During the course of your employment as a Social Worker with Leeds City Council, you:
1. On the 17 September 2013 exceeded your authority and/or demonstrated poor practice and/or judgement, in that you:
a) gave advice to two midwives that Baby A needed to be moved to the neo-natal unit.
b)gave advice to a midwife that;
i) Service User A could have no contact with Baby A; and/or
ii) Service User A could not breastfeed Baby A.
2. Gave the advice set out in paragraph 1 without speaking to the Service Delivery Manager.
3. The matters set out in paragraphs 1 and 2 constitute misconduct and/or lack of competence.
4. By reason of your misconduct and/or lack of competence your fitness to practise is impaired.
1. Mr Good has neither attended this hearing nor been represented at it. The Panel is satisfied that the letter dated 9 July 2015 addressed to Mr Good at his HCPC Register address informing him of the date, time and place of the hearing constituted good service of the notice of hearing.
2. After the Panel stated that it was satisfied that there was good service of the notice of hearing, the Presenting Officer made an application that the hearing should proceed in the absence of Mr Good. In relation to this application the Panel made the following findings:
• Mr Good was informed of the hearing dates not only by the notice of hearing letter dated 9 July 2015 to which reference has already been made, but also by the content of that letter being sent as an email on the same day. Furthermore, in August 2015 he was sent a document entitled, “Response Proforma – Service of Papers”, and this document also referred to the present hearing dates.
• On 21 August 2015 Mr Good completed the response proforma document stating that he did not intend either to appear or to be represented at the hearing.
• Mr Good has not suggested that his absence from the hearing is because he has a difficulty in attending which would not apply on another occasion. Rather, his decision not to attend would appear to spring from his stated wish to be no longer registered as a Social Worker.
• Mr Good has not applied to adjourn this hearing.
• For the reasons just mentioned, the Panel has concluded that Mr Good has voluntarily absented himself from the hearing.
• The disadvantage arising from Mr Good’s absence is mitigated by the fact that the Panel has been provided with various accounts of his case in relation to the relevant matters.
• The relevant events occurred two years ago, and in the view of the Panel it is important that there should be an expeditious disposal of the case.
• Two witnesses who had travelled from Leeds were in attendance in readiness to give evidence.
The conclusion of the Panel was that these factors outweighed the absence of Mr Good, with the consequence that the hearing should proceed.
3. Following the announcement of the Panel’s decision that the hearing would proceed in the absence of Mr Good, the Presenting Officer applied to amend the allegations. The purpose of the amendments was to ensure that the particulars would better reflect the factual case the HCPC proposed to advance in relation to the content of two telephone calls Mr Good had with midwives. The Panel concluded that Mr Good would not be prejudiced by the proposed amendments, not least because he had been given notice of the HCPC’s intention to make the application by a letter dated 24 February 2015, and he had not made any objection. Accordingly, the Panel agreed to the HCPC’s application.
4. Two allegations are made by the HCPC against Mr Good. One is that his fitness to practise is impaired by reason of misconduct. The other is that his fitness to practise is impaired by lack of competence. The factual particulars contained in paragraph 1 of the allegation are advanced in relation to both allegations. For the Panel to decide if an allegation is well founded it is necessary for the following matters to be decided separately and sequentially:
• What facts have been proved by the HCPC against Mr Good.
• Whether the established facts amounted to misconduct or demonstrated a lack of competence.
• If a statutory ground is made out, whether it is currently impairing his fitness to practise.
In reaching the decision to be announced the Panel has followed this approach.
5. By the time of the events relevant to this case Mr Good was working as a Senior Social Worker. He had been employed as a Social Worker by Leeds City Council (“the local authority”) since 1982, and had been working in the Emergency Duty Team (“EDT”) since 2003. The EDT exists to provide an out of hours city wide emergency service for those requiring the assistance of social services. To be able to undertake EDT work a Social Worker is required to have reached a certain level of seniority and experience. All are Approved Mental Health Professionals and they are required to have a working knowledge of child protection issues.
6. Service User A was known to social services. Before the events being considered by the Panel, two children had been removed from her care, there was a history of domestic abuse, and there were concerns about her use of alcohol and cannabis, as well about the condition of her home. Knowing that she was pregnant, a pre-birth assessment had been undertaken by the allocated Social Worker. The outcome of that pre-birth process was that it had been decided that an application would be made for a care order to the appropriate court upon the birth of the baby, it not being possible to make such an application until the baby had been born. The allocated Social Worker had communicated to staff at the hospital where Service User A would give birth that there would be social services involvement upon the birth of the baby. It is relevant to note that these pre-birth processes had included consideration being given to the possibility that it might be necessary for the baby to be transferred to the neonatal unit as a result of medical complications resulting from Service User A’s lifestyle.
7. The HCPC’s case against Mr Good is based upon two telephone calls he received while he was working on EDT duty overnight on 17 September 2013. The calls were from two midwives. The first midwife telephoned before the birth of Baby A whilst Service User A was in labour. Her call was prompted by, and to enquire about, the notes that were available to her in the hospital. The second call was made by another midwife after the birth of Baby A, and took place some three hours after the first call had been made.
8. The HCPC contends that Mr Good offered the advice that is particularised in the allegations, and that in doing so he exceeded his authority and/or demonstrated poor practice and/or judgement. Those criticisms are advanced on the basis that, as Service User A had not consented to the removal of the baby, no court order had been made, and the Police were not exercising their powers of protection, there was no lawful authority for Mr Good to advise that Service User A should have no contact with her baby, and that included the prohibition of breast feeding. It is said that this proposition was one of basic child protection, and would certainly have been known by someone of Mr Good’s seniority and experience. Furthermore, it is alleged that there was an established protocol within the local authority, one understood by Mr Good, that advice of the sort given by him that evening should not have been given without prior discussion with a Service Delivery Manager (“SDM”).
Decision on facts
9. The HCPC called two witnesses who gave evidence before the Panel. One was RH, the Team Manager of the EDT and Mr Good’s line manager at the relevant time. The other was JS, a Service Delivery Manager, who undertook an investigation for the local authority into the matters with which the Panel is concerned. The Panel found both witnesses to have given reliable evidence and to have been credible.
10. Although Mr Good did not attend the hearing, the Panel was provided with a number of documents recording his account of the matter. They were:
• the record of an interview held on 19 November 2013 in the context of the local authority investigation;
• his response to allegations in advance of the local authority disciplinary hearing;
• a record of Mr Good’s responses during the disciplinary hearing itself;
• Mr Good’s written submissions dated 4 August 2015 prepared for the purposes of this hearing and sent under cover of a letter dated 21 August 2015.
The Panel has fully considered Mr Good’s responses in reaching its decisions.
11. In relation to the factual particulars 1(a) and 1(b)(i) & (ii), the Panel has been provided with a transcript of the two telephone calls that are relevant. Mr Good has not suggested that the transcript is inaccurate, and the Panel has concluded that it can be relied upon. To resolve the factual issues arising in these particulars it has been necessary for the Panel to decide if the conversation included words to the effect alleged, whether those words constituted “advice", and whether the criticism advanced by the stem to particular 1 is made out.
12. Mention has already been made in explaining the background to the fact that, in advance of the birth of Baby A, consideration had been given to the possibility that a transfer to the hospital neonatal unit might be required. However, these discussions had been based upon the fear that the baby would need medical intervention resulting from Service User A’s condition. It is clear from the content of the conversations between Mr Good and the midwives that the discussion on 17 September 2013 proceeded on the basis that the removal of Baby A to the neonatal unit was not being discussed because it was considered to be dictated by medical considerations, but rather as a means of achieving the aim of prohibiting contact between Service User A and her baby. The Panel is satisfied not only as to this context, but also, given the fact that it was the midwives who called EDT seeking clarification, that Mr Good did indeed advise both of them that Baby A needed to be moved to the neonatal unit. It follows that particular 1(a) is proven.
13. The Panel is equally satisfied that Mr Good was explicit in his conversation with the second midwife who telephoned him that Service User A was to have no contact with Baby A, and that there should be no breastfeeding. Both limbs of particular 1(b) are proven.
14. It has already been stated that the context of the discussion about removal to the neonatal department was that it was to achieve the end of preventing contact between mother and baby. The Panel finds that there was no lawful basis for a person in Mr Good’s position to advise any of the matters included in particular 1. In the judgement of the Panel it follows that the stem of particular 1 is satisfied. Mr Good exceeded his authority, demonstrated poor practice and poor judgement.
15. So far as particular 2 is concerned, the Panel is satisfied not only that the local authority protocol in force at the time required a person in Mr Good’s position to discuss with a SDM a matter such as that in issue, but also that Mr Good was well aware of that protocol. The Panel accepts the evidence of RH that there had been specific prior discussions between him and Mr Good about the need to contact a SDM. Furthermore, the Panel has seen EDT Team Meeting Minutes for 15 August 2012 and 12 December 2012 where the need for SDM referral was confirmed. Finally, in his written submissions to the Panel Mr Good has acknowledged that he should have contacted the Children’s Manager on call. Particular 2 is proven.
Decision on grounds
16. It is therefore necessary for the Panel to decide if the established facts represented misconduct or demonstrated a lack of competence on the part of Mr Good.
17. In the judgement of the Panel, the advice that there should be no contact between mother and baby where there was no lawful justification for that to be done, particularly in circumstances where the Social Worker giving that advice knows that to be the case, is a serious matter. The Panel finds that Mr Good was well aware that he was required to contact a SDM and that there was no justification for the advice he gave. His actions breached the following standards of the HCPC’s Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics, namely: 1 (“You must act in the best interests of service users”); 6 (“You must act within the limits of your knowledge, skills and experience and, if necessary, refer the matter to another practitioner”); 7 (“You must communicate properly and effectively with service users and other practitioners”) and 13 (“You must ….. make sure that your behaviour does not damage the public’s confidence in you or your profession”). The Panel does not refer to the HCPC’s Standards of Proficiency because it is satisfied that Mr Good had the ability to perform satisfactorily.
18. The Panel is satisfied that Mr Good did not lack competence. Rather, he failed to act in accordance with the competencies he had. In the judgement of the Panel the matter, although in effect a single incident, does cross the threshold so as to be properly categorised as misconduct.
Decision on impairment
19. The issue to be decided is not whether Mr Good’s fitness to practise was impaired at the time of the misconduct, but whether it is impaired at the present time. The Panel finds that Mr Good has demonstrated limited insight into his actions. He has, it is fair to acknowledge, accepted that he should have consulted a senior manager. He makes complaint of the disciplinary process and the manner in which his return to work after the incident was managed. He complains about the way in which the Children’s Department dealt with the case. He contends that as EDT was structured within Adult Social Care he did not have access to training available to members of the Children’s Team. However, the Panel does not accept that Mr Good required training to know that in circumstances where there is no court order and the Police have not acted, a Social Worker has no power to deny contact between mother and child. But in relation to the substance of the advice he gave he simply states that his actions in denying contact between mother and child were governed solely by what he felt was in the best interests of the child. He has not addressed the fundamental issue of whether there was power to do what he advised. There is an absence of recognition that, however frustrating a Social Worker might find it, actions must be confined to those that can be lawfully and properly undertaken. Added to the incomplete insight is an absence of evidence of remediation. The consequence is that the Panel finds that there is a risk of repetition. For this reason, upon consideration of the personal component, Mr Good’s fitness to practise is currently impaired.
20. Additionally, given the circumstances already described, the Panel is satisfied that a fair-minded and fully informed member of the public would have reservations about Mr Good’s professionalism. For that reason it is necessary to make a finding of current impairment of fitness to practise to satisfy the public component.
21. The finding that the misconduct is currently impairing Mr Good’s fitness to practise means that the Panel is required to consider the issue of sanction.
Decision on sanction
22. After announcing the decision that the misconduct allegation is well founded the Panel heard submissions by the Presenting Officer on sanction. He reminded the Panel of the proper purpose of a sanction and urged the Panel to have regard to the Indicative Sanctions Policy document. He identified as aggravating factors, Mr Good’s experience as a Social Worker, his knowledge of the powers that existed in relation to child protection and his knowledge of the need to contact the SDM. Further aggravating factors were that his actions unlawfully deprived Service User A contact with her baby and exposed his employer to the consequences of that fact. As mitigating factors he identified the length of Mr Good’s career as a Social Worker without previous regulatory findings having been made against him, as well as the present matter being an isolated incident.
23. The Panel has approached the issue of sanction on the basis that a sanction is not to be imposed to punish. Rather, a sanction is only to be imposed to the extent that it is required to protect the public and to maintain a proper degree of confidence in the registered profession and in this regulatory process. To ensure that these principles are applied, it is first necessary first to decide if the finding on the allegation requires the imposition of any sanction. If it does, then the available sanctions must be considered in an ascending order of seriousness until one is reached that satisfies the proper sanction aims just identified. The Panel confirms that it has applied this approach in reaching the decision to be announced.
24. The Panel has not overlooked the statement made by Mr Good in his letter 21 August 2015 that he no longer wished to maintain his registration as a Social Worker. Mr Good may be unaware of the fact that once a fitness to practise process commences, it is not possible for registration to lapse. Furthermore, the sanction outcome in any case must be determined by the circumstances as the Panel perceives them to be, and should not reflect the registrant’s statement of current intent.
25. In the Panel’s judgement this case is too serious to result in no sanction being imposed, and it also considers that the making of a caution order is not appropriate in view of Mr Good’s limited insight. However, the Panel is satisfied both that the breaches committed by Mr Good are capable of remediation and that he has the ability to successfully remediate them. That being so, the Panel considers that it would be disproportionate to prevent him from practising as a Social Worker.
26. The conclusion of the Panel is that a Conditions of Practice Order is the appropriate sanction. This will allow Mr Good to return to practise as a Social Worker if, on reflection, he considers that he would wish to do so. A Conditions of Practice Order is necessary to ensure that there can be confidence that any future work as a Social Worker is undertaken within acceptable boundaries. It is sufficient because the circumstances do not dictate that Mr Good should be prevented from practising. The Panel does not propose to repeat in this narrative conditions as they appear in the Order below. As Mr Good is not currently practising, and a reasonable period of assessment is required if he decides to return to practise, the Panel has determined that the appropriate length of this Order is 18 months.
27. In common with all Conditions of Practice Orders, the Order made in this case will be reviewed before it expires. In order that the reviewing Panel is able to undertake a thorough review, the present Panel has included conditions designed to ensure that, if Mr Good returns to practise, there will be independent information available about the way in which he is practising.
28. If, having reflected on the matter, Mr Good maintains his position that he does not wish to return to practise as a Social Worker, then the Panel suggests that he contacts the Case Manager with responsibility for his case to discuss the possibility of his name being removed from the HCPC Register under the Voluntary Removal Agreement procedure. This process is not one over which the Panel has power to direct; it merely suggests that it is explored if Mr Good does not wish to return to practise.
Order: The Registrar is directed to annotate the Register to show that, for a period of 18 months from the date that this Order comes into effect (“the Operative Date”), you, Trevor Good, must comply with the following conditions of practice:
(1) 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 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 registration).
(2) If you undertake any work for which your HCPC registration is required, you must promptly inform the HCPC of the identity of the body for which you are undertaking that work.
(3) Within 7 days of any return to practice as a Social Worker you must place yourself and remain under the supervision of a workplace supervisor (“the Supervisor”) and promptly supply details of the Supervisor to the HCPC. At the outset you must ensure that the Supervisor will be prepared to enable you to comply with the conditions that are imposed, in particular conditions (4), (5) and (6) below.
(4) You must ensure that you meet with the Supervisor not less frequently than monthly.
(5) Within 1 month of commencing any employment you must work with the Supervisor to prepare a Personal Development Plan to include:
a. your understanding of the legal powers of a Social Worker;
b. compliance with your employer’s policies and procedures.
(6) Not less than 21 days before the date of the review of this Order you must submit to the HCPC a report by the Supervisor dealing with your performance generally and the Personal Development Plan specifically.
(7) You must promptly inform the HCPC of any disciplinary proceedings taken against you by any employer.