Miss Trudy Ann Taylor

: Social worker

: SW18037

: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing:10:00 08/05/2017 End: 17:00 11/05/2017

: ETC Venues, Avonmouth House, 6 Avonmouth Street, London, SE1 6NX

: Conduct and Competence Committee
: Struck off

Allegation

(as amended at the final hearing)
During the course of your employment as an Agency Social Worker with Lincolnshire County Council, you:

1. Between 03 January 2015 and 24 March 2015, you did not undertake a safeguarding visit to the children of Family A following an alleged domestic violence incident involving the parents.

2. On 22 January 2015, recorded an assessment visit on the Integrated Children's System, in which you:
a. stated that you had spoken to the children of Family A at their schools;
i. School 1, when this was not the case;
ii. School 2, when this was not the case.
b. set out statements which were allegedly made by the children of Family A;
c. reported on the demeanour of the children of Family A, when you had not in fact seen them;
d. assessed the wellbeing of the children of Family A, when you had no basis for making such an assessment.

3. The matters set out in Particular 2 (a) - (d) were dishonest,

4. The matters set out in Particulars 1-3 constitute misconduct.

5. By reason of that misconduct, your fitness to practise is impaired.

Finding

Preliminary matters
Service
1. Written notice of these proceedings was posted to the Registrant at her registered address by first class post on 06 March 2017. It was also emailed to her on the same day. The Panel was shown documents which established the fact of service and the identification of the Registrant’s registered address. The Panel determined that the Notice of this hearing had been properly served in accordance with the rules.

Proceeding in the absence of the Registrant
2. Ms Mitchell-Dunn submitted it was appropriate to proceed in the absence of the Registrant. The Panel accepted the Legal Assessor’s advice and had regard to the HCPC’s Practice Note on “Proceeding in the Absence of the Registrant”. The Panel, having already found good service, noted that the Registrant had not communicated with the HCPC since February 2016. It was told that there had been no application for an adjournment and took the view that the Registrant had decided voluntarily to absent herself. The Panel recognised that these are serious matters, which must be dealt with expeditiously; and there was nothing to indicate that if proceedings were adjourned today, the Registrant would attend at a future date. In view of the above, the Panel regarded it to be in the interests of justice that today’s proceedings should be heard in the absence of the Registrant.

Application to amend Particular 2(b) of the Allegation
3. Ms Mitchell-Dunn sought to amend the above Particular by removing the word “been”. The Panel granted this on the basis that the proposed amendment merely involved the removal of an unnecessary word.

Background
4. The Registrant qualified as a Social Worker in 2005 and worked in Children Services and Adult Care. She later changed her status to that of self-employed and, from 2013, began to find employment in the same field as an agency worker within Lincolnshire County Council. 

5. In 2015, she started work as a Level 2 Social Worker in the Boston Family Support Team (Boston FAST).

6. The case of Family A was allocated to the Registrant in January 2015. There had been concerns about this family largely surrounding the father’s alcohol misuse and the mother’s inability to protect the children whilst the father was under the influence of alcohol.

7. On 3 January 2015, the father of Family A allegedly returned home under the influence of alcohol and his wife, in line with the advice she had received from Social Services, did her utmost to stop him from entering the house. The father became angry and the police were called. The police referred the matter to Social Services. The referral triggered a section 17 assessment, which was to be completed to ensure that the children of Family A were not at risk of harm. The task of completing this assessment fell to the Registrant.

8. The Assessment Visit Report, which the Registrant completed on 22 January 2015, recorded that she visited the parents at their home to discuss the incident. The Registrant obtained their consent to visit the children at school. Her report stated that she had paid a visit to the children of Family A at their respective schools and that she had spoken to all 4 of them.

9. Shortly after this, the Registrant left the Boston FAST team to work for the East Lindsey North FAST team, whose team manager was Witness 2.

10. The allocation of Family A’s case was taken over in March 2015 by Witness 1. He visited the home of Family A on 19 March 2015 and was informed by parents that the Registrant had never paid a visit to the children at their schools even though she had told them that she would do so.

11. Witness 1 recognised a discrepancy between what he recalled he had seen on file before his visit and what the parents now said. After the visit he re-checked the case file for the children and noted the Assessment Visit record completed by the Registrant on 22 January 2015 which stated that she had visited the children. Witness 1 therefore decided to make further enquires.

12. On 24 March 2015 he paid a second visit to the family during which he spoke to all four children. They each told him in turn that they had never met the Registrant and their parents confirmed this.

13. Consequently, Witness 1 made contact with the two schools that the children attended.

14. The Administrator of school 1 (JB) made enquiries, which included checking the records of visitors to the school; and, speaking with staff. She confirmed that the Registrant had never paid any visits to it in order to see the children of Family A.

15. Similarly, the Vice Principal (SI) of school 2 was contacted. She, too, checked the school records, made further enquiries of staff and confirmed that the Registrant had never been to her school’s premises in order to speak to the children of Family A.

16. Witness 1 then referred this to his line manager. Witness 2 later had a meeting with the Registrant in relation to these matters on 17 April 2015. The Registrant told Witness 2 that she could not remember the visits to the schools and added that she struggled with the geography of Boston. Asked whether she would have signed the school’s visitor’s book she responded that she would have signed in if there was a signing in book. When asked if the visit would have been recorded in her diary, the Registrant said “probably…….can’t remember anything else, all schools look the same to me”. Witness 2 described the Registrant during the meeting as appearing flustered, going red and changing the subject.

17. Three days later, on 20 April 2015, while in the office, the Registrant was suspended from work by her agency in relation to this matter. Prior to leaving the building, she stated to Witness 2 “I did visit the children”. However, at the same time, she conceded that no note existed of this in her diary for the day in question.

Decision on facts
18. The Panel heard evidence from Witness 1, who at the time had worked for 10 years as a social worker for Lincolnshire County Council. The Panel found him to be a credible and reliable witness who had not merely accepted without question what the parents and children had told him, but had sought independent confirmation before referring the matter to his line manager.

19. The Panel found Witness 2 also to be a credible and reliable witness, although she gave no direct evidence about the allegations.

20. The Panel also considered all of the documentary evidence placed before it, which included two signed witness statements and exhibits. The first witness statement was from JB, an Administrator at school 1. Her evidence concerned the school’s policies and process in relation to visitors. She added that none of the school staff whom she consulted knew the name of the Registrant. The second witness statement was from SI, the Vice Principal of school 2. She was unable to locate the relevant pages of the school sign-in book, but her enquiries of staff members confirmed that there was no record in their diary of a visit to the school by the Registrant on 22 January 2015; and no colleagues knew of the Registrant.

21.  Although the submissions of the Registrant contained within her email to the HCPC on 4 February 2016 do not come, strictly, into the category of evidence, the Panel nevertheless accorded to them the weight that it considered they deserved. They contained denials of the Allegation.

22.  The Panel drew no adverse inference from the Registrant’s absence from these proceedings.

23. In relation to all relevant areas of disputed facts, the Panel reminded itself that the burden of proof rests throughout on the HCPC and that the required standard is the civil one – on the balance of probabilities.

24. Looking at the Particulars one by one the Panel has determined as follows:

Particular 1 – found proved
25. The question for the Panel was whether or not, on all of the evidence, the safeguarding visits to the children of Family A by the Registrant actually took place. On the one hand, the Registrant claimed in her submissions that she undertook the safeguarding visits, but she did not provide any supporting evidence. On the other hand, the Panel paid due regard to the evidence of Witness 1 who had spoken to the children and the parents of Family A, all of whom said that the children had never met or spoken to the Registrant.

26. Although what the family members said to Witness 1 was hearsay, the Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor on how it should treat such statements. It placed weight upon the fact that there was nothing in the school records to show that the Registrant had ever visited them in order to speak to the children, which, in the view of the Panel confirmed the hearsay statements of Family A. Furthermore, neither of the 2 schools attended by the children had any knowledge of visits by the Registrant.

27. The Registrant’s submissions were materially at odds with the evidence called on behalf of the HCPC. These submissions were rejected by the Panel.

28. Overall, the Panel was satisfied to the requisite standard that the Registrant did not undertake the required safeguarding visits. Thus, the Panel found this Particular proved.

Particular 2(a)(i), 2(a)(ii), 2(b), 2(c), 2(d) – found proved
29. The uncontested evidence was that the Registrant recorded an assessment visit on the Integrated Children’s System which bore the date 22 January 2015. Given that the Panel had already found Particular 1 proved, it follows that the contents of this document, insofar as they referred to the Registrant having spoken to the children of Family A at their schools, were false. The Panel found that the Registrant did not speak to the children of Family A either at their home or at their schools and therefore could not have been in a position to report upon their demeanour or to assess their well-being. Thus, Particular 2 in its entirety was found proved.

Particular 3 – found proved
30. The Panel found that the Registrant had not visited the children. The Panel determined that she had falsely recorded both that she had made the required visits and that she had spoken to the children of Family A at their schools.  This was dishonest. Thus, Particular 3 was found proved.

Decision on grounds
31. Whether or not the facts found proved amount to misconduct is a matter for the professional judgement of the Panel. Ms Mitchell-Dunn submitted that the Panel’s finding of dishonesty (Particular 3), in the circumstances of this case, could do nothing other than amount to misconduct. Furthermore, she submitted that the failure by the Registrant to visit the children also amounted to serious misconduct.

32. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor in relation to its decisions on grounds and impairment.

33. The Panel did not disagree with Ms. Mitchell–Dunn’s submissions. The safeguarding of vulnerable children is a fundamental tenet of the profession of Social Workers. Although in this case the children came to no harm, by not visiting them, the Registrant failed in her responsibility as a Social Worker to protect them. They were thus deprived of the opportunity to have a voice and express any concerns or fears about their situation.

34. The Registrant compounded this failure by fabricating documents to provide the impression that she had, in fact, performed her duty. Such an act meant that others who subsequently consulted the record would draw incorrect conclusions about the well-being of the children.

35. Integrity is at the heart of the health and care professions. A Registrant who acts dishonestly inevitably undermines public confidence in herself and her own profession. This case is a clear example of an abuse of trust.

36. The Panel has determined that the Registrant failed to meet the following professional standards, as laid down in the HCPC’s “Standards of conduct, performance and ethics”:
Standard 1 You are personally responsible for making sure that you promote and protect the best interests of your service users….etc.
Standard 3 You must keep high standards of personal conduct.
Standard 13 You must behave with honesty and integrity and make sure that your behaviour does not damage the public’s confidence in you and your profession.

37. Although the failure here consisted of a single incident, the Panel’s findings of fact and the associated breaches of standards mean that the Registrant’s conduct fell far short of what would be proper in these circumstances.

38. Accordingly, the Panel is satisfied that the allegation of misconduct is well founded.

Decision on impairment 
39. Whether or not a Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired is a question for the Panel alone.

40. The Panel had regard to the submissions of Ms Mitchell-Dunn and reminded itself of the contents of the Council’s Practice Note entitled “Finding That Fitness to Practise is Impaired”. It also considered the Registrant’s submissions contained within an email dated 04 February 2016.

41.  As already noted, the Registrant’s above representations contained denials of the Allegation. As such the Panel found no grounds for concluding that the Registrant has shown any insight into her serious failings. Nor is there, in the Panel’s view, any evidence of remorse. Although the Registrant claimed that she had changed her practice to ensure her client’s would sign her paper diary to prove that she had visited them, the Panel determined that this did not address the misconduct found.

42. Dishonesty is hard to remediate and there is no evidence here, in the Panel’s view, that these personal failings have been adequately addressed.

43. In reaching its determination, the Panel has also had regard to the public interest in the wider sense – that is, the maintenance of public confidence in the profession and regulatory process and the upholding of proper standards of conduct and behaviour.

44. Mindful of all of the above factors, the Panel has determined that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired.

Decision on sanction
45. The Panel heard submissions from Ms Mitchell-Dunn, to which it paid careful regard. The Panel also took into account the Council’s Indicative Sanctions Policy and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor that it should apply the principle of proportionality, weighing the interests of the public with those of the practitioner.

46. Amongst other matters, Ms Mitchell-Dunn drew the Panel’s attention to the case of Parkinson v Nursing and Midwifery Council [2010] EWHC1898 (Admin), in which it was held that a registrant who has acted dishonestly, who does not appear before the Panel to demonstrate remorse or a realisation that her conduct was dishonest, will forfeit the small chance of persuading the Panel to suspend for a period rather than to direct erasure.

47. The Panel was mindful, throughout its deliberations, that hitherto the Registrant had an unblemished record. It was also aware that this was a single case of misconduct, albeit serious; and there was no known harm to the children. A further factor in mitigation is that, in her submissions of February 2016, the Registrant drew attention to the existence of family issues at the material time. She also stated that she had “changed over from Children’s Services to Adults”. She believed that this would reduce the stress of the timescales required in Children’s Services.

48. As against these considerations, the Panel never lost sight of the fact that the children involved in this case were at risk of harm and that the actions of the Registrant in lying about her visits to them were dishonest – both strong aggravating features.

49.  In assessing the appropriate sanction to impose, if any, the Panel also considered the public interest, which includes not only the protection of the public but also the maintenance of public confidence in the profession, and the declaring and upholding of proper standards of conduct and behaviour.

50. Given the serious nature of the Registrant’s misconduct and its potential to undermine the reputation of the profession, the Panel decided that it would not be sufficient to conclude this case by taking no action or by referring it for mediation. Neither course would serve to protect the public or maintain the standing of the profession.

51. The Panel then moved on to consider whether to conclude this case by the imposition of a Caution Order. Again, such was the seriousness of the Registrant’s misconduct, the Panel took the view that, in taking this course, the public interest would not be adequately served.

52. The Panel next considered whether the case could be concluded with a Conditions of Practice Order. In this case it would have been difficult to establish appropriate conditions. Notwithstanding that, the Panel decided that a Conditions of Practice Order would be insufficient to mark the seriousness of its findings and protect the public.

53. The Panel considered whether a Suspension Order would be appropriate in this case. It reminded itself that not only had the Registrant been dishonest and had continued to deny the Allegation, but the matters involved a breach of trust and exposed vulnerable children to a risk of serious harm.

54. Having regard to proportionality, the Panel also took account of the mitigating factors submitted by the Registrant. The Panel was concerned that the Registrant’s failure to engage with the HCPC since February 2016 deprived the Panel of any opportunity to consider whether the risks to the public and the public interest might have been lessened. She thereby forfeited her small chance of persuading the Panel that suspension was more appropriate than erasure (Parkinson v Nursing and Midwifery Council [2010] EWHC1898 (Admin)). Accordingly, the Panel determined that suspension was not an appropriate or proportionate sanction.

55. In all the circumstances, the Panel has determined that the misconduct here, involving as it did the risk of harm to vulnerable children, dishonesty and an absence of evidence of any insight, remorse or remediation, means that the only appropriate and proportionate sanction to impose is to strike the Registrant’s name from the register.

Order

The Registrar is directed to strike the name of Miss Trudy Ann Taylor from the Register on the date this order comes into effect.

Notes

The order imposed today will apply from 7 June 2017 (the operative date).

Hearing history

History of Hearings for Miss Trudy Ann Taylor

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
08/05/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Struck off