Mrs Linda Anderson

: Social worker

: SW37532

: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing:10:00 27/03/2017 End: 17:00 27/03/2017

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

: Conduct and Competence Committee
: Suspended

Allegation

During the course of your employment as a social worker with Essex County Council between June 2013 and February 2015:

1. In respect of the Service User Family A, you did not between 9 December 2014 and 31 January 2015 complete the following as per management direction:
a. Update chronology in respect of all family members cases;
b. Update case summary on all individual family members cases;
c. Identify the main carer for:
i. Father A;
ii. Child A.
d. Close the pathways for:
i. Father A;
ii. Mother A.

2. In respect of Service User Child B, you did not follow management direction on:
a. 28 November 2014 to provide a session plan regarding direct work by 19 December 2014 in respect of:
i. Service User Child B;
ii. Mother B.
b. 16 January 2015 to complete and/or record the following actions by 23 January 2015:
I. Child In Need Minutes of 13 January 2015;
ii. Child in Need Plan.

3. In relation to Service User Child C’s, Review Child Protection Conference Report (RCPC) for 16 December 2014 you:
a. Did not review the correct protection plan, namely for the period 5 September to 16 December 2014;
b. Copied the document forward without including any current information;
c. Made an inappropriate recommendation for Service User Child C to remain as a Child In Need instead of recommending that the protection plan should be continued;
d. Completed session plans that were:
i. Not reflective of needs of family;
ii. Did not progress issues of family.

4. In relation to Service User Child D Review Child Protection Conference Report (RCPC) for 16 December 2014 you:
a. Did not review the correct protection plan, namely for the period 5 September to 16 December 2014;
b. Copied the document forward without including any current information;
c. Made an inappropriate recommendation for Service User Child D to remain as a Child In Need instead of recommending that the protection plan should be continued;
d. Completed session plans that were:
i. Not reflective of needs of family;
ii. Did not progress issues of family.

5. In relation to the Service User Family E you:
a. did not provide your report 5 days before the Review Child Protection Conference on 3 June 2013;
b. did not visit and see Child E, between 21 January and 26 March 2014, in line with the Child Protection Plan dated 13 January 2014.
c. In respect of Father E did not complete as at 1 April 2014, the risk assessment in the Child and Family Assessment format;
d. Did not complete the risk assessment of Mother E in the Child and Family Assessment format;
e. Did not record core group information as per management direction on 5 March 2014.

6. The matters set out in paragraphs 1 – 5 constitute misconduct and/or lack of competence.
7. By reason of your misconduct and/or lack of competence your fitness to practise is impaired.

Finding

Preliminary matters

1. The Panel was satisfied that good service has been effected.

2. On behalf of the HCPC, Ms Eales made an application to proceed in the absence of the Registrant.

3. She submitted that the Registrant had, by virtue of an email dated 1 August 2016, voluntarily waived her right to be present or represented at this hearing. Ms Eales told the Panel that two witnesses for the HCPC had been warned for the hearing, one of whom was scheduled to give evidence by video link from Australia on the second day of the hearing.

4. Ms Eales contended that it was in the public interest that the hearing proceed in the absence of the Registrant.

5. The Panel considered the HCPC Practice Note on ‘Proceeding in Absence’ and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Panel was satisfied that the Registrant was aware of the date, location and purpose of this hearing. It noted that the Registrant had not sought an adjournment nor had she asked for a representative to attend on her behalf. The Panel was satisfied that the contents of the Registrant’s email, dated 1 August 2016, made it clear that the Registrant has voluntarily waived her right to attend or to be represented. In these circumstances and having regard to the witnesses who have made themselves available to assist the HCPC and to the public interest in fitness to practise proceedings being conducted in a timely manner, the Panel concluded that it was appropriate to exercise its discretion to proceed in the absence of the Registrant.

6. Ms Eales then applied to amend the particulars of the allegation. She submitted that the purpose of the proposed amendments was to clarify and particularise the HCPC’s case.

7. The Panel accepted that the purpose and effect of the proposed amendments was to clarify the particulars of the allegation. The proposed amendments did not materially affect the substance of the allegation which the Registrant faced. The proposed amendments were notified to the Registrant by letter dated 21 July 2016 and she had not objected to them. The Panel accordingly exercised its discretion to amend the particulars of the allegation.

Background:

8. The Registrant is a Social Worker. From 3 September 1996 until her resignation on 20 February 2015, she was employed as a Senior Practitioner by Essex County Council (“the Council”) in the Braintree Family Support and Protection Team. She usually held a caseload of between fourteen and seventeen cases, largely comprising Children in Need (“CIN”) and children subject to Child Protection Plans (“CPP”). She also worked with children involved in public and private law proceedings. The Registrant did not have management responsibilities but as a Senior Practitioner provided advice to colleague Social Workers.

9. As a result of concerns about the Registrant’s case management work which were identified during formal supervision sessions, on 3 July 2013 the Registrant was made subject to a formal capability process.

10. At the time that these concerns were raised the Registrant was subject to a sickness monitoring plan in relation to her sickness absence. In addition, on her return to work towards the end of 2014 she was also subject to a performance improvement plan.  She had a number of periods of significant sickness absence in 2013 and 2014. Following a phased return to work between October 2014 and January 2015 the Registrant resumed full time duties at the beginning of January 2015. She tendered her resignation by letter dated 23 January 2015 and her employment with the Council ended on 20 February 2015. As she had some annual leave owing, her last working day with the Council was 6 February 2015.

11. The Council subsequently referred this matter to the HCPC.

Decision on Facts

12. The Panel heard evidence from two witnesses on behalf of the HCPC. Witness 1 was the Registrant’s line manager from July 2009 until the Registrant’s resignation in February 2015. She worked with the Registrant on a daily basis and had a good working relationship with her.

13. Witness 2 was, at the material time, employed as the Child Protection Co-Ordinator at Essex County Council. In June 2013, she chaired a child protection conference in relation to Family E for whom the Registrant was the allocated Social Worker.

14. The Panel was assisted by the evidence given by each of the HCPC witnesses. Each witness was found to be straightforward and credible.

15. The Panel carefully considered all the documents provided in this case.

16. In relation to each particular of the allegation the Panel carefully reviewed the relevant supporting documentation. It assessed the written and oral evidence received from the witnesses.

17. The Panel reminded itself that it was for the HCPC to prove the facts which it alleged and that the standard of proof was proof on a balance of probabilities.

Particular 1: Family A

1. In respect of the Family A, you did not complete the following as per management directions:

a. Update chronology in respect of Father A and/or Mother A and/or Service User A between 9 December 2014 and approximately 31 January 2015;

18. Family A was allocated to the Registrant on 4 December 2014. Family A consisted of Mother A, Father A and an unborn child, known as Service User A. At the date of allocation Mother A and Father A were classed as minors as they were then aged seventeen and sixteen.

19. The Registrant was tasked with providing support and guidance to the family and with progressing the child protection plan which was in place at the time the case was allocated to her.

20. On 9 December 2014 during supervision with Witness 1, the Registrant was given a management instruction to update the chronologies on the records of Mother A, Father A and Service User A. A chronology is a note on the electronic case file which records a history of significant events for the service user. Chronologies should be updated regularly.

21. Witness 1 told the Panel that the Council has a Family Operations Case Recording procedure which sets standards and procedures for undertaking case recording. The procedure reminds Social Workers that accurate, comprehensive and well organised case recording is an essential element of good practice. Good case recording ensures that essential information is not forgotten or lost. The procedure highlights that the maintenance of a chronology is a requirement for all children in need, children subject to child protection plans and looked after children whether they are going to court or not.

Chronology for Service User A

22. The Panel accepted Witness 1’s evidence that she instructed the Registrant to update Service User A’s chronology by 20 December 2014. Her management instruction is recorded in the notes of a supervision meeting with the Registrant on 9 December 2014. The Panel further accepted Witness 1’s evidence that the Registrant did not update that chronology as instructed and so on 23 December 2014 Witness 1 gave the Registrant a new deadline of 31 January 2015 to update Service User A’s chronology. There was no evidence that the Registrant ever updated the chronology for Service User A.

Chronology For Mother A and Father A

23. The Panel accepted Witness 1’s evidence that on 6 January 2015 she asked the Registrant to update the chronologies of Mother A and Father A by 16 January 2015. When she met with the Registrant for supervision on 16 January 2015 the chronologies had not been updated. The case files of Mother A and Father A were closed on 29 January 2015. There was no evidence before the Panel that the Registrant updated the chronologies as instructed before the case closure was completed.
24. The Panel found this particular proved.
1. In respect of the Family A, you did not complete the following as per management directions:

b. Update case summary on the cases of Father A and/or Mother A and/or Service User A between 9 December 2014 and approximately 21 January 2015

25. Witness 1 told the Panel that each child receiving services from the Council has his/her own case record. This record includes case notes which contain an area where free text can be entered giving information about any social work intervention with the child. It was a requirement that this area of the case note be updated at least every three months to provide an ‘at a glance’ overview of the involvement of the Council and other agencies with the family.

26. Witness 1 told the Panel that in her supervision meeting with the Registrant on 9 December 2014, when she advised the Registrant that the files of Mother A and Father A were to be progressed for closure, she assumed that the Registrant would know that, as the allocated Social Worker, she was required to update the case summaries before the cases were closed. Witness 1 told the Panel, and it accepted, that this was standard practice. It was set out within the Council’s Family Operations Case Recording procedure.

27. When Witness 1 reviewed the case files for Mother A and Father A on 6 January 2015, she identified updating the case summaries as an action point for the Registrant in their case notes. In supervision held on 16 January 2015 Witness 1 recorded that the updating of the case summaries remained outstanding. She set a deadline of 21 January 2015 for the work to be completed.

28. The Panel was satisfied by Witness 1’s evidence and from the case records and supervision notes that management instructions to update the case summaries for Mother A and Father A were given, with deadlines, to the Registrant. The Panel was satisfied on the basis of the same evidence that the deadlines were not met.

31. The Panel finds this particular proved in respect of Mother A and Father A. Witness 1 was clear that she did not give a management instruction to update the case summary for Service User A and the Panel does not find this part of the particular proved.
In respect of the Family A, you did not complete the following as per management directions:

c. Identify, between 9 December 2014 and approximately 31 January 2015, the main carer for:

i. Father A;

32. Witness 1 told the Panel that both parents of Service User A were under eighteen at the time they came to the attention of the Team. The local authority has an obligation to liaise with the person with parental responsibility for a minor in order to seek consent to contact partner agencies. Therefore, as a matter of general practice, the Council sought to identify the main carer with legal responsibility for a child or minor as a point of reference.

33.Witness 1’s evidence was that she asked the Registrant to identify Father A’s main carer by 20 December 2014. This was recorded in a supervision note on Father A’s case file made by Witness 1 on 9 December 2014. When she reviewed the file on 6 January 2015 she found that the main carer had not been identified. Witness 1 gave a revised deadline of 16 January 2015 to complete this work. This instruction was also recorded in Father A’s case notes. The Panel accepted Witness 1’s evidence that this piece of work was not carried out by the Registrant before the case of Father A was closed.

34.The Panel therefore found this particular proved.
In respect of the Family A, you did not complete the following as per management directions:

d. Close, between 9 December 2014 and approximately 16 January 2015, the pathways for:

i. Father A;

ii.  Mother A.

35.Witness 1 told the Panel that the term ‘pathways’ refers to the activities undertaken in relation to the case recording system which takes a child from being open to the service to their case being closed on the IT system. Both Mother A and Father A were children in need. In order to close their cases, their CIN status had to be brought to an end. The case recording system generates a form for the relevant case manager to complete. When the form is completed the manager is able to close the case. As found above on 9 December 2014, Witness 1 had instructed the Registrant to update the chronologies on both cases so that they could be closed by 31 December 2014. The Registrant did not carry out this instruction and on 6 January 2015, Witness 1 again instructed the Registrant to begin this process with a new deadline of 16 January 2015. Witness 1 told the Panel that the Registrant eventually carried out this instruction on 21 January 2015.

36.The Panel accepted Witness 1’s evidence which was consistent with the supervision notes and case records. It found that this particular is proved.

Particular 2: Service User B

37. Service User B was categorised as a child in need. The Registrant was allocated Service User B’s case on 19 December 2014 and asked to progress a CIN plan to ensure that Service User B’s needs continued to be met and additional resources from within the community could be accessed if required. The Registrant was asked to familiarise herself with the case by reading the information held in case files. The Registrant also undertook a joint visit to the Service User’s home with the former case worker from whom the case was transferring.

In respect of Service User B, you did not follow management direction on:

a. 28 November 2014 to produce and/or provide a session plan regarding direct work by 19 December 2014 in respect of:

i. Service User B;

ii. Mother B.

38.Witness 1 told the Panel that during supervision on28 November 2014, she asked the Registrant to provide session plans for direct work with Service User B and her mother. She explained that session plans are usually shared with the family in order to make them aware of the type of intervention planned and the reasons for it. Witness 1 said that in line with her usual practice she would have negotiated a deadline for completion of this task with the Registrant, taking into account her workload and commitments. In this case, it was agreed that the work would be completed by 19 December 2014.

39. At the Registrant’s supervision session on 16 January 2015, Witness 1 noted that the session plans had not been completed. Witness 1 set a new deadline of 23 January 2015; however, the Registrant also missed this deadline. Witness 1 told the Panel that the Registrant’s involvement with Service User B, ended without her having created session plans as instructed.

40. The Panel found this particular proved.

2. In respect of Service User B, you did not follow management direction on:

b. 16 January 2015 to update and/or record the following actions by 23 January 2015:

           i.  Child In Need Minutes of 13 January 2015;

41. On 13 January 2015, the Registrant attended a CIN meeting to review the progress of a CIN plan. It was the Registrant’s role to take notes at the meeting in order to update the child’s record, to record CIN minutes and to update the CIN plan. Witness 1 told the Panel that the Council’s policy and practice was to require CIN minutes to be completed and recorded on case notes within five working days.

43. On 16 January 2015, Witness 1 discussed with the Registrant her attendance at the CIN meeting. The Registrant had not recorded the CIN minutes so Witness 1 asked her to do so by 23 January 2015. Witness 1 told the Panel that the Registrant did not meet the deadline.

44. The Panel accepted the evidence of Witness 1 and found this particular proved.

In respect of Service User B, you did not follow management direction on:

b. 16 January 2015 to update and/or record the following actions by 23 January 2015:

      ii. Child in Need Plan.

45. Witness 1 told the Panel that she asked the Registrant to update the CIN plan following the meeting of 13 January 2015 to reflect the current position on the case and to demonstrate how the service was supporting Service User B. Witness 1 asked the Registrant to do this by 23 January 2015, however, she did not carry out this work. Witness 1 told the Panel that the next update recorded on the CIN plan was completed by a newly allocated Social Worker on 2 February 2015.

46. The Panel accepted the evidence of Witness 1 and found this particular proved.

Particular 3 Service User, Service User C

Particular 4 Service User, Service User D

47. Service User C was the second eldest child in a sibling group of four. Service User D is the brother of Service User C. Both children were subject to CPPs by reason of physical and emotional neglect.

48. The children were allocated to the Registrant on 2 December 2014. Her task was to progress the CPP which had been formulated at an earlier child protection conference. In supervision on 28 November 2014 the Registrant was asked by Witness 1 to see the children every ten days, to review the child protection plan every six weeks and to update the Child and Family Assessment document for the Review Child Protection Conference (“RCPC”) which was scheduled for 16 December 2014. Witness 1 told the Registrant to share a copy of her Child and Family Assessment report with the mother in advance of the scheduled conference. Her instructions to the Registrant are set out in a case note.

3a. and 4a.

3. In relation to Service User C’s, Review Child Protection Conference Report (RCPC) for 16 December 2014 you:

a. Did not review the correct protection plan, namely for the period 5 September to 16 December 2014;

4. In relation to Service User D’s Review Child Protection Conference Report (RCPC) for 16 December 2014 you:

b. Did not review the correct protection plan, namely for the period 5 September to 16 December 2014;

49. Witness 1 told the Panel that in order to update the Child and Family Assessment the Registrant would have had to review the minutes of the CPP meeting held on 5 September 2014. The case records show that the Registrant began updating the assessment on 10 December 2014. She sent a copy of her updated assessment to Witness 1 who, as Team Manager, was required to ensure that the Registrant’s analysis was robust and reflected the child’s needs. Witness 1 told the Panel that on reading the updated assessment it was immediately apparent to her that the Registrant had not reviewed the correct CPP for Service Users C and D. As a result, she had not included the most recent information available about the needs of these children or the risks that they faced. Witness 1 explained that she amended the assessment herself and sent a copy to the Registrant. She did not retain a copy of the Registrant’s initial assessment.

50. The Panel accepted Witness 1’s evidence that the Registrant did not review the correct CPP in relation to Service User C or Service User D. Accordingly, it found particulars 3.a. and 4.a. proved.

3.b. and 4.b.

3. In relation to Service User C’s, Review Child Protection Conference Report (RCPC) for 16 December 2014 you:

b. Copied the document forward without amending it to include any current information;

4. In relation to Service User D’s Review Child Protection Conference Report (RCPC) for 16 December 2014 you:

b. Copied the document forward without amending it to include any current information;

51. Witness 1 explained that the Council’s computer system allowed a Social Worker to ‘copy forward’ all information from a previous Child and Family Assessment on the updated version of the assessment. The Social Worker was then expected to amend and build on this information to produce an assessment which reflected the current situation and circumstances of the child. In the case of Service Users C and D the Registrant had used this ‘copy forward’ option but had not then made any amendments or additions to the previous assessment text.

52. The Panel noted that all the evidence it has read and heard related to a Child and Family Assessment. It has not heard any evidence about a RCPC report which is the focus of the particulars. The particulars are not specific about the document alleged to have been copied forward.

53. The Panel therefore concluded that particulars 3.b. and 4.b. were not proved.

3.c. and 4.c.

3. In relation to Service User C’s, Review Child Protection Conference Report (RCPC) for 16 December 2014 you:

c. Made an inappropriate recommendation for Service User C to became a Child In Need instead of recommending that the Child Protection Plan should be continued;

4. In relation to Service User D’s Review Child Protection Conference Report (RCPC) for 16 December 2014 you:

c. Made an inappropriate recommendation for Service User D to become a Child In Need instead of recommending that the Child Protection Plan should be continued;

54. Witness 1’s evidence was that in the assessments for Service Users C and D, the Registrant recommended that their status be changed from children subject to a CPP to CIN.

55. Witness 1 stated that the Registrant’s recommendation was inappropriate in circumstances where the risks of significant harm and neglect by the mother and stepfather had not decreased. Witness 1 explained that the appropriate recommendation in this case was for both children to remain subject to CPPs. She said she discussed the inappropriate recommendation with the Registrant who accepted she had made an error.

56. The Panel accepted the evidence of Witness 1. It found particulars 3.c. and 4.c. proved.

3.d.and 4.d.

3. In relation to Service User C’s, Review Child Protection Conference Report (RCPC) for 16 December 2014 you:

d. Completed session plans that were not reflective of needs of family and/or child;

4. In relation to Service User D’s Review Child Protection Conference Report (RCPC) for 16 December 2014 you:

d. Completed session plans that were not reflective of needs of family and/or child;

57. During supervision on 23 December 2014 Witness 1 asked the Registrant to provide a session plan for the mother of Service Users C and D, which focused on a domestic violence programme. She also asked the Registrant to set session plans for both children which focused on their understanding of appropriate relationships. Witness 1 was specific as to the content and focus of the session plans that she expected to see. The Registrant was asked to provide these session plans by 16 January 2015.

58. The children’s session plans produced by the Registrant did not contain the information Witness 1 had specified and did not meet the children’s direct work needs. This was discussed in supervision with the Registrant on 16 January 2015. The Registrant was asked to revisit the plans and complete them by 31 January 2015. Witness 1 told the Panel that the Registrant did not meet the revised deadline and did not provide updated session plans before her employment came to an end. The Panel found particulars 3.d. and 4.d. proved.

3. e and 4. e

3. In relation to Service User C’s, Review Child Protection Conference Report (RCPC) for 16 December 2014 you:

e. Did not update the session plan referred to in 3(d) by 31 January 2015 as requested.

4. In relation to Service User C’s, Review Child Protection Conference Report (RCPC) for 16 December 2014 you:

e. Did not update the session plans referred to in 4(d) by 31 January 2015 as requested.

59. Witness 1 met with the Registrant on 16 January 2015 in supervision asking her to update session plans by 31 January 2015. Witness 1’s evidence was that this was not done before the Registrant left the Council. The Panel therefore found particulars 3.e and 4.e proved.

Particular 5:  Family E

60. Child E was the subject of a CPP from 26 April 2013 until 4 November 2014 when she became a CIN. Her mother was in a violent relationship and there were concerns that her biological father, with whom Child E had contact, was misusing various substances. Child E’s case was allocated to the Registrant on 29 April 2013 at a time when a CPP was in place. This meant that the Registrant was required to visit Child E at least every ten working days and to work with partner agencies to deliver appropriate care and support.

5.a.

5. In relation to Family E you:

a. did not provide your report 5 days before the Review Child Protection Conference on 3 June 2013;

61. Witness 2 chaired a child protection conference in relation to Child E on 3 June 2013. She told the Panel that the Council required child protection conference reports to be provided to the family and the conference chair between two and five days before the conference. The timescale depended on whether it was an initial or review conference. This requirement was specified in the Council’s Safeguarding and Child Protection Procedure. The Registrant provided her report on the morning of the case conference on 3 June 2013. Whilst Witness 2 could not recall whether the child protection conference was an initial or review one, the Registrant did not meet either timescale. Witness 2 raised this and other concerns in relation to the Registrant’s practice in an email to Witness 1 dated 10 June 2013.

62. The Panel accepted Witness 2’s evidence that the Registrant did not provide her report until the morning of the case conference. It therefore found particular 5.a. proved.

5.b.

5. In relation to Family E you:

b. did not visit and/or see Child E, between 22 January and 26 March 2014, in line with the Child Protection Plan dated 13 January 2014.

63. Witness 1 told the Panel that she received a telephone call from Child E’s mother on 26 March 2014 in which she complained about a lack of contact from the Registrant. Witness 1 visited the mother on 1 April 2014 who explained that the Registrant had not seen Child E since 21 January 2014. Witness 1 reviewed Child E’s case notes which supported the mother’s complaint. As noted above, as Child E  was on a CPP  the allocated Social Worker was required to see her every at least ten days. The Registrant had attended Child E’s home on 4 February 2014 but Child E was not at home and was therefore not seen. Whilst the Registrant may have tried to visit Child E at school during this period, the case notes show that statutory visits were undertaken by duty Social Workers. The case notes also show that the Registrant did not visit Child E in her home for several weeks which was outside statutory timescales.

64. The Panel found particular 5.b. proved.

5.c.

In relation to Family E you:

c. In respect of Father E did not complete and/or finalise the risk assessment:

65. The RCPC received a report that Father E was selling and/or taking cocaine in Child E’s presence. The RCPC record stated that a risk assessment of Father E ought to be undertaken immediately in order to inform decision-making around the child’s safe contact with him. The need for an immediate assessment of Father E was re-stated in the note of child protection case conference decisions taken on 13 January 2014. The Registrant provided a draft risk assessment to Witness 1 in January 2014. Witness 1 told the Panel that the draft report was not sufficiently full or robust and she asked the Registrant to amend it using the Child and Family Assessment report format. Witness 1 also told the Panel that at the point when the Registrant commenced a period of sick leave in March 2014, the risk assessment had still not been completed.

66. The Panel accepted the evidence of Witness 1 and found particular 5.c. proved.

5d

In relation to Family E you:

5.d. Did not complete and/or finalise the risk assessment of Mother E as stipulated on 5 March 2014.

67. Witness 1 told the Panel that on 5 March 2014 she instructed the Registrant to combine an assessment of Father E with an assessment of Mother E into one document. Witness 1 explained that she wanted to establish how Mother E could handle the risk posed by Father E attending her home to see Child E under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Witness 1 told the Panel that no risk assessment was completed in respect of Mother E.

68. The Panel found this particular proved.

5.e.

In relation to Family E you:

5.e  Did not record core group information as per management direction on 5 March 2014.

69. Witness 1 explained that Core Group meetings are essentially multi agency review meetings which are conducted between CPP review meetings to ensure that child protection plans are being progressed. Minutes of Core Group meetings must be recorded within five days of the meeting. Minutes of the meeting are sent to the family and the agencies involved with the child protection plan. Witness 1 told the Panel that in supervision on 5 March 2014 she instructed the Registrant to record the Core Group minutes for the meeting due to take place on 16 March 2014. However, the Registrant did not subsequently produce the minutes or record the Core Group meeting. Witness 1 told the Panel that she completed the Core Group Meeting minutes herself.

70. The Panel accepted Witness 1’s evidence and found particular 5.e. proved.

Decision on Grounds

71. In her submissions on behalf of the HCPC Ms Eales reminded the Panel that the HCPC relied on the statutory grounds of misconduct and a lack of competence.

72. Ms Eales stated that there is no statutory definition of misconduct. However, she reminded the Panel of the guidance given by Lord Clyde in the case of Roylance v GMC [1999] that misconduct is a word of general effect involving some act or omission which falls short of what would be proper in the circumstances. This case also gave guidance to the effect that the relevant standard of propriety may often be found by reference to the rules and standards ordinarily required of a professional in the particular circumstances. Ms Eales directed the Panel to standards 1, 7 and 10 of the HCPC Standards of Conduct Performance and Ethics (2012) and to standards 1.2,1.3, 2.2,4.1,4.3,4.4,10.1,10.2,12.1,14.1 and 14.3 of the HCPC Standards of Proficiency for Social Workers (2012). Ms Eales submitted that the Panel should have regard to the available evidence upon which its findings of fact are based as well as to the standards in order to determine whether any misconduct which it finds proved is properly described as serious misconduct.

73. In relation to lack of competence, Ms Eales drew the Panel’s attention to the case of Holton v GMC [2006] EWHC 2960 (Admin). This clarified that the performance of a practitioner is to be measured against that expected of a reasonably competent practitioner of the same grade in the job the Registrant is actually doing. She submitted that the Panel must be satisfied that the Registrant’s performance fell well below the standard expected and that this was demonstrated by reference to a fair sample of her work.

74. Ms Eales noted the evidence that the Registrant had received appropriate support and guidance and had been subject to both informal and formal performance improvement plans.

75. Finally, Ms Eales commented on the evidence given on behalf of the HCPC by witnesses 1 and 2. She observed that Witness 1 had described a good working relationship with the Registrant and neither Witness had any apparent axe to grind as regards the Registrant.

76. In making its decision, the Panel considered each of its findings on the particulars of the allegation and asked itself whether the facts found proved constitute misconduct and/or lack of competence, or amount neither to misconduct nor to lack of competence.

77. The Panel considered the organisational context in which the concerns about the Registrant’s practice arose. It noted evidence that the Council had gone through a challenging period which had involved significant changes in the structures and working practices of the Registrant’s team.

78. The Registrant was an experienced Social Worker who had at times worked well. Witness 1 told the Panel that the Registrant had been a really solid team member who had conducted good and effective risk assessments at a high level. The Registrant had experienced four significant periods of sickness absence from October 2013 onwards. In addition, the Panel heard of a number of life events which may have impacted on the Registrant’s resilience and her ability to carry out her work effectively. The Registrant had successfully improved her work when concerns about her record keeping emerged in 2013. However, when she returned to work in late 2014 she was subject to a sickness absence monitoring plan and a performance improvement plan which, the Panel considered, may have caused her to feel under additional pressure.

79. The Panel also had regard to the evidence it heard from Witness 1 that the Registrant had been trying to improve her performance throughout the capability process and had been actively looking at ways to improve her practice. Witness 1 commented on the tools that the Registrant devised to assist her with her work but noted that ultimately these did not help. The Panel accepted Witness 1’s assessment that the Registrant was genuinely frustrated by her inability to improve her work. Witness 1 described the Registrant as trying her hardest but being unable to achieve the desired results.

80. The Panel concluded that the Registrant demonstrated a lack of competence in relation to particulars 1,2, 3a, c, d and e, 4a, c, d and e and in respect of 5c. The Panel considered that the picture which emerged from the evidence in relation to these matters was one of a previously competent Social Worker who had returned to work after a period of sickness absence; who had been offered appropriate support; who was subject to a performance improvement plan; and  who was trying to do the right thing within the given timescales. However she was unable to complete her work despite her best efforts.

81. The Panel noted that the allegation against this Registrant related to her work as a Social Worker and primarily her practice management and record keeping. For the reasons set out above the Panel concluded that the majority of the Registrant’s failings would be more appropriately classified as a lack of competence rather than as misconduct.

82. However, the Panel has determined that its findings in relation to particulars 5a and 5b amount to misconduct.

83. In relation to 5a there was no obvious reason for the Registrant’s failure to provide the RCPC report within the agreed timescale. The consequences of the Registrant’s failure for Family E were potentially serious in that the late submission of the report meant that the family was not fully aware of the issues in the RCPC and was potentially disadvantaged in their participation..

84. In relation to the failure to visit Child E which is particularised at 5b, whilst the Registrant was off sick for the last two weeks of the period concerned there was a period of several weeks during which she failed to carry out statutory visits to Child E at home. Given the known risks to Child E the Panel concluded that the Registrant’s failure to visit was an act of misconduct.

85. The Panel was satisfied that this conduct fell seriously short of the standards to be expected of an experienced Social Worker and amounts to misconduct.

86. The Panel noted that particulars 5d and 5e relate to a failure to carry out an instruction given on 5 March 2014. The Registrant commenced a period of sickness absence on 7 March 2014. In these circumstances the Panel did not consider that it is reasonable to characterise her failure as either misconduct or a lack of competence.

Decision on Impairment 

87. Ms Eales directed the Panel to the HCPC Practice Note on ‘Finding that Fitness to Practise is Impaired.’  She observed that the Registrant’s failure to engage with the fitness to practise process meant that the Panel had no information from her to inform its consideration of matters of insight, remediation and the risk of repetition. Ms Eales reminded the Panel that its primary task was to protect the public rather than to punish Registrants for past misdoings. She also submitted that the Panel ought not to lose sight of the importance of declaring and upholding proper standards in order to maintain public confidence in the profession.
88. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.

89. The Panel reminded itself that having made findings of fact which amounted to the statutory grounds of lack of competence and misconduct, its task was to determine whether the Registrant’s fitness to practice is currently impaired.

90. The Panel had regard to the personal component of impairment. It made findings that the Registrant’s behaviour and conduct fell seriously short of the standards required of an experienced Social Worker. The Panel had no material before it from which it could conclude that the particulars found proved were isolated errors on the part of the Registrant.

91. The Registrant’s unwillingness to engage with the HCPC meant that the Panel had no evidence which could inform its judgment as to her current level of insight into these events. The Panel noted that the evidence of Witness 1 suggested that the Registrant had some limited insight into her failings and their potential consequences for service users at the time these events occurred.

92. Some of the Registrant’s acts and omissions had the potential to cause harm to service users. The fact that harm was largely avoided was due to the actions of her colleagues and managers who stepped in to complete some of her work. The Panel considered that the Registrant must bear a degree of responsibility for the potential harm that could have been caused. She agreed to deadlines and then failed to honour them. She did not alert her colleagues or line managers to the fact that assessments and reports would not be produced on time, or that allocated tasks had not been undertaken.

93. The Panel considered that the Registrant’s deficiencies in relation to conduct and competence are capable of being remedied. It reminded itself that the Registrant had been competent in the past and had not previously had issues raised with her regulator in relation to her conduct. In relation to lack of competence the evidence of Witness 1 is of some significance. She described the Registrant as “stuck”, that is, she was trying to remedy her lack of competence but her efforts were ineffective.

94. In these circumstances the Panel considered that there is a risk that the Registrant’s lack of competence and her misconduct might be repeated in the future.

95. The Panel took into account the need to protect service users, declare and uphold proper standards of behaviour and to maintain public confidence in the profession in arriving at its decision on impairment. The Registrant was an experienced practitioner who was responsible for service users who were very vulnerable. Her acts and omissions could have led to serious harm to vulnerable children and families. Service users and their families had the right to expect a good level of service from an experienced Social Worker. The Registrant failed to provide this level of service. Her failings had the potential to damage trust and public confidence in the profession.
96. The Panel concluded that taking these matters into account, the the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired.

Decision on Sanction

97. Whilst the HCPC accepted that the matter of the appropriate and proportionate sanction was a matter for the Panel, Ms Eales drew attention to the matters that should feature in the Panel’s deliberations. Ms Eales took the Panel to the Indicative Sanctions Policy Guidance and the paragraphs which she considered most appropriate in this instance. She stated that whilst the majority of the Panel’s findings indicated a lack of competence, there were two elements of the decision which had been found to constitute misconduct, and this being the case, the full range of sanctions is available to the Panel.

98. The Panel accepted the Legal Assessor’s advice. The Panel has referred to relevant guidance issued by the HCPC and in particular the Indicative Sanctions Guidance. The Panel appreciated that at this stage in the proceedings it could consider all information placed before it. The Panel also appreciated that its duty was to place the least restrictive sanction upon the Registrant that would achieve the requisite level of service user protection, maintain and uphold the reputation of the profession, and act as a deterrent to other professionals from acting in the same manner.

99. In undertaking its task the Panel identified the following aggravating and mitigating factors: 
Mitigating
• This is the first occasion that the Registrant has been before her regulator.
• The Registrant has enjoyed a long career as a Social Worker, in the latter stages as a Senior Practitioner.
• There had been external personal and health issues that may have contributed to her inability to achieve sustained periods of improvement, although the Panel has no direct information from the Registrant on this issue.
• The Registrant had engaged fully with the steps initiated by her employers to monitor and address her failings through various sickness and performance monitoring plans.
Aggravating
• The Registrant has enjoyed a long career and therefore her deficiencies do not arise out of inexperience.
• The Registrant’s responsibilities had been at a senior level, however the evidence was that at the time of these events she was not attaining the level of an autonomous practitioner.
• The Allegation identifies incidents that were not isolated and the evidence showed that there had been persistent lapses over a prolonged period.
• The incidents were in some instances serious, placing Service Users at the potential risk of harm.
• There had been no engagement with the HCPC process and therefore no evidence of remorse, insight or remediation.
• There is no evidence of how the Registrant has, since April 2015, kept her professional knowledge and skills up-to-date.
• Despite support over a significant period of time, the Registrant had been unable to achieve and maintain a sufficient level of proficiency.
• Of particular concern was the fact that although the Registrant had enjoyed the support of her line manager she had not taken steps to alert colleagues when important deadlines were being missed.

100. As directed, the Panel started its assessment of which Sanction to impose by starting at the bottom of the scale and working upwards.

101. The Panel considered that these matters were too serious for it to take no further action. Mediation was not appropriate in this case. A Caution Order would not, in the Panel’s view, provide any service user protection in that the Registrant would be able to return to practice without demonstrating any corrective action to ensure there would be no repetition of the matters found proven. Further, these matters were not isolated incidents and there is no evidence of successful remediation of the Registrant’s failings.

102. The Panel then considered whether it was able to construct Conditions of Practice that were appropriate and workable in the circumstances of this case. The Panel noted that it had no up-to-date information on the Registrant’s employment status or her current level of skills and knowledge. The Panel has identified this as a case where the deficiencies were capable of remedy, however it had no information of successful remediation. It also had no indication as to whether the Registrant would be willing to engage with any Conditions nor that any future employer would be able and willing to assist her in complying with any Conditions of Practice. Whilst the Panel appreciated that it could draft Conditions in anticipation of employment, or aimed at personal development, given the level of support that the Registrant had already enjoyed from her previous employer, the Panel was unable to identify Conditions that would go beyond that which had already been put in place. The Panel therefore concluded that on the information before it, a Conditions of Practice Order was at this time inappropriate and unworkable. 

103. The Panel then considered whether a period of suspension would provide not only the requisite level of public protection, but also provide the Registrant with an opportunity to return to her profession and safe practice if she wished.  The Panel has found only two particulars of the Allegation to constitute misconduct. Further, these two matters had not been deliberate or reckless and were, in the Panel’s view, capable of remedy. The Panel therefore considered that the Registrant’s actions were not fundamentally at variance with remaining on the Register. A period of suspension would provide service user protection, ensure no repetition of the failings identified, whilst also giving the Registrant the opportunity for reflection, development, and, if necessary, regaining her professional knowledge and skills.

104. A Suspension Order would also act as a deterrent to other professions, and uphold the standards and reputation and uphold the standards and reputation of the social work profession. It would also maintain public confidence in the profession.

105. To ensure proportionality of its decision, the Panel gave consideration as to whether this was a matter that warranted the ultimate sanction of a Strike Off. As previously recorded, the Panel has found the majority of the matters found proven to emanate from a lack of competence. All matters found proven were capable of remedy. Given the length of the Registrant’s previous unblemished career, her engagement with her former employer, and the various mitigating matters identified above, the Panel considered that a Strike Off Order was, at this time, disproportionate in the circumstances of this case.

106. In reaching this decision, the Panel gave thought as to how the Registrant may be able to demonstrate to a future reviewing Panel that she is fit and ready to return to practise. This Panel accepted that it could not restrict a future Panel’s powers at review, but has identified the following information which would assist that future reviewing Panel in its deliberation:
• Evidence of how the Registrant has gained insight into her former behaviour and taken steps to ensure that there will be no repetition of her failings. 
• Steps the Registrant has taken to address her professional failings, in particular, how the Registrant has maintained her knowledge and skills since April 2015 when she resigned.
• Evidence of how the Registrant has used her Social Worker training and skills within any environment, whether for paid or unpaid employment.
• Recent professional references and testimonials.

107. The reviewing panel would also be assisted by the Registrant engaging with the process by providing information in advance of the hearing and attending it or giving the HCPC an indication whether or not she intends to remain on the Register.

Order

That the Registrar is directed to suspend the registration of Mrs Linda Anderson for a period of 12 months from the date this order comes into effect.

Notes

The order imposed today will apply from 24 April 2017 (the operative date).

This order will be reviewed again before its expiry on 24 April 2018. 

Hearing history

History of Hearings for Mrs Linda Anderson

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
15/12/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Hearing has not yet been held
27/03/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Suspended