Carol Ann Gould

: Social worker

: SW73045

Interim Order: Imposed on 24 Sep 2015

: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing:10:00 22/09/2015 End: 17:00 25/09/2015

: Health and Care Professions Council, Park House, 184 Kennington Park Road, London, SE11 4BU

: Conduct and Competence Committee
: Suspended

Allegation

While registered as a Social Worker, between 18 November 2010 and 19 March 2013:

1. You were employed by Benecare between 4 January 2011 and 12 November  2012 and you:

a. Did not communicate effectively with colleagues and/or foster parents and/or third parties in that:

i. You did not respond in a timely manner or at all to emails and other communications such as telephone calls and text messages;

ii. You did not attend a scheduled meeting with Foster Carer B on or around 28 September 2012;

iii.  You did not attend a scheduled meeting with Foster Carer C on or around 26 September 2012.

b.  You did not facilitate compulsory ATP and CWCD training for the Foster Carers you supervised;

c.  Did not consistently create or maintain records in relation to the foster carers you    supervised.

2. You were employed by Kaleidoscope between 19 February 2013 and 19 March 2013 and you:

a. Did not carry out a risk assessment in relation to placing child 1 prior to placing him with Foster Carer D;

b. You lost the annual review paperwork for Foster Carer E;

c. You lost the initial screening visit (ISV) paperwork in respect of two foster  carers;

d. You did not create records of your supervision with foster carers.

3. The matters described in paragraphs 1-2 constitute misconduct and/or lack of competence.

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

Finding

Preliminary matters:

1.  Ms Gould has attended this hearing and given evidence to the Panel.

2.  Two allegations are made by the HCPC against Ms Gould.  One of them is that her fitness to practise is impaired by reason of misconduct.  The other is that her fitness to practise is impaired by reason of lack of competence.  The factual particulars contained in paragraphs 1 and 2 of the formal allegation are relied upon by the HCPC as the matters constituting, depending on the Panel’s view, misconduct or lack of competence.  In order for a Panel to determine if an allegation is well founded it is necessary to consider the following matters separately and sequentially, namely:

• Which factual particulars have been proved against Ms Gould by the HCPC.

• Whether the established facts amounted to misconduct or demonstrated a lack of competence.

• If there was misconduct and/or lack of competence, whether that ground is currently impairing Ms Gould’s fitness to practise.

At the outset of the hearing the Panel was informed that both the HCPC and Ms Gould considered that it would be desirable for the Panel to conclude and announce its decision on the factual particulars before being addressed on the issues of the statutory grounds and current impairment of fitness to practise.  The Panel agreed with the suggested approach and directed that the hearing should proceed accordingly.  It should, however, be explained that when Ms Gould gave her evidence during the fact-establishing stage of the case, in order that she would not need to be re-called as a witness at a later stage she gave evidence beyond the facts.  She was cross-examined by the Presenting Officer and asked questions by the Panel, not only on matters relevant to the facts, but also on matters that might arise at a later stage of the case.

3.   When asked to respond to the allegations at the commencement of the case Ms Gould admitted particular 1(a)(ii) (doing so on the basis that her car broke down on the day she had a meeting scheduled with Foster Carer B). At the conclusion of her submissions, when the Panel Chair asked Ms Gould for clarification of which particulars were accepted by her, particular 2(a) was also admitted (it being Ms Gould’s case that a risk assessment was not required in the circumstances).

Background:

4.  Ms Gould qualified as a Social Worker in 2003.  The HCPC’s case against her concerns two distinct periods of work she undertook in the area of fostering.

5.  The first of these periods was with a company known as Benecare Fostering Limited.  At the end of 2010 Benecare was in need of a full-time Ofsted Registered Independent Fostering Agency Manager.  Ms Gould commenced work at the beginning of January 2011 as a Supervising Social Worker, with the intention that she would subsequently be registered by Ofsted so that she could discharge the managerial role described.  She took on the management role in May 2011, and remained in it until her employment with Benecare came to an end in mid-November 2012.  Ms Gould’s employment by Benecare came to an end as a result of her resignation during an on-going investigatory process instigated by that company.  The criticisms advanced by the HCPC against Ms Gould in relation to this employment are contained in particualrs 1(a) to (c).

6.  Following her resignation from Benecare, in February 2013 Ms Gould was placed by an agency through which she was working with Kaleidoscope Therapeutic Child Care (“Kaleidoscope”).  That placement came to an end after a month as a result of dissatisfaction with Ms Gould’s performance.  The HCPC’s factual case with regard to her time at Kaleidoscope are the matters advanced in particulars 2(a) to (d).

Decision on Facts:

7.  The HCPC called two witnesses to give oral evidence before the Panel.  One was SR, the Managing Director of Benecare.   The other was AT, a Director and Chief Executive of Kaleidoscope.  In addition to the oral evidence of these two witnesses the HCPC submitted witness statements prepared by each and an exhibits bundle running to over 200 pages.

8.  The Panel found that SR was evidently frustrated by Ms Gould.  He acknowledged her strengths, and he also accepted that his supervision of her could have been better.  Given the passage of time, there were elements of relevant events he could not recall.  Having seen both SR and Ms Gould give evidence, the Panel accepts that after she became the Registered Manager they had a very difficult working relationship.  So far as AT was concerned, the Panel accepted that she gave a clear chronology of events and that she had hands-on experience of Ms Gould’s work.  She also had direct experience of work with vulnerable children, and was quick to respond when concerns were raised about Ms Gould’s practice.

9.  As has already been mentioned, Ms Gould gave oral evidence before the Panel.  She also introduced documents in support of her case.  In assessing Ms Gould as a witness the Panel has remembered that she was dealing with a process that was not only stressful, but one with which she was not familiar.  Nevertheless, having given due allowance for these factors the Panel found that at times her evidence was vague, lacking grasp of the detail, unclear and inconsistent.

10.  In reaching its decisions on the facts the Panel has accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.  The Panel has considered each disputed particular separately, considering all the evidence that bears upon it and asking itself the question whether the HCPC has discharged the burden of proof by leaving the Panel satisfied that the particular is more likely than not to be correct.

11.  With this general introduction the Panel will turn to explain its findings in relation to the specific particulars.

12.  Particular 1(a)(i).  The Panel finds this particular to be proved.  Whilst denying the particular, Ms Gould made a limited admission of communication failures resulting from the number of cases she was managing and the geographical location of them.  However, the investigation undertaken by an external organisation on behalf of Benecare discovered “thousands of unanswered emails” and a large number of telephone calls were recorded as not having been responded to.  In addition the Panel accepts that SR frequently had to chase up Ms Gould in relation to requests made and at times had difficulties contacting her.  The Panel also saw emails from two separate foster carers demonstrating difficulties they had in contacting Ms Gould.

13.  Particular 1(a)(ii).  As already recorded, Ms Gould has admitted that this appointment was not kept, it being her case that her car broke down.

14.  Particular 1(a)(iii).  The Panel finds this particular not proven.  The Panel accepts that the foster carer was expecting Ms Gould to attend a meeting on 26 September 2012 in order to provide support for them.  The Panel also accepts that Ms Gould did not attend.  However, the evidence of the foster carer’s email demonstrates that they were told by another member of Benecare’s staff that Ms Gould would be attending.  Despite the Panel exploring the matter directly with SR, and in circumstances where Ms Gould has no recollection of the incident, there is an absence of evidence on which the Panel can safely conclude that Ms Gould knew of the meeting.

15.  Particular 1(b).  The Panel finds this particular not proven. The Panel saw a copy of an Ofsted Report dated 2 March 2012.  That report would necessarily have covered the period from Ms Gould’s appointment as Registered Manager in May 2011, and it recorded, “…. foster parents are supported to complete the Children’s Workforce Development Council’s [the CWCD referred to in the particular] competencies for foster carers”.  Although the Ofsted report does not specifically refer to the Annual Training Programme (the ATP referred to in the particular), the Panel finds that the Ofsted report corroborates Ms Gould’s training was provided so far as it relates to the period to March 2012.  Ms Gould’s evidence is that she prepared a twelve month training schedule and delegated the task of organising it to the Supervising Social Worker. The external investigators did not find the schedule of training.  When she was interviewed as part of the investigation, Ms Gould was able to give details of training that was arranged, including the names of trainers. Accordingly, the Panel finds that the HCPC has not discharged the burden of proving this particular.

16.  Particular 1(c).  The Panel finds this particular to be proved.  SR’s evidence was that Ms Gould’s records of supervision of foster carers were not consistently made or maintained.  He said that, when asked about the records, her responses changed, such as being in her car, in process or that someone else had them, but he said that they were never forthcoming.  The Panel finds that SR’s evidence is supported by the transcript of the investigation meeting held on 19 October 2012 when she gave different and inconsistent replies to the question as to why there was no evidence of monthly home visits to foster carers recorded in the files.

17.  Particular 2(a).  As already stated, Ms Gould admits that no risk assessment was in fact undertaken, it being her case that it was not needed.  There were different accounts of the event relied upon by the HCPC as requiring a risk assessment.  Common to all accounts is that there was an incident, with a child placed with a foster parent, involving a knife.  The issue at the heart of this particular is the risk of harm to the child, foster parent and others.  The Panel does not find it necessary to resolve which of the accounts is correct because in the clear judgement of the Panel, a risk assessment was required whichever account of the surrounding circumstances is correct.

18.  Particulars 2(b) and (c).  It is appropriate to consider both of these particulars together, as they are both concerned with losing documents.  The Panel finds on the balance of probabilities both particulars 2(b) and 2(c) to be proven.  It is Ms Gould’s case that she left the documents relevant to these particulars in a document tray on her desk in the office.  A number of factors have led the Panel to the conclusion that the documents were lost.  One is that by Ms Gould’s own admission she was not functioning properly at the relevant time.  Another is that the hearsay statements of two members of Kaleidoscope’s administration team (Ms DO and Ms LD) support the HCPC’s case.  Ms DO’s account is supported by contemporaneous emails that demonstrate conflicting answers having been given by Ms Gould as to where missing documents were.  Ms LD’s evidence is that Ms Gould was forgetful and confused and would forget where she had placed documents.

19.  Particular 2(d).  The Panel should make it clear that this particular is concerned with the recording of supervision sessions with foster carers.  The Panel accepts that the supervision visits took place.  However, the Panel finds on the balance of probabilities that even if notes of these sessions were noted in Ms Gould’s personal diary, formal records of these sessions were not written up with the consequence that the particular is proven.  The Panel not only accepts the evidence of AT on this issue, but also finds that the factors identified in relation to particulars 2(b) and 2(c) as to Ms Gould’s general functioning are relevant.

20.  In summary, the Panel finds particulars 1(a)(i), 1(a)(ii), 1(c), 2(a), 2(b), 2(c) and 2(d) to be proven.  Particulars 1(a)(iii) and 1(b) are not proven.  The Panel must now proceed to consider whether the proven particulars amounted to misconduct or demonstrated a lack of competence, and, if they do, whether there is current impairment of fitness to practise.

Decision on Grounds:

21.  After announcing the Panel’s decision on the facts the Panel heard submissions from the Presenting Officer and Ms Gould on the subjects of the statutory grounds and current impairment of fitness to practise.

22.  Before considering the issues of misconduct and lack of competence further, the Panel should make it clear that in addition to the particulars not proven, the Panel has also put to one side particular 1(a)(ii).  In the judgment of the Panel failing to keep an appointment when the reason was a broken down car could not properly contribute to a finding of either misconduct or lack of competence.

23.  The Panel has not overlooked that Ms Gould had been qualified for a period of nearly ten years by the time the relevant events occurred, and before qualification she had had experience in the social care sector.  The Panel has also taken full account of the fact that Ms Gould found the working environment at Benecare to be difficult, and that she worked at Kaleidoscope for a very short period of time.  However, the failings identified by the Panel’s findings represented shortcomings in skills relating to organisation, communication and record keeping, as well as failing to recognise when a risk assessment was required – each of them basic and core skills required of a Social Worker.  The Panel is satisfied that the events did not arise as a result of Ms Gould taking deliberate decisions not to apply skills she had.  Rather, it is the judgement of the Panel that the problems arose because of a deficiency in skills and a failure to recognise those deficiencies.

24.  The period relevant to the particulars covers the time when the regulation of Social Workers was transferred from the General Social Care Council to the HCPC.  The Panel finds that there were breaches of standards with which Ms Gould was required to comply.  Standard 6 of the GSCC Codes of Practice, which required a social care worker to be accountable for the quality of their work and to take responsibility for maintaining and improving knowledge and skills, was breached.  In relation to the standards applicable from August 2012, there were breaches of the following standards of the HCPC’s Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics, namely Standard 1 (“You must act in the best interests of service users”), 7 (“You must communicate properly and effectively with service users and other practitioners”) and 10 (“You must keep accurate records”).  There were also breaches of HCPC’s Standards of Proficiency for Social Workers in England, namely: 1.2 (“recognise the need to manage their own workload and resources and be able to practise accordingly”); 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”); 8.2 be able to demonstrate effective and appropriate skills in communicating advice, instruction, information and professional opinion to colleagues, service users and carers”); 10 (“be able to maintain records appropriately”).

25.  The conclusion of the Panel having considered all the matters just described is that lack of competence is made out.  For the avoidance of doubt, the Panel does not find misconduct.

Decision on Impairment:

26.  The issue to be decided is whether the lack of competence demonstrated by shortcomings that occurred in the past results in Ms Gould’s fitness to practise being currently impaired.  The factors identified by the Panel as relevant to this issue are the following:

• The demonstrated shortcomings represented lack of skills that a Social Worker needs to have in order to be able to practise safely and effectively.

• Ms Gould’s knowledge and skills are not up to date.  By her own evidence she has not undertaken any training since 2011.  Neither has she undertaken any recognisable continuing professional development.

• Ms Gould has demonstrated very little insight into her shortcomings, or how serious they were.

• It follows from the matters just identified that there is a strong possibility of recurrence.  The circumstances directly relating to the particulars of the present case have resulted in this finding, but the Panel has also noted that similar problems were reported by line managers during periods of work undertaken by Ms Gould before she started to work for Benecare.

• Furthermore, the Panel considers that a fair minded and informed member of the public would have serious concerns about Ms Gould’s fitness to practise as a Social Worker.

27.  Applying these factors to the decision to be made, the Panel has concluded that a finding of current impairment of fitness to practise is required to satisfy both the personal and public components.

28.  It follows from these decisions that the lack of competence allegation is well founded and the Panel must proceed to consider the issue of sanction.

Decision on Sanction:

29.  After announcing the decision that the lack of competence allegation is well founded the Panel heard submissions on sanction.

30.  On behalf of the HCPC, the Presenting Officer reminded the Panel of the proper purpose of a sanction and of the available sanctions.  She also urged the Panel to have regard to the HCPC’s Indicative Sanctions Policy document.  She did not urge the Panel to apply any particular sanction.

31.  Ms Gould expressed her remorse and asked the Panel to take that into account.  She acknowledged that she would have to address issues of report writing and record keeping, and saying that she had not moved with the times in keeping her IT skills up-to-date.  She assured the Panel that she intended to overcome her lack of skills and rectify her lack of competence.

32.  The Panel has approached the issue on the basis that a sanction is not to be imposed to punish a registrant against whom a finding has been made.  Rather, a sanction is only to be imposed to the extent that it is required to protect service users and to maintain a proper degree of confidence in the profession of Social Work and in this regulatory process.  As the finding that an allegation is well founded does not of itself require the imposition of a sanction, logically the first issue to be decided is whether the finding on the allegation requires a sanction.  If it does, the available sanctions must be considered in an ascending order of seriousness until one that satisfies the proper sanction goals is reached.  The Panel confirms that it has followed this approach, as well as heeding the guidance contained in the HCPC’s Indicative Sanctions Policy document.

33.  In the judgement of the Panel the identified shortcomings were wide-ranging and occurred over a period of time.  They have not been remediated, and, for the reasons described above, there is a significant risk of recurrence.  For these reasons they require the imposition of a sanction.  Furthermore, a sanction outcome of a caution order would not sufficiently protect the public.

34.  The Panel has carefully considered whether the issues identified can properly be dealt with by making a conditions of practice order.  The conclusion of the Panel is that such an order is not appropriate for the following reason.  The shortcomings are in areas so fundamental to safe and effective practice as a Social Worker, it would not be possible to frame conditions that would both offer a proper degree of protection and yet allow Ms Gould to work autonomously.

35.  It follows that the outcome must be the imposition of a suspension order.  This is not only the consequence of excluding all other possible sanction outcomes, but is, in the view of the Panel, the order that is required to offer a proper degree of public protection unless and until Ms Gould can demonstrate that she has remedied her shortcomings in the identified areas.  The required length of the suspension order is 12 months.

36.  Ms Gould should be aware that the suspension order made in her case today will, in common with all such orders, be reviewed before it expires.  When that review takes place the reviewing Panel will have available all the sanction powers that were available today.  That order to be made when that review takes place will, of course, be for the reviewing Panel, but the Panel today suggests that if Ms Gould wishes to return to practise as a Social Worker she should consider presenting to the future Panel evidence that she has successfully addressed the shortcomings identified today.

Order

The Registrar is directed to suspend the registration of Ms Carol Ann Gould for a period of 1 year.

Notes

An Interim Suspension Order was imposed to cover the 28 day appeal period.

Hearing history

History of Hearings for Carol Ann Gould

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
14/12/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Review Hearing Hearing has not yet been held
22/06/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Review Hearing Suspended
22/09/2016 Conduct and Competence Committee Review Hearing Suspended
22/09/2015 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Suspended