Miss Sharmiane Claudette Drackett
During the course of your employment as a Social Worker at Coventry City Council, you:
1. Between around October 2010 and November 2013, did not consistently carry out and/or record statutory visits within the timescales in respect of:
(a) Service User 1;
(b) Service User 2;
(c) Service User 3;
(d) Service User 4;
(e) Service User 5;
2. Between around July 2012 and November 2013, did not consistently carry out and/or record initial assessments within required timescales in respect of:
(a) Service User 6;
(b) Service User 7;
3. Between around October 2012 and November 2013, did not consistently carry out and/or record core assessments within required timescales in respect of:
(a) Service User 4;
(b) Service User 7;
4. Sent work related emails from your personal email address on or around:
(a) 18 January 2013;
(b) 21 January 2013;
(c) 22 February 2013;
5. Sent confidential information by email to a council employee who works outside of the social work department on:
(a) 12 February 2013;
(b) 14 February 2013;
6. The matters set out in paragraphs 1-6 constitute misconduct and/or lack of competence.
7. By reason of your misconduct and/or lack of competence your fitness to practise is impaired.
Application to amend the Allegation:
1. Ms Acker on behalf of the HCPC applied to amend the particulars of the Allegation. The details of the amendments are set out in bold above. Ms Acker informed the Panel that the Registrant had been informed of the nature of the proposed amendments by a letter dated 27 January 2015. She submitted that the proposed amendments safeguarded the identity of the service users, more precisely reflected the evidence, provided for greater clarity as to what was alleged and caused no unfairness to the Registrant. Mr Elton stated that the Registrant did not object to the proposed amendments. The Panel concluded that the amendments could be made without unfairness to the Registrant. Accordingly the Panel allowed the HCPC to make the amendments.
2. On the application of Mr Elton, the Panel decided to consider the facts as an initial stage and then if appropriate to consider misconduct and impairment as a second stage. Subsequently Mr Elton indicated that he might submit that facts, statutory grounds and impairment should be treated as a single stage. In the event he made no such submission.
3. The particulars of the Allegation were read. The Registrant made admissions to particulars 4 and 5 of the Allegation. The Registrant made no other admissions. The Panel noted that whilst the admissions were relevant to its determination they were not conclusive as to the matters admitted.
Application to Hear Case in Private:
4. Mr Elton on behalf of the Registrant applied that such parts of the evidence and proceedings which relate to the health condition of the Registrant or otherwise should be regarded as confidential, should be received in private. Ms Acker on behalf of the Registrant did not oppose that application. Having taken the advice of the Legal Assessor the Panel determined that any material or submission that touched on the health condition of the Registrant should be received in private but that otherwise the hearing should be conducted in public. The Panel directed that counsel for the parties should submit when in their respective opinion the proceedings should be conducted in private and when the public hearing should be resumed. The Panel would then make the appropriate direction. In the event there were numerous occasions when evidence and submissions were heard in private.
5. In summary the relevant background is as follows;
• The Registrant commenced employment as a Grade 6 Social Worker with Coventry City Council (the Council) in September 1999. In December 2012 and following concerns raised during several audits into the quality of the work done by the Registrant, supervision of the Registrant was allocated to Witness 1.
• On 4 April 2013 Witness 2 was appointed investigation officer to investigate the matters that have led to the particulars set out in the Allegation.
• 0n 29 November 2013 a disciplinary hearing was convened. The Registrant was suspended in April 2013 and never returned to work with the Council.
Witnesses Called by the HCPC
6. The Panel heard the oral evidence of the following witnesses who were called by the HCPC. The panel also read their written statements;
• Witness 2 who has made a written statement dated 21 November 2014. At all material times Witness 2 was employed by the Council as the General Manager of the Adult Community Learning Disability team and conducted the investigation into the matters which have given rise to the Allegation in this case.
• Witness 1 who has made a written statement dated 20 November 2014. At all material times Witness 1 was employed by the Council as a Team Manager within the Children’s Disability Team. From December 2012 until March 2013 Witness 1 was the Registrant’s line manager. She has been acquainted with the Registrant since 2009 when she was appointed as Team Manager.
Documents as Initially Submitted by the HCPC
7. The Panel initially considered a bundle of exhibited documents comprising 496 pages which was produced by the HCPC. This bundle (Bundle 2) contained contemporaneous documents relevant to the allegations against the Registrant and documents which came into existence as part of the investigation including written material submitted by the Registrant and the minutes of the disciplinary hearing conducted on 29 November 2013 which was attended by the Registrant and at which she gave evidence. Subsequently and as a result of directions made by the Panel and referred to below a further bundle of documents comprising over 550 pages was produced by the HCPC.
Documents as initially submitted on behalf of the Registrant:
8. The Panel initially considered a bundle of documents submitted by the Registrant comprising 54 pages together with a written statement made by the Registrant and dated 01 June 2015. Subsequently and as identified below numerous further documents were submitted on behalf of the Registrant. These included documents that were produced on 12 April 2016 and documents produced on 13 April 2016.
Proceedings on 18 and 19 January 2016:
9. On 18 January 2016 the Panel heard oral evidence from Witness 2. Mr Elton did not conclude his cross examination and with the agreement of both Ms Acker and Mr Elton, the Panel determined that the cross examination of Witness 2 (who was not available to attend the hearing on either 19 or 20 January) should be conducted by phone on 20 January and that in the meantime the oral evidence of Witness 1 should be interposed.
10. Witness 1 gave oral evidence and was then subjected to cross examination by Mr Elton. During that cross examination it was suggested to Witness 1, as indeed it had been to Witness 2, that the records that had been produced by the HCPC in support of the particulars of the Allegation might be incomplete. In particular Mr Elton submitted that relevant records may be found on the H and G drives of the Council’s computer system and in particular on the “Protocol” system (which is the electronic case recording system used by the Council) (Protocol). Mr Elton also suggested in his cross examination that relevant information might have been misfiled and could be found in other headings on Protocol or on the G and H Drives or could have been deleted in a process of “rollback”. Reference to these suggestions could be found in the statement produced by the Registrant dated 01 June 2015 and to some of them in the minutes of the disciplinary hearing conducted on 29 November 2013. Witness 1 accepted that had the information been put into the wrong place she might not have seen it. She also said that she had not interrogated the H and G drives but that it might be possible to do so with technical support. She explained that she had focused on assessment and visit records within Protocol as required for the purposes of the Council’s investigation. It was her understanding that the Registrant had been afforded the opportunity to produce information from any source at the time of the disciplinary hearing.
11. The Panel was concerned with the justice of proceeding with the hearing until further enquiry as to whether any of the documents identified by Mr Elton could be identified, scrutinised and their contents ascertained. The Panel invited submissions from both Mr Elton and from Ms Acker as to whether such an investigation could and should take place. Both counsel submitted that such an investigation could and should take place and that the proceedings on 19 January 2016 should consequently be adjourned. The Panel received the submissions of both counsel as to what documents should be the subject of that further investigation.
The Panel also heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.
12. The Panel then gave directions in the following terms
“The Panel has determined that fairness and justice to both parties requires a further investigation of the facts and that the present hearing should be adjourned for that to take place. Accordingly and exercising its powers under Rule 10 (3) of the HCPC ‘Consolidated Practice Committee Procedure Rules’ the Panel directs that the hearing should be adjourned for the following purpose:
1) For the production of a complete case note report from Protocol for Service Users 1-7 (including any assessments) from the time when each service user was allocated to the Registrant until 30 November 2013
2) All entries made by the Registrant on Protocol regarding Service Users 1-7 from the date when they were allocated to the Registrant until 30 November 2013
3) Any documents created by the Registrant and by any named assistant of hers and uploaded onto the G or H drive between 01 October 2010 and 30 November 2013 regarding service users 1 - 7.
4) The Panel understands that the investigation is to be conducted by Witness 1 assisted by such technical or other professional officers as may be necessary. The Panel requires Witness 1 on completion of the investigation to submit a written statement detailing the investigation that has taken place, exhibiting all documents that have been discovered in the course of the investigation. If Witness 1 was unable to access any of the material identified above an explanation for that failure or inability is to be set out in the statement. The Panel refers Witness 1 and the Council to the HCPC Practice Note ‘Requiring the Production of Information and Documents and Summoning Witnesses’ dated January 2015 with regard to the disclosure of confidential information.”
13. Having concluded that the hearing was to be adjourned for the purpose of conducting the further investigation the Panel heard further evidence from Witness 1 as to the practicalities of what was being proposed and her responses were taken into account by the Panel when framing its direction as set out above.
14. The Panel further released Witness 1 from giving evidence on 20 January 2016. Witness 2 was also informed that he would not be required to give evidence on 20 January 2016. It was anticipated that both Witness 1 and Witness 2 would give further evidence at some later date.
15. The Panel then stated as follows;
1) “The Panel hopes that by 10:30am on 21 January 2016, it will receive a communication from Witness 1 (via the HCPC) as to when the investigation is likely to be completed. Subject to any such communication the Panel will decide whether to continue the hearing or whether it is necessary to adjourn. All communication with Witness 1, regarding the investigation, should be by email with the HCPC Case Manager or her Line Manager. This requirement is made simply because Witness 1 is presently giving evidence and the integrity of that process must be protected. Such a requirement in no way reflects any doubt as to the integrity of individuals involved and should not be interpreted in that way”.
Decision on adjournment made on 21 January 2016:
16. The Panel reconvened on the morning of Thursday 21 January 2016 to receive an update as to the current position. The Panel had seen email correspondence indicating that Witness 1 could carry out an examination in accordance with the Panel’s direction (given above). However, before being able to access the H Drive the written authority of the Registrant was required by the Council. The Panel expressed the hope that Ms Drackett would provide such authorisation. The Panel also noted that the process of redaction would take at least 2 weeks. Both Ms Acker and Mr Elton submitted that an adjournment was necessary. They agreed that an estimated timetable for the reconvened hearing should be no less than six days.
17. The Panel accepted these submissions. The Panel had regard to the Practice Note on Adjournments and Postponements published by the HCPC in September 2015 and the requirement to exercise its discretion judicially. The Panel concluded that in order for these proceedings to be fairly and properly conducted, the investigation already identified needed to take place and an adjournment was essential for that purpose. The Panel therefore decided to adjourn these proceedings to a future date. The Panel looked at the availability of Panel Members, the Registrant, the witnesses and Mr Elton and Ms Acker and directed that the hearing should be rescheduled for six days. The resumed hearing dates were to be 11-15 April 2016 with the additional sixth date on 25 April 2016.
18. The Panel directed that the two witnesses then giving evidence, namely Witness 1 and Witness 2 should attend in person. It was anticipated that Witness 1 would attend on the first day of the resumed hearing and Witness 2 on the second. The statement which was to be provided by Witness 1 in relation to her investigation, should be submitted, together with all documents that had been discovered in the course of the investigation, 21 days prior to the date of the resumed hearing.
19. Following submissions by Mr Elton and Ms Acker the Panel then amended the directions so as to substitute the date 30 November 2013 for 02 April 2013.
Panel’s Updated Directions:
20. The Panel’s directions then read as follows:
“For the production of a complete case note report from Protocol for service users 1-7 (including any assessments) from the time when each service user was allocated to the Registrant until 02 April 2013
All entries made by the Registrant on Protocol regarding Service Users 1-7 from the date when they were allocated to the Registrant until 02 April 2013.
Any documents created by the Registrant and by any named assistant of hers and uploaded onto the G or H drive between 01 October 2010 and 02 April 2013 regarding service users 1 - 7.”
21. The updated directions were to be communicated to the witness 1.
Proceedings on Monday 11 April 2016:
22. The hearing re-commenced on Monday 11 April 2106. Disclosure and the further statement from Witness 1 had not been provided in accordance with directions made on 21 January 2016. However late on Friday 08 April 2016 documents were made available in purported compliance with the directions made by the Panel on 21 January. The bundle of documents thus produced comprised 554 pages and were incorporated into the Disclosure Bundle (Bundle 8). These documents included documents from the H and G drives and those documents from Protocol which had not been included within the documents incorporated within the main HCPC bundle (Bundle 2). Mr Elton had not been able to take instructions from the Registrant with regard to documents in Bundle 8 until the morning of Monday 11 April 2016. Mr Elton applied for the hearing to be adjourned until later in the day, so as to allow him to consider and to take instructions on those documents. Subsequently and after having considered the papers further, Mr Elton applied for the hearing to be further adjourned until Tuesday 12 April, so as to allow him additional time to consider the papers and to take instructions. The Panel having considered the submissions of Ms Acker and having taken the advice of the Legal Assessor granted that application. The hearing was adjourned until Tuesday 12 April 2016.
23. Witness 1 had not prior to the hearing on 11 April 2016 produced the additional statement as previously directed. On 11 April she attended the hearing and signed and dated a further statement which was made available to the Panel and to the Registrant.
Proceedings on Tuesday 12 April 2016:
24. At the commencement of the hearing on 12 April 2016 Mr Elton applied to admit 3 statements which he submitted were relevant. Ms Acker opposed that application. The Panel heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Panel determined that in fairness to the Registrant the statements should be admitted even though some of the material was likely to be more relevant at a subsequent stage than at stage 1. However, the Panel was very conscious that the weight if any to be given to the statements was very much a matter for the Panel and that having regard to that consideration, no unfairness would be caused to the HCPC by the admission of these statements. In addition, on the application of Mr Elton and with the consent of Ms Acker the Panel agreed to receive two other documents namely an initial assessment dated 13 February 2013 with regard to Service User 11 and details of the Registrant’s sickness record for the period commencing 5 May 2011 ending 31 January 2014. All of these documents were incorporated into Bundle 10.
The evidence of Witness 2:
25. The hearing then re-commenced and Witness 2 attended the hearing and gave further evidence. He responded to questions from Mr Elton (further cross examination), from Ms Acker, and from Panel Members. He adhered to the contents of his written statement dated 21 November 2014 and to the oral evidence that he had given to the Panel at the start of the proceedings. In summary his evidence (both oral and written) included the following;
• He gave a summary of what was required by way of “statutory visits”, “initial assessments” and core assessments”; his explanation dealt both with content and frequency of those actions.
• He described the nature of the investigation that he had undertaken.
• He described the interview that he had conducted with the Registrant on 25 June 2013 and he produced as an exhibit the minutes of that interview.
• In respect of each of the allegations which the Registrant faces, he explained why he had come to the conclusions that are reflected in those allegations.
• In the course of his cross examination by Mr Elton, he initially stated that some of the records describing a “home visit" could be viewed as describing a “statutory visit”. However he subsequently stated that when making those statements he did not have in mind, the requirement that the child should be seen alone. He made it clear that his considered opinion was, that a record of a “home visit”, that did not make clear that the service user had been seen alone, could not be identified as a record of a “statutory visit”.
• In response to questions from Mr Elton he acknowledged that there were documents comprised within Bundle 8 that had been shown to him in cross examination that he had not seen prior to making his written statement.
• He stated that his function was to check the timescales within which the assessments had been undertaken. He did not consider it his function to review the quality of those assessments.
• He stated that in his opinion any record of a visit by a social worker should be on Protocol and that it should not be necessary to go elsewhere within the electronic records.
• He stressed that at the interview that he had with the Registrant on 23 June 2013, he had asked her whether the records of visits could be found elsewhere -ie other than on Protocol - but she was unable to identify any other place where the relevant record could be found.
• He said that he did not get the impression that the Registrant’s relationship with Witness 1 was unduly strained. However he did get the impression that Witness 1 was “saddened” at the outcome of that relationship.
• With regard to the use by the Registrant of her insecure personal email to transmit information regarding service users, he regarded that as a “misdemeanour” but not a serious one. He said that it was one that could potentially have been dealt with in a supervision meeting. It would only be treated as serious if “repetitive”.
• He did recall any discussion with Sue Whitmore regarding “notebooks”.
26. The cross examination of Witness 2 was not completed on 12 April and was adjourned until Friday 15 April when it was agreed by both Mr Elton and Ms Acker that his evidence should be conducted on the telephone. Having taken the advice of the Legal Assessor, the Panel directed that having taken account of the need to resolve this matter as expeditiously as could fairly be done and having concluded that no injustice would be occasioned by taking Witness 2’s evidence by telephone, that is what should be done.
27. The Panel regarded the evidence given by Witness 2 as being credible and fair. When he did not possess relevant information he made that clear to the Panel. His evidence was confined to those areas where he had expertise, knowledge and experience. In the opinion of the Panel Witness 2 was a credible witness who was clearly seeking to assist the Panel.
Further documents produced by the Registrant (Bundle11):
28. On 13 April 2016 and on the application of Mr Elton a further small bundle of documents was admitted (Bundle 11). Bundle 11 comprised three signed letters or references which Mr Elton submitted were relevant to the quality of the Registrant’s work. In view of the Panel’s previous decision with regard to the admission of Bundle 10, Ms Acker did not oppose the admission of Bundle 11. The Panel agreed to Mr Elton’s application for the same reasons as were given for the admission of additional documents comprised in Bundle 10.
The evidence of Witness 1:
29. Witness 1 then gave further evidence and responded to questions from Mr Elton (further cross examination), from Ms Acker and from Panel Members. She “adopted” as part of her evidence to the Panel the contents of her written statement dated 11 April 2016. In summary her evidence included the following;
• that both the H-drive and the G-drive had been found.
• That the H-drive consisted mainly of letters and timesheets but did not contain any additional recording of “home visits”.
• That the G-drive contained some letters and “short break” approval forms but no additional assessments or case file recording.
• That the Council had stopped using paper records for visits in 2010 when the electronic system came into force.
• That all visits should be recorded on Protocol and that if information is not on Protocol or on the H or G drives (“as Sharmiane Drackett has suggested”) then she “was at a loss as to know where else they could be”.
• She stated that as far as she was aware all the relevant records had now been produced to the Panel and that she was unaware of any further evidential material that could assist the Panel.
• That on being shown references in the documents to “home visits” having been made by the Registrant to service users, she explained that unless there was a clear reference to the child service user having been seen alone by a social worker, the visit could not be identified as a “statutory visit”.
• That in explanation as to why references to phone calls and other activities that were to be found in bundle 8, had not been included in the original HCPC bundle (Bundle 2), she explained that she had been originally asked to identify “visits” and had searched Protocol on that basis and having done so, the search had produced the records incorporated in Bundle 2.
• She said that the fact that direct payments were made to Service Users did not inevitably mean that “statutory visits” had been carried out by a social worker. She said that once direct payments had been started they were very difficult to stop.
• She said that “statutory visits” were not a necessary pre-condition to “short breaks”.
• She explained that an independent reviewing officer was essentially concerned with the integrity of the plans arranged for the benefit of the relevant Service User rather than with the quality of the work done by the social worker concerned.
• She agreed with the proposition that if the home conditions of a service user were stable, as was the case with service user 1, statutory visits could, with the consent of the responsible social worker’s line manager, be conducted at intervals of 8 weeks.
• She stated that the Registrant’s disability was not a reason for relaxing the required timescales but might justify a reduction in the caseload or the provision of additional support. In her opinion the caseload carried by the Registrant was not unreasonable or excessive and appropriate support had been provided.
• She accepted that if a social worker was off sick, she could not be criticised for failing to complete the documentation or the relevant activity within the required timescale. However the line manager should be informed of the situation by the social worker concerned.
• She did not agree that the Registrant had carried out the required visits or recorded them in the required timescales and she adhered to all the conclusions that are expressed in her original written statement and which are reflected in the allegations which the Registrant now faces. In particular and in respect of all the Service Users referred to in paragraph 1 of the allegations, she said that as far as she could see from the documentation that she had seen, the Registrant had neither carried out, not recorded the statutory visits within the required timescales.
• In respect of the relationship between an Initial Assessment and a Core Assessment, she said that the initial assessment had to be completed before the period for completing the Core Assessment (35 working days) commenced.
• She stressed the importance of a social worker recording a full history and chronology in respect of any service user for whom that social worker was responsible; that the absence of any such documentation, or any serious deficiency in it, could give rise to serious safeguarding issues and risk to the Service User concerned.
• She stressed that it was the personal responsibility of the social worker, even if supported by a personal assistant, to ensure that the required information was recorded in proper detail and within the required timescales; that this obligation could not be delegated by the social worker to for example a personal assistant.
• She was unable to give any clear interpretation as to the nature or significance of the initial assessment dated 12 December 2012 made in respect of Service User 7. This document was shown to her by Mr Elton (Document 12). She expressed the opinion that it may have been a draft presented by the Registrant and sent back for amendment.
• She did not accept that the absence of overt criticism of the Registrant by her line managers in the various supervision documents put to her by Mr Elton, implied that the Registrant had been carrying out her duties in a full and proper manner.
• She was not aware of any “roll back” in Protocol that could have resulted in the deletion of appropriate and relevant records previously made by the Registrant. She said that her understanding was that where “roll back” took place measures should be undertaken to safeguard relevant information.
• She said that there was nothing to indicate that the H-drive had been tampered with. She said that during the investigation she herself had not edited any record made by the Registrant.
30. The cross examination of Witness 1 was not completed on 13 April and it was adjourned to be continued by telephone on 14 April. Ms Acker on behalf of the HCPC had applied for the cross examination to be conducted by telephone. Mr Elton did not oppose that application and the Panel having taken the advice of the Legal Assessor and for the same reasons as were given in relation to taking the evidence of Witness 2 by telephone, directed that the further evidence of Witness 1 should be received by telephone. This she did on the afternoon of Thursday 14 April and the substance of her evidence is incorporated in the summary set out above in paragraph 30. Her evidence was concluded late in the afternoon of 14 April 2016.
31. The Panel considered Witness 1 to be a credible witness. Her evidence was consistent, displayed no animosity to the Registrant and was of great assistance to the Panel.
Further Evidence from Witness 2 on April 2016:
32. Witness 2’s cross examination was resumed on 15 April 2016 by way of the telephone. It concluded late in the afternoon of 15 April 2016. The more significant parts of the evidence that he gave are incorporated in the summary that appears in paragraph 29 above.
Half-Time Submissions by Mr Elton Made on 15 April 2016:
33. At the conclusion of the evidence of Witness 2, Ms Acker formally closed the case for the HCPC. Mr Elton then made a submission that in respect of the allegation set out in particular 3 (b) relating to Service User 7, there was “no case” to answer. In making this submission he noted in particular the evidence of Witness 1 which was to the effect that the period for completing the core assessment did not commence until after the completion of the initial assessment. He noted further that the evidence heard by the Panel was to the effect that a social worker had 35 working days in which to complete a core assessment. He also noted that the evidence comprised in Bundle 10 showed that the Registrant was off work, due to illness, from 21 January 2013 to 03 February 2013 (returning to work on Monday 04 February 2013) and that she was off work again, also due to illness, from 26 March 2013 and did not return to work until April 2013 when she was suspended.
34. In summary Mr Elton’s arguments in support of his Half-Time Submission, included the following;
• That as the evidence had shown that the initial assessment had never been completed, the period for commencing and completing the core assessment had never been triggered.
• In any event and having regard to the date of 26 March 2013, when the evidence showed that the Registrant had gone off work due to illness and was then unable to complete the core assessment, the HCPC was unable to establish that the Registrant had been instructed to commence the core assessment. He gave various possible dates when that instruction may have been given which would have provided for 35 working days between the giving of the instruction and the 26 March 2013, when due to illness she went off work and could not complete the core assessment. He also suggested that there was some evidence to the effect that at some time in March 2013 the case had been allocated to another social worker.
35. Ms Acker responded to the submissions of Mr Elton. In summary her arguments included the following;
• That the Registrant had produced what was represented as being her completed initial assessment in respect of Service User 7. This was Document 12.
• That on 29 January 2013 or very shortly thereafter and in any event on or around 04 February 2013, the Registrant was or should have been aware of the requirement that she should undertake a core assessment in respect of Service User 7. In support of this submission Ms Acker relied on the minutes of the meeting held on 29 January 2013. Under the heading “actions” the following appears “Social Care to do core assessment”. Ms Acker relied on the oral evidence of Witness 1 which was to the effect that the Registrant by checking her electronic mail box, would or ought to have been aware of this instruction (as the allocated social worker for Service User 7); accordingly she had not completed the core assessment within 35 working days of receiving the instruction to do so.
• The Panel heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.
Decision on the ‘Half-Time Submissions’ Delivered on 25 April 2016:
37. On 25 April 2016, the hearing was resumed in order to determine Mr Elton’s Half-Time Submission. The Panel noted that the Registrant had denied the contents of particular 2(b) of the allegation. However and for the purposes of considering the submission made by Mr Elton, the Panel placed no weight on this denial. In particular the Panel did not treat the denial as an implied admission that the Registrant had completed the initial assessment.
38. The Panel had regard to the Practice note issued by the HCPC in March 2013 and entitled ‘Half -Time Submissions’. The Panel also had regard to the guidance as set out in R v Galbraith (1981) 1 WLR 1039.
39. The Panel kept in mind that at the substantive stage and when determining the facts, the burden of proof rests on the HCPC and that the standard of proof is the civil one, namely on the balance of probabilities. The Panel is aware that at this stage of the proceedings, its sole function is to determine whether there is a prima facie case to support the allegation, that is to say whether the HCPC has presented any or any sufficient evidence to support the allegation that is set out in particular 3 (b) of the allegation. At this stage it is not for the Panel to resolve disputed matters of fact. The Panel has also considered whether the evidence adduced by the HCPC should be regarded as so unsatisfactory in nature, that the Panel could not properly find particular 3 (b) of the allegation proved.
40. The Panel has determined to reject Mr Elton’s Half-Time Submission. It holds that there is a case for the Registrant to answer in respect of particular 3 (b) of the allegation. Its reasons are as follows:
• Two versions of an initial assessment in respect of Service User 7 were produced in evidence. Both were dated 02 January 2013. One was submitted by the Registrant (Document 12) and contained on page 3 the following statement, “Initial assessment completed – 02 January 2013” and on the same page states, “Name of the social worker completing assessment, Sharmiane Drackett. This was not signed by a manager and recommended referral to “other agency”. The other (Document 8), submitted by the HCPC, was approved by a manager and included a recommendation for a core assessment. In the opinion of the Panel this is prima facie evidence that the initial assessment may have been completed on 02 January 2013 and accordingly the period for commencing and completing the core assessment may have been triggered.
• The Panel accepted the submissions of Ms Acker, that there was prima facie evidence from Witness 1, that on or about 29 January 2013, or at the latest, on 04 February 2013, the Registrant had received instructions to commence the core assessment and was the allocated social worker until she went off work due to illness on 26 March 2013.
• It was common ground as between the parties, that the core assessment had not been completed by the Registrant by the time that she went off work due to ill health on 26 March 2013 or indeed at any time thereafter.
41. Accordingly, there was prima facie evidence to support particular 3(b) of the allegation.
Adjournment to the two weeks commencing 17 October 2016 and 31 October 2016:
42. At the conclusion of the hearing on 15 April 2016 the case was adjourned and was fixed for the week commencing 17 October 2016 and the week commencing 31 October 2016. Two weeks was the best assessment made by the parties, of the length of time that the case would last in order to complete all the stages that might be relevant.
The Evidence of the Registrant:
43. On 1, 18 and 19 October 2016 the Registrant gave oral evidence and responded to questions from Mr Elton, Ms Acker, from Panel Members and from the Legal Assessor. In the course of that evidence she “adopted” as part of her evidence to the Panel the written statement dated 01 June 2015. (“her statement”). In summary her evidence as set out in her statement and in evidence in chief was as follows;
• That she was surprised “not to say alarmed that there are not more entries from me showing up on Protocol”.
• She explained her disability and the impact it had on her ability to work as a social worker. As a result she required considerable support including the provision of computer aided equipment and a personal assistant. She further described how in June 2012 her personal assistant was withdrawn and not replaced. She said that much of the equipment with which she was provided was either wholly or partially ineffective. All of these factors coupled with the very heavy caseload which she was carrying made it extremely difficult for her to perform her duties in the way in which she would have wished.
• She said that her record keeping was not as deficient as is alleged by the HCPC “because otherwise this would have been reflected in my monthly supervision reports and likewise it would have been documented in CF15s” (management oversight comments and directions). She asserted many times that had she failed to carry out statutory visits within the required timescales as alleged by the HCPC or had she failed to record them appropriately, those failings would have been identified by her line managers and brought to her attention. She asserted that her managers had not done so.
• She asserted that she had made many more records than had been found on Protocol and suggested that they might have gone missing in a variety of ways. In that context she suggested that records that she had made on Protocol and which she had not “secured” (that is made unchangeable) might have been destroyed, altered or otherwise tampered with, without her knowledge or authority. She did not know the identity the persons who she alleged might have done this.
• She said that “the Council’s computer network had a number of different drives. Two of these were the G Drive and the H Drive”. The Registrant had previously suggested that additional records might be found on the G-drive and/ or the H-drive (see Directions made by the Panel on 21 January 2016). She also suggested that records of visits could have been contained in notebooks that were used by her when carrying out home or statutory visits for subsequent inclusion on Protocol. She further said that whilst working at home she had used her own laptop to make records for subsequent entry onto Protocol. In explanation as to why she had not produced any such records either at the hearing or on any previous occasion, she said that she had been advised by Witness 2 that they would not carry any evidential weight.
• She gave a detailed account of the reasons why she denied all the particulars that are comprised within allegation 1. Those reasons are set out at length in the “Registrant’s statement” and were amplified in her oral testimony to the Panel. In both her written statement and in her oral evidence the Registrant explained her position with regard to each of the service users referred to in the particulars of the allegation. In substance she said in relation to this allegation, that she had carried out all the statutory visits in the required timescale and further that she had recorded them in a timely fashion, though not always within 48 hours. She explained that had she not done so, many of the actions to which she referred in her statement could not have occurred. Thus and for illustration only; in the case of Service User I she said that direct payments would not have been paid had she not carried out and recorded the required statutory visits; in relation to Service User 4 the “working agreement” to which she referred in her statement could not have been put in place had she not carried out and recorded the appropriate statutory visits; in relation to Service User 5 she said that the fact of direct payments and the existence of a “Short Break Request Form” was evidence that she had carried out and recorded the required statutory visits. She also pointed to and relied upon witness statements that had been obtained on her behalf from family members of the relevant service users. These spoke of visits to the service users having been conducted by her and of the good relationships that existed between herself, the service users and their families. She also identified documents which in her judgment supported her contention that she had appropriately carried out and recorded the relevant statutory visits.
• She gave a detailed account of the reasons why she denied all the particulars that are comprised within allegation 2. Those reasons are set out at length in the “Registrant’s statement” and were amplified in her oral testimony to the Panel. In both her written statement and in her oral evidence the Registrant explained her position with regard to both service users referred to in the particulars of the allegation. In relation to Service User 6 she admitted that the initial assessment was done “late and as a consequence also recorded on Protocol late”. Both in her statement and in her oral evidence the Registrant attributed this to difficulties that she had encountered in making contact with the family of the service user and the problems that she encountered as a consequence of the removal of the support that had been previously afforded to her and the volume of her case work. With regard to Service User 7 she said that the initial assessment was carried out and recorded within the appropriate timescale.
• She gave a detailed account of the reasons why she denied all the particulars that are comprised within allegation 3. Those reasons are set out at length in the “Registrant’s statement” and were amplified in her oral testimony to the Panel. In both her written statement and in her oral evidence the Registrant explained her position with regard to both service users referred to in the particulars of the allegation. With regard to Service User 4 she said that she did not complete the core assessment because she was under the impression that what she was required to complete was a “closure document”. She also explained that in the case of this Service User a core assessment could not be completed as further information from the police was still outstanding. In relation to Service User 7 she said that she did not recall being asked to complete a core assessment. With regard to the HCPC assertion that she must have known of the requirement to complete the Core Assessment on or about 3 March 2013: she denied that she became aware of the requirement on or about that date. She further said that in the event that she had become aware of the requirement on or about 3 March 2013 there was insufficient time for her to complete the Core Assessment before she was suspended on 26 March 2013. (In the Registrant’s written statement she said she was suspended on 26 March 2013 but the Panel is aware that there is other evidence that in fact she went sick on 26 March 2013, was suspended in April 2013 and had not worked between 26 March and the date of her suspension.)
• She admitted the allegations that are comprised within allegations 4 and 5.
• Throughout her evidence the Registrant spoke of the good relationship that she had with Rachel Hogg, her previous line manager. However she said that her relationship with Witness 1 was much less good. She spoke of Witness 1 being unsympathetic to her and to her difficulties, to Witness 1 “slapping her down” and to not providing relevant support.
44. Throughout her evidence — both oral and written — the Registrant denied the allegations that are comprised within allegations 1-3. However there were many inconsistencies in the explanations that she advanced. An example of this was her evidence that, on the one hand she experienced great difficulties in inputting material but on the other hand, she had entered much more material in the case file notes but had not “secured” (finalized or made unchangeable) those entries or they had been tampered with by others. The Panel noted that in giving her evidence the Registrant was often emotional and seemed to have difficulty answering questions. She frequently responded to questions on fact by saying “I may have done this” or “I would have done that” rather than stating what she had in fact done. In the course of her evidence and in particular in response to questions, the Registrant on occasion qualified or departed from the evidence which was set out in her written statement. Her recollection also varied during the course of her evidence. The Panel noted those changes and took account of them where it thought appropriate. The Panel’s overall judgement was that the Registrant was not a wholly credible witness and her evidence had to be considered with a degree of caution. The Panel did however conclude that the Registrant established a good relationship with the service users for whom she was responsible and with their families and genuinely cared for their interests.
Decision on the Facts:
45. In respect of each of the allegations the Panel has heard and considered all the evidence, both oral and documentary. The Panel had the advantage of reading the transcripts of what had occurred in these proceedings prior to 17 October 2016. When considering the facts, the Panel had well in mind all the many matters raised in the very extensive cross examination conducted by Mr Elton and the answers that he had received from Witness 2 and from Witness 1. The Panel also kept well in mind the oral evidence given by the Registrant together with the contents of the interview with the Registrant conducted on 25 June 2013 by Witness 2, and the contents of her written statement dated 01 June 2015.
46. The Panel has heard and considered the submissions of Ms Acker on behalf of the HCPC and the submissions of Mr Elton on behalf of the Registrant. The Panel was also assisted by 2 very comprehensive documents submitted by each counsel in which the evidence and the documents relied on in support of their respective submissions were comprehensively identified and summarised. The Panel was very grateful to both counsel for this assistance.
47. The Panel has heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.
48. The Panel is aware that as regards facts (as distinct from the statutory grounds and impairment) the burden of proof rests on the HCPC and that the standard of proof is the civil one, namely on the balance of probabilities. These principles were of particular importance in this case in that an important part of the Registrant’s case was that the Panel should infer that she had performed that which she was obliged to perform from facts which she had identified in the course of her evidence. The Panel was very well aware and at all times kept in mind that the burden of proof was on the HCPC and that the Registrant did not have to prove anything.
49. The Panel was aware that the allegations comprised in paragraphs 1-3 were expressed both concurrently and alternatively (“and/or”) and was conscious of the need to identify the basis on which they made their conclusions.
50. With regard to the meaning of a statutory visit and the frequency at which such a visit should be held and the requirements regarding the recording of such visits, the Panel accepted the evidence of Witness 1 as set out in her written statement which in summary was as follows;
“Statutory Visits are visits made to the children by a Social Worker that have statutory requirements under section 17 of the Children Act 1989…It is good practice to conduct Statutory Visits at least every four weeks with no more than six weeks between visits. The frequency of the visits may alter depending on the circumstances of the case, which will be discussed between the social worker and their line manager during monthly supervision sessions. The statutory requirements for the visit are listed at point 2 of the guidance” (entitled “Home Visits to Children in Need and Children with a Child Protection Plan”) and include; the child must be seen alone; the wishes and feelings of the child needs to be sought; observation should be completed in the family home; and the child’s bedroom should be checked. The sleeping arrangements of the child need to be seen at least every eight weeks”.
With regard to the recording of statutory visits Witness 1 stated in her written statement as follows;
“A written report of each visit should be made by the social worker within 48 hours of the visit being made and placed on the child’s file, on Protocol.
The details included on the recording should include the following:
• who has been seen;
• whether the child was seen and if not, why not;
• whether the child was seen alone and if not, why not;
• the child’s wishes and feelings should be clearly recorded;
• the parent/carer’s views and comments; and
• any matters of concern or difficulty.”
52. The evidence set out above in paragraph 51 was supported and amplified by the oral evidence of Witness 1 and by the evidence of Witness 2 all of which the Panel accepted.
53. With regard to the meaning of an initial assessment and the frequency at which such a visit should be held and the requirements regarding the recording of such visits, the Panel accepted the evidence of Witness 1 as set out in her written statement which in summary was as follows;
“An initial assessment is conducted within ten working days of the referral being received and the case being allocated to a Social Worker …The purpose of the Initial Assessment is to look at the child’s needs, the nature of the intervention required and the timescales within which the intervention should occur and also if a Core Assessment should be carried out … assess the developmental needs of the child and who is meeting them; lateral checks with the agencies involved with the child, seeing and speaking with the child/parents and relevant party; and drawing together and analysing the information. An Initial Assessment would again be required if the original assessment was not of good standard … The Initial assessment will include interviews with the children and family and liaising with other agencies involved with the child and family”.
54. The evidence set out in paragraph 53 above was supported and amplified by the oral evidence of Witness 1 and by the evidence of Witness 2, all of which the Panel accepted.
55. With regard to the meaning of a core assessment and the frequency at which such a visit should be held and the requirements regarding the recording of such visits, the Panel accepted the evidence of Witness 1 which was set out in her written statement and in summary was as follows;
“A Core Assessment is a more in depth assessment than the Initial Assessment in that it looks at the child’s needs and the ability of the parents/carers to respond to those needs. A Core Assessment will be carried out if the child becomes Looked After, if there are any safeguarding-concerns or if the child has a complex disability.The assessment should be carried out within 35 working days of the decision to commence a Core Assessment. The guidance around the completion of Core Assessments is found in the guidance issued in “Working Together to Safeguard Children” and guidance issued within the “Framework for the assessment of Children in Need and their families”….. All assessments should be recorded on Protocol as this is the child’s case file. A Core Assessment provides an in-depth analysis of the families’ situation and will inform decision making and planning around the child. A Section 47 enquiry will be an immediate trigger for a Core Assessment. All records and assessments should be recorded on Protocol”.
56. The evidence set out in paragraph 55 above was supported and amplified by the oral evidence of Witness 1 and by the evidence of Witness 2, all of which the Panel accepted, together with the evidence by Witness 1, given in cross examination, that the 35 day period for the completion of the Core Assessment did not commence until after the completion of the Initial Assessment.
Stem of the Allegation:
During the course of your employment as a Social worker at Coventry City Council you;
1. Between around October 2010 and November did not consistently carry out and / or record statutory visits within time scales in respect of;
(a) Service User 1
This allegation was found proved.
57. The Panel has found this allegation proved in both the respects that are alleged. Its reasons are as follows;
• Service User 1 was a school-age Child in Need. There was no Child Protection Plan in place. The family of Service User 1 was in receipt of direct payments. Both Witness 1 and the Registrant described the position of the family as being “stable”. Service User 1 was allocated to the Registrant on 11 May 2010. The Panel accepted the oral and written evidence of Witness 1 that there were substantial gaps between the visits carried out by the Registrant and that they were not done within the required statutory timescales. The Panel considered that this oral and written evidence was supported by the case note reports relating to Service User 1 which the Panel has seen including those labelled as “Home Visits”. The Panel concluded that no statutory visits were made during 2011. There was no evidence of management approval to extend the period between visits. The Panel saw the supervisory note dated 23 February 2011 which stated “visit made last week”. However the Panel also noted that there was no further record of that visit and the Panel concluded on the balance of probabilities that it was not a statutory visit. The Panel considered that the fact of the family receiving direct payments was not evidence of the Registrant having made the required statutory visits.
(b) Service User 2
This allegation was found proved.
58. The Panel found this allegation proved in both the respects alleged. Its reasons are as follows;
• Service User 2 was a school age Child in Need with severe and complex needs. Service User 2 was “non-verbal” and was in receipt of respite care in the form of “short breaks”. Service User 2 did not have a Child Protection Plan and was allocated to the Registrant on 21 August 2012. The Panel accepted the oral and written evidence of Witness 1 that there were no recorded visits between 21 August 2012 and 17 December 2012 and that the Registrant was therefore in breach of the statutory timescales. This evidence is corroborated by the case notes for Service User 2. The Panel did however note the entry in a CF15 management oversight report dated 23 October 2012 “Visit made to the family. Service user 2 would not come downstairs”. The Panel has not seen any further record relating to that visit but it noted the oral evidence of Witness 2 that this may have been a statutory visit. However the Panel has concluded that because Service User 2 was not seen and Service User 2’s bedroom was not seen during the visit, the visit did not meet the requirements of a statutory visit. The Panel did note a case note recording a statutory visit on 17 December 2012 when Service User 2 was seen. The Panel accepted the oral evidence of Witness 1 that a statutory visit took place on 06 March 2013 and there was a case note to support this. This is the last recorded visit. The Panel did not accept the contention that the provision of “short breaks’ was evidence of the making and recording of statutory visits.
(c) Service User 3
This allegation was found proved.
59. The Panel found this allegation proved in both the respects alleged. Its reasons are as follows;
• Service User 3 was a Child in Need of school age and came from a large family which was in need of considerable support. Service User 3 did not have a Child Protection Plan. Service User 3 was allocated to the Registrant on 12 October 2010. The Panel accepted the written evidence of Witness 2 that 29 statutory visits should have been made between October 2010 and April 2013 when the Registrant was suspended. The Panel’s scrutiny of the records has identified 8 statutory visits during the relevant period and the Panel has accepted the oral and written evidence of both Witness 1 and Witness 2 that there were substantial gaps between visits and that the visits were not made in accordance with the statutory timescales. The Panel noted an entry in a supervision note dated 19 September 2012 which refers to a “home visit made yesterday”. No further record has been seen of that visit and on the balance of probabilities the Panel concluded that it was not a statutory visit notwithstanding the oral evidence of Witness 2 that this visit could have been a statutory visit.
(d) Service User 4
This allegation was found proved.
60. The Panel found this allegation proved in both the respects alleged. Its reasons are as follows;
• Service User 4 was a young person with complex needs in Further Education. Service User 4 was not looked after or subject to a Child Protection Plan. Preparations were being made for Service User 4 to move from children’s services to adult services. Service User 4 was allocated to the Registrant on 17 September 2012. The Panel accepts the written and oral evidence of both Witness 1 and of Witness 2 that there were substantial gaps between the visits carried out by the Registrant and that they were not done in accordance with the statutory timescales. The case notes refer to a home visit on 10 October 2012 but there is no indication that Service User 4 was seen on that occasion. A Supervision Note dated 13 February 2013 states “only one home visit since allocation”. It is unclear whether at this point the Registrant has in fact met Service User 4. The Panel accepts the written evidence of Witness 1 and of Witness 2 that there should have been 6 statutory visits made and recorded between the date of allocation of the case to the Registrant and the date of her suspension. There is a record of a statutory visit being made on 07 March 2013 and of a further home visit being made on 12 March 2013 which the Panel accepts fulfils the requirements of a statutory visit.
(e) Service user 5
This allegation was found proved.
61. The Panel found this allegation proved in both the respects alleged. Its reasons are as follows;
• Service User 5 was a Child in Need with severe and complex needs and was non-verbal. The family was in receipt of direct payments. Service User 5 was allocated to the Registrant on 09 December 2009. The Panel accepts the written and oral evidence of Witness 1 that the first record of an introductory home visit recorded on Protocol was on 26 August 2010 and that the visit should have been carried out as soon as possible after allocation and anyway within a four week time scale. The Panel accepts that there was a period of nine months where no social work visit was made to Service User 5 and family. The Panel noted the entry in a supervision note dated 11 May 2010 that the Registrant had met Service User 5 at school. A supervision note dated 14 October 2010 notes that the Registrant “visited last week to discuss direct payments”. Neither of the aforementioned visits are recorded on Protocol. A home visit scheduled for 01 December 2010 was cancelled “due to an issue on another case”. The Panel accepts the evidence of Witness 2 in his written statement, as corrected in his oral evidence that there should have been eight visits during the period October 2010 and April 2013 when the Registrant was suspended.
• The Registrant saw Service User 5 in a respite placement on 25 August 2011. The next recorded visit to the family home was on 11 January 2012 but on that occasion Service User 5 was at school, although the Registrant describes seeing Service User 5’s bedroom. The Panel noted an entry in a supervision note dated 15 March 2012 “check that last visit to respite is on system as a statutory visit”. However, the Panel has not been able to find any other reference to this visit. A visit to the family home was made on 05 July 2012 when Service User 5 was unwell and it is not clear from the Registrant’s file note whether or not Service User 5 was seen. The Registrant was clear in her file note of the next home visit on 19 July 2012 that she did not see Service User 5 because “she was unwell and was in her room”. The Registrant has recorded a home visit on 10 January 2013 when Service User 5 was seen and the Panel accepts that this was a statutory visit. However, the Panel also notes a supervision record on 13 February 2013 by Witness 1 stating “home visits sporadic. Only visits recorded are in July and January… parents are understandably anxious about Service User 5’s transition and yet there seems no social work solutions or efforts to address this anxiety”. A final statutory visit was made on the 04 March 2013.
Between around July 2012 and November 2013 did not carry out and /or record initial assessments within the required timescales in respect of
(a) Service User 6;
This allegation was found proved.
62. The Panel found this allegation proved in both the respects that are alleged. Its reasons are as follows;
• Service User 6 had been admitted to hospital following concerns around her mental health. Service User 6 was allocated to the Registrant on 12 July 2012 with a request to complete an initial assessment. A first draft was written on 22 August 2012. The initial assessment was then submitted on 05 September 2012 albeit without the full agency checks which form part of the assessment.
63. The Panel accepts the evidence of Witness 1 that the initial assessment was finally completed on 25 September 2012, although this does not appear to be supported by the Registrant’s recordings on Protocol which do not evidence a completion date. The Panel accepted the evidence of Witness 1 and of Witness 2 in their witness statements that initial assessments should be completed within 10 working days of a referral and in this instance the work was not done in time.
(b) Service User 7;
Allegation not proved.
64. The Panel did not find this allegation proved in either of the respects that are alleged. Its reasons are as follows;
• Service User 7 had autism and mental health difficulties and she was out of school. She had English as an additional language. She was a Child in Need and was not subject to a Child Protection Plan. The Registrant confirmed that communication was with the assistance of an interpreter. Service User 7 was allocated to the Registrant on 12 December 2012 with a request to carry out an initial assessment. The Panel accepts the evidence of Witness 1 that the initial assessment was completed on 02 January 2013 within the statutory timescales. Witness 1 returned the assessment to the Registrant for amendment but accepted that there is no written evidence to explain her reasoning to the Registrant and the Registrant clearly did not understand the reasons for its return. In the circumstances the Panel did not think that the HCPC had proved either part of the allegation to the required standard.
Between around October 2012 and November 2013 did not carry out and / or record core assessments within the required timescales in respect of
(a) Service User 4
This allegation was found proved.
The Panel found this allegation proved in both the respects that are alleged. Its reasons are as follows;
• The Panel accepts the written and oral evidence of Witness 1 that core assessments should be completed within 35 days of the decision to commence an assessment. During supervision on 25 October 2012, and as the records note, the Registrant’s line manager asked the Registrant to complete the initial assessment and start the core assessment. A further supervision record on 13 February 2013 notes that the core assessment was out of timescale and needed to be completed by 05 March 2013. The core assessment was in fact completed in March 2013 by a team leader. The Registrant gave evidence that the instructions given to her to complete a core assessment were unclear.
The Panel does not regard this evidence as being credible.
(b) Service User 7
This allegation was found proved.
The Panel found this allegation proved in both respects that are alleged. Its reasons are as follows;
• The decision to commence a core assessment was taken at a meeting of professionals on 29 January 2013. The Registrant did not attend that meeting due to ill health but she accepted in oral evidence that she understood it was her responsibility to undertake the core assessment. The Panel has accepted that an initial assessment was completed by 2 January 2013. The Registrant returned to work on 04 February 2013 as established by the sickness absence records. It was the evidence of Witness 1 that the Registrant would have been alerted to the need to conduct a core assessment by a message in her Protocol inbox on her return to work. However, Witness 1 also accepted that she herself should have written a CF15 management oversight record to confirm this instruction and for the avoidance of doubt. The Registrant was absent through ill health again from 26 March 2013 until her suspension in April 2013. The period between 04 February 2013 and 26 March 2013 amounts to 36 working days. The Registrant attended a further professionals meeting with her line manager on 26 February 2013 although the minutes of the meeting do not appear to identify any actions required and there is no specific reference to the core assessment. A CF15 management oversight report on 06 March 2013 lists a number of concerns to be addressed in the core assessment. The Registrant made a further home visit with an interpreter on 13 March 2013 and planned another visit for 21 March 2013 which suggests that the assessment was on-going at the time of her sickness absence in March and subsequent suspension in April 2013.
Sent work related emails from your personal email address on or around
(a) 18 January 2013;
(b) 21 January 2013;
(c) 22 February 2013;
The Panel found all three allegations proved.
Its reasons are as follows:
This allegation was found proved.
65. The Registrant admitted these allegations at the commencement of these proceedings. She further admitted them in her written statement dated 01 June 2016 in which she stated “I accept this charge. I made a mistake. This was my fault.” These admissions were repeated in the course of the Registrant’s oral evidence and are consistent with the evidence adduced by the HCPC and in particular with the oral and written evidence of Witness 2 and documents which the Panel has seen. Accordingly the Panel has concluded that the HCPC has discharged the burden of proof to the required standard.
Sent confidential information by email to a Council employee who works outside the social work department on or around
(a) 12 February 2013;
(b) 14 February 2013;
This allegation was found proved.
66. The Registrant admitted these allegations at the commencement of these proceedings. She further admitted them in her written statement dated 01 June 2016 in which she stated “I accept this charge. I wish to emphasise that the emails were intended for somebody in my team namely Colleague 1 but I accidentally sent them to Colleague 2”. These admissions were repeated by the Registrant in the course of her oral evidence. These admissions are also consistent and supported by the evidence adduced by the HCPC and in particular with the oral and written evidence of Witness 2 and documents which the Panel has seen. Accordingly the Panel has concluded that the HCPC has discharged the burden of proof to the required standard.
Decision on Grounds
67. The Panel proceeded to consider whether the matters found proved as set out above amount to misconduct and/or lack of competence and if so, whether by reason thereof the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired.
68. The Panel considered the submissions made by Ms Acker on behalf of the HCPC. She submitted that in respect of all the matters found proved they were sufficiently serious as to amount to misconduct. Ms Acker further submitted that the facts found proved in all the paragraphs of the Allegation amounted to misconduct rather than to lack of competence. In support of this submission Ms Acker submitted that it was clear from all the evidence that the Registrant knew what she ought to have done but failed to carry out those obligations, a failure which was persistent, repeated and continued over an extended period. Ms Acker further submitted that the Registrant was in breach of the provisions set out in policies in relation to timescales, recommended requirements and information governance.
69. Mr Elton on behalf of the Registrant submitted that the facts found proved were not sufficiently serious either individually or cumulatively as to amount to misconduct. In support of this submission he referred to her disability and the lack of support from the Council together with what he described as the Registrant’s excessive workload. He also submitted that the facts as found proved did not amount to a lack of competence and in support of that submission he said that Allegations 1-3 had never been presented as a fair sample of cases chosen at random and that the outcome of the two audits did not constitute a holistic overview of the Registrant’s practice. He further submitted that in any event there should be no finding of misconduct or lack of competence in respect of the matters set out in paragraphs 3(b), 4 and 5 of the Allegation as such failures were not serious in character and did not relate to competence.
70. The Panel heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.
71. The Panel was aware that any findings of misconduct, lack of competence and impairment were matters for the independent judgement of the Panel.
72. The Panel was aware that consideration of impairment only arises in the event that the Panel judges that the proven facts do amount to misconduct and/or lack of competence and that what has then to be determined is current impairment.
Conclusion as to Misconduct and/or Lack of Competence:
73. The Panel noted that there is no definition of the term misconduct but that in case law it has been described as an act or omission that falls short of what would be proper in the circumstances. Such a falling short must be serious, falling far below the standard expected of a registered social worker.
74. The Panel determined that having regard to the guidance given by the courts in the relevant authorities, the facts found proved in paragraphs 1, 2 (a) and 3(a) of the Allegation are sufficiently serious as to amount to misconduct. Its reasons are as follows;
75. Statutory timescales for visits to Children in Need are prescribed in order to protect children from harm and meet their needs. All the children were vulnerable by virtue of their disabilities. The Registrant was aware of the statutory timescales. This was not a single, isolated incident or mere negligence. The omissions were long-standing and repetitive. For example there was no evidence of visits for a year in respect of one service user. Accordingly the Panel found there was a serious departure from proper standards and guidance and that the omissions set out in this allegation amount to misconduct.
76. Service User 6 was admitted to hospital following concerns around her mental health. The case was allocated to the Registrant on 12 July 2012 and the initial assessment was due on 24 July. The Registrant was reminded to complete this by 13 August and submitted her first draft initial assessment on 22 August 2012. It is clear that the Registrant did not action the initial assessment within the statutory timescale and this amounted to a serious falling below the standard required because she had not identified the needs of the service user.
77. In respect of Service User 4, the need for the Registrant to complete a core assessment was identified by her manager on 25 October 2012 and chased by her managers in December 2012, February and March 2013. In January 2013 the Emergency Duty Team (EDT) reported that the service user ‘has left home following argument with father’ and police enquiries were not complete. Notwithstanding significant work on this case by the Registrant, following the EDT referral, the Panel has found that she did not complete a core assessment within the required timescale. In fact it was completed by a manager in March 2013. Her failure to complete the core assessment meant that any risk of harm to the service user could not be identified. Accordingly the omission falls far below the standard expected of a social worker.
78. Technically the Panel has found that the Registrant breached the statutory timescale by one day. However the Panel noticed that Witness 1 accepted that she should have completed a CF15 management oversight instruction regarding the need to complete a core assessment for the avoidance of doubt. Taken together with the Registrant’s sickness absence immediately prior to commencement of the statutory timescale the Panel concluded that in all the circumstances this technical failure was not so serious as to amount to misconduct.
79. Allegation 4 relates to emails between the Registrant and her manager as follows:
(a) 18 January 2013; - court statement showing confidential information about a service user
(b) 21 January 2013 – statement and care plans in relation to a family
(c) 22 February 2013 – updates on and naming of service users;
80. The Registrant accepts that she received in early 2012 by email ‘Guidance on Remote Working, Emails and Protecting Information’, but has stated in her evidence that ‘the significance of the policy and the potential consequences, contained within that email had not registered with me’.
81. The Panel noted that the failure here was sending confidential information from her personal, as opposed to her work, email address. There was however no evidence of criticism by management. There were only three examples of her doing this. As a matter of course, the Registrant must have used her work email address because the Panel has heard she regularly worked remotely. The Panel accepts the Registrant’s evidence that on these occasions she made a mistake. Consequently the acts do not fall so far below the standard expected to amount to misconduct.
82. Whilst the Registrant has accepted that this act amounts to a breach of policy, the Panel notes that the confidential information (relating to a CRB check in relation to a service user) was sent to a Council employee although outside the Social Work department. This happened on two occasions, despite after the first event the Registrant being alerted to the mistake by the unintended recipient. The names were very similar and Witness 2 says these mistakes were a matter which could have been dealt with internally. The error may be attributable to her disability. Accordingly the Panel found the mistakes were not so serious as to amount to misconduct.
83. The Panel noted what the Registrant has said about what she described as her excessive case load, her disability and the lack of appropriate support from the Council for the disability together with Mr Elton’s submissions on those matters. It did not regard the Registrant’s case load as being excessive.
84. In the opinion of the Panel the failings that have been identified as regards the allegations in paragraphs 1,2 (a) and 3(a) were a serious departure from the proper standards to be expected of a social worker. By her actions as set out in paragraphs 1, 2(a) and 3(a) the Registrant failed to perform her basic and her statutory duties. Such failures could have resulted in significant damage to the service users involved in that their needs might not be identified, assessed and recorded as required. As a result of the Registrant’s failures the situation of the service users could not be monitored appropriately and the Registrant’s failures as just identified would impede the proper progression of these cases by others within the social work team.
85. The Panel agreed with the submission made by Ms Acker that the facts as set out in paragraphs 1, 2(a) and 3(a) amounted to misconduct. In addition the Panel concurred with Mr Elton’s submission that Allegations 1-3 are not based on a fair sample of the Registrant’s work and cannot therefore form the basis of a finding of lack of competence.
86. The Panel did not regard the facts as set out in paragraphs 3(b), 4 and 5 of the Allegation as being sufficiently serious as to amount to misconduct and did not regard them as amounting to lack of competence.
Decision on Impairment:
87. The Panel had regard to the contents of the Practice Note published in July 2013 by the HCPC and entitled “Finding that Fitness to Practise is Impaired”. It noted the HCPC definition of ‘Fit to Practise’, namely that a Registrant has the ‘skills, knowledge and character to practise their profession safely and effectively’.
88. The Panel considered the Registrant’s current insight. In her live evidence she said that she would in future be careful as to what she signs off and that she would manage her caseload better. She would document everything and save it. She would not rely on others and she would ‘shout louder’ for support. She did not see the problems continuing if she returned to work, although she was ambiguous about whether or not she might return to social work. The Panel were concerned at her complete denial with regard to certain file note entries signed by her in the face of clear documentary evidence to the contrary. The Panel noted a pattern in her responses, for example during the internal investigation when she insisted she sent the emails in Allegation 5 to the correct recipient.
89. When questioned, the Registrant expressed some insight into the risks associated with not meeting statutory timescales. The Registrant said in evidence that ‘it is vital and crucial that visits and assessments are recorded in a timely manner. Someone should be able to pick up the file and see where we are. If things are not properly recorded the next social worker will not know what is going on and that could put service users at risk’. However the Panel concluded that the Registrant did not fully accept the deficiencies in her practice and the consequential impact on public confidence in the profession.
90. With regard to remediation, there was evidence of some relevant modules having been completed by the Registrant through the College of Social Work but there were no learning outcomes presented. There were several modules relating to reflective practice but there has been no reflective statement provided by the Registrant. The Registrant has also completed some courses through JobCentrePlus, which the Registrant believes would be relevant to social work. The Registrant has not worked either in social work or otherwise since her suspension from Council and therefore has had little opportunity to evidence remediation. The Panel also took into account the Registrant’s continuing ill-health in this regard but concluded she had not remediated her deficiencies.
91. The Panel considered the possibility of the risk of repetition and concluded that due to the lack of remediation and insufficient insight identified, there remains a risk of repetition of similar misconduct. Notwithstanding the impact of the lack of appropriate support for her disability in the latter stages of her employment, the Panel cannot be confident that similar misconduct will not occur in the future, even if appropriate support were in place.
92. Having regard to the considerations set out in the previous paragraph as regards lack of insight and the absence of evidence of remediation, the Panel could not exclude the possibility that the Registrant might act in a similar manner in the future. For this reason, the Panel determined that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired on the grounds of public protection.
93. The Panel has concluded that the public interest also requires a finding of current impairment. The Panel has found that the failings of the Registrant as set out above and identified as misconduct were serious, frequent, repeated and extended over a lengthy period of time. The Panel has further found that the Registrant has shown limited insight into her failings and there is no evidence that she has recognised, addressed or sought to remediate them. In these circumstances the Panel has concluded that the need to uphold proper professional standards and public confidence in the profession and in the HCPC as its regulator, would be undermined if a finding of impairment was not made. Consequently a finding of impairment is in the public interest as described by Mrs Justice Cox in the case of Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence v Nursing and Midwifery Council, Paula Grant  EWHC 927 [Admin].
94. For the reasons set out above the Panel finds that by reason of the Registrant’s misconduct, her fitness to practise is currently impaired.
Accordingly the Panel found the Allegation well-founded.
Decision on Sanction:
95. Ms Acker on behalf of the HCPC referred the Panel to the Indicative Sanctions Policy (ISP) published by the HCPC. She said that as the appropriate sanction was a matter for the judgment of the Panel she was not going to make any substantive submissions. Mr Elton made submissions on behalf of the Registrant. His primary submission was that this was a case in which a caution order could properly be made. He submitted that if his primary submission failed, a Conditions of Practice Order would be the appropriate outcome. He further submitted that if the Panel did not consider a Conditions of Practice Order to be appropriate, a Suspension Order should be made. He submitted that a Striking Off Order would be unjustified, unnecessary and disproportionate.
96. The Panel heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.
97. The Panel kept in mind that the purpose of a sanction is not punitive but is designed to protect the public interest which includes protecting members of the public from possible harm, maintaining proper standards within the profession, the reputation of the profession itself and public confidence in the regulatory functions of the HCPC.
98. The Panel took into account the guidance which is contained within the ISP.
99. In considering whether to make an order and the nature and duration of any order to be made, the Panel applied the principle of proportionality weighing the Registrant’s interests in the balance with the need to protect the public interest. The Panel is aware that it should not impose a more restrictive sanction than that required to meet the public interest that it has identified.
100. The Panel took into account both mitigating and aggravating circumstances.
101. Mitigating factors included the following;
• The Registrant has deficiencies in certain core areas of her practice but these do not extend to her practice overall;
• She has fully engaged with her regulator and the regulatory process;
• She has a previous unblemished record;
• The Registrant has a disability and there is evidence of a lack of appropriate support for her disability for part of the relevant period;
• Lack of evidence of consistent management oversight for part of the relevant period;
• Positive references from a number of service users families;
• Ill-health from 2013 and personal difficulties prior to this;
• The Registrant’s caring approach to service users;
• No evidence of actual harm caused to any service user.
102. However the Panel also considered the following aggravating factors;
• The failures identified relate to a number of service users over a period of time;
• Lack of acceptance of deficiencies in her practice (except for specific email mistakes)
• Limited insight into her failings and how she might address them;
103. The Panel considered the sanctions available to it in ascending order of severity. In arriving at its decision the Panel applied the principles that are set out in the ISP.
104. The Panel concluded that having regard to the facts that have been found proven, to take no further action would be wholly inappropriate. Such an outcome would provide no protection to the public, would undermine confidence in the profession and in the regulatory functions of the HCPC and would not serve to maintain standards of conduct and performance within the profession.
A Caution Order
105. Notwithstanding the submissions made by Mr Elton the Panel concluded that a Caution Order was inappropriate. It noted the guidance on a Caution Order in the ISP which states 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.” This is not the case.
Conditions of Practice Order
106. The Panel had regard to the guidance set out in the ISP and in particular of the principles that appear in paragraphs 27 and 28 of that document. The Panel noted that any conditions imposed would have to be relevant, workable, enforceable and proportionate. The Panel concluded that in principle there are identifiable areas of the Registrant’s practice which are capable of being remedied by a Conditions of Practice Order. Appropriate reasonable and verifiable conditions could in theory be formulated to address these areas. However given the Registrant’s lack of sufficient insight and denial of any deficiencies in her practice (except with regard to the email mistakes), the Panel is of the opinion that currently Conditions of Practice are not workable nor sufficient. The Panel concluded that a Conditions of Practice Order would not be appropriate in that such an order would not adequately protect the public interest as defined above or prospective service users.
107. The Panel noted that a Suspension Order should be considered where the Panel considers that a Caution or Conditions of Practice Order would provide insufficient public protection. The Panel noted that a suspension for a short period of time may be appropriate in particular “to facilitate a staged return to practice, for example where the Registrant concerned would be unable to respond to and comply with Conditions of Practice but may be capable of doing so in the future.” The Panel also took into account that “suspension orders cannot made subject to conditions. However, where the Panel expects the Registrant to address specific issues before the Suspension Order is reviewed… clear guidance should be given to the Registrant, so that, when the Order comes to be reviewed, the Registrant understands what is expected of them and the evidence that may need to be submitted to the reviewing panel.”
The Panel concluded that a suspension order for nine months is the appropriate and proportionate sanction in this case. This would serve to protect prospective service users and to sustain proper standards in the profession. Public confidence in the profession and in the regulatory functions of the HCPC would thereby be maintained. A suspension order would give the Registrant an opportunity to address the failings that have been established, to demonstrate insight and to satisfy a reviewing panel that she could practise as a Social Worker safely, effectively and without restriction.
108. The Panel concluded that a striking off order was disproportionate and unnecessary as the public interest was sufficiently served by a nine month suspension order.
Review of the Order:
109. This order will be reviewed before it expires. A reviewing panel may be assisted by the following;
• A reflective piece focusing on the importance of fulfilling statutory requirements and the importance of recording;
• Any testimonials or references from paid or unpaid work particularly in the field of social care;
• Evidence of how the Registrant has kept her knowledge and skills-up-to date.
Order: The Registrar is directed to suspend the registration of Sharmiane Claudette Drackett for a period of nine months from the date this order comes into effect.
A Final Hearing concluded on 2 November 2016 in London.
History of Hearings for Miss Sharmiane Claudette Drackett
|Date||Panel||Hearing type||Outcomes / Status|
|24/01/2018||Conduct and Competence Committee||Review Hearing||Hearing has not yet been held|
|25/07/2017||Conduct and Competence Committee||Review Hearing||Suspended|
|17/10/2016||Conduct and Competence Committee||Final Hearing||Suspended|