may then be marked as ‘no further action’ (‘NFA’).

19. In Sutton the MASH team had been in operation for over three years and was a service that underpinned the safeguarding responsibilities at the initial contact stage and when a family comes to the attention of social care. Failures in the MASH system could impact negatively on the safeguarding responses of a number of agencies regarding children, their families, staff and on an organisation.

20. The Registrant was part of the PAN London MASH group. The Group met every three months with different London Council’s. The MASH group meeting was an opportunity for MASH members to share information and develop insights from other London Borough colleagues.

21. As a result of a MASH audit, in January 2016, examining MASH thresholds and decision-making, a MASH improvement plan was developed and provided to the Registrant in March 2016.

22. Concerns regarding the Registrant’s practice were raised at the end of June 2016 when her line manager (AK) was looking into a child death notification in relation to the baby of Person A. AK looked at the history of this case and was concerned about a previous decision made by the Registrant to risk rate a Contact Record ‘Green’ and then close the case.

23. During the same period AK was also conducting a standard audit of the Section 47 cases within RAS. The review involved AK examining child protection matters and whether correct procedures were being followed. This audit identified two additional concerns in relation to the Registrant’s decision making around risk and in respect to Children M and N, and Baby X.

24. Children M and N were siblings, they were 5 and 9 years old at the time of the referrals; they were living with their birth parents, who were in the process of separating. On the night of 10 April 2016, and in the early hours of 11 April 2016, there were three notifications relating to the parents. The first notification was that the parents had an argument that escalated, during which the father of the children had alleged that the mother was addicted to narcotics. The mother took the two children to their grandparents. The second notification was in relation to the father and that he had taken tablets, saying that he did not want to live anymore. The third outlined the mother’s disclosure to the police that a couple of weeks beforehand the father had held an air gun / air rifle at her head.

25. Person A was a 17-year-old young person who was found, by police, at the home of a person who had been identified as a priority and prolific sex offender who was also currently on bail for other sex offences. Person A was found at the address along with another young person, who had both lied to police about their age saying that they were 18. As a consequence of these facts, the police made a Child Sexual Exploitation (‘CSE’) referral to LBS.

26. Baby X came to the attention of LBS Social Services on 20 May 2016 when a health visitor made a referral. Baby X’s mother, as part of a ‘new baby review’, disclosed to her health visitor that Baby X’s father had been violent towards her whilst the baby was in her arms. The mother also disclosed that there was physical violence during the pregnancy. At the time of the disclosure Baby X was two weeks old. The information indicated that the father was currently in Sweden but was expected back in 6 weeks.

27. The Allegation, as set out above, was found proved at the November 2018 hearing. The Registrant’s fitness to practise was found to be impaired by reason of misconduct. In its written determination, the substantive hearing panel stated:

“The Panel had real concerns about the way in which the Registrant had failed to appropriately respond to significant risk of harm in each of the three cases. The guidelines, in respect of Person A and Baby X, are clear. The expectation in respect of both cases was that they should have been assessed as ‘Red’.

Baby X was less than two weeks old and being held, by its mother, at the time of the alleged domestic violence. The information before the Registrant, at the time that she made her assessment, was clear. The information received indicated that there was an urgency to assess the situation in order to decide how to keep Baby X safe.

In respect of Person A she was a vulnerable young person under 18 years, previously known to Social Services. She was found in the home of a registered sex offender and the Police had marked the information as ‘CSE matters to consider’. By closing the case there was a missed opportunity to support Person A, improve outcomes for her and reduce the risk caused by involvement with a known prolific sex offender.

The Panel was of the view that the written procedures clearly state that these circumstances require Child Protection Procedures to be instigated and therefore both of these cases should have been assessed as ‘Red’ as soon as the Registrant had received the information.

In respect of Children M and N, the Panel was of the view that the risk-factors outlined within the information highlighted significant risk of harm to the children. Despite the Registrant noting that the toxic-trio was present and their father had threatened their mother with airgun/air rifle this did not prompt her to assess the case as ‘Red’.

The Panel was of the view that if the Registrant had been in any doubt over any of the three RAG ratings of these Contact Records or was considering making a decision contrary to the procedures, then she should have consulted her senior manager AK. AK told the Panel that she could not recall the Registrant seeking her advice regarding RAG ratings on any cases.

The Panel considered that the above matters represented serious breaches of professional standards, falling far below the behaviour expected of a registered Social Worker, and amounted to misconduct.”

28. The substantive hearing panel’s decision in relation to sanction was an order suspending the Registrant’s registration for a period of six months.

Submissions on behalf of the HCPC

29. Ms Iskander informed this Panel there was no new information from the Registrant. She had not been in contact with the HCPC since shortly before the substantive hearing in November 2018.

30. Ms Iskander submitted that the Panel should conclude that the Registrant’s fitness to practise remained currently impaired, as there had been no change in circumstances and no new information was available. There was no information to suggest that the Registrant had taken the opportunity offered by the period of suspension to address her misconduct or her impaired of fitness to practise. 

31. The HCPC’s submission was that the appropriate and proportionate order would be to extend the period of suspension for a further 12 months to allow the Registrant a further, full opportunity to address the deficiencies in her past practice and provide evidence for a future reviewing panel that her fitness to practise is no longer impaired.

Decision

32. The Panel received and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Panel was mindful of its powers upon a review of a Suspension Order under Article 30(1) of the Health and Social Work Professions Order 2001. The Panel must first decide whether it finds the Registrant’s fitness to practise to be currently impaired by reason of her misconduct. The Panel was referred to the HCPTS Practice Note, “Finding that Fitness to Practise is Impaired”, and to the HCPC “Indicative Sanctions Policy”.

33. If the Panel found the Registrant’s fitness to practise to be currently impaired, then it would consider what steps to take in accordance with its powers under Article 30(1)(a) to (c), all of which powers were available to the Panel at this hearing.

34. The Panel carefully considered all the documents presented and the submissions of Ms Iskander on behalf of the HCPC.

35. The Panel first considered whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise remained currently impaired. It was mindful that the Registrant had not engaged with the HCPC process at the substantive hearing in November 2018 or since. There was no new or up to date information from the Registrant.

36. The Panel took careful account of the determination of the substantive hearing panel.  In finding the Registrant’s fitness to practise to be currently impaired, that panel stated that it considered that her misconduct conduct was remediable, but stated:

“However there is no evidence before the Panel that the Registrant has sought in any way to remedy her shortcomings.

‘The evidence that the Panel has heard from the witnesses is that the Registrant has maintained her position regarding the initial RAG rating decisions. The Panel believes therefore that her conduct is highly likely to recur. The Registrant has provided the Panel with no reflection to indicate insight and no evidence of up-to-date training. The Panel believes that there is a real risk of repetition of her failings.

‘The Panel is particularly concerned at the Registrant’s lack of insight into her behaviour and the effect that it could have had on vulnerable service users.

‘The Panel went on to consider whether this was a case that required a finding of impairment on public interest grounds in order to maintain public confidence in the profession and the Regulator. The Panel was satisfied that a fully informed member of the public, who was aware of all of the background to this case, would have their confidence in the profession and the Regulator undermined if a finding of impairment were not made given the failings and lack of insight of the Registrant.

‘Accordingly, the Panel found the Registrant’s current fitness to practise is impaired in respect of both the personal and public component.”

37. The Panel referred to the guidance in the HCPTS Practice Note on Reviews of Article 30 Sanction orders. There was no information before this Panel as to any steps the Registrant has taken to address the failings, nor is there any evidence that she has developed insight or of any steps she has taken to maintain or improve her professional knowledge and skills.

38. The Panel also noted the guidance given by the substantive hearing panel as to information which might have assisted this reviewing panel, namely:

a. the Registrant’s attendance at the review hearing;

b. her reflection on the particulars found proved;

c. evidence of how she has kept her social work skills and knowledge up-to-date; and

d. up to date testimonials from any employer, whether paid or unpaid.

39. Given the Registrant’s lack of engagement with this review process, there is no information to indicate that she has taken up this guidance. The Panel concluded that the risk presented by the Registrant therefore remains, as does the risk to public confidence in the profession and to the reputation of the profession. The Panel considered that public confidence in the profession would be undermined if a finding of current impairment was not made.

40. The Panel was therefore satisfied that the Registrant’s fitness to practise remains currently impaired.

41. The Panel next considered its powers at this review hearing.

42. The Panel considered the available sanctions in ascending order of seriousness. Its starting point was that the issues found proved at the original hearing concerned high risk child protection cases, raising the issue of public protection. The risk of repetition identified by the substantive hearing panel remains unaddressed.

43. The Panel was satisfied that, given the Registrant’s lack of engagement in this review process, that to take no action, to mediate or to caution the Registrant would not provide the necessary public protection or address the public interest.

44. In the current circumstances the Panel could not have confidence that the Registrant would be willing to engage or comply with a conditional order, given the history of her lack of engagement with the HCPC since November 2018.

45. The Panel considered very carefully whether a further period of suspension would be appropriate. It was concerned that the Registrant has not taken the opportunity provided by the previous period of suspension to begin remediation of the past misconduct. However, the Panel was mindful of the persuasive mitigating factors which were identified by the substantive hearing panel and in particular, that the Registrant had an unblemished social work career of 20 years prior to these events and that the time in question was a challenging period in her place of employment. The substantive hearing panel also found that the Registrant’s failings were capable of remedy.

46. The Panel gave careful consideration to a Striking Off Order in this case, particularly given the Registrant’s failure to co-operate throughout the HCPC process and apparent disengagement from this process. However, it was mindful that striking off is a sanction of last resort. In all the circumstances the Panel concluded that it would be disproportionate in this case, at this time. A Suspension Order would allow the Registrant the opportunity to engage with the HCPC and address the issues concerning her social work practice, whilst at the same time ensuring that the public are protected and the public interest maintained.

47. The Panel therefore determined that the current Suspension Order be extended for a further 12 months from the date when the current Order expires. The Panel concluded that this was the appropriate period, as it would allow the Registrant a full opportunity to remediate her practice and re-engage with the HCPC process. The Panel also noted that the Registrant would be able to apply for an early review if she so wished.

48. This Panel agrees with and repeats the guidance given by the substantive hearing panel, to the effect that a future reviewing panel will be assisted by the following:

a. the Registrant’s attendance at the review hearing;

b. her reflection on the particulars found proved;

c. evidence of how she has kept her social work skills and knowledge up-to-date; and

d. up to date testimonials from any employer, whether paid or unpaid.

Order

The Registrar is directed to suspend the registration of Miss Elaine Marlene Edwards for a further period of 12 months on the expiry of the existing Order.

Notes

The Order imposed today will apply from 20 June 2019.

This Order will be reviewed again before its expiry on 20 June 2020.

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Miss Elaine Marlene Edwards

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
20/05/2019 Conduct and Competence Committee Review Hearing Suspended
19/11/2018 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Suspended