Molly Boggis

: Social worker

: SW93256

Interim Order: Imposed on 08 Feb 2017

: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing:10:00 06/02/2017 End: 17:00 08/02/2017

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

: Conduct and Competence Committee
: Conditions of Practice

Allegation

Allegation (as amended)

During the course of your employment as an agency Social Worker at Blue Mountain Homes, you:

1. Between May 2014 and September 2014 had a sexual relationship with Service User A, a young person.

2. Between May 2014 and September 2014 breached professional boundaries, in that you:

a) Allowed Service User  A, a young person to visit your home;

b) Gave Service User  A, your personal telephone number;

c) Made payments into Service User  A's bank account on the following dates:

(i) 9 June 2014
(ii) 23 June 2014
(iii) 30 June 2014
(iv) 2 July 2014
(v) 4 July 2014
(vi) 11 July 2014
(vii) 14 July 2014
(viii) 17 July 2014
(ix) 4 August 2014
(x) 11 August 2014
(xi) 26 August 2014
(xii) 26 August 2014
(xiii) 10 September 2014
(xiv) 22 September 2014
(xv) 13 October 2014

3. Your actions in paragraphs 1 and/ or 2 were sexually motivated.

4. The matters described in paragraphs 1-3 constitute misconduct.
5. By reason of your misconduct, your fitness to practise is impaired.

Finding

Preliminary matters

1. Ms Turner applied to amend allegation 1 requesting that the word ‘sexual’ was substituted for the word ‘inappropriate’. Ms Turner submitted that this would clarify and particularise the allegation, and the amendment relied on the same evidence which was before the Panel, so that there was no prejudice caused. Ms Robertson did not oppose the application. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.

2. The Panel decided to allow the amendment on the basis that it would particularise the allegation and make clearer what was being alleged.

3. Ms Turner applied to have the Witness statements of Witness 2 at the time Care Director at Blue Mountain Homes, and Witness 4, Personal Adviser for Northampton County Council read into the evidence. Ms Robertson raised issues with the fairness of admitting the Witness statement of Witness 2. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Panel considered the fairness of admitting the Witness statements and decided that it would be fair to admit them.  With regard to Witness 2, the Panel noted this Witness had declined to attend the hearing. While the Witness makes certain assertions about the Registrant’s responses, the Panel considered that it could in fact give little weight to the statement because Witness 2 was not present to be cross-examined. Witness 4 did not speak to the charges, but set out the efforts made to secure the attendance of Service User A, the complainant in this case. Whilst this evidence could not be tested, it was not challenged and the Panel considered that Witness 4’s evidence was useful and took it into account.

Background

4. At the material time, the Registrant was employed as an agency social worker at Blue Mountain Homes from 24 May 2014. Part of her role was to work on a one to one basis with Service User A, a 17 year old male who was residing in Rowan House, a four bedded residential unit. Service User A had emotional and behavioural disabilities, had suffered abandonment by his mother, and at times displayed challenging behaviour. The Registrant’s last shift at Rowan House was on 14 August 2014. She subsequently was transferred to other units within the Blue Mountain Homes leaving in early October to begin new employment in London. On 20 October 2014, Service User A for the first time disclosed to his support worker, Witness 3, that he had been in a sexual relationship with the Registrant. The matter was reported to the police and the Derby Safeguarding Children Board.

5. The Derby Safeguarding Children Board Strategy Meeting decided to report the matter to the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) but they made the decision not to place the name of the Registrant on the disbarred lists for children or adults. The Registrant continues to work for an independent, advice, support, and assistance organisation providing services for vulnerable service users.

6. The Panel were informed by Witness 1 that as an agency worker the Registrant was not provided with any induction, neither was she trained by the Blue Mountain Homes in any safeguarding standards designed to protect either young people or practitioners.

Decision on facts

7. The Panel heard the live evidence of Witness 1, at the time Resident Manager at Rowan House and Witness 3, at the time residential support worker at Rowan House. It read the Witness statements of Witnesses 2 and 4, and considered the HCPC’s documentary evidence which includes daily logs from Rowan House and minutes from the Derbyshire Strategy Meeting. It also read the written submissions and evidence provided by the Registrant. It took into account that the burden of proof rests on the HCPC and that the standard of proof is the civil standard, namely the balance of probabilities.

8. The Panel made the following assessment with regard to the evidence of the live Witnesses. Both Witnesses sought to give honest evidence and were generally credible. However, Witness 3’s evidence was limited by the fact that he had never observed the Registrant’s professional interactions with Service User A. Further, he was reporting Service User A’s disclosure to him, which constituted hearsay evidence.

9. With regard to the main stem of the allegation, the Panel found it proved that at the time set out in the allegation, the Registrant was indeed employed as an agency social worker at Blue Mountain Homes, a matter which was not disputed by the Registrant.

10. The particulars in this case are serious. In its analysis the Panel tested the cogency of the evidence. For instance where the evidence was essentially hearsay the Panel sought corroborative, independent evidence.

Particular 1

11. The Panel found this particular not proved. The reasons for this decision are set out below.

12. The evidence relied on by the HCPC was mainly the hearsay evidence of Service User A, as reported to others, mainly Witness 3. There was no Witness statement from Service User A, and as stated in Witness statement 4, he did not want to engage in these proceedings. This hearsay evidence was unable to be tested during the hearing, and the Panel was unable to give it significant weight as a result. The Panel also noted Witness 3’s oral evidence which stated that Service User A had told him he had text messages and videos relating to the sexual relationship with the Registrant. However, Witness 3 stated that Service User A refused to show these to him or to the police.

13. In the young person’s disclosure he claimed that some of the sexual activity between himself and the Registrant took place in the registrant’s bedroom in her own home. The Panel were informed by Witness 3 that the young person described the bedroom and gave this description to the police. However, there was no corroborative, evidence, such as the police report, as to whether the description did in fact match the reality.

14. While Witness 3 had never observed any professional interaction between the Registrant and Service User A, Witness 1 had observed their professional relationship and had found nothing untoward or adverse in the Registrant’s practice or relationship with Service User A. In fact, Witness 1 states in his Witness statement that ‘I was willing to take [the Registrant] “on as a full time worker which demonstrates my opinion of [the Registrant”]. This was following her application for a full time job at Rowan House on 21 August 2014. He stated in evidence that there was nothing unusual in the daily logs which caused him concern with regard to her work with Service User A.

15. The Panel examined the daily logs which were before them which provided detailed accounts of Service User A’s activities and interactions with staff. Service User A left the unit with staff members including the Registrant on numerous occasions to attend appointments, buy takeaway food, make visits to local towns and play pool. The Registrant had written accounts in the log of the occasions when she was with Service User A, which had sometimes involved several hours’ absence from the unit. Witness 1 stated it was the role of all staff to build up constructive one to one relationships with the young people which involved escorting them to community activities and collecting them from unauthorised absence.

16. The daily logs also recorded the occasions when Service User A left the unit without a member of staff or authorisation and did not return, so he was treated as missing. Witness 1 stated that on his return Service User A would be interviewed but he never gave an explanation of where he had been.

17.  The Panel’s attention was drawn to the daily log on 7 June 2014 which shows that Service User A walked out of the Home after midnight, and the Registrant followed him, and they returned together at 1.25 am. Witness 1 stated that it was accepted practice for social workers to follow young people out of the Home. It seems to the Panel that such late night absences from the Home had the capacity to put both service users and social workers at risk. However, regardless of the undesirability of such risk, there is no cogent circumstantial evidence which could be sufficient to prove the allegation, whether alone or together with the other evidence put forward by the HCPC. 

18. It is of note that Witness 1 and Witness 3 gave evidence that they had carried out an analysis of the times when Service User A was missing, and the times when the Registrant was off work or on annual leave, and found that there was substantial correlation between them. Witness 1 stated that he gave this information to the police. However, this analysis was not before the Panel and therefore there was no independent, corroborative evidence of this correlation, as asserted. Therefore the Panel was not a able to identify any significant patterns.
19. In conclusion, the Panel found there to be insufficient evidence to substantiate this particular.

Particular 2a)

20. The Panel found this particular proved.

21. The Registrant admits that she drove to her home with Service User A in her car, so that she could collect some personal belongings which she needed to work a night shift. On her own case, she left Service User A in her car. However, as stated by her, she discovered him standing in her bedroom door way, and ushered him out.

22. The Panel came to the conclusion that while the Registrant did not encourage Service User A to come into her home, she should not have driven him to her home for whatever reason, and by doing so, and by leaving her front door open, she did allow him to visit her home. As a social worker she breached professional boundaries in doing so; such poor practice permitted Service User A to know the location of her home and, in the circumstances, have the opportunity to enter it.

Particular 2b)

23. The Panel found this particular not proved.

24. There was evidence, for example that of Witness 3, to show that Service User A had the Registrant’s personal telephone number. However, the HCPC has not adduced any evidence to show that the Registrant gave her personal telephone number to Service User A. The Registrant has raised in her written submissions that there were numerous ways in which Service User A could have obtained her number without her giving it to him. The Registrant makes clear that she was expected to use her personal mobile telephone at work, and there was no evidence to suggest that this was not the case.

Particular 2c)

25. The Panel took into account the Registrant’s admission of this particular. The Panel had sight of Service User A’s bank statements which showed the payments in to his account from the Registrant. The Panel concluded that such payments were a breach of professional boundaries in that regardless of the circumstances, as a social worker, the Registrant should not have paid any personal money to a Service User.

26. The Panel noted the Registrant’s claim that she had been threatened by Service User A and used this as her reason for making the payments. The Panel have not formed any judgment in relation to this evidence because it is not possible to corroborate.

Particular 3

27. The Panel found this particular not proved.

28. The Panel found insufficient evidence to prove sexual motivation in respect of the Registrant’s actions in particulars 2a) and c). This was on the basis of its reasoning in relation to particular 1 and the insufficiency of the evidence to prove that there was a sexual relationship between the parties.

Decision on grounds

29. The Panel then considered whether the facts found proved amount to misconduct. The Panel was aware that a decision on misconduct is a matter for its own professional judgment, and that there is no burden on either party in this regard.

30. Ms Turner submitted that facts found proved do amount to misconduct, and referred to the case of Roylance v GMC (No.2) [2000] 1 AC 311. Ms Robertson informed the Panel that the Registrant accepts that the conduct as set out in Particular 2c) does constitute misconduct. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.

31. The Panel considered the following:

The HCPC Standards of conduct, performance and ethics:
• 3 - you must keep high standards of personal conduct
 The HCPC Social workers in England. Stand ards of proficiency:
• 1 - be able to practise safely and effectively within their scope of  practice
• 1.1 - know the limits of their practice and when to seek advice or refer to another professional
• 2 - be able to practise within the legal and ethical boundaries of their profession
• 2.3 - understand the need to protect, safeguard and promote the wellbeing of  children, young people and vulnerable adults
• 2.4 - understand the need to address practices which present a risk to  or from service users and carers, or others
• 3.4- be able to establish and maintain personal and professional boundaries. 

32. The Panel was aware that breaches of such standards do not necessarily mean that misconduct will be found to exist. However, the Panel concluded that the Registrant’s conduct as found proved fell far below these standards, and that the departure from them was serious. It is crucial for a social worker to maintain professional boundaries, and this is particularly important when a social worker is dealing with a vulnerable young person who has behavioural and emotional difficulties. Allowing a young person into your personal home is a serious matter as it creates risk to the young person and the social worker. With regard to the payments into Service User A’s bank account, these continued for a significant period of time and involved a substantial amount of money in total. The Panel noted that the payments ceased on 13 October 2014 and the disclosure was made on 20 October 2014, but have not speculated on this or drawn any inferences. Whatever the reason for these payments, they fell seriously below what was expected of a social worker.

33. The Panel therefore found misconduct in this case.

Decision on impairment 

34. The Panel went on to consider the issue of current fitness to practise. Ms Turner submitted that the Panel should find impairment and referred to the case of CHRE v NMC and Grant [2011] EWHC 927 (Admin). Ms Robertson submitted that the Registrant is not currently impaired and referred to the Registrant’s written submissions and the recent reference from her current employer. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.

35. The Panel considered the questions formulated by Dame Janet Smith in the Fifth Shipman report as set out in the case of Grant, which ask whether a practitioner:
 ‘ a. has in the past acted and/ or is liable in the future to act so as to put  a patient or patients at unwarranted risk of harm; and/ or
 b. has in the past brought and/ or is liable in the future to bring the  medical profession into disrepute; and/ or
 c. has in the past breached and/ or is liable in the future to breach one  of the  fundamental tenets of the medical profession….’

36. The final question related to dishonesty which is not a feature of this case.

37. The Panel concluded that on the basis of the particulars found proved, the Registrant had, by means of overstepping professional boundaries, put Service User A at unwarranted risk of harm, breached fundamental tenets, as stated above, and brought the profession into disrepute, as her actions were contrary to the expectations of a social worker working with a vulnerable young person.

38. The Panel considered the Registrant’s documentary material before it and considered the particular circumstances of this case. The misconduct occurred during her first social work role following her graduation from university with a degree in social work. She was 23 at the time, and therefore comparatively young. She has no other disciplinary issues or regulatory concerns recorded against her. She was an agency worker with Blue Mountain Homes which provided her with no induction, or training in safeguarding standards, or indeed formal supervision from the time she began her role with them. These factors exposed her to considerable risk. As a newly qualified social worker she might typically have been offered an Assessed and Supported Year in Employment (‘ASYE’) by her employer. In her role as an agency worker no employer either recognised or accepted the fundamental desirability for this. Additionally the Panel were informed that the Registrant had obtained her BA in social work 12 months prior to her gaining the agency role with Blue Mountain Homes. This strengthened the need for the employer to recognise the inexperience of the Registrant.

39. The Panel has already concluded that an examination of the daily logs reveal certain practices encouraged by her employer which were high risk, not only to Service User A but also to the Registrant.

40. The Panel has also carefully considered the Registrant’s written submissions. She has engaged with her regulator, and has expressed remorse and the Panel concluded that she has shown a degree of insight. These proceedings have been a salutary experience for her. On the basis of her expressions of understanding of what she did wrong, the Panel is of the view that the risk of repetition of her misconduct is low. The Panel therefore decided that in the future the Registrant is not liable to put service users at unwarranted risk of harm, bring the profession into disrepute, or breach fundamental tenets of the profession.

41. However, the Registrant continued to make payments into Service User A’s bank account for a significant period of time, continuing after she had left the employment of Blue Mountain Homes. Whatever the reason for her making those payments, which the Panel has not been in a position to make a finding about, she should not have acted in this way. There were other options open to her, such as reporting the situation she found herself in to her employer or to the police. The Panel noted that there are instances in her written submissions in which the Registrant casts some blame on her employer and also Service User A. The Panel is of the view that regardless of the reason for the circumstances in which she found herself, it was the Registrant’s personal responsibility, as the qualified professional, to uphold professional standards, and to take the initiative in order to uphold those standards.

42. The Panel has taken into account that the Registrant is progressing well in her current employment and has provided a very positive reference from them. She has expressed remorse and some insight. On balance the Panel decided that the need to uphold proper professional standards and public confidence in the profession would be undermined if a finding of impairment were not made in the particular circumstances of this case.

43. The Panel therefore found that the Registrant’s current fitness to practise is impaired.

Decision on sanction

44. The Panel was aware that sanction is a matter for its own professional judgment and that the purpose of sanction is not to punish the Registrant but to uphold and maintain the public interest, which includes, where relevant, public protection. It heard the submissions of Ms Turner on behalf of the HCPC and Ms Robertson on behalf of the Registrant and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.

45. The Panel took into account the following as mitigating factors in this case:

i.  the Registrant’s relative young age at the time of the incidents;
ii.  her inexperience, this being her first social worker role;
iii.  her admissions;
iv. her lack of support and supervision in her employment;
v.  an otherwise unblemished (albeit short )career;
vi. her positive reference from her current employment (not a social  worker role).
vii. the remorse and insight demonstrated in her submissions

46. The Panel took into account the following as aggravating factors in this case:

i. the length of time during which the payments were made into  Service User A’s bank account;
ii. Service User A’s young age and vulnerability.

47. The Panel first considered taking no further action, but discounted this on the basis that it would not address the public interest concerns in this case.

48. The Panel also decided that a Caution would not be appropriate on the basis that the misconduct in the form of crossing the professional boundaries in the making of the bank payments repeatedly over a   prolonged period. Further, the public interest concerns in this case would not be addressed by a Caution, due to the serious nature of the misconduct in relation to a vulnerable young person.

49. The Panel then considered a conditions of practice order. While the Panel has already decided that the risk of the Registrant repeating her misconduct is low, the Panel remained concerned that the Registrant failed, as a professional, to take personal accountability for the need to maintain proper professional boundaries and initiate appropriate action. The Panel felt that the public interest would be addressed by ensuring that the Registrant has further training, supervision and assessment to equip her for operating within professional boundaries and to reengage with the profession of social work. This would be proportionate in that it would enable the Registrant to remain in practice while allowing her to remedy the deficiency which she has demonstrated in the past in relation to her own accountability.

50. When considering the nature of the conditions, the Panel took into account that after qualifying it was some months before the Registrant took up her first role as a social worker with Blue Mountain Homes. Further, she has since been out of work as a social worker for approximately two years. The Registrant is currently successfully employed as a Team Manager in a Housing Support Service. This is not a social work role which has its own significant pressures and demands. The Panel therefore concluded that any re-engagement by the Registrant with the profession of social work should be within the confines of an ASYE scheme. This would allow her to receive the support which she needs having been out of social work for a substantial time since her qualification as a social worker, and which would also  equip her with training to take personal accountability for maintaining professional boundaries.

51. The Panel noted the Registrant’s indication within her submissions that she would like to be allowed to continue as a social worker in the future, and concluded from this, as well as from her continued engagement with the HCPC, that it is reasonable to infer that she would be willing to comply with conditions. The Panel was of the view that conditions which are relevant, measurable, workable and proportionate can be drafted to address the public interest concerns in this case as set out below.

52. The Panel decided to impose a conditions of practice order for a period of 18 months. This will allow the Registrant time in which to obtain employment as a social worker and also to complete the ASYE scheme.

53. The Panel did consider a suspension order, but decided that such a sanction would be disproportionate in the Registrant’s case where a conditions of practice order would be sufficient to uphold the public interest in this case.

Order

The Registrar is directed to annotate the Register to show that, for a period of 18 months from the date that this Order takes effect (“the Operative Date”), you, Molly Boggis, must comply with the following conditions of practice:

1. You must confine your practice as a social worker to an employer who is able to provide you with the ASYE scheme.

2. You must notify the HCPC of the outcome of the assessments required within the scheme within 14 days of receiving the results.

3. You must notify the HCPC when you take up employment in a social work role.

4. You must promptly inform the HCPC if you cease to be employed in a social work role.

5. You must promptly inform the HCPC of any disciplinary proceedings taken against you by your employer.

6. You must inform the following parties that your registration is subject to these conditions:

A. any organisation or person employing or contracting with you to undertake professional work;

B. any agency you are registered with or apply to be registered with (at the time of application); and

C. any prospective employer (at the time of your application).

7. Any condition requiring you to provide any information to the HCPC is to be met by you sending the information to the offices of the HCPC, marked for the attention of the Director of Fitness to Practise or Head of Case Management.

Notes

The order imposed today will apply from 8 March 2017.

The Panel imposed an interim conditions of practice order to cover the appeal period.

Hearing history

History of Hearings for Molly Boggis

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
06/02/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Conditions of Practice