Miss Karen Willan

: Social worker

: SW109572

: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing:10:00 20/03/2017 End: 17:00 20/03/2017

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

: Conduct and Competence Committee
: Struck off

Allegation

Allegation (as amended at Final Hearing):

Whilst registered as a Social Worker on 26 April 2016 at Macclesfield Magistrates Court you were convicted of:

1. On 6 April 2016 at Disley in the county of Cheshire being a person who had attained the age of 16 years and having responsibility for Child A, a child under that age, caused or procured Child A to be, ill treated, neglected, abandoned or exposed in a manner likely to cause him unnecessary suffering or injury to health, contrary to section 1(a) of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933

2. On 6 April 2016 at Disley in the county of Cheshire being a person who had attained the age of 16 years and having responsibility for Child B, a child under that age, caused or procured Child B to be, ill treated, neglected, abandoned or exposed in a manner likely to cause her unnecessary suffering or injury to health, contrary to section 1(a) of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933

3. By reason of your convictions as set out at paragraphs 1 – 2 your fitness to practise as a Social Worker is impaired.

Finding

Preliminary Matters

1. The case for the Health and Care Professions Council (“HCPC”) was presented by Ms Sian Jones, of Kingsley Napley, Solicitors. The Registrant  was neither present nor represented at the hearing.

Proof of Service 

2. The Panel dealt initially with service. The Panel had sight of the notice of hearing dated 16 August 2016 which set out all the relevant information about today’s proceedings. The Panel was satisfied that service had been effected in accordance with the Health and Care Professions Council (Conduct and Competence) Committee (Procedure) Rules 2003.

 Proceeding in the absence of the Registrant

3. Ms Jones applied to have the case heard in the Registrant’s absence. Ms Jones submitted that the Registrant had been properly served in accordance with the rules. She further submitted that the Registrant had voluntarily absented herself and that there was no indication that if an adjournment was granted the Registrant would attend on a future date.. She also informed the Panel that the Registrant had not engaged with the HCPC at any stage of the proceedings.

4. The Panel took advice from the Legal Assessor. The decision to proceed in the absence of the Registrant must be exercised with the utmost caution. The Panel had regard to the recent authoritative decision in this area in GMC v Adeogba (2016) EWCA Civ. 162 and to the Council’s recent Practice Note ‘Proceeding in the absence of the Registrant’ dated September 2016, which has been updated to take into account recent developments in the case law which emphasised importance of public interest considerations.

5. The Panel was satisfied that it was appropriate to proceed in the Registrant’s absence. It considered that the allegations are serious and there is a strong public interest in proceeding with the matter today. The Panel further considered that no purpose would be served in adjourning the matter. Balancing the relative interests of the Registrant with those of the public, the Panel decided it is in the interests of justice that the matter proceed, notwithstanding the Registrant’s absence.

Application for part of the hearing to be in private

6. Ms Jones applied under Rule 10 (1) for the hearing to be in private in relation to any part in which the identity of the service users could be identified. She submitted that this was in the interests of justice and necessary to protect the private lives of the children involved.

7. The Panel, having taken the advice of the Legal Assessor, agreed that the hearing could partly be held in private where it was necessary in order to protect the identities of the children involved.

Application to Amend Particulars

8. Ms Jones applied to amend the Particulars in the form notified to the Registrant by letter dated 16 August 2016 so as to correctly reflect the details in the relevant memorandum of conviction. The Panel considered the submissions of Ms Jones and the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Panel was satisfied that the amendments were necessary to better reflect the details of the certificate of conviction and did not alter the nature of the allegations.  The Panel was therefore satisfied that the amendments could be made without causing any prejudice to the Registrant and agreed to grant the application.
 Background
9. At the material times, the Registrant was employed as a Registered Social Worker in children’s services by Tameside Council. On 26 April 2016 at Macclesfield Magistrates Court, the Registrant pleaded guilty to two charges of Child Cruelty as set out in the allegations now before the HCPC.
 Decision on Facts
10. The Panel had regard to the Certificate of Conviction which records the facts of the matters to which the Registrant pleaded guilty and was convicted. On the basis of the production of the certificate, the Panel found Particulars 1 and 2 proved.

Decision on Grounds

11. For the same reasons as set out in its decision on facts, the Panel was satisfied that the statutory ground of criminal conviction had been made out.

Decision on Impairment 

12. The Panel considered that the matters for which the Registrant was convicted were serious and called into question her fitness to practise as a Social Worker. The Registrant had neglected children in her care and placed them at potential psychological harm, given their exposure to ongoing squalid living conditions. By her committing these criminal offences, the Panel was satisfied that the Registrant had breached fundamental tenets of her profession by failing to uphold proper standards of conduct and behaviour and had seriously brought her profession into disrepute.

The Panel was provided with no evidence of insight or remediation and there was a lack of information as to the Registrant’s current circumstances. Therefore, the Panel was of the view that there remained a significant risk of repetition.

13. The Panel was also mindful of the wider public interest considerations in this case, particularly the need to declare and uphold proper standards of conduct and behaviour and maintain confidence in the reputation of the Social Work profession and the regulatory process. The Panel concluded that public confidence in the profession and in the HCPC would be undermined were a finding of impairment not made.

14. For all of the above reasons, the Panel found that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired.

Decision on Sanction

15. The Panel considered the submissions made by Ms Jones on behalf of the HCPC. The Panel received and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.

16. The Panel was mindful that the purpose of any sanction was not to punish the Registrant but to protect the public and maintain public confidence in the profession and the HCPC as its regulator, by the maintenance of proper standards of conduct and behaviour.

17. The Panel had regard to the Indicative Sanctions Policy. The Panel applied the principle of proportionality by weighing the Registrant’s interests with the public interest and by considering each available sanction in ascending order of seriousness.

18. The Panel had regard to paragraph 9 of the Indicative Sanctions Policy which states,
  "Even if a Panel has determined that fitness to practise is impaired, it is not obliged to impose a sanction. This is likely to be an exceptional outcome but, for example, may be appropriate in cases where a finding of impairment has been reached on the wider public interest grounds identified above but where the registrant has insight, has already taken remedial action and there is no risk of repetition".

19. In deciding whether to impose any sanction, the Panel had regard to paragraph 14 of the Indicative Sanctions Policy which states,
  "The degree of insight displayed by a registrant is central to a proper determination of whether fitness to practise is impaired and, if so, what sanction (if any) is required. The issues which the Panel need to consider include whether the registrant: 
• has admitted or recognised any wrongdoing;
• has genuinely recognised his or her failings;
• has taken or is taking any appropriate remedial action;
• is likely to repeat or compound that wrongdoing.”

20. Having carefully considered the above paragraphs of the Indicative Sanctions Policy, the Panel concluded that given the serious nature of the matters for which the Registrant was convicted and that her fitness to practise is currently impaired, a sanction was required in the public interest, to mark the seriousness of the matter.

21. The Panel considered as an aggravating factor that the Registrant was a social worker in children’s services, whose job it was to protect vulnerable children, yet she failed to protect the children.  The children were exposed to squalid conditions over a number of years, potentially causing them psychological harm.

22. Whilst the Panel noted as a mitigating factor that the Registrant had pleaded guilty to the offences in the Magistrates’ Court, it was also mindful that due to the Registrant’s non-engagement in this process, the Panel was provided with no information as to any other mitigating factors and was unable to gauge the Registrant’s attitude to her offences. The Panel was not provided with any evidence of any remorse or insight.

23. The Panel considered the available sanctions in ascending order of seriousness and concluded that taking no action or imposing a Caution Order would be not be appropriate to mark the seriousness of the matters.

24. The Panel next considered conditions of practice. The Panel was not provided with any information as to the Registrant’s current professional circumstances or her ability to comply with any conditions. In any event, the Panel considered that Conditions were inappropriate and disproportionate, given the seriousness of the matters for which the Registrant was convicted, and that she is still subject to a suspended sentence of imprisonment.

25. In considering a suspension order, the Panel had regard to the indicative sanctions policy which states at paragraph 32, “Suspension should be considered where the Panel considers that a caution or conditions of practice would provide insufficient public protection or where the allegation is of a serious nature but unlikely to be repeated and, thus, striking off is not merited”.

26. The Panel considered that the matters found proved were of the highest level of seriousness, given the Registrant’s position as a children’s Social Worker. The Panel has also already found that there is a risk of repetition. The Registrant has failed to engage and has not provided the Panel with any material upon which it could determine any likelihood of remediation within a period of suspension.

27. The Panel was mindful that striking off is a sanction of last resort for serious, deliberate or reckless acts involving abuse of trust such as sexual abuse, dishonesty or persistent failure.
28. The Panel noted the indicative sanctions policy which states at paragraph 41, “Striking off should be used where there is no other way to protect the public, for example, where there is a lack of insight, continuing problems or denial. A registrant’s inability or unwillingness to resolve matters will suggest that a lower sanction may not be appropriate”, and at paragraph 42, “Striking off may also be appropriate where the nature and gravity of the allegation are such that any lesser sanction would lack deterrent effect or undermine confidence in the profession concerned or the regulatory process”.
29. The Panel concluded that the Registrant’s convictions were of such seriousness that no lesser sanction than a striking off order was appropriate or proportionate.

 

Order

That the Registrar is directed to Strike the name of Karen Willan from the Register on the date this order comes into effect.

Notes

An Interim Suspension Order was imposed to cover the appeal period.  

Hearing history

History of Hearings for Miss Karen Willan

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
20/03/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Struck off
03/03/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Interim Order Review Interim Suspension
03/03/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Interim Order Review Hearing has not yet been held
02/12/2016 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Adjourned
23/06/2016 Investigating committee Interim Order Application Interim Suspension