Mrs Elizabeth Ellen Bowden

Profession: Social worker

Registration Number: SW40003

Hearing Type: Review Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 10:00 22/05/2019 End: 12:00 22/05/2019

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 was considered and found proved by a Panel of the Conduct and Competence Committee at the substantive hearing on 25 May 2018.

Whilst registered as a Social Worker:

1. In respect of Family B:
a. Did not adhere to the Care Plan in that, on one or more unknown dates, you agreed and/or allowed children to stay overnight with Parent B2;
b. Not proved
c. Not proved
2. In respect of Family C, did not comply with the agreed plan set out at
the LAC review dated 21 May 2015, in that you allowed and/or failed to address unsupervised contact between Person C and children of Family C.
3. In respect of Family A:
a.  Between 4 December 2014 until 3 March 2015, did not undertake statutory visits and/or record completing statutory visits in respect of the children.
b. Did not return and/or record returning phone calls to Person A following phone contact from Person A on:
i. 27 November 2014;
ii. 12 January 2015;
iii. 19 January 2015;
iv. 22 January 2015.
c. Did not make a timely application to the Court to discharge a Care Order dated August 2013, following the LAC review recommendation on 3 September 2014.
d. Did not advise Family A of the postponement of the LAC review, from 26 February 2015 to 11 March 2015.
4. Not proved.
5. The matters described at paragraphs 1(a),2,3(a)(c) and (d) amount to misconduct.
6. Not proved.
7. By reason of your misconduct your fitness to practice is impaired.

 

Finding

Preliminary matters:

Service

1. The Panel was aware that a written notice of these proceeding was posted to the Registrant to her registered address on 18 April 2019, and that a further letter was dispatched to her on 29 April 2019 to the same address confirming the date, time and location of today’s review.

2. During the course of proceedings it was noted that the 18 April 2019 letter contained a misleading paragraph, in that it wrongly referred to a previous hearing of 15 December 2016 and a previous review of 21 May 2018. After submissions from Ms Senior and legal advice from the Legal Assessor, the Panel decided that these errors were not fatal to the question of good service because both the letters in question and a subsequent one dated 29 April 2019 made it quite plain that today was the scheduled date of the hearing review subsequent to the final hearing that took place in May of last year. 

3. The Panel therefore decided that notice of today’s hearing had been properly served in accordance with the Rules.

Proceeding in Absence

4. The Panel heard the submission of Ms Senior to proceed in the absence of the Registrant. It heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and paid due regard to the HCPTS Practice Note on ‘Proceeding in the Absence of the Registrant’.

5. It is clear to the Panel that the Registrant has voluntarily absented herself from the hearing. There would be no point in directing an adjournment which had not been requested and the public interest demands that this case should proceed in the Registrant’s absence. Thus, Ms Senior’s application was granted.

Background:

6. The Registrant, an experienced social worker of 9 years standing, worked in the Looked After Children (‘LAC’) Service at Wakefield Metropolitan District Council, (‘the Council), from May 2012 to November 2016. An internal investigation into the Registrant’s practice was commenced following a complaint made by Person A on 3 March 2015, in relation to the Registrant’s alleged misconduct, such as the failure to visit the family, inform them of meetings and return calls.

7. An internal investigation took place by the Council, during which further matters of concern came to light regarding Family B and Family C.

8. In November 2016, the Registrant’s employment with the Council came to an end.

9. In 2014 and 2015 the Registrant was the allocated social worker for the children of Family B.  Parent B2 had a criminal history which included a prison sentence of sexual offences against young children. He was on the Sex Offenders Register for life and two of his previous children had been removed from his care because of significant injuries inflicted to a 3 month old child. Thus, he was not allowed to reside at the family home.  Despite this, the Registrant allowed the children of Family B to stay overnight with Parent B on at least 2 occasions, Christmas Eve 2014 and in February 2015.

10. In relation to Family C the father, Person C, had a history of drug use and domestic violence. In August 2015 it was agreed, at an LAC review, that Person C would be weekly supervised in his contact with the family by the Registrant or the contact team. Nevertheless, there was unsupervised contact between Person C and the children of Family C.

11. Following the LAC review recommendation of the 3 September 2014, the Registrant did not make a timely application to the court to discharge the care order in relation to Family A. In an interview of 23 March 2015 the Registrant acknowledged that she had not completed the documentation as requested by the court. The LAC review in relation to Family A was postponed from 26 February 2015 to 11 March 2015. The Registrant failed to inform Person A of this rescheduled date. Any attempts the Registrant may have made to inform the family of this change of date were insufficient and ineffective.

12. On 25 May 2018 the final hearing panel found the Registrant’s fitness to practise was impaired on both the public and personal components and imposed a Suspension Order for a period of 12 months.

13. That panel recommended that, at any review, a future panel would be likely to be assisted by the Registrant’s attendance and evidence that she understands the seriousness of the risks and potential consequences of her proved misconduct. Also suggested was the provision of evidence of training undertaken in relation to safeguarding children and the statutory requirements and evidence that the Registrant had undertaken continuing professional development.

14. There has been no communication from the Registrant to her regulatory body since her engagement during the investigation process in June 2017.

HCPC submissions

15. Ms Senior submitted that the fitness to practise of the Registrant remains impaired. There is no evidence that the Registrant has given thought to any of the above mentioned recommendations made at the final hearing, she contended. Neither is there any information about what, if anything, the Registrant is currently doing. Ms Senior went on to submit that the appropriate course now for the Panel to adopt is to consider a Striking Off Order. She drew the Panel’s attention to a number of aggravating factors in the Registrant’s conduct which were highlighted by the previous panel. In this context, reference was made to the Registrant’s failure to appreciate the very serious risk her misconduct posed to highly vulnerable service users and the significant lack of insight displayed by the Registrant. “This lack of insight means that there is a high risk of repetition were similar circumstances to occur” was a passage that Ms Senior suggested had particular relevance.

16. Ms Senior added that, if the Panel considers her suggestion of striking off disproportionate, consideration should be given to extending the current order of suspension for a further twelve months.

Decision on impairment

17. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and paid due regard to the HCPTS Practice Note on Impairment.

18. There has been no evidence of a material change in circumstances over the last 12 months. The Registrant has continued not to engage with the HCPC.  The failings identified in the Registrant’s practice which gave rise to the allegation were serious. Although the final hearing panel took the view that her misconduct was potentially remediable, there is no evidence at all that it has been remedied. Bearing these factors in mind and the need to protect the public and to maintain public confidence in the profession and the regulatory process, the Panel’s view is that the Registrant’s fitness to practise remains impaired. In reaching this judgment, the Panel shares the view expressed by the previous panel and considers that there is current impairment on both the public and personal component. 

Decision on sanction

19. In determining its approach to sanction, the Panel took into account the contents of the HCPC Indicative Sanctions Policy and applied the principle of proportionality.

20. The Panel reminded itself that the purpose of imposing a sanction is not to punish the practitioner, but to protect the public and the wider public interest. It also took account of the words in paragraph 9 in the Policy to the effect that a chosen sanction should be the least restrictive means of obtaining the required degree of public protection. With this in mind, the Panel regards the imposition of a Striking Off Order at this stage would continue to be disproportionate.  The Panel was concerned at the lack of HCPC guidance to determine how long a period of non-engagement should suffice to raise the level of sanction in the absence of any new aggravating issues. The interval since the imposition of the order in this case is only 12 months and the Panel believes it appropriate to provide the Registrant with a further opportunity to demonstrate that she has addressed the identified deficiencies relating to her misconduct and impairment.  Therefore, the Panel’s decision, in all the circumstances, is that it is appropriate and proportionate to extend the current order of suspension for a further 12 months.

21. To echo the words of the last panel, this Panel recommends that the Registrant attend the next review hearing and provide the information that the previous panel made mention of (see paragraph 13 above). If non-engagement continues it may be that the next reviewing panel considers the option of imposing a Striking Off Order.

Order

The Registrar is directed to suspend the registration of Ms Elizabeth Elen Bowden for a further period of 12 months on the expiry of the existing order.

Notes

This Order will be reviewed again before its expiry on 22 June 2020.

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Mrs Elizabeth Ellen Bowden

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
22/05/2019 Conduct and Competence Committee Review Hearing Suspended
21/05/2018 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Suspended