Mr Neil Rutland

: Social worker

: SW95436

: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing:10:00 14/11/2016 End: 17:00 17/11/2016

: Health and Care Professions Council, 405 Kennington Road, London, SE11 4PT

: Conduct and Competence Committee
: Suspended

Allegation

 (As amended at the final hearing on 14 November 2016)
Between March 2014 and November 2014, during the course of your employment as a Social Worker by Hampshire County Council, you:
1. In the case of the A Children:
a) In September 2014, produced an Initial Child Protection Conference (ICPC) Report, and you:
i. Did not include and/or highlight safeguarding concerns of neglect in relation to the children;
ii. Did not remove the names and/or addresses of the siblings of the A children’s from the report;
iii. Did not act upon all potential risk factors within the A Children's household;
iv. Did not include concerns raised by other professionals about the children.
b) Following a referral made by two members of the public, did not recognise that there may be a concern for the A Children's safety;
2. In November 2014, in relation to Child B, completed a child protection report and concluded that it was indicated that an assault by a parent took place, despite the fact that medical evidence did not confirm this.
3. In August 2014, in relation to the B Children, you:
a) Inappropriately recommended that the childrens' case was closed, despite safeguarding concerns.
b) Did not carry out welfare checks on the children during a section 17 assessment;
c) On 30 October 2014, during a child protection monitoring visit, you:
i. Did not make the grandmother aware of the concerns raised about the children;
ii. Did not approach the children in an age-appropriate and/or child-focused manner.
iii. Did not ask the children about the concerns which led to the visit.
4. In relation to the C Children, you:
a) On 3 November 2014, submitted a child protection report and you:
i. Had not previously informed your manager that the father had disclosed on/or around 27 October 2014 that he had assaulted one of the children.
ii. Did not inform your manager about a visit to the children.
5. On 14 November 2014, you carried out a section 17 visit in relation to Child D and you:
a) Did not take into account information recorded on the case file (ICS system) in relation to Child D's father;
b) Made an unsafe contract and/or plan with Child D's mother to enable Child D to remain at the parental home during the day;
c) Did not assess the potential risk factors within Child D's home;
6. In relation to Family E, in an assessment submitted on or around 4 October 2014, did not seek to challenge the parent’s account in relation to the physical assault of one of the children.
7. The matters described in paragraphs 1 - 6 constitute misconduct and/or lack of competence.
8. By reason of your misconduct and/or lack of competence your fitness to practise is impaired.

Finding

Preliminary matters:
Service
1. The Panel was informed by the Hearings Officer that notice of this hearing was sent to the Registrant’s registered address by letter dated 19 August 2016. A copy was also sent by email on the same date. The Panel was satisfied that notice had been properly served as required by the Rules.
Proceeding in Absence
2. Ms Sheridan applied for the hearing to proceed in the Registrant’s absence. The Panel received and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor who advised that the Panel’s discretion to proceed in the Registrant’s absence should only be exercised with the utmost care and caution.
3. The Panel had regard to a letter from the Registrant dated 14 October 2016, confirming that he would not be attending the Final Hearing.
4. In light of this paragraph, the Panel asked for further information regarding any communications between the Registrant and the HCPC since the service of the Notice. There was an email trail of communications as follows:
• 19 August 2016 – From the Registrant to the HCPC. ‘After due consideration I have decided not to attend the hearing meeting in the hope that this will save both time and money for all concerned...’
• 19 August 2016 – From the HCPC Scheduling Officer to the Registrant, acknowledging the Registrant’s indication that he would not be attending, and informing him that if he did at a later stage wish to participate in the hearing then it may be possible to explore alternative arrangements such as his attendance by way of teleconference or video conference.
• 10 October 2016 – From the HCPC Scheduling Officer to the Registrant, having not had a response, to invite again the Registrant to indicate if he wished to attend, and offering alternative methods of participation.
• 13 October 2016 – two emails from the Registrant arranging the forwarding of documents to put before the Panel.
5. The Panel concluded that the communications received from the Registrant indicate that he is not intending to attend the Final Hearing. This Panel has noted that the Registrant has not applied for an adjournment. He has however, submitted representations to be placed before the Panel.
6. The Panel was satisfied that the HCPC had fulfilled its obligations and taken all reasonable steps to serve the notice on the Registrant in accordance with the Rules.
7. The Panel concluded that the Registrant had voluntarily waived his right to attend and that there was no evidence that he would attend an adjourned hearing. The Panel noted that the allegation dates back to 2014 and was of the view that it was in the interests of justice that the hearing should proceed without any further delay. There were two witnesses waiting to give evidence on behalf of the HCPC. Accordingly, the Panel decided to proceed in the Registrant’s absence.
Application to amend the Particulars
8. At the outset of the hearing, Ms Sheridan applied, on behalf of the HCPC, to amend formerly the allegation, in the terms proposed. She submitted that the Registrant had been put on notice of the proposed amendments on 21 January 2016, and that they did not materially change the nature of the particulars, but sought to clarify them.
9. The Panel heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.
10. The Panel was of the view that the amendments sought did not materially affect the nature of the allegation, but rather sought to clarify the Particulars and reflect the anticipated evidence, and so did not adversely affect the case against the Registrant. The Panel also noted that there had been no response either accepting or challenging the proposed amendments from the Registrant, which had been sent to him in January 2016.
11. In light of the above, the Panel decided to allow the amendments, as to do so did not result in any unfairness to the Registrant.
Application for parts of the Hearing to be in Private
12. Ms Sheridan applied for those parts of the hearing which related to the Registrant’s health to be heard in private.
13. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and took into account the Practice Note on Conducting Hearings in Private.
14. The Panel was satisfied that, for the protection of the private life of the Registrant, those parts of the hearing which made reference to his health, should be heard in private.
Background:
15. The Registrant completed his Social Work degree at Winchester University in 2014. He took up his first post as a Social Worker on 3 February 2014. The post was that of a Newly Qualified Social Worker (NQSW), within the Referral and Assessment Team at Hampshire County Council’s (the Council) Children’s Services Department.
16. As a NQSW, the Registrant was automatically enrolled onto the Council’s Assessment and Supported Year of Employment (ASYE) programme, which meant he was given 10 per cent fewer cases than a Qualified Social Worker (QSW); received additional time and support for completing paperwork; received regular supervision; undertook training courses; and shadowed and was shadowed by more experienced QSWs.
17. As part of the role, the Registrant was required to complete assessments under section 17 and section 47 of the Children’s Act 1989.
18. A section 17 assessment is an assessment of whether a child is in need of services from the Local Authority. These were undertaken by the Registrant from the outset, with cases gradually increasing in complexity.
19. A section 47 assessment is an assessment of a child where there is reasonable cause to believe that the child has suffered, or is likely to suffer, significant harm. The progress anticipated under an ASYE programme was that at six months into the programme the NQSW would shadow a QSW undertaking section 47 assessments for two months to understand the section 47 process. Following this, for a further two months, the NQSW would take the lead in section 47 assessments, but would be shadowed by a QSW.
20. Concerns regarding the Registrant’s progress and performance over that first year gradually came to light. In particular it is alleged that he failed both to recognise risks to children during visits and to analyse information given to him to determine risks for children and then to formulate a plan to safeguard them. On 4 November 2014, an Informal Support Action Plan was put into place with agreed objectives identified between the Registrant and his line manager, Witness 1.
21. On 21 November 2014, Witness 1 had supervision with the Registrant and informed him that a Formal Managing Performance meeting would be taking place due to ongoing concerns regarding his ability to identify risk in respect of safeguarding children.
22. On 24 November 2014, the Registrant began a period of sickness absence for health reasons and did not return to work.
Decision on facts:
23. The Panel heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Panel understood that the burden of proving each individual fact rests on the HCPC and that the HCPC will only be able to prove a particular, if it satisfies the required standard of proof, namely the civil standard, whereby it is more likely than not that the alleged incident occurred.
24. The Registrant did not attend but the Panel did not hold his non-attendance against him and scrutinised all of the evidence fairly, including questioning witnesses on issues raised by the Registrant in his written representations.
25. The Panel heard evidence from the following witnesses:
• Witness 1 – Social Worker, registered with the HCPC and who, at the relevant time, was the Team Manager of the Hart, Rushmoor and East Hants Referral and Assessment Team at Hampshire County Council.
• Witness 2 – Social Worker, registered with the HCPC and who, at the relevant time, was based at the Council and worked in the same team as the Registrant.
26. The Panel found both witnesses to be clear, precise and consistent in their evidence, and that their written and oral evidence was supported by contemporaneous notes within the bundle. The Panel was of the view that both gave credible and reliable evidence, which the Panel accepted.
27. The Panel acknowledged that some of the evidence within the bundle was hearsay, for example a report completed by the Social Worker who had accompanied the Registrant on a section 17 visit in relation to Child D on 14 November 2014. The Panel did not hear from that Social Worker herself, so the Panel weighed the evidence with particular care, but it also noted that the Registrant had not, in his representations, challenged the accuracy of the information within that report.
Particular 1
In the case of the A Children:
a) In September 2014, produced an Initial Child Protection Conference (ICPC) Report and you:
i. Did not include and/or highlight safeguarding concerns of neglect in relation to the children;
ii. Did not remove the names and/or addresses of the siblings of the A children from the report;
iii. Did not act upon all potential risk factors within the A Children’s household’
iv. Did not include concerns raised by other professionals about the children.
28. The Council had a considerable history with the A Children. This was a large family with 7 children, 4 of whom had previously been taken into care due to issues of neglect and 3 of whom remained at home with their parents. There were long term concerns of neglect, poor school attendance and financial difficulties, including eviction and alcohol misuse by the father.
29. On 12 September 2014, the A Children came into the Referral Assessment Team as a section 17 matter, following a police report where two members of the public had reported witnessing a domestic abuse incident between the mother and father of the A Children at a bus stop whilst one of the children was present in a pushchair.
30. On 15 September 2014, the Registrant, to whom the case had been allocated, attended on a section 47 visit, accompanied by a QSW. He then completed an ICPC report.
In relation to Particular 1(a)(i), the Panel finds this proved.
31. Witness 1 gave evidence that that the Registrant, in his ICPC report, described the domestic abuse incident at the bus stop as ‘an argument’. She said that he failed to consider the risks surrounding domestic abuse under the header ‘Ensuring Safety’ and did not mention domestic abuse once in the entire report, despite this being the reason for the referral. As such, in her view, there was a failure to explore the impact of domestic abuse and neglect on the A Children.
32. Witness 1 also gave evidence that under the header ‘Basic Care’ the Registrant stated that the parents could meet the A Children’s basic needs. This was despite poor school attendance, money issues and being homeless. Witness 1 said that she had to point out to the Registrant that the parents were not able to provide basic meals and were relying heavily on the grandmother to do so and therefore it could not be said that they were meeting the A Children’s basic needs.
33. The Panel was satisfied to the required standard that these were two examples demonstrating that the Registrant neither included nor highlighted safeguarding concerns of neglect in relation to the children.
In relation to Particular 1(a)(ii), the Panel finds this proved.
34. The Panel had regard to the email from the District Manager, dated 23 September 2014, warning the Registrant to remove the names and addresses of the siblings of the A Children, who had been placed into care, from the ICPC report before the conference. The Panel took account of the evidence of Witness 1, to the effect that, the despite the warning, the Registrant left in the report the names and addresses of the siblings of the A Children who had been removed from the family. This report was shared with the mother.
35. The Panel was satisfied to the required standard that the Registrant had not removed the names and addresses from the ICPC report, as requested, and before the report was provided to the mother.
In relation to Particular 1(a)(iii), the Panel finds this proved.
36. In relation to the A Children, the Panel was satisfied that the risk factors within the household included, domestic violence between the parents, poor school attendance, instability caused by frequent moves, financial difficulties leading to evictions, historic alcohol abuse by the father, neglect and the mother’s claims that the child was not at school due to a heart condition.
37. The Panel took into account the evidence of Witness 1, who said that under section 47 procedures the Social Worker has to make welfare checks, within 24 hours, with other professionals including the school, GP and police in respect of the risk factors identified. The Social Worker then analyses the information gathered in those welfare checks and makes a recommendation.
38. Witness 1 said that the ICPC report which was compiled by the Registrant was late for the Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO), who must receive the report a minimum of 48 hours before the Conference is held, according to Council policy. For this to happen, the report must be with the Team Leader before this, preferably 5 days before, to give adequate time to the Team Manager to read, consider and add a decision.
39. Witness 1 said that the Registrant’s report was not completed and sent to her until 30 September 2014, which was less than 24 hours before the ICPC was due to be held on 1 October 2014. As he had not provided the report within the timescales set, the IRO made the decision to adjourn the ICPC and it was therefore not held until 15th October 2014.
40. The Panel was satisfied to the required standard that the Registrant had not acted upon all the potential risk factors within the A Children’s household, as he had not provided a comprehensive report within the time frame, the consequence of which was that the Conference had to be adjourned, prolonging the potential harm to which the A Children were exposed.
In relation to Particular 1(a)(iv), the Panel finds this proved.
41. When undertaking a visit under section 47, a Social Worker has to undertake welfare checks within 24 hours on each child. This involves making enquiries as to the child’s welfare from their school, GP, Police and other professionals involved with that child.
42. Witness 1 explained that the family of the A Children had a long history with the Council and that all the previous concerns of other professionals were documented on the online case record system. As Social Worker for the A Children, the Registrant would have had access to the case files of the whole family. However, his ICPC report did not make reference to any of their findings.
43. Witness 1 said that in the Health section of the report, the Registrant only included information he had received from the A Children’s mother and did not undertake a welfare check with the GP. Had he done so, this would have identified that the information that the mother had provided was not accurate.
44. Witness 1 also said that there were long-term housing concerns regarding the family of the A Children which had previously been raised by the housing authorities and were documented on the case file. The concerns raised were the repeated evictions due to the rent arrears. The Registrant did not include these concerns in his report.
45. Witness 1 said that the Registrant had also failed to adequately include concerns raised about neglect of the A Children by their school and to consider the concerns raised by the police of domestic abuse following the police report on 9 September 2014.
46. Witness 1 said that the Registrant should have given the information obtained from involved professionals the appropriate weight rather than accept the mother’s account of events when it differed from that of professionals. The outcome of the Conference, following Witness 1’s involvement, was that the A Children became subject to Child Protection Plans, showing that the multi-agency view was that they were at risk of significant harm due to neglect.
47. The Panel was therefore satisfied to the required standard that the Registrant had not included the concerns which had been raised by other professionals within his report.
Particular 1
In the case of the A Children:
b) Following a referral made by two members of the public, did not recognise that there may be a concern for the A Children’s safety
In relation to Particular 1(b), the Panel finds this proved.
48. As found above, the Panel was satisfied that the Registrant had not identified the risk factors that related to the A Children, and he had not undertaken the relevant welfare checks in respect of them, and so the information within the report was incomplete.
49. The Panel was also satisfied that the referral made by the members of the public had triggered the section 47 inquiry. It was of the view that the Registrant had minimised the risk to the A Children posed by the domestic violence and had been overly sympathetic towards the mother and had consequently placed too much reliance on her account.
50. The Panel was therefore satisfied to the required standard that, as the Registrant had not identified the risk factors to the A Children, he had not recognised that there may be a concern for their safety.
Particular 2
In November 2014, in relation to Child B, completed a child protection report and concluded that it was indicated that an assault took place, despite the fact that medical evidence did not confirm this.
In relation to Particular 2, the Panel found this proved.
51. When the case of Child B was referred to the Referral and Assessment Team, there were concerns surrounding the behaviour of Child B. Child B’s parents had an acrimonious relationship. Although Child B lived with his mother, his father wanted to take him abroad with him and needed the mother’s permission to do so.
52. On 5 November 2014, the Registrant undertook a section 47 inquiry, following an allegation by Child B’s father that the mother had struck Child B’s head and punched and kicked him. Throughout this inquiry, he did not seek the views of Child B’s mother, nor did he challenge Child B’s father about why he had not reported the allegation until two weeks after it was alleged to have occurred.
53. The Panel had regard to the recorded observations of the GP and the Consultant Paediatrician. The record of the GP discussion indicates that when the GP examined Child B on 4 November 2014 (having been told by Child B that his mother had kicked him), the GP considered the small marks on the child’s thigh were ‘more like finger bruises’. He could not see any marks on the child’s chest and said the marks that he could see ‘could possibly be exaggerated.’
54. The Consultant Paediatrician who saw Child B on 6 November 2014 advised that she was not able to comment on whether the bruises resulted from the description of the incident and that they may have resulted from the child being ‘accident-prone’.
55. In the child protection report, the Registrant recorded that ‘the bruises that are still showing would seem to indicate that some assault took place which is not acceptable by a parent’.
56. The Panel was satisfied to the required standard that the Registrant had completed a child protection report and within that report concluded that it was indicated that an assault by a parent took place. The Panel was also satisfied that this was despite the medical evidence of the GP and the Consultant Paediatrician not confirming this.
Particular 3
In August 2014, in relation to the B Children, you:
a) Inappropriately recommended that the children’s case was closed, despite safeguarding concerns.
b) Did not carry out welfare checks on the children during a section 17 assessment.
57. In August 2014, the Registrant was allocated the case of the B Children, who were in the care of their grandmother under a Special Guardianship Order (SGO) due to their mother’s misuse of drugs, violent partners and chaotic lifestyle. The B Children were referred to the Hampshire Children’s Services Department by the NSPCC regarding concerns that the maternal grandmother was giving one of the children sedatives so that he did not wake up early in the morning; she stayed in bed until lunchtime leaving the youngest child to ‘fend for himself’; had ‘drug fuelled’ parties, used cocaine and mephadrone and smoked cannabis in front of the youngest child.
58. On 17 October 2014, the Registrant conducted a section 17 assessment and sent through a summary to his line manager, Witness 1, recommending that the case should be closed.

In relation to Particular 3(a), the Panel finds this proved.
59. The Panel was satisfied that the Registrant had been allocated the case of the B Children in August 2014 to conduct a section 17 assessment, which subsequently led to him recommending on 17 October 2014, that the case be closed at this time, ‘as the allegations made were not proved and the Maternal Grandmother is meeting the needs of the children in her care and is not exposing them to drugs or alcohol’.
60. However, Witness 1 said that on the same day that the Registrant had recommended the case be closed, the Assistant Team Manager returned from MARAC (Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conference) where she reported ‘that the case of the B Children had been discussed and there were concerns that the youngest child had been present at his mother’s home when a serious domestic abuse incident occurred.’
61. Given this, Witness 1 said that she instructed the Registrant to conduct a section 47 visit, accompanied by an experienced QSW. Following the visit, the Registrant telephoned Witness 1 and said that the school had concerns for all three children.
62. Witness 1 said that had the Registrant carried out the proper welfare checks during his section 17 assessment, he would have come across this information and avoided inappropriately recommending the B Children’s case to be closed.
63. The Panel was satisfied to the required standard that the Registrant’s recommendation for closure was inappropriate. This was because it had been made without the proper checks being undertaken, and so without a full appreciation of all the circumstances existing at the time, which included the safeguarding concerns the school had.
In relation to Particular 3(b), the Panel finds this proved.
64. Witness 1 said that when the Registrant telephoned her after the section 47 visit and told her of the concerns that the school had for all three of the B Children, she asked him how this had been missed in his section 17 assessment. She said that he admitted to her that he had not completed welfare checks as part of his section 17 assessment.
65. The Panel also had regard to a copy of the Case Summary itself in which the Registrant had made the recommendation for closure, which did not have a completed copy of the checklist setting out the checks required to be completed with involved professional agencies.
66. The Panel was therefore satisfied to the required standard that the Registrant had not carried out welfare checks during the section 17 assessment.
Particular 3
c) On 30 October 2014, during a child protection monitoring visit, you:
i. Did not make the grandmother aware of the concerns raised about the children;
ii. Did not approach the children in an age-appropriate and/or child-focused manner;
iii. Did not ask the children about the concerns which led to the home visit.
67. On 30th October 2014, Witness 2 was asked by Witness 1 to accompany the Registrant on his child protection monitoring visit to the B Children after the decision was made by Witness 1 to escalate their case to a Section 47. The purpose of the visit was to explain the concerns which had led the case to be escalated to a section 47 to the grandmother of the B Children and to go through a safety plan with her to ensure that the identified risks to her grandchildren were reduced and to ascertain the views of the B children.
In relation to Particular 3(c)(i), the Panel finds this proved.
68. The Panel had regard to the evidence of Witness 2 who had accompanied the Registrant on this visit as the QSW, and the feedback form which she had completed following the visit. In it she had recorded: ‘During the visit Neil did not mention the concerns that led to the S47 CP investigation. He focused on minor issues such as school attendance, failure to attend a medical appointment etc. rather than speak about the main issues of concern, i.e. drug use, domestic abuse, drugs paraphernalia and grandmother’s failure to protect. This frustrated the grandmother as she remained unclear about what the concerns actually were…At one point in the visit the grandmother was practically screaming at Neil ‘so what are you concerned about?’ and unfortunately Neil was unable to clarify this with her.’
69. Witness 2 also explained in her evidence that the Registrant did not address the purpose of the visit, which included concerns that the grandmother had been allowing unsupervised contact with the birth mother.
70. The Panel was satisfied to the required standard that the Registrant did not make the grandmother aware of the concerns raised about the children.
In relation to Particular 3(c)(ii), the Panel finds this proved.
71. There were three B Children. The ages of them were 4 or 5 years old, 14 years old and one in-between those two ages. The Panel had regard to the feedback form of Witness 2, in which she recorded: ‘Neil spoke with the three children alone for a very short period of time. They were all of different ages…he did not adapt any of his questions to the age of the child. The youngest child who was present during this incident was spoken to for less than a minute. I did not think he was spoken to in an age appropriate way. I did not think he fully understood what Neil was asking him.’
72. In her evidence, Witness 2 said that the Registrant made sarcastic jokes with the B Children that they would not have understood at their age and were inappropriate for that type of conversation. He also used adult vocabulary. She said that she could observe the children smiling and looking anxious, appearing as if they did not understand what he was talking about.
73. Witness 2 described the Registrant as having a clip board and not adapting his questions for the children’s understanding.
74. The Panel was satisfied to the required standard that the Registrant did not approach the children in an age appropriate manner.
In relation to Particular 3(c)(iii), the Panel finds this proved.
75. Witness 2 said that the Registrant asked the children closed questions and they responded with one word answers. She said that this meant he did not get any information from them. When they replied in one word answers he did not try to get the B Children to expand on their answer with follow up questions. She said that he did not mention their mother or ask them about their mother, which was the main purpose of their visit. He also spoke to them for less than a minute each.
76. The Panel was satisfied to the required standard that the Registrant did not ask the children about the concerns which led to their visit.
Particular 4
In relation to the C Children, you:
a) On 3 November 2014, submitted a child protection report and you:
i. Had not previously informed your manager that the father had disclosed on/or around 27 October 2014 that he had assaulted one of the children.
ii. Did not inform your manager about a visit to the children.
77. On 13 October 2014, the Registrant was allocated the C Children. On 24 October 2014, the Registrant and Witness 1 had a supervision session and during their discussions regarding the C Children, it became apparent that the eldest child’s needs were not being fully met by CAMHs (Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services), which led him to self-harming. This was starting to impact on the siblings who were worried about their brother’s safety. As such, the decision was made by Witness 1 to progress the case to a section 47, which would necessitate a visit.
78. On Monday 27 October 2014, the Registrant undertook a section 47 visit. He was aware the eldest child was a suicide risk and that his behaviour was impacting on his siblings emotionally.
79. On 3 November 2014, Witness 1 received the Registrant’s child protection report, within which the Registrant had recorded that during his visit on 27 October 2014, the father of C Children had told him that he had grabbed the eldest child by the throat. This was the first time that Witness 1 was aware of the assault.
In relation to Particular 4(a)(i), the Panel found this proved.
80. The Panel had regard to the evidence of Witness 1 that two emails that had been sent to each member of the Team. On 3 March 2014, she had sent an email to the Team, including the Registrant saying: ‘We have a lot of section 47s on the go. Please ensure you telephone me after seeing the child…’. On 16 April 2014, Witness 1 sent an email reminder to the Team, including the Registrant saying: ‘Can I remind everyone that any section 47 cases must be brought to me immediately. Only a Team Manager can make a decision on a section 47 case. Please do not delay in doing this as this potentially places children at risk.’
81. Witness 1 said that as she was not informed of the incident until she received the report, this meant that no action was taken for seven days after the assault; no management decision was obtained; police were not informed and safeguarding procedures were not followed.
82. The Panel was satisfied to the required standard that the Registrant had been made aware of the need to inform his Team Manager, Witness 1, of the disclosure by the father immediately by telephone and had not done so.
In relation to Particular 4(a)(ii), the Panel found this not proved.
83. The Panel took account of the fact that it was Witness 1 who instructed the Registrant to conduct the section 47 visit, once she had escalated the case to this from a section 17. Witness 1 also had the child protection report which evidenced that he had carried out the visit.
84. In these circumstances the Panel was not satisfied to the required standard that he had not informed his manager, Witness 1, about a visit to the children.
Particular 5
On 14 November 2014, you carried out a section 17 visit in relation to Child D and you:
a) Did not take into account information recorded on the case file (ICS system) in relation to Child D’s father;
b) Made an unsafe contract and/or plan with Child D’s mother to enable Child D to remain at the parental home during the day;
c) Did not assess the potential risk factors within Child D’s home;
85. On 3rd November 2014, the Registrant was allocated Child D as a section 17 assessment. Child D’s school had raised concerns around the care afforded to Child D by his mother and by his parents’ substance misuse. The family were previously known to Children’s Services; there was history of domestic abuse, previous concerns around mother’s substance misuse and concerns that when Child D was in the care of his father (when the mother was at work) the father was misusing drugs or drink. There was also a sexual allegation made against the father’s son by Child D all of which was recorded on the Council’s ICS system, to which the Registrant would have had access.
86. A QSW accompanied the Registrant on the visit and completed a feedback form which recorded that: ‘Neil was not aware of the incident when Child D’s dad was accused of a sexual attack. He wanted the child to go and stay there until I pointed out the previous incident…Neil drafted the Contract of Expectations and stated that the child could be seen by his dad and yet he had not done more checks on dad or found out the outcome of the previous concerns.’
In relation to Particular 5(a), the Panel finds this proved.
87. The Panel inferred from this that the Registrant could not have taken into account information recorded in the ICS case file, as if he had taken account of the information, he would have been aware of the previous allegation of a sexual attack by the father on the son, and as a Social Worker charged with the responsibilities of safeguarding children, would never have suggested that Child D should stay with the father.
88. The Panel was therefore satisfied to the required standard that the Registrant did not take into account information, namely the allegation of sexual assault, recorded on the ICS case file system.
In relation to Particular 5(b), the Panel finds this proved.
89. On 14 November 2014, at 17.10 hours, the Registrant contacted Witness 1 to tell her that the conditions in the mother’s home were too poor for Child D to remain in the house. However, sometime later the Registrant contacted Witness 1 to confirm he had completed social care checks with the out of hours service and informed her that he had put a Contract of Expectations in place that Child D was not to be at his own home during the night.
90. Witness 1 said ‘I challenged Neil on this - his reasoning was that the child could go to the home during the day to help mum tidy up. I again had to challenge him that he had just informed me that this child could not stay at the home due to neglect, therefore why would Children’s Services Department say it’s OK during the day and place the responsibility on the child to tidy up?...In my opinion, Neil’s Contract with the mother raised significant safeguarding issues, failing to remain child-focused and failing to hold the mother responsible for the neglect by placing at least some responsibility onto a 7 year old child to tidy up.’
91. The Registrant’s response to Witness 1 had been: ‘I believed that by allowing the mother and child to tidy the house together that it might make the child appreciate or come to an understanding about trying to have respect for personal belongings…However, I accept that on reflection this was not a suitable option.’
92. The Panel heard that Child D was aged about 7 years old at the time, and there were significant issues regarding neglect. The Panel was satisfied to the required standard that in drawing up a Contract of Expectations, which included leaving the child at home in the day, and at risk of neglect, the Registrant had made a contract which was unsafe. 
In relation to Particular 5(c), the Panel finds this proved.
93. The feedback of the QSW indicates that the Registrant was unable to recognise a number of signals of neglect and safeguarding risks during his visit of the address. She recorded that: ‘When speaking to mum, [the Registrant] failed to spot the clues to her behaviour which suggested that she was under the influence of something (…) The mum did not come to the door at first, instead she went to the back and then later came to open the door…Neil failed to pick up that mum could have gone to hide something’.
94. The Panel considered that these circumstances identified by the QSW, should have alerted the Registrant to potential drug issues with the mother, and suggested that she was under the influence of something.  The Panel was therefore satisfied to the required standard that the Registrant had not identified the potential risk factors within Child D’s home, and so was not in a position to assess them.

Particular 6
In relation to Family E, in an assessment submitted on or around 4 October 2014, did not seek to challenge the parent’s account in relation to the physical assault of one of the children.
In relation to Particular 6, the Panel finds this proved.
95. The Registrant was allocated the case of Family E on 13 August 2014. The referral was  a ‘Children and Young Peoples ‘At Risk’ police report dated 10th August 2014 which highlighted a verbal dispute between Mother and Step-father which resulted in the eldest child (aged 16) being pushed, although no injuries were seen. The Step-father was arrested for common assault but neither the mother nor the child wished to press charges and the Step-father was released without charge.
96. The Registrant completed the section 17 Child and Family Assessment on 3rd October 2014, in which he accepted the father’s description of the incident as ‘a little tug of war’. Upon reading the report, Witness 1 was concerned that the Registrant appeared to accept what the mother and step-father said at face value without challenging them.
97. Witness 1 in evidence said that the Registrant did not challenge the step-father when he described previous incidents of domestic violence from police reports as purely verbal disputes or as ‘tugs of war’. Witness 1 was concerned by the way he repeated the language the mother and step-father used to describe the incidents of domestic violence when making his own analysis of the domestic violence. For example, he referred to the domestic violence as ‘an argument’ or ‘verbal dispute’ despite the step-father being arrested for common assault of a child She said it was very worrying that from this assessment she did not see Neil Rutland objectively analyse the information given to him by the mother and step-father and consider the impact on the child and unborn baby. She said that overall, the Registrant accepted the family’s minimisation of the domestic abuse throughout the assessment.
98. The Panel was satisfied to the required standard that the Registrant had not sought to challenge the parents’ account in relation to the physical assault of one of the children.
Decision on Grounds:
99. The Panel next considered whether the matters found proved, as set out above, amounted to misconduct and/or lack of competence and, if so, whether by reason thereof, the Registrant's fitness to practise is currently impaired.
100. The Panel considered the submissions made by Ms Sheridan on behalf of the HCPC.
101. The Panel heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Panel was aware that any findings of lack of competence and/or misconduct and impairment were matters for the independent judgement of the Panel.
102. The Registrant was a NQSW, in his first year of employment as a Social Worker and was subject to a structured process under the ASYE programme, whereby he shadowed and was then shadowed by experienced Qualified Social Workers. Witness 1 extended the frequency of the supervision beyond the halfway point due to concerns that the Registrant was not progressing as would be expected of a NQSW.
103. The Panel was of the view that the Registrant had all the necessary training and support in place which would be needed for a NQSW to successfully complete the first year post qualification under the ASYE programme.
104. However, when the time came for him to take the lead in section 47 assessments, shadowed by a QSW, he was not able to undertake them to the appropriate and safe standard expected of a Social Worker. The evidence from Witness 1 was that in the October and November 2014 every assessment that he undertook was shadowed by a QSW. Her view was that he was not able to safely conduct assessments alone, as he did not manage to identify and analyse risk factors or follow safeguarding procedures.
105. In the Panel’s judgement, the evidence demonstrated that the Registrant did not have the ability to identify, assess and act upon risk; was unable to communicate effectively and appropriately with service users of all age groups and did not have the ability to understand and follow through with proper procedures in relation to safeguarding children.
106. In the Panel’s judgement, the Registrant struggled to see the wider context of the cases he was asked to assess. It was not deliberate on his part, both witnesses described him as a popular member of the Team, and his professional colleagues supported him throughout his ASYE programme. However, in the Panel’s judgment, the Registrant was not competent as a Social Worker in that he never reached the ability, depth and understanding required of the role. This was over a considerable period of time, about 9 months, and as judged against a fair sample of his cases. As such, in the Panel’s judgement, the facts found proved amount to a lack of competence on the Registrant’s part.
107. In the Panel’s view the Registrant appears to have engaged in the attempts to bring his skills and competency up to the required standard through training, shadowing by senior colleagues and learning through observation. The Panel concluded that the Registrant’s failings and underperformance were not deliberate.
108. As such, the Panel does not find that the Registrant’s acts or omissions fall short of what would be proper in the circumstances, as characterised by Lord Clyde’s definition of misconduct in the case of  Roylance v GMC (No.2) (2000) 1 AC 31.
109. The Panel considered the issue of the effect of the Registrant’s health condition on his practice. It had been raised early in supervision, in February 2014. At that time he indicated that he had coping strategies in place, and he referred to it as mild. By November 2014, along with the stress of the role that the Registrant was under, it had clearly become a significant issue for the Registrant, as evidenced in the papers. The Panel, however, concluded that the health condition was not a significant issue within the case. The issues of concern with this case were the Registrant’s inability to identify and analyse risk factors; seek independent information from other professionals; communicate effectively and challenge accounts from parents or carers, rather than accept them at face value. In the Panel’s view, this inability was not affected by the fact that the Registrant suffered from a health condition.
110. The Panel recognises themes emerging from the facts found proved which point to a lack of competence to a level at which the Registrant could not independently work safely and effectively in his profession. Therefore, the Panel finds that the statutory ground of lack of competence is established.
111. The Panel finds that the Registrant is in breach of the following standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics for registrants of the HCPC:
• 1 – You must act in the best interests of service users
• 2 – You must respect the confidentiality of service users
• 5 – You must keep your professional knowledge and skills up to date
• 13 – You must (…) make sure that your behaviour does not damage the public’s confidence in you or your profession
112. The Panel finds that the Registrant is in breach of the following standards of Proficiency for Social Workers:
• 1 – be able to practise safely and effectively within their scope of practice (with particular reference to standards 1.3 and 1.5)
• 2 – be able to practise within the legal and ethical boundaries of their profession (with particular reference to standard 2.3)
• 3 – be able to maintain fitness to practise (with particular reference to standard 3.2)
• 4 – be able to practise as an autonomous professional, exercising their own professional judgement (with particular reference to standard 4.1)
• 8 – be able to communicate effectively (with particular reference to standards 8.2 and 8.5)
• 9 –be able to work appropriately with others (with particular reference to standard 9.9)
• 12 – be able to assure the quality of their practice (with particular reference to standard 12.1)
• 14 – be able to draw on appropriate knowledge and skills to inform practice (with particular reference to standard 14.1)
Decision on Impairment:
113. The Panel considered the submission made by Ms Sheridan that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is impaired.
114. The Panel heard and accepted the advice from the legal Assessor on impairment. 
115. Having determined that the Registrant's actions amounted to lack of competence in respect of the charges found proved, the Panel went on to consider whether his fitness to practise was currently impaired as a consequence of that lack of competence.
116. The Panel had regard to the HCPC's Practice Note on impairment, and in particular the two aspects of impairment, namely the ‘personal component’ and the ‘public component’, and the case of CHRE v NMC and Grant [2011] EWHC 927 (Admin).
117. The Panel was of the view that the Registrant’s actions and omissions placed service users at potential risk of harm through his inability to identify and analyse risk factors; seek independent information from other professionals; follow proper safeguarding procedures and challenge accounts from parents or carers, rather than accept them at face value.
118. Although the Registrant had a well-structured programme of training and support, during his first year of practice post qualification under the ASYE programme, he was unable to reach the standard necessary for independent, safe practice.
119. The Panel finds that the Registrant’s lack of competence was such as to bring the profession of Social Workers into disrepute, as he was unable to identify and implement appropriate safeguarding measures in respect of vulnerable children as represented by the standards identified under the statutory grounds above.
120. The Panel therefore finds that the Registrant was impaired by reason of his lack of competence at the time of the allegations.
121. The Panel took into account the Registrant’s written representations dated 14 October 2016 in which he accepts his standards of practice were below the required standards. However, he also focused on his health condition and, in his view, lack of support from the Team. There was little evidence before the Panel to indicate that the Registrant had subsequently reflected on his practice, so as to achieve sufficient insight into it. The Panel therefore concluded that his insight was limited to his own personal circumstances, and did not extend to the impact it had in relation to vulnerable service users to whom he had been allocated or to the wider public interest in upholding the reputation of the profession.
122. There was also little evidence as to what the Registrant had been doing subsequent to him leaving the Council in February 2015, in particular in relation to either relevant employment, training or his future intentions within Social Work. He had said that he would be prepared to undertake whatever training the Panel thought was appropriate, but he had not identified any relevant training that he had undertaken since he had left the Council. The Panel considered that the standard of the Registrant’s practice had not responded sufficiently to the training and support he was given at the time to achieve independent safe practice, and there was no evidence of relevant training after 2014. Therefore in the Panel’s view, given his lack of insight, there remains a real risk of repetition.
123. The Panel concluded that the circumstances of this case engage two of the four criteria identified by Dame Janet Smith in her 5th Shipman report and subsequently approved by Mrs Justice Cox in the case of Grant (as cited above). The two criteria were:
i. The Registrant has in the past placed, and is liable in the future to place, patients at unwarranted risk of harm; and
ii. Has in the past brought, and is liable in the future to bring, the profession into disrepute.
124. The Panel considered whether the Registrant may be able to remediate his practice. Whilst the Panel was of the view that his practice was capable of remediation in theory, there is no evidence that the Registrant has remediated his lack of competence.
125. In light of the Registrant’s limited insight and the real risk of repetition identified by the Panel, the Panel finds that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired.
126. A finding of impairment is also necessary, in the Panel’s view, to protect patients and service users; to uphold professional standards and to maintain public confidence in both the profession and the regulatory process.
Decision on Sanction:
127. Having determined that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired by reason of his lack of competence, the Panel next went on to consider whether it was impaired to a degree which required action to be taken on his registration by way of the imposition of a sanction.
128. The Panel received the submissions from Ms Sheridan on behalf of the HCPC.
129. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and it exercised its independent judgement. The Panel had regard to the Indicative Sanctions Policy and considered the sanctions in ascending order of severity. The Panel was aware that the purpose of a sanction is not to be punitive but to protect members of the public and to safeguard the wider public interest, which includes upholding standards within the profession, together with maintaining public confidence in the profession and its regulatory process.
130. The Panel first identified what it considered to be the principal mitigating and aggravating factors in this case.
Mitigating factors:
• The Registrant made admissions to the effect that his standards of practice were below the required standards.
• The Registrant was a NQSW, in his first year post qualification, so lacked experience.
• There was no previous history of failings.
• The Registrant’s failings were not deliberate on his part.

Aggravating factors:
• The failings were serious.
• The potential risk of harm to which vulnerable children were exposed by the Registrant’s failings.
• The failings were persistent and repeated and occurred over a considerable period of time.
• The absence of adequate insight into the implications on his lack of competence on child safety and the reputation of the profession.
131. The Panel next approached the ladder of sanctions, beginning with the least restrictive. The Panel does not consider that the options of taking no further action, mediation or the sanction of a Caution Order, to be appropriate or proportionate in the circumstances of this case. None of these options would provide the necessary levels of protection, nor would they reflect the seriousness and nature of the Registrant’s inability to identify and analyse risk in respect of those children who were allocated to him. The Panel did not consider that the issues were of a minor or isolated nature, and the Panel has identified a real risk of repetition.
132. The Panel moved on to consider the imposition of a Conditions of Practice Order. The Indicative Sanctions Policy suggests that this sanction may be appropriate where the issues are capable of correction and there is no persistent or general failure which would prevent the Registrant from doing so. In this case, the Panel is of the view that remediation is theoretically possible. However, the nature of the Registrant’s lack of competence in respect of his inability to respond appropriately to the supervision and training given during the ASYE programme, such that he repeated the same mistakes of failing to identify, analyse and act upon risk and follow safeguarding procedures, leaves the Panel unable to conclude that correction is a realistic prospect at this time.
133. Furthermore, the Panel does not consider that it would be possible to formulate practicable and workable conditions that would provide the necessary level of public protection and maintain public confidence in the profession. The Registrant had never demonstrated his competence as a Social Worker, and in the latter part of his ASYE, the position had been reached where his line manager, Witness 1, ensured that he was accompanied on every visit that he undertook.
134. The Panel next considered a Suspension Order and concluded that this was the appropriate and proportionate sanction, both to protect the public and to meet the wider public interest. Given the serious and protracted nature of the Registrant’s failings, the Panel was satisfied that such an Order would provide appropriate protection to service users. It was also required to maintain public confidence in the profession.
135. The Panel considered that the length of the Order should be for 12 months. In light of the failings that the Panel had identified, it did not consider that the Registrant would be able to take steps to rectify them in a shorter period.
136. This Panel did not seek to fetter the discretion of a reviewing Panel, but it did consider that the following may be of assistance to a future Panel:
• The Registrant’s attendance.
• Evidence of any relevant training including the areas of safeguarding, assessing risk and report writing.
137. Although the Panel had no information as to the Registrant’s current financial situation, beyond that he was working, it acknowledged that such an Order would be likely to have an impact upon him if he wished to return to practise in the future. However, the Panel determined that the interests of protecting the public and upholding confidence in the profession outweighed the interests of the Registrant.

Order

The Registrar is directed to suspend the registration of Neil Rutland for a period of 12 months from the date this order comes into effect.

Notes

Interim Order:
The Panel makes an Interim Suspension Order under Article 31(2) of the Health and Social Work Professions Order 2001, the same being necessary to protect members of the public and being otherwise in the public interest.  This order will expire: (if no appeal is made against the Panel’s decision and Order) upon the expiry of the period during which such an appeal could be made; (if an appeal is made against the Panel’s decision and Order) the final determination of that appeal, subject to a maximum period of 18 months.

Hearing history

History of Hearings for Mr Neil Rutland

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
16/11/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Suspended
14/11/2016 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Suspended