Ms Jacqueline Spencer

Profession: Social worker

Registration Number: SW96745

Hearing Type: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 10:00 13/05/2019 End: 17:00 20/05/2019

Location: Health and Care Professions Council (HCPTS), 405 Kennington Road, London, SE11 4PT

Panel: Conduct and Competence Committee
Outcome: Conditions of Practice

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Allegation

Allegation (as amended in the substantive hearing):

1. In the case of Child A, which was allocated to you on or around 22 July 2016, you:

 a) Did not:

          i. undertake a home visit to Child A until 21 September 2016;

          ii. visit and/or record visiting Child A on 22 September 2016 as   requested.

b) Did not undertake a Single Assessment Plan of Child A within 15 working days of allocation; 

c) Within 15 working days of referral did not discuss with your manager any delays completing the Single Assessment Plan and/or arrange a Child in Need Meeting;

d) Did not complete a Single Assessment Plan of Child A within 45 working days of referral.

2. In the cases of Child B and Child C, you:

a) Within 15 working days of the referrals did not discuss with your manager any delays completing the Single Assessment Plans and/or arrange a Child in Need meeting;

b) Did not:

 i. Complete a Single Assessment Plan for Child B within 45 working days of referral or at all.

ii. Complete a Single Assessment Plan for Child C within 45 working days of referral.

 iii. Ensure that the Single Assessment Plan dated 22 September 2016 for Child C contained all relevant information.

c) Did not record case notes of your visit to Child B and/or Child C on the following dates:

i. 8 August 2016;

ii. 31 August 2016;

3. You held a social media profile which identified you as an employee of Halton Borough Council and:

a) You posted racially insensitive and/or inappropriate messages on social media; and/or

b) The messages you posted in paragraph 3a were available to the wider public to view

4. You practised as a Social Worker with Halton Borough Council between December 2014 and November 2015 when you were not registered with the Health and Care Professions Council.

5. On your Health and Care Professions Council readmission application for registration dated 16 November 2015, you recorded that you last practised in your profession on 14 December 2014, when this was not the case.

6. Your conduct as outlined in paragraph 4 and/or 5 was dishonest.

7. The matters set out in paragraphs 1 – 2 constitute misconduct and/or lack of competence.

8. The matters set out in paragraphs 3 –6 constitute misconduct.

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

Finding

Preliminary Matters

Proof of Service

1. The Panel was provided with a signed certificate as proof that the Notice of Hearing had been sent in a letter, by first class post on 19 December 2018, to the address shown for the Registrant on the HCPC register. The Notice of Hearing was also sent to the Registrant by email, on the same date.

2. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and was satisfied that notice had been properly served in accordance with Rule 3 (Proof of Service) and Rule 6 (date, time and venue) of the Conduct and Competence Committee Rules 2003 (as amended).

Proceeding in absence of the Registrant

3. Miss Manning-Rees, on behalf of the HCPC, made an application for the hearing to proceed in the Registrant’s absence as permitted by Rule 11 of the HCPC (Conduct and Competence Committee) (Procedure) Rules 2003.

Panel’s Approach

4. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and took into account the guidance as set out in the HCPTS Practice Note “Proceeding in Absence”.
Panel’s decision in respect of proceeding in the Registrant’s absence:

5. The Panel determined that it was reasonable and in the public interest to proceed with the hearing for the following reasons:

a. on May 13 2019, the Registrant responded to an email from the HCPC regarding electronic delivery of the bundle. From this, the Panel inferred that the Registrant was aware of this hearing. She has made no application to adjourn and there was no indication from her that she would be willing or able to attend on an alternative date and therefore re-listing this final hearing would serve no useful purpose;

b. the HCPC has made arrangements for a number of witnesses to give evidence during the hearing. In the absence of any reason to re-schedule the hearing, the Panel was satisfied that the witnesses should not be inconvenienced by an unnecessary delay and should give evidence whilst the events are reasonably fresh in their minds;

c. the Panel was satisfied that it was reasonable to conclude that the Registrant’s non-attendance was voluntary and therefore a deliberate waiver of her right to attend and participate in person;

d. the Panel recognised that there may be some disadvantage to the Registrant in her not being able to give evidence or make oral submissions. However, the Panel noted that the Registrant had previously provided responses to her employer, the Council when they interviewed her regarding her conduct and further, that a copy of her responses had been provided to the Panel, which went some way to mitigate any potential disadvantage to the Registrant; and

e. as this is a Substantive Hearing there is a strong public interest in ensuring that it is considered expeditiously. It is also in the Registrant’s own interest that the allegation is heard as soon as possible.

Application to amend the particulars

6. At the outset of the hearing Miss Manning-Rees made an application to amend the Allegation.

7. The Registrant had been put on notice of proposed amendments in a letter dated 26 October 2018.

8. In a second letter, dated 9 May 2019, the Registrant was informed that the HCPC would be applying for further amendments, in addition to those outlined in the letter dated 26 October 2018, to be made at the start of the hearing.

9. The proposed amendments were therefore as follows:

i. Particular 1 – insertion of the words ‘or around’;

ii. Particular 1a) – insertion of the roman numeral ‘i’;
 
iii. Particular 1a) – insertion of a new roman numeral ‘ii’, followed by the words ‘visit and/or record visiting Child A on 22 September 2016 as requested’;

iv. Particular 1d) – insertion of the words ‘complete’ and ‘referral’ and deletion of the words ‘undertake’ and ‘allocation’; and

v. Particular 4 – insertion of the word ‘You’ and deletion of the capital ‘P’ and insertion of a lowercase ‘p’.

Panel’s Approach

10. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and carefully considered the HCPC application to amend the Particulars.
Panel decision in respect of application to amend

11. The Panel concluded, after reviewing each of the proposed amendments, that they would agree to the Particulars being amended for the following reasons:

i. the Registrant had been provided with significant notice of the HCPC’s intention to amend the Allegation, having been put on notice in October 2018, seven months before the commencement of the Substantive Hearing;

ii. the Registrant had been informed in a second notice, dated 9 May 2019, of the HCPC intention to further amend the Allegation;

iii. the Registrant had not provided any objection to the proposed amendments;

iv. on the whole, the proposed amendments were to correct typographical errors and to provide further clarification of the Allegation; and

v. the proposed amendments did not seek to widen the scope of the Allegation.

12. The Panel therefore concluded that the proposed amendments to the Allegation did not heighten the seriousness of the Allegation and therefore there was no likelihood of injustice to the Registrant.

Background

13. The Registrant was employed by Halton Borough Council (‘the Council’) as a Social Worker in the Child in Need team in Widnes B. There are two Children in Need teams within the Council.

14. The Allegation concerns the Registrant’s work on a case involving safeguarding concerns. The Registrant is alleged to have not conducted a home visit in a timely manner, not liaised with her manager about delays and failed to complete Single Assessment (‘SA’) Plans within the required timeframes. Further, it is alleged the Registrant posted racially insensitive messages on social media and worked as a Social Worker without being HCPC registered for 11 months.

15. According to the Council’s SA Framework document, all SAs must be completed within 45 working days of the referral having been received by the Council. Where a SA is going to take longer than 15 working days, there has to be a conversation held with a manager.

16. The SA also records and analyses risk to the child and gives the Social Worker an overall picture of what support is already in place and what support is required. The SA should conclude with the Social Worker’s suggestions for actions moving forward and the proposed dates for this action to be implemented.

17. Allegations of historical sexual offences were raised in respect of Family A. Person A was the grandfather of Child A, B and C. There were concerns in respect of Person A’s contact with the three children. Child B and C were siblings; Child A was their cousin.

18. On 18 July 2016 a referral was made to the Registrant in respect of Child B and Child C and on the following day, a referral was made to the Registrant in respect of Child A.  SAs were required for all three children with a view to managing the risk potentially posed by Person A.

19. On 24 January 2017 the Council widened its investigation into the Registrant following concerns being raised in respect of three Facebook posts.

20. The HCPC relied on the evidence of six witnesses who provided statements and exhibits. Four witnesses gave oral evidence at the hearing.

21. The Registrant was not in attendance at the hearing nor represented. However, the Panel had regard to all of the documentation contained with the HCPC bundle and, in particular, noted the Registrant’s responses to the Council’s interviews.

Decision on Facts

Assessment of Witnesses

Witness CH

22. Witness CH was employed by the Council as the Integrated Commissioning Manager and Troubled Families Coordinator and had been in this role since 2012.

23. Witness CH informed the Panel that in this role she is responsible for the implementation, management and delivery of the national Troubled Families programme, which involves her managing a small team.

24. CH informed the Panel that the Registrant was employed as a Social Worker in the Child in Need team in Widnes B and that the Registrant’s role would have involved her going out and seeing children and families directly and would have involved working with children in need.

25. CH gave evidence to the Panel that she was appointed as the Investigating Officer. She stated this was her first internal investigation and that prior to being appointed as the Investigating Officer, she had not met the Registrant before.

26. The Panel found CH to be a credible witness. The Panel had no reason to doubt her recollection of events. Her oral evidence was consistent with her witness statement. If she was unable to recollect a particular event she said so and provided reasons for any views she expressed.

Witness AJ

27. Witness AJ informed the Panel that he is currently employed as the Principal Manager for the Child in Need team at the Council. His role involves supervising two Practice Leads, who supervise 11 Social Workers between them. His role also requires him to have oversight of cases involving Children in Need, Child Protection and Care proceedings. Witness AJ is qualified as a Social Worker and is registered with the HCPC.

28. Witness AJ informed the Panel that the Registrant was a Social Worker within his team, supervised by SM. He informed the Panel that he met the Registrant on her first day and also if the Registrant’s cases became more complex. However, the cases that the Registrant had been allocated were, in his evidence, not very complex and so the contact that he had with her was minimal.

29. The Panel found Witness AJ to be credible and reliable. He was clear and concise and gave compelling evidence on the matters covered.

Witness SM

30. Witness SM informed the Panel that he is currently employed as the Practice Lead for the Widnes Child in Need Team at the Council. He has been in his role since October 2014 and as part of his role he manages six Social Workers. SM also informed the Panel that he is a qualified Social Worker, having completed the Certificate of Qualification in Social Work in 1983.

31. Witness SM told the Panel that he was the Registrant’s line manager and that he had conducted supervision sessions with the Registrant since she joined his team and had provided her with support because she was still completing her Assessed and Supported Year in Employment (‘ASYE’).

32. The Panel found SM to be an experienced Social Worker who was very clear in his evidence on the Council’s policies and practices. Notwithstanding this, the Panel also found SM to be somewhat guarded in his responses regarding his supervision of the Registrant. He did not provide a clear picture of the Registrant’s wider caseload.

Witness AM

33. Witness AM informed the Panel that she is currently employed as the Lead for Specialist Teaching, Advisory and Autism for the Council.

34. Witness AM informed the Panel that she was appointed as the Investigating Officer in respect of the concerns raised regarding the Registrant’s HCPC registration status and that prior to being appointed she did not know the Registrant. This was also her first internal investigation.

35. The Panel found AM to be straightforward and fair in respect of the limited evidence that she provided. She accepted when she could not assist the Panel with matters because they were beyond the scope of her knowledge. The Panel felt that AM provided a balanced view of the Registrant.

Additional Witness Statements

36. In addition to the witnesses who gave oral evidence, Miss Manning-Rees also tendered two additional witness statements as hearsay evidence. The first statement was from ZF and the second statement was from SY.

37. ZF’s statement informed the Panel that the Council employed her as the Divisional Manager for the Child in Need and Child Protection Division and that her role involved overseeing the divisional service.

38. SY’s statement informed the Panel that he was employed by the HCPC as a manager within the Registrations department and that he was familiar with the matters giving rise to the Registrant’s registration status, lapse and re-registration.

Panel’s Approach

39. The Panel was aware that the burden of proving the facts was on the HCPC. The Registrant did not have to prove anything and the individual particulars of the Allegation could only be found proved if the Panel was satisfied on the balance of probabilities.

40. In reaching its decision the Panel took into account the oral evidence of the HCPC witnesses, the documentary evidence contained within the hearing bundle as well as the oral submissions made by Miss Manning-Rees.
 
41. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.

42. The Panel considered the admissibility of the two witness statements tendered by Miss Manning-Rees. The Panel determined that the statements were admissible under the Health and Care Professions Council (Conduct and Competence Committee) (Procedure) Rules 10(b). The Panel was satisfied that neither of the statements were the sole or decisive evidence in respect of the Particulars they were tendered to prove. The Panel was also satisfied that both statements corroborated other documentary and oral evidence that had already been placed before the Panel.

Particular 1a)(i-ii) – Found Proved

1. In the case of Child A, which was allocated to you on or around 22 July 2016, you:

a) Did not:

i) undertake a home visit to Child A until 21 September 2016;

ii) visit and/or record visiting Child A on 22 September 2016 as requested.

43. The Panel were informed by AJ that there is an expectation that children will be visited at home within five working days of a referral being received by the Council. He explained that whilst there may be exceptions to this rule, for example if a child needed to be seen sooner, the expectation was set out within the body of the SA Framework document (‘the Framework’).

44. In order to complete a SA, the Social Worker needs to go out and see the child, meet with the parents and identify any concerns with the parents, involve and speak to the wider family and speak with other professionals in a timely manner. AJ informed the Panel that a SA must be completed within 45 days of the referral being received by the Council.

45. CH informed the Panel that, as part of her investigation she reviewed the service user records for Child A, B and C. CH informed the Panel that a SA was started on 19 July 2016 and that the expectation was that the Registrant would have seen Child A, in line with the SA timescales, by the 20 September 2016, but that this was not completed until 23 September 2016.

46. CH drew the Panel’s attention to Child A’s records which showed an entry from the Registrant dated 21 September 2016 timed at 15.06pm which stated “Attended home today NA left calling card, will call again tomorrow pm”.

47. AJ informed the Panel that on the 22 September 2016, he gave the Registrant an instruction to visit Child A, at her home address that same day. AJ also drew the Panel’s attention to Child A’s record which documented his entry, stating: “After being advised that Jacqui had not visited during the single assessment, Jacqui notified that she is to visit today with Duty SW. Jacqui confirmed that she would.”

48. The Panel was satisfied, after carefully reviewing the evidence presented to it, that the Registrant was under an obligation to conduct the SA within the 45-day timescale. Further, the Panel was also satisfied that the Registrant had failed to undertake a home visit to Child A until 21 September 2016, which was outside of the 45 day timescales and that she did not visit Child A on 22 September 2016 as directed to by her line manager. The Panel noted in particular AJ’s evidence when he stated “I cannot locate a record of any evidence of an attempt made by Jacqueline Spencer to visit on 22 September 2016”. However, the Panel noted the Registrant did visit on 23 September 2016.

49. Consequently, the Panel found Particular 1a)(i) and 1a)(ii) proved.

Particular 1b) – Not Found Proved

b) Did not undertake a Single Assessment Plan of Child A within 15 working days of allocation

50. The Panel noted, at the start of the hearing, that the HCPC offered no evidence in respect of this Particular. Further, the HCPC did not present any evidence to the Panel to support this Particular being made out.

51. Consequently, the Panel found this particular not proved.

Particular 1c)

c) Within 15 working days of referral did not discuss with your manager any delays completing the Single Assessment Plan and/or arrange a Child in Need Meeting;

52. SM informed the Panel that the safeguarding referral for Child A was received on 19 July 2016 and was allocated to the Registrant on 22 July 2016. The SA was therefore to be conducted by 21 September 2016. SM informed the Panel that the Registrant failed to see Child A within the 15 day window and that this inaction raised a concern with management. SM also informed the Panel that on 10 August 2016 the Registrant informed SM that she had seen Child B and Child C but that she had not seen Child A. In SM’s view this meeting between himself and the Registrant did not fulfill the requirement to have a discussion with him within the 15 days as set out in the Framework document because the meeting took place 18 days after the referral had been made.

53. Further, the Panel also noted CH’s evidence where she stated “I could not find any evidence of Jacqueline Spencer having had discussions with her manager in respect of the Single Assessment taking longer than 15 days”. The Panel was of the view that the Registrant failed to have such discussions with a manager.

54. The Panel further noted that the Framework document, at Page 7, stated “For Child in Need cases, where it is identified that assessments will take longer than 15 working days to complete, the assessment and understanding of the child’s needs will be discussed with the social worker and relevant manager prior to the 15th working day. There will be a review as part of that discussion of the timescale for completion”.

55. Having considered the Framework document, the Panel was of the view that the Registrant was under an obligation, within 15 days of the referral being made, to discuss any delays in completing the SA or arranging the Child in Need meeting and that she failed to do so.

56. Accordingly, the Panel find Particular 1c) proved.

Particular 1d) – Found Proved

d) Did not complete a Single Assessment Plan of Child A within 45 working days of referral

57. The Panel had regard to the contents of the Framework document, at Page 7, which stated: “No social work assessment shall take more than 45 working days to complete”. Consequently, the Panel was satisfied that the Registrant was under an obligation to complete the SA within 45 days.

58. CH confirmed that the SA, in respect of Child A, had been completed outside of the 45 day timescale. The Panel noted that this was also confirmed by AJ who stated “Jacqueline Spencer should have completed a Single Assessment of Child A by 20 September 2016, which is 45 working days from the referral. However, she did not complete any of the assessment”.

59. The Panel find as a matter of fact that the Registrant was under an obligation to complete the SA within 45 days of referral and that she failed to do so.

60. Consequently, the Panel find Particular 1d) proved.

Particular 2a) – Found Proved

2. In the cases of Child B and Child C, you:

a) Within 15 working days of the referrals did not discuss with your manager any delays completing the Single Assessment Plans and/or arrange a Child in Need meeting:

61. The Panel noted that the Framework document, at Page 7, stated “For Child in Need cases, where it is identified that assessments will take longer than 15 working days to complete, the assessment and understanding of the child’s needs will be discussed with the social worker and relevant manager prior to the 15th working day. There will be a review as part of that discussion of the timescale for completion”.

62. The Panel heard evidence from CH who informed the Panel that the referral for Child B and Child C was received on 18 July 2016. It was recorded in the SA that both children were seen on 4, 8 and 31 August 2016 with the SA being completed on 22 September 2016. CH also informed the Panel that during her investigation she reviewed the records for all three children (Child A, Child B and Child C) and there was only one reference to supervision on 8 August, where the Registrant confirmed that she had seen Child C and Child B but still needed to visit Child A. She also stated that she could not find any evidence of the Registrant having had discussions with her manager in respect of the SA taking longer than 15 days.
 
63. SM gave evidence to the Panel that the Registrant “did not have a discussion with me about this case and I cannot see anything recorded to suggest that she did discuss the case with a manager”.

64. Having satisfied itself that the Registrant was under an obligation to complete the SA, the Panel determined that the Registrant did not have a discussion with a manager in respect of the delays in completing the SA within the 15-day time limit. Further, the Panel also found, as a matter of fact, that the Registrant did not arrange a Child in Need meeting, which she was also under an obligation to do.

65. Accordingly, the Panel find Particular 2a) proved.

Particular 2b)(i-iii) – Found Proved

b) Did not:

i) Complete a Single Assessment Plan for Child B within 45 working days of referral or at all.

ii) Complete a Single Assessment Plan for Child C within 45 working days of referral.

iii) Ensure that the Single Assessment Plan dated 22 September 2016 for Child C contained all relevant information.

66. SM, in his evidence, informed the Panel that Child C and Child B were seen by the Registrant on 4 August 2016, which was within the 15 days window required. However, he also informed the Panel that the Registrant’s SAs, in respect of Child B and Child C, were brief with either one line sentences documented or that the SA was missing key information. He stated that Child B’s SA was not completed and that Child C’s SA had missing information such as: family history; that the mother had obtained a Prohibitive Steps Order against the father; the record did not outline the mother’s protective response to the situation; nor did it indicate what the Contract of Expectation said; and nor did it document that there is an acrimonious relationship between the parents.

67. CH informed the Panel that the SAs were due to be completed, in respect of Child B and Child C, no later than by the 20 September 2016. CH informed the Panel that the SAs were completed by the Registrant on the 22 September 2016 but that there were gaps with the SAs as elements of the assessments were “blank” and that the SA had been duplicated from Child C’s record to Child B’s record and that the documents had the same wording contained within them and further, that Child B’s assessment contained Child C’s name.

68. The Panel had regard to the Framework document, which outlines that a SA should be completed within 45 days (as already outlined at paragraph 57 above).

69. The Panel was therefore satisfied that the Registrant was under an obligation to complete a SA in respect of Child B and Child C within 45 days.

70. Having considered the evidence the Panel found, as a matter of fact, that the Registrant did not complete a SA for child B within 45 days of referral. The Panel also found, in respect of Child C, that the Registrant had not properly completed an SA, ensuring that it contained all of the relevant information and that the document, which had been compiled, was completed outside of the 45 day time limit.

71. Accordingly, the Panel found Particular 2b)(i), 2b)(ii) and 2b)(i-iii) proved.

Particular 2c)(i-ii) – Found Proved

c) Did not record case notes of your visit to Child B and/or Child C on the following dates:

i.) 8 August 2016;

ii.) 31 August 2016.

72. CH informed the Panel that when conducting her investigation she noted, from the SA document, that Child B and Child C were seen by the Registrant on the 8 and 31 August 2016.

73. SM told the Panel that the SA documents in respect of Child B and Child C stated that both children were seen on 4 August, 8 August and 31 August 2016, but that there was no record of the visits on 8 August or 31 August 2016, within the case notes and that there was only a case note in respect of the Registrant’s visit on the 4 August 2016. SM informed the Panel that the Social Worker who completed the visit should complete the record on the case notes.

74. The Panel had regard to the case-note document and noted the absence of the entries in respect of the 8 August and 31 August 2016. The Panel was satisfied that the Registrant was under an obligation to complete and update the case-note document after each visit to see a child and that she failed to do so.

75. Accordingly, the Panel found 2c)(i) and 2c)(ii) proved.

Particular 3a)-b) – Found Proved

3.You held a social media profile which identified you as an employee of Halton Borough Council and:

a) You posted racially insensitive and/or inappropriate messages on social media; and/or

b) The messages you posted in paragraph 3a were available to the wider public to view

76. CH informed the Panel that on the 24 January 2017 she was asked to widen the scope of her investigation to include concerns in relation to posts which the Registrant had made on Facebook.

77. CH informed the Panel that the Council had a clear ‘Acceptable Use of IT policy and the use of social media’ document. The policy states:

“Staff must not post or Tweet negative comments in personal or works time (personal or council owned equipment) about your employer, colleagues, and members of the public or other work related organisations. Halton Borough Council’s relationships with clients, customers and partners are valued assets that can be damaged through comment.”

78. CH told the Panel that the Registrant would have been made aware of this policy during her induction training and further reminded of the policy each time she logged on to her computer.

79. AJ informed the Panel that he met with the Registrant on the 25 January 2017 to discuss the Facebook posts which had been brought to his attention by a number of employees. During his meeting with the Registrant, he discussed the posts that he had copies of and asked her about the posts. AJ informed the Panel that the Registrant accepted that she had made the posts and accepted that she identified herself as a Council employee on her Facebook profile. AJ also informed the Panel that he believed that the Facebook posts were open to the public to view and he drew the Panel’s attention to an email exchange between himself and ZF whereby ZF confirmed that the Registrant’s profile was open to the public.

80. The Panel noted the Registrant’s admissions, during her interview with CH and her meeting with AJ, where she accepted that she had made the posts on her Facebook page and that her Facebook page did state that she worked for the Council. In her interview with the Council on 7 February 2017, she accepted these posts demonstrate conduct that is not acceptable for a Council employee.

81. The Panel accepted, on the evidence presented, that the Registrant’s profile was open to the public and could therefore have been viewed by members of the public or service users. The Panel also noted that the Registrant’s profile page stated that her employer was “Halton Borough Council”.

82. The Panel considered each of the posts. The first post on Facebook stated the following: “Listen carefully, Im a Black woman who loves black men, black culture & black people. Nothing else concerns me.”

83. The Panel took the view that this comment was racially insensitive and inappropriate because if a member of the public or a service user from a different ethnic background to the Registrant, had read the Registrant’s posts, they may form the view that the level of care or service to be provided by the Registrant would not be the same as those from the Registrant’s own ethnic background.
 
84. The Panel next considered the Registrant’s posts on Facebook, in respect of an evening out, where she expressed her views on being approached by a group of white males. The Panel considered the Registrant’s language in describing the group of males as “MOTHER FUCKERS” to be inappropriate.

85. Consequently, the Panel found Particular 3a) and 3b) proved.

Particular 4 – Found Proved

4. You practised as a Social Worker with Halton Borough Council between December 2014 and November 2015 when you were not registered with the Health and Care Professions Council.

86. AM informed the Panel that concerns were raised, in respect of the Registrant’s HCPC registration status, when the Registrant self-notified her manager that her HCPC registration was not active and had lapsed. AM informed the Panel that she believed that the Registrant was reminded to check her own HCPC registration status further to a colleague’s registration lapsing. The Council suspended the Registrant on 18 November 2015.
 
87. AM informed the Panel that the Registrant’s HCPC registration expired in October 2014 and that she had checked the HCPC register at the time. She also informed the Panel that the Registrant did not re-register with the HCPC until 22 December 2015 and that during this period of time the Registrant had been working for the Council in her role as a Social Worker, except for a period of time when she was on leave.

88. AM further stated that “she [the registrant] was very apologetic and admitted that the oversight was on her part. She provided significant mitigation around what was going on in her life at that time”.

89. SY stated “Jacqueline Spencer was first registered with the HCPC as a Social Worker on 17 December 2013. She was registered with the HCPC until 1 December 2014, after which time her registration lapsed. Jacqueline Spencer re-registered with the HCPC on 22 December 2015.”

90. Having regard to all of the evidence and the Registrant’s admissions, the Panel was satisfied that the Registrant did work as a Social Worker for the Council between December 2014 and November 2015 when she was not registered with the HCPC.

91. Accordingly, the Panel found Particular 4 proved.

Particular 5

5. On your Health and Care Professions Council readmission application for registration dated 16 November 2015, you recorded that you last practised in your profession on 14 December 2014, when this was not the case.

92. SY informed the Panel that the Registrant was removed from the HCPC register in the week commencing 1 December 2014 after failing to re-register. He also informed the Panel that the Registrant completed a re-admission form, which was received by the HCPC on 18 December 2015 and that she was admitted back onto the HCPC register from 22 December 2015. He stated “I note that on this form Jacqueline Spencer states that she last practised her profession on 14 December 2014”.

93. AM informed the Panel that “During the period in the lapse in registration, Jacqueline Spencer was working in the same role, except for the period that she was on sickness leave”.
 
94. The Panel noted that on the HCPC re-registration document, exhibited by SY that the Registrant had stated, in response to the pro-forma document asking – ‘When did you last practise your profession?’, ‘14.12.2014’.

95. Taking all of the evidence into account, the Panel were satisfied that the Registrant did record the last date that she had practised her profession as the 14 December 2014 when this was not the case.

96. Accordingly, the Panel found Particular 5 proved.

Particular 6 – Not Found Proved

6. Your conduct as outlined in paragraph 4 and/or 5 was dishonest.

97. The Panel heard evidence from the HCPC witnesses that, upon realising that she was not registered with the HCPC, the Registrant immediately notified her line manager and brought the matter to her employer’s attention. Further, in no way did she seek to conceal or hide her registration status or the fact that it had lapsed.

98. The Panel noted the Registrant’s comments during the Council’s internal interviews concerning her registration status where she stated that it was an ‘oversight’ on her part. The Panel also noted that the Registrant was experiencing particularly traumatic life events at the time that her renewal was due. Taking all of these factors into account, the Panel was of the view that the Registrant had not sought to act dishonestly when she practised as a Social Worker whilst not registered with the HCPC.

99. The Panel carefully considered the HCPC registration form and in particular Section 1 and the question ‘when did you last practise your profession?’. The Panel was of the view that this question was somewhat ambiguous and could be interpreted to mean when the Registrant last believed that they practised whilst registered. Further, the Panel was of the view, on the balance of probabilities, given the Registrant had self-referred herself to her employer, notifying them of the lapse in her registration, that it was unlikely she would have been dishonest with the HCPC. For these reasons, the Panel was of the view that the Registrant had not acted dishonestly in completing the section of the HCPC form. The Panel was not satisfied that the grounds for dishonesty had been made out by the HCPC.

100. Accordingly, the Panel found Particular 6 not proved.

Decision on Grounds

101. Having found Particulars 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 proved, the Panel went on to consider whether the Registrant’s conduct amounted to misconduct and/or a lack of competence.
Panel’s Approach

102. The Panel first considered whether any of the facts found proved amounted to misconduct. In doing so, it took into account Miss Manning-Rees’ submissions and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.

103. The Panel also considered the relevant Practice Note issued by the HCPTS, “Finding that Fitness to Practise is ‘Impaired’”, together with the HCPC’s Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics 2012 and 2016 and the HCPC’s Standards of Proficiency Social Workers in England 2012.

Lack of Competence

104. Competence describes knowledge and skills, i.e. what a registrant ‘can-do’. The appropriate standard to be applied is that applicable to the post to which the practitioner had been appointed and the work he was carrying out; [Holton v GMC]. Competence of a Registrant is generally to be decided by reference to a fair sample of their work; R (on the application of Calhaem) v GMC [2007] EWHC2606admin.

105. The Panel considered that the matters charged in the Particulars of the Allegation did not represent a fair sample of the Registrant’s work as a Social Worker and therefore did not amount to a lack of competence.

106. In considering the issue of misconduct, the Panel bore in mind the explanation of that term given by the Privy Council in the case of Roylance v GMC (No.2) [2000] 1 AC 311 where it was stated that:

 “Misconduct is a word of general effect, involving some act or omission which falls short of what would be proper in the circumstances. The standard of propriety may often be found by reference to the rules and standards ordinarily required to be followed by a … practitioner in the particular circumstances. The misconduct is qualified in two respects. First, it is qualified by the word ‘professional’ which links the misconduct to the profession ... Secondly, the misconduct is qualified by the word ‘serious’. It is not any professional misconduct which will qualify. The professional misconduct must be serious.”

107. The Panel considered whether any of the facts found proved amounted to misconduct.

108. The Panel found breaches of the following parts of the HCPC’s Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics (dated 2016):

2.7 – Social media and networking websites

You must use all forms of communication appropriately and responsibly, including social media and networking websites.

6 - Manage risk
 
Identify and minimise risk

109.  The Panel also found breaches of the following parts of the HCPC’s standards of proficiency for Social Workers in England (dated 2012):

1.3 – be able to undertake assessments of risk, need and capacity and 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

110. The Panel was aware that breach of the standards alone does not necessarily constitute misconduct. However, the Panel was satisfied that the Registrant’s conduct and behaviour fell below the standards expected of a Social Worker.

111. The Panel heard evidence that no harm came to Child A, Child B and Child C as a result of the Registrant’s failure to visit them in a timely manner or as a result of her failure to complete the assessments. The Panel had no evidence before it that the Registrant appreciated the risk posed to the children by not following the correct procedures. Further, the Panel was also concerned by the Registrant’s failure to act upon direct instructions.

112. Notwithstanding the fact that the Registrant was in the final stages of completing her ASYE, the Panel also formed the view that as a qualified Social Worker she should have identified the risks herself and acted upon them in a timely manner. The Panel found that the Registrant’s inaction was further exacerbated by the fact that she was given weekly email update reminders of her cases and was, on a number of occasions, told to complete the SA and visit the children within Family A. Her numerous omissions placed the children at risk of harm.
 
113. The Panel was concerned by the inappropriate language and racially insensitive comments posted on Facebook by the Registrant. The Panel was of the view that members of the public would not expect such language to be used by social work professionals and her actions may have resulted in confidence in the profession and her employer being undermined.

114. Further, whilst the Panel recognised that the Registrant had some very traumatic episodes occurring in her life at the time that her re-registration was due, the Panel was of the view that maintaining registration with the HCPC is a fundamental tenet of the profession and one which ought to have featured more prominently on the Registrant’s mind. Her failure to maintain appropriate registration, whilst continuing to practise, amounts to misconduct on her part.

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

116. Given the Panel’s finding in respect of Particular 5, it was the Panel’s view that the Registrant’s action was not intended to mislead the HCPC. Therefore, notwithstanding the finding of fact, the Panel found her action did not amount to misconduct.

117. The Panel therefore found that Particulars 1, 2, 3, and 4 each amounted to misconduct.

Decision on Impairment

Panel’s approach

118. Having found misconduct, the Panel went on to consider whether, as a result of that misconduct, the Registrant's current fitness to practise is impaired. The Panel weighed up all of the evidence and the submissions made by Miss Manning-Rees.

119. The Panel took into account the HCPTS Practice Note: “Finding that Fitness to Practise is Impaired”. The Panel also accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Legal Assessor advised that in determining current impairment the Panel should have regard to the following aspects of the public interest:

i) The ‘personal’ component: the current behaviour of the individual Registrant; and

ii) The ‘public’ component: the need to protect service users, declare and uphold proper standards of behaviour and maintain public confidence in the profession.

120. The Panel found that the Registrant’s conduct is remediable. However there is no evidence before the panel that the Registrant has sought in any way to remedy her shortcomings. The Registrant has failed to engage, in any meaningful way, with these proceedings.

121. The evidence that the Panel heard from the witnesses is that the Registrant demonstrated some remorse regarding her inactions in respect of Child A, B and C. The Panel noted that the Registrant, during an interview with CH, stated “I take responsibility for my part in this mistake but in my opinion, Halton Borough Council also played a part in this mistake. Before this incident, no one ever raised a concern about my work or sat me down to express there are any issues”.

122. Notwithstanding this comment however, the Registrant has not provided the Panel with any submissions, or a reflective piece, to indicate that she has any further insight into her own conduct and has provided no evidence of up-to-date training to demonstrate that she has taken any steps towards remediating her failures. The Panel therefore believes that there is a real risk of repetition of her failings being repeated.

123. The Panel was concerned at the Registrant’s limited insight into her behaviour regarding her racially insensitive posts and the inappropriate comments made and in particular the effect that they could have had on service users.

124. Notwithstanding, the aforementioned concerns, the Panel did note that the Registrant demonstrated insight with respect to her failure to renew her registration and acted quickly to remedy the situation. The Panel find that the risk of repetition in this regard is therefore low.

125. 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, limited insight and lack of engagement with the HCPC by the Registrant. The Panel was also satisfied that there was a need to uphold proper standards of conduct and behaviour in the social work profession and that an informed member of the public would expect there to be a finding of impairment in respect of the misconduct found in this case.

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

127. The Panel therefore concluded that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired.

Decision on Sanction

Panel’s approach

128. In reaching its decision on sanction, the Panel took into account the submissions made by Ms Manning-Rees.

129. The Panel also referred to the ‘Indicative Sanctions Policy’ issued by the HCPC.

130. The Panel had in mind that the purpose of sanction was not to punish the Registrant, but to protect the public, maintain public confidence in the profession and maintain proper standards of conduct and performance. The Panel was also aware of the need to ensure that any sanction is proportionate.

131. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.

132. The Panel considered the aggravating factors in this case to be that:

i. there was potential risk to three children as a result of the Registrant’s inaction and oversights; 

ii. the Panel have no evidence of the Registrant having demonstrated any insight other than her comments where she took responsibility for her mistakes during her interviews with her employer;

iii. the Registrant did not appear to understand the concerns which were raised by her employer in relation to her Facebook posts; and

iv. the length of time which the Registrant worked without HCPC registration.

133. The Panel considered the following mitigating factors and found that:

i. the Registrant was new to the social work profession and was still within her AYSE year;

ii. the documentary evidence contained within the HCPC bundle confirmed the Registrant’s assertion that there had been a lack of formal supervision. The supervision should have been monthly and the evidence before the Panel indicated that it was bi-monthly;

iii. there were no other issues or complaints raised in respect of her wider work or caseload;

iv. each of the incidents was distinct and isolated and in the Panel’s view did not represent a pattern of behaviour because they were so different from each other;

v. in respect of two of the Facebook posts the Registrant  was recounting a personal and frightening event;

vi. the Registrant was experiencing a particularly traumatic series of life events when her HCPC registration lapsed; and

vii. once the Registrant identified that her HCPC registration had lapsed she took immediate steps to rectify the situation.

134. The Panel considered the option of taking no action. This is an exceptional outcome and the Panel did not consider that the circumstances of this case were exceptional. The Panel decided that the option of taking no action was not sufficient to uphold the public interest.

135. The Panel next considered the option of a Caution Order. The Panel considered the guidance in the Indicative Sanctions Policy that “A Caution Order is an appropriate sanction for cases, where the lapse is isolated, limited, or relatively minor in nature, there is a low risk of recurrence, the registrant has shown insight and taken appropriate remedial action”.
 
136. The Panel was of the view that such a sanction would not reflect the seriousness of the findings in this case. The Registrant’s failings put three children at risk of harm and the Panel has already concluded that there is a risk of such behaviour being repeated in the event that the Registrant decides to return to social work without remediation. A caution, therefore, would not protect the public from any such risk. The Panel was also of the view that public confidence in the profession, and the HCPC as its Regulator, would be undermined if such behaviour were dealt with by way of a caution.

137. The Panel next considered whether to place conditions on the Registrant’s registration. As identified at the impairment stage, the failings identified are of a kind that could be remedied and it was the Panel’s view that conditions would be an appropriate sanction in this case because the matters that the conditions seek to address are capable of correction. Further, there is no persistent or general failure which would prevent the Registrant from doing so.

138. The Panel also noted that the Registrant, in her email to the HCPC, had indicated that she was seeking employment in social work roles. The Panel was therefore of the view that a Conditions of Practice order would appropriately balance the risk posed by the Registrant to the public, would uphold confidence in the profession, whilst also permitting the Registrant to practise her chosen profession.

139. The Panel considered whether to impose a Suspension Order however, given the isolated nature of each of the Particulars and the Panel’s findings in this case, the Panel was of the view that a Suspension Order would be disproportionate. 

140. Accordingly, the Panel made an Order directing the Registrar to impose a Conditions of Practice Order for a period of twelve months. The Panel was of the view that a twelve month Conditions of Practice Order would provide the Registrant with a period of time in which to secure social work employment, to reflect on the Panel’s findings and would also afford the Registrant with an opportunity to gain insight and remediate her failings.

141. The Panel considered that a reviewing Panel would be assisted by the following:

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

ii. her reflection on the particulars found proved;

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

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

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, Miss Jacqueline Spencer must comply with the following conditions of practice:

1. You must promptly inform the HCPC if you cease to be employed as a Social Worker by your current employer or take up any other or further employment.

2. 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 social 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).

3. You must place yourself and remain under the supervision of a workplace supervisor registered with the HCPC or other appropriate statutory regulator and supply details of your supervisor to the HCPC within 3 months of the Operative Date.

4. You must meet with your supervisor on a monthly basis and permit your supervisor to submit written reports to the HCPC. The written reports should be submitted to the HCPC ahead of each Substantive Review Panel convening and should detail whether your work as a social worker is of the requisite standard.

 

Notes

Right of Appeal:

You may appeal to the High Court in England and Wales against the Panel’s decision and the order it has made against you.
Under Articles 30(10) and 38 of the Health and Social Work Professions Order 2001, any appeal must be made to the court not more than 28 days after the date when this notice is served on you.

European alert mechanism:

In accordance with Regulation 67 of the European Union (Recognition of Professional Qualifications) Regulations 2015, the HCPC will inform the competent authorities in all other EEA States that your right to practise has been prohibited.

You may appeal to the County Court against the HCPC’s decision to do so.  Any appeal must be made within 28 days of the date when this notice is served on you.  This right of appeal is separate from your right to appeal against the decision and order of the Panel.

Interim Order

Proceeding in absence

1. Ms Manning-Rees, on behalf of the HCPC, made an application for the hearing, in relation to the imposition of an Interim Order, to proceed in the Registrant’s absence.

2. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and took into account the guidance as set out in the HCPTS Practice Note “Proceeding in Absence”.

3. The Panel was satisfied that the Registrant had been warned in the Notice of Hearing dated 19 December 2018 that there was a real prospect that an Interim Order application would be made by HCPC, should a substantive finding be made by the Panel.

4. The Panel was therefore satisfied that it was reasonable to conclude that the Registrant’s non-attendance was voluntary and therefore a deliberate waiver of her right to attend and participate in person. The Panel determined that it was reasonable and in the public interest to proceed with the hearing.

Decision Interim Order

5. The Panel makes an Interim Conditions of Practice Order under Article 31(2) of the Health and Social Work Professions Order 2001. For the same reasons given in its determination on sanction, the Panel concluded that an Interim Conditions of Practice Order would be appropriate for the period of 18 months to cover any appeal period and was necessary for public protection and is otherwise in the public interest. To make no order would be inconsistent with that finding. The Panel concluded that an Interim Suspension Order would be disproportionate in this case.

6. This order will expire: (if no appeal is made against the Panel’s decision and Order) upon the expiry of the period during which such an appeal could be made; (if an appeal is made against the Panel’s decision and Order) the final determination of that appeal, subject to a maximum period of 18 months.

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Ms Jacqueline Spencer

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
13/05/2019 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Conditions of Practice