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1. Whilst registered as a Social Worker you breached professional boundaries in that:
a. On or around 4 November 2016 you accepted around £450.00 from Service User A;
b. On or around 18 November 2016 you sent a text message to Service User A to the effect ‘I won’t forget and here is my personal number’;
c. Between around 4 November 2016 and 9 December 2016 you did not repay Service User A the full amount of money referred to in particular 1a.
2. Your actions described at particulars 1a, 1b and 1c constitute misconduct.
3. By reason of your misconduct your fitness to practise is impaired.
1. The Panel found that there had been good service of the Notice of Hearing by a letter dated 18 September 2019 sent to the Registrant’s registered address which informed him of the date, time and venue of the hearing.
Proceeding in the Absence of the Registrant
2. Ms Ktisti made an application for the hearing to proceed in the absence of the Registrant. She referred the Panel to an email from the Registrant dated 22 September 2019. The Registrant stated “Please find attached to this email my submission in respect of the above hearing which is timetabled for Friday 18 October 2019. I respectfully submit this in my absence from the aforementioned hearing”.
3. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and had regard to the HCPTS Practice Note “Proceeding in the Absence of the Registrant”.
4. The Panel decided that it was appropriate to proceed in the absence of the Registrant. The Registrant is aware of the hearing and has chosen not to attend. He expects the hearing to proceed in his absence. The Panel was satisfied that there was no realistic prospect that the Registrant would attend the hearing at a later date if this hearing was adjourned. The Panel decided that it was in the Registrant’s interest and the public interest for the mandatory review of the Suspension Order to proceed without delay.
5. The Registrant worked for Warrington Borough Council (WBC) as an agency Social Worker from 1 March 2014 to 18 November 2016. Service User A had suffered a bereavement and was diagnosed with mental health issues. The Registrant was allocated the case of Service User A on 13 March 2016 when he was working within the Mental Health Team and he assisted her with a benefits claim, which included attending a tribunal hearing at which she was awarded £4,800. Subsequently the Registrant stated to Service User A that he had been a victim of fraud and about £3,000 had been taken from his bank account; as a result he was unsure whether he could make his next mortgage payment of £450 and Service User A then gave him a loan of £450, on about 4 November 2016. The Registrant left his post at WBC on 8 November 2016, but did provide his contact details to Service User A.
6. On 1 December 2016, Service User A was allocated a new Social Worker, CN. On 9 December 2016, concerns were raised by CN with SL, Principal Manager in the WBC South / West Managed Care Team concerning money received by the Registrant from Service User A. The Registrant had repaid £100 to her but Service User A was worried about the return of the outstanding £350. She also showed CN text messages, sent by the Registrant to her on 18 November 2016, stating “I won’t forget and here is my personal number” or words to that effect.
7. The matter was treated as a safeguarding concern by WBC and reported to Wisemove Consulting (the agency) who also carried out an investigation. On 12 December 2016, SL telephoned the Registrant and asked whether he had borrowed money from Service User A. The Registrant denied this and stated that he was with a client and would phone back the following day. The Registrant did telephone SL the next day, admitted he had received the money and expressed regret that he had let down Service User A and WBC.
8. The matter was then referred to the police, but they advised that a criminal offence had not been committed by the Registrant.
9. The outstanding £350 was repaid to Service User A by WBC on 21 December 2016 in cash. WBC then received a cheque for £450 made payable to Service User A, with a note from the Registrant stating “for [Service User A] with sincere regret for the stress I have caused her”. This cheque was returned to the Registrant. WBC was reimbursed by the Agency, for the cash payment of £350.
10. An audit of the Registrant’s caseload by WBC did not disclose any further concerns, indeed he was praised by almost all of the service users contacted. Also Service User A stated that she did not want to get the Registrant into trouble.
11. The Registrant did not attend the final hearing, which went ahead in his absence. The Panel at that hearing found all the facts proved, but that only Particular 1(a) amounted to misconduct.
12. In reaching its decision on impairment, the final hearing panel stated:
“In respect of the public component the finding of misconduct in respect of particular 1a arose from an abuse of position of power by the Registrant with regard to his professional relationship with a vulnerable Service User. Accordingly, there is a current impairment of fitness to practise under the public component, because this is necessary to maintain public confidence and uphold the HCPC standards of conduct in this particular case”
“The Panel finds that the Registrant has demonstrated a lack of integrity and abused his position of power in respect of a vulnerable Service User by reason of the misconduct arising from particular 1a. He has not engaged in this hearing and the Panel cannot be satisfied that there is no significant risk of repetition of his misconduct. There has been no insight or remediation of this serious misconduct demonstrated. The Panel therefore determined that there is current impairment of his fitness to practise under the personal component.”
13. When deciding the appropriate sanction, the final hearing panel considered that taking no action, or making a Caution Order, would not adequately reflect the seriousness of the case. The panel decided that:
“The Registrant’s misconduct might be capable of being remedied but there is no indication of a willingness on his part to comply with conditions of practice. The Panel concludes that conditions of practice are not an appropriate sanction in this case because practicable and workable conditions cannot be formulated”.
14. That panel therefore decided to impose a Suspension Order for a period of 12 months. In reaching this decision the final hearing panel said:
“The Panel concludes that a suspension order for 12 months is the appropriate sanction. Suspension is required, in view of the seriousness of the misconduct, in order to protect the public and the reputation of the profession and to act as a deterrent to other Registrants”.
15. The Suspension Order was reviewed by a Conduct and Competence Panel on 8 April 2019. The Registrant attended the hearing by telephone. The Registrant provided a reflective statement and gave evidence to the panel. The review panel:
“was satisfied that [the Registrant] had demonstrated remorse, but was of the view that his insight and remediation were lacking. He acknowledged and accepted that his behaviour was unprofessional and caused distress to a client. He recognised that “lines got blurred” with that particular client, and he was becoming “too familiar”. He had apologised and said he had reflected upon his conduct, but he did not feel the need to attend any training on professional boundaries and appeared to minimise what had happened. The Panel was also concerned that the Registrant’s only response when asked how he would deal with a similar situation now was to say that he would raise it with his Line Management. In the Panel’s view that demonstrated a lack of understanding by the Registrant of his own need to take personal responsibility for setting and maintaining appropriate personal boundaries when working as a Social Worker”.
16. In April and May 2019 there was correspondence between the HCPC in relation to the possibility of a Voluntary Removal Agreement. On 17 April 2019, the HCPC wrote to the Registrant advising him that the HCPC considered that it might be appropriate to give the Registrant the option of voluntary removal. The Registrant did not respond to this letter or to a follow up letter dated 1 May 2019.
17. The review panel in April 2019 concluded that the Registrant’s fitness to practise remained impaired on public protection and public interest grounds. The panel decided that a further period of suspension was the appropriate sanction and suggested that a review hearing would be assisted by:
• The Registrant’s continued engagement and attendance at the next review hearing;
• A comprehensive reflective piece which in particular addresses the impact of his actions on Service User A;
• Evidence to demonstrate that the Registrant fully understands professional boundaries in a social work context and how to maintain them by, for example, attending an appropriate training course;
• Evidence of how the Registrant is keeping his social work skills up to date;
• Relevant testimonials.
18. On 22 September 2019, the Registrant sent a written submission to the HCPC for today’s review hearing stating:
“As stated at the previous hearing. I have acknowledged and accepted that my behaviour was unprofessional and out of character. I also accept that I had caused one of my clients to be upset and distressed which I apologised unreservedly. Since I qualified as a Social Worker in 1998, I have devoted myself entirely to my profession and consequently built an exemplary reputation with the Local Authorities I was employed by, but more importantly the clients I was fortunate to work with.
For the record, I would like to clarify once again that I have not practised Social Work AT ANY TIME during both suspension periods. It was requested at the previous hearing in April 2019 that I provide a reflective account to this hearing. I have continued to reflect since my suspension which is now nearly three years since I last practised as a Social worker, and as I turn 59 years of age next month and having been out of practice for nearly thirty six months it is time for me to leave the profession I have given so much too.”
19. Ms Ktisti submitted that the Registrant’s fitness to practise remained impaired. She noted that the Registrant has now recently engaged with the HCPC and that it appears from his written submissions that he might wish to pursue the possibility of voluntary removal from the Register. She submitted that in these circumstances the appropriate and proportionate order was the continuation of the Suspension Order.
20. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and had regard to the HCPTS Practice Note on Article 30 reviews.
21. The Panel carried out a comprehensive review. It first considered whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise remained impaired at today’s date. The Panel bore in mind the advice of the Legal Assessor that it should exercise its own judgment on the issue of current impairment, but that it should not go behind the findings made by the final hearing panel.
22. The Panel noted the following from those findings:
a. There was no allegation or finding of dishonesty.
b. The Registrant admitted his actions promptly and apologised to the service user.
c. The facts related to a single isolated incident in an otherwise unblemished career.
23. In the Panel’s judgment the key issue in assessing the current risk of repetition, and therefore whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise remains impaired, is the level of the Registrant’s insight.
24. The review panel on 9 April 2018 considered that the Registrant had not demonstrated that he fully understood professional boundaries in a social work context, but this Panel took a different view. It considered that the Registrant had been sufficiently self-critical in relation to his misconduct, as found by the final hearing panel. The Panel reached this conclusion taking into account the findings of the final hearing panel, the summary of the Registrant’s evidence at the review hearing in April 2018, and the Registrant’s written submissions for this hearing.
25. The crossing of professional boundaries found by the final hearing panel was limited to the Registrant’s conduct in borrowing money from a service user, sending a text message to the service user providing his personal number, and failing to promptly repay the service user the full sum. This Panel reminded itself that misconduct was found in respect of Particular 1(a) only. The Registrant, from an early stage, accepted that his conduct was wrong and did in fact repay the outstanding sum of money.
26. This Panel, in line with the advice from the Legal Assessor, had been careful to review and focus upon the findings of the final hearing panel. This Panel concluded that the Registrant had sought to engage with the regulatory process, including by giving evidence at the first review.
27. The Panel was persuaded by the Registrant’s written submission that at today’s date he has a sufficient level of insight. He has consistently demonstrated remorse and has recognised the upset and distress caused to the service user and the impact on the social work profession.
28. The Panel noted there was no evidence that the Registrant had kept his social work skills up to date, however this is not a case where the Registrant has displayed a lack of competence.
29. The Panel’s assessment was that the risk that the Registrant would repeat similar misconduct was low and that his fitness to practise is not impaired on the basis of the personal component.
30. The Panel considered the wider public interest considerations including the need to maintain public confidence in the profession and the regulatory process. The Registrant has been suspended since the final hearing on 10 April 2018, and this is a sufficient and proportionate period of time to mark the seriousness of the Registrant’s conduct. The Panel has concluded that there is no ongoing risk of repetition and the Panel identified no public interest reasons for a finding that the Registrant’s fitness to practise remains impaired.
31. The Panel therefore decided that no further order is required and the current Order will lapse when it expires.
ORDER: The Registrar is directed to revoke the Suspension Order of the registration of Mr Leo W Kirk from the date this Order comes into effect.
No notes available
History of Hearings for
|Date||Panel||Hearing type||Outcomes / Status|
|18/10/2019||Conduct and Competence Committee||Review Hearing||No further action|