Mrs Julie Kim Briggs

: Social worker

: SW41142

: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing:10:00 13/03/2017 End: 17:00 14/03/2017

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

: Conduct and Competence Committee
: Struck off

Allegation

(As amended at Final Hearing):


During the course of your employment as a Social Worker with Peterborough City Council:

1. When preparing the Form F assessment documentation for Foster Carer A
you signed the following documents as Mrs A;

a. Foster Family Safe Caring Policy form;
b. Pet Assessment;
c. Fire Safety Plan;
d. Health and Safety check list;
e. Personal Professional Development Plan

2. When preparing the Form F assessment documentation for Foster Carer B
you signed the following documents as Foster Carer B;

a. Foster Family Safe Caring Policy form dated 26 November 2014;
b. Pet Assessment dated 26 November 2014;
c. Prospective Foster Carer Report dated 12 January 2015.

3. When preparing the Form F assessment documentation for Foster Carers C
you:

a. signed the Foster Family Safe Caring Policy form as Mrs C;
b. between 07 November 2014 and 30 January 2015, claimed £90 of mileage
expenses for visits to Foster Carers C which did not take place.

4. Signed Foster Carer D's Form F assessment dated 13 February 2015 using the signature of your Team Manager.

5. The matters set out in paragraphs 1 - 4 are dishonest.

6. The matters set out in paragraphs 1 - 5 constitute misconduct.

7. By reason of your misconduct your fitness to practise is impaired.

Finding

Preliminary Matters

Service

1. The Panel determined that service had been properly complied with in accordance with the requirements of the Health and Care Professions Council Rules 2003 (“the Rules”) in that a letter dated 1 November 2016 had been sent to the Registrant at her registered address giving notice of the hearing.
Proceeding in absence

2. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor, who took the Panel to the Practice Note on Proceeding in the Absence of the Registrant, to Rule 11 and to the guidance given in the relevant case-law.

3. The Panel was provided with a copy of an email from the Registrant dated 18 February 2017 in which she stated that she had chosen not to engage in the proceedings, that she had no intention of working as a Social Worker in the future and asking the HCPC to stop contacting her. There had been no further engagement from the Registrant since that date.

4. The Panel concluded that the Registrant was aware of the hearing and had absented herself voluntarily. She had not applied to adjourn the hearing and it was unlikely that she would attend if the matter were to be adjourned. The Panel noted that four witnesses were to give evidence on behalf of the HCPC. The Panel considered that it was in the public interest for the matter to be heard expeditiously.

5. In all the circumstances, the Panel decided to proceed today in the absence of the Registrant.
Application to amend

6. Mr Foxsmith applied to amend the allegation. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Registrant had been notified of the majority of the proposed amendments. The Panel was content that the amendments clarified the allegation, did not significantly alter the substance of the allegation and could be made without prejudice to the Registrant. Accordingly, the Panel decided to allow the application.

Witnesses

7. The Panel heard from four witnesses on behalf of the HCPC:

• Witness 1 – Investigations Officer for Peterborough City Council

• Witness 2 – the Registrant’s Manager

• Foster Carer B

• Foster Carer C

Background

8. The Registrant commenced employment with Peterborough City Council (the Council) on 14 March 2011 as an Advanced Social Work Practitioner. She worked within the Fostering Team of Children’s Social Care.

9. The Panel heard that in April 2015 a Social Worker from the Council visited Foster Carer A, taking with her a recently completed Foster Family Safe Caring Policy form which purported to have been signed by Foster Carer A. When Foster Carer A saw this form she asserted that the signature was not hers.

10. As a result of this, Witness 1 was appointed to investigate the matter.

11. Witness 1 selected six files relating to applicant foster families that the Registrant had been visiting at about the time the Registrant had visited Foster Carer A. Witness 1 then conducted an audit of those files by accessing the “Liquidlogic” system in which the Children’s Social Care records were maintained, so that she could obtain all documentation relating to those Foster Carers. She discovered that documentation in relation to Foster Carers B, C and D contained signatures which she regarded as suspect. She therefore contacted those Foster Carers and interviewed them. She also interviewed Foster Carer A and also Witness 2.

12. Statements were taken from Foster Carers A, B and C who asserted that the signatures appearing on the documents particularised in Particulars 1, 2 and 3 were not theirs.

13. Similarly Witness 2, the Registrant’s team manager, said that the signature particularised in Particular 4 was not his.

14. In relation to her investigation into the Registrant’s dealings with Foster Carer C, Witness 1 noticed that some of the dates relating to documents bearing suspect signatures fell on weekends, which would be unusual. Witness 1 enquired about this with Foster Carer C who said that the Registrant had cancelled many of her visits and gave details of dates on which planned visits had been cancelled. This led Witness 1 to review the Registrant’s Outlook calendar and mileage claims. Witness 1 gave evidence that the Registrant had claimed a total of £90 in mileage expenses for five visits to Foster Carer C which had not in fact taken place. Witness 1 said that on one occasion the Registrant had claimed mileage for a date when in fact she had been off sick from work.

15. Witness 1 offered the Registrant the opportunity of an interview on 15 July 2015 which the Registrant accepted and attended. Witness 1 asked the Registrant about the case of Foster Carer A in response to which the Registrant disputed the allegation, claiming that she had witnessed Foster Carer A signing the document.

16. Witness 1 said that the Registrant then terminated the interview, by saying that she needed to leave for personal reasons. Witness 1 said that following this the Registrant failed to participate in the investigation process or attend any further interviews arranged on her behalf.

17. Witness 1 informed the Panel that the Registrant sent in a document dated 6 July 2015 in which she alleged that she had been the victim of bullying at the hands of her managers.

18. The Panel was provided with no further representations or documentation from the Registrant save for her email dated 18 February 2017 in which she stated:
“I have wrote to the HCPC asking for my name to be removed as I have no intention to work as a Social Worker. I could have engaged with the process stating my reasons with regards to the allegations and told the story of how I was treated at PCC by my then line managers, and I did initially. However I was just a mere Social Worker struggling and surviving in a world full of bureaucracy and managers for whom targets and numbers meant more than person care. People do not care about Social Workers, we struggle on till we breakdown then we are replaced. Now my life has more pressing issues ….What I will say is that whatever the findings of the allegations they were never deliberately or purposefully done for my own needs but purely as an attempt to complete on time, working under immense sheer pressure.”

19.  It was accepted that the Registrant had no adverse findings against her name.

Decision on Facts

20. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. In reaching its decision it took into account the evidence before it, including the Registrant’s email dated  18 February 2017 and the Registrant’s good character.

21. The Panel considered Particular 1 after considering Particulars 2, 3 and 4, on the basis that the Panel had not had the benefit of hearing from Foster Carer A whereas Foster Carers B and C and Witness 2 had been called to give evidence.

22. The Panel found all the witnesses called before the Panel to be credible and reliable.

Particular 2

23. It was clear from the evidence of Foster Carer B that the signature on the documents set out at Sub-Particulars 1(a), 1(b) and 1(c) purporting to be Foster Carer B’s signature had not been placed on the document by Foster Carer B and was not in fact Foster Carer B’s signature.

24. In relation to the Prospective Foster Carer Report (Form F), Foster Carer B informed the Panel that she had not agreed with the content of this document, had made suggested changes and so had not signed it. She had never been provided with an amended version.

25. The Panel concluded that someone else must have signed the documents in place of Foster Carer B.

26. The Panel heard and saw that each document required signatures from two people: one from the supervising Social Worker and one from the Foster Carer. The Panel saw on the face of the documentation that in each instance the Registrant’s name appeared in the signature section for the supervising Social Worker.

27. The Panel heard from Foster Carer B that her name was spelt with two “f’’s” whereas the document bore Foster Carer B’s name spelt with one “f”. Witness 1 informed the Panel that when making entries in the Outlook calendar relating to visits to Foster Carer B, the Registrant had deployed this same incorrect spelling, by using one “f” instead of two.

28. The Panel heard from Witness 2 that in general only one Social Worker was involved in preparing all relevant documentation for a Fostering Application. The Panel had heard that the Registrant had been the Social Worker allocated to this case, and that no other Social Workers, assistants or students had been involved in its preparation. The Panel concluded from this that it was highly unlikely that anyone other than the Registrant would have placed the Foster Carer’s signature on the documents. 

29. The Panel considered that the Registrant’s email to the HCPC dated 18 February 2017 did not offer sufficient clarity at the fact finding stage to be taken into account.

30. In all the circumstances the Panel found that it was more likely than not that the Registrant had signed all documents particularised in Particular 2 and found Particular 2 proved in its entirety.

Particular 3

31. It was clear from the evidence of Foster Carer C that the signature on the document set out at Sub-Particular 1(a) purporting to be Mrs C’s signature had not been placed on the document by Mrs C and was not in fact Mrs C’s signature.

32. It followed that someone else must have signed the document in place of
Mrs C.

33. As noted above the Panel heard from Witness 2 that in general only one Social Worker was involved in preparing all relevant documentation for a Fostering Application. The Panel had heard that the Registrant had been the Social Worker allocated to this case, and that no other Social Workers, assistants or students had been involved in its preparation. The Panel concluded from this that it was highly unlikely that anyone other than the Registrant would have placed the Foster Carer’s signature on the documents.

34. The Panel heard and saw that the document required signatures from two people: one from the supervising Social Worker and one from the Foster Carer. The Panel saw on the face of the documentation that the Registrant’s name appeared in the signature section as the supervising Social Worker.

35. The Panel considered that the Registrant’s email to the HCPC dated 18 February 2017 did not offer sufficient clarity at the fact finding stage to be taken into account.

36. In all the circumstances the Panel found that it was more likely than not that the Registrant had signed the document set out in Particular 3(a) and found Particular 3(a) proved.

37. The Panel accepted the evidence of Witness 1, supported by the documentation placed before it, that the Registrant had claimed £90 in mileage expenses when the evidence of Foster Carer C was that the relevant visits had not taken place. The Panel had heard from Foster Carer C that the Registrant had cancelled a number of her visits. Some of dates relating to documents bearing suspect signatures fell on weekends and on one occasion the Registrant had claimed mileage for a date when she had been off sick from work. The Panel concluded that the Registrant had claimed for mileage expenses for visits that had not in fact taken place.

38. In those circumstances the Panel found Particular 3(b) proved.

Particular 4

39. The Panel heard that Form F assessments must be signed off by a manager before being submitted to a Fostering Panel.

40. It was clear from the evidence of Witness 2 that the signature on the document set out at Particular 4 in relation to Foster Carer D purporting to be Witness 2’s signature had not been placed on the document by Witness 2 and was not in fact Witness 2’s signature.

41. It followed that someone else must have signed the document in place of Witness 2.

42. The Panel heard and saw that the document required signatures from two people: one from the supervising Social Worker and one from the manager. The Panel saw on the face of the documentation that the Registrant’s name appeared in the signature section as the supervising Social Worker.

43. The Panel heard from Witness 2 that in general only one Social Worker was involved in preparing all relevant documentation for a Fostering Application. The Panel had heard that the Registrant had been the Social Worker allocated to this case, and that no other Social Workers, assistants or students had been involved in its preparation. The Panel concluded from this that it was highly unlikely that anyone other than the Registrant would have placed the Foster Carer’s signature on the documents. 

44. The Panel considered that the Registrant’s email to the HCPC dated 18 February 2017 did not offer sufficient clarity at the fact finding stage to be taken into account.

45. In all the circumstances the Panel found Particular 4 proved.
Particular 1

46. It was clear from the witness statement of Foster Carer A, and from the hearsay evidence provided by Witness 1 regarding what Foster Carer A had told Witness 1, that the signature on the documents set out at Sub-Particulars 1(a), 1(b), 1(c), 1(d), and 1(e) purporting to be Mrs A’s signature had not been placed on the document by Mrs A and were not in fact Mrs A’s signature. In so concluding the Panel bore in mind that Witness 1’s evidence had been both honest and credible in relation to Particulars 2 and 3.

47. It followed that someone else must have signed the documents in place of Mrs A.

48. The Panel heard from Witness 2 that in general only one Social Worker was involved in preparing all relevant documentation for a Fostering Application. The Panel had heard that the Registrant had been the Social Worker allocated to this case, and that no other Social Workers, assistants or students had been involved in its preparation. The Panel concluded from this that it was highly unlikely that anyone other than the Registrant would have placed the Foster Carer’s signature on the documents. 

49. The Panel heard and saw that each document required signatures from two people: one from the supervising Social Worker and one from the Foster Carer. The Panel saw on the face of the documentation that in each instance the Registrant’s name appeared in the signature section as the supervising Social Worker.

50. The Panel considered that the Registrant’s email to the HCPC dated 18 February 2017 did not offer sufficient clarity at the fact finding stage to be taken into account.

51. In all the circumstances the Panel found that it was more likely than not that the Registrant had signed all documents relevant to Particular 1 and found Particular 1 proved in its entirety.
Particular 5

52. The Panel concluded on the balance of probabilities that the Registrant must have placed the signatures on the documents in paragraphs 1 – 4 deliberately with the intention of deceiving others into believing that the foster carers and Witness 2 had in fact signed the documents. The Panel concluded that this was clearly dishonest by the standards of ordinary and reasonable Social Workers, and that the Registrant must have realised that what she was doing was dishonest by those standards. The Panel did not accept the Registrant’s suggestion in her email that she had not acted deliberately.

53. Accordingly, the Panel found Particular 5 proved.
Decision on Grounds

54. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor who addressed the Panel on the meaning of lack of misconduct. She referred to the relevant case-law. The Panel was aware that this was a matter for the Panel’s judgment.

55. The Panel took into account the fact that the Registrant’s behaviour

• had been dishonest

• related to four service users

• related to her employer, specifically her team manager.

56. The Panel found that the Registrant had breached standards 1,3,10 and 13 of the HCPC Standards of Conduct Performance and Ethics

1.  You must act in the best interests of service users.

3.  You must keep high standards of personal conduct.

10.  You must keep accurate records.

13.  You must behave with honesty and integrity and make sure that
        your behavior does not damage the public’s confidence in you or
        your profession.

57. The Panel took into account Foster Carer C’s evidence that the incident had caused her to lose faith in the system.

58. In all the circumstances, it was the judgment of the Panel that the Registrant’s actions were serious, “would be regarded as deplorable by fellow practitioners” and amounted to misconduct.
Decision on Impairment

59. In considering whether the Registrant is currently impaired by reason of her misconduct, the Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and took note of the Practice Note on Fitness to Practise provided by the HCPC.

60. In light of the serious nature of the misconduct, namely repeated dishonesty, the Panel concluded that even if it were possible for the Registrant to remediate her dishonesty, the Registrant had not admitted her dishonesty, and had not provided the Panel with any evidence of insight or remediation. Her email to the HCPC fails to acknowledge the adverse impact of her actions on Service Users, her employer and the profession. As a consequence, the Panel concluded that there was a high risk that the Registrant would repeat her misconduct.

61. In considering the public component, the Panel concluded that public confidence in the profession and the HCPC would be undermined if a finding of impairment were not made in light of the finding of dishonesty.

62. The Panel therefore found that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired.

Decision on Sanction

63. In considering what sanction, if any, to impose, the Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and referred to the Indicative Sanctions Policy.

64. The Panel bore in mind the advice that its purpose was not to be punitive, but to protect the public. It understood that it must act proportionately, balancing the interests of the Registrant with those of the public. It considered the range of available sanctions in ascending order of seriousness, starting with the option of taking no action.

65. The Panel found, by way of aggravating factors, that there had been two types of dishonest behaviour; the forging of signatures and the falsification of expense claims. Both types of dishonest behaviour had been repeated. The Registrant has failed to accept any personal responsibility for her actions or the impact on the reputation of the Social Work reputation.

66. The Panel found by way of mitigation that there were no previous adverse findings against the Registrant’s name.

67. In view of the seriousness of the case, to take no further action or to impose a caution order would not be sufficient to protect service users, or maintain public confidence in the profession and in the regulatory process. The dishonesty had not been isolated, limited, or relatively minor in nature, the risk of recurrence was not low, and the Registrant had shown no insight.

68. The Panel concluded that conditions of practice would be insufficient in light of the seriousness of the allegation and would be unworkable in light of the findings of dishonesty and the Registrant’s lack of engagement.

69. The Panel gave careful consideration to a suspension order. The Registrant had not provided any evidence of insight, apology or remorse, and on the basis of the material before it, the Panel concluded there was no realistic prospect that the Registrant’s misconduct would be remediated, albeit that it was the Panel’s view that in principle the Registrant’s dishonesty was capable of remediation. The Panel had concluded that the allegation was of a serious nature and that the risk that the Registrant would repeat her misconduct was high.

70. In those circumstances the Panel concluded that a striking off order was the only appropriate order. Such an order was necessary due to the seriousness of the dishonest behaviour, which had been deliberate, repeated and had taken two distinct forms, together with the lack of any insight, apology or remorse, as set out earlier in this determination. The Panel had received no reassurance that the Registrant would not repeat her misconduct. The Panel understood that a striking off order was the most serious of all sanctions. However, the Panel also concluded that any lesser sanction would undermine confidence in the profession and the regulatory process.

Order

ORDER: That the Registrar is directed to strike the name of Mrs Julie Kim Briggs from the Register on the date this order comes into effect. 

Notes

The order imposed today will apply from 11 April 2017 (the Operative Date).

Hearing history

History of Hearings for Mrs Julie Kim Briggs

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
13/03/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Struck off