Elaine Marcia Stephens

: Social worker

: SW86889

Interim Order: Imposed on 12 Nov 2017

: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing:10:00 08/05/2017 End: 17:00 12/05/2017

: Health and Care Professions Tribunal Service (HCPTS), 405 Kennington Road, London, SE11 4PT

: Conduct and Competence Committee
: Conditions of Practice

Allegation

Between September 2013 and September 2015 and during the course of your employment as a Social Worker at the National Fostering Agency, you:

1. Did not complete within acceptable timescales:

a. Annual foster carer reviews, in relation to:

i. Household A

ii. Household B

iii. Household C

iv. Household D

v. Household E

vi. Household F

vii. Household G

viii. Household H

ix. Household I

x. Household J

xi. Household K

xii. Household L

xiii. Household M

xiv. Household N

xv. Household O

xvi. Household P

xvii. Household Q

b. Home visit reports

c. Long term addendum work in relation to:

i. Household Q

d. Household annual reviews

2. Did not undertake and / or did not record within acceptable timescales announced home visits in relation to:

i. Household T

ii. Household E

iii. Household R

iv. Household I

v. Household L

vi. Household S

vii. Household O

viii. Household K

ix. Household G

x. Household B

xi. Household D

xii. Household F

xiii. Household N

xiv. Household J

xv. Household A

xvi. Household P

xvii. Household C

xviii. Household Q

xix. Household U

xx. Household M

Did not undertake and / or record within acceptable timescales unannounced visits in relation to:

(i)Household H

(ii)Household M

(iii)Household D

(iv)Household K

(v)Household G

(vi)Household I

(vii)Household B

(viii)Household P V

(ix)Household O

(x)Household Q

(xi)Household F

4. The matters set out in paragraphs 1 – 3 constitute misconduct and/or lack of competence.

5. By reason of your misconduct and/or lack of competence your fitness to practise is impaired.

 

Finding

Preliminary matters:

Decision on application to amend Particulars

1. Mr Foxsmith applied to amend particulars 1, 2 and 3 of the Allegation. He applied to amend particular 1 of the Allegation by (i) deleting particular 1b. “Home visit reports” and by deleting particular 1d. “Household annual reviews”

2. He applied to amend the stem of particular 2 by adding the words “within acceptable timescales” immediately before the words “home visits”.

3. He also applied to amend the stem of particular 3 by adding the words “within acceptable timescales” immediately before the words “unannounced visits” and  amending particular 3viii of the  Allegation by deletion of “V” immediately after the word Household and replacing it with “P”.

4. Mr Foxsmith submitted that the amendments were necessary to clarify the case against the Registrant. The proposed amendments by deletion of the words at particulars 1b, 1d and 3viii had been notified in advance to the Registrant on 11 August 2016. Mr Elton did not oppose the application in respect of any of the proposed amendments.

5. The Panel received and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor that an amendment to the Allegation could be made, provided no injustice was caused. The Panel noted that Mr Elton on behalf of the Registrant had been made aware of the proposed amendments and had made no objections.

6. The Panel considered that the proposed amendments did not alter the nature of the case against the Registrant but merely clarified the Allegation and corrected some typographical errors.

7. Accordingly the Panel was satisfied that the amendments would not cause any prejudice to the Registrant and determined they should be allowed.

Admissions

Having heard the amended Allegation read out in full, the Registrant admitted the following:

Particular 1

1. Did not complete within acceptable timescales:

a. Annual foster carer reviews, in relation to:

i. Household A-admitted

ii. Household B-admitted

iii. Household C-admitted

iv. Household D-admitted

v. Household E-admitted

vi. Household F-admitted

vii. Household G-admitted

viii. Household H-admitted

ix. Household I-admitted

x. Household J-admitted

xi. Household K-admitted

xii. Household L-admitted

xiii. Household M-admitted

xiv. Household N-admitted

xv. Household O-admitted

xvi. Household P-admitted

xvii. Household Q-admitted

c. Long term addendum work in relation to:

i. Household Q - admitted

2. Did not undertake and / or did not record within acceptable timescales announced home visits in relation to:

i. Household T -   admitted did not record within acceptable timescales announced home visits

ii. Household E -   admitted did not record within acceptable timescales announced home visits

iv. Household I -   admitted did not record within acceptable timescales announced home visits

v. Household L -   admitted did not record within acceptable timescales announced home visits

vii. Household O -   admitted did not record within acceptable timescales announced home visits

viii. Household K -   admitted did not record within acceptable timescales announced home visits

ix. Household G -   admitted did not record within acceptable timescales announced home visits

x. Household B -   admitted did not record within acceptable timescales announced home visits

xi. Household D -   admitted did not record within acceptable timescales announced home visits

xii. Household F -   admitted did not record within acceptable timescales announced home visits

xiii. Household N -   admitted did not record within acceptable timescales announced home visits

xiv. Household J -   admitted did not record within acceptable timescales announced home visits

xv. Household A -   admitted did not record within acceptable timescales announced home visits

xvi. Household P -   admitted did not record within acceptable timescales announced home visits

xvii. Household C -   admitted did not record within acceptable timescales announced home visits

xviii. Household Q -   admitted did not record within acceptable timescales announced home visits

xx. Household M -   admitted did not record within acceptable timescales announced home visits

3. Did not undertake and / or record within acceptable timescales unannounced visits in relation to

i. Household H -   admitted did not record within acceptable timescales unannounced  visits

ii. Household M - admitted did not record within acceptable timescales unannounced  visits

iii. Household D - admitted did not record within acceptable timescales unannounced  visits

iv. Household K - admitted did not record within acceptable timescales unannounced  visits

v. Household G - admitted did not record within acceptable timescales unannounced  visits

vi. Household I - admitted did not record within acceptable timescales unannounced  visits

vii. Household B - admitted did not record within acceptable timescales unannounced  visits

viii. Household  P - admitted did not record within acceptable timescales unannounced  visits

ix. Household O - admitted did not record within acceptable timescales unannounced  visits

x. Household Q - admitted did not record within acceptable timescales unannounced  visits

xi. Household F - admitted did not record within acceptable timescales unannounced  visits

The Registrant made no other admissions. The Panel noted that whilst the admissions were relevant to its determination they were not conclusive as to the matters admitted.

Proceeding in Private

8. In the course of the proceedings Mr Elton made an application under Rule 10(1)(a) of HCPC (Conduct & Competence) (Procedure) Rules 2003 for part of the  hearing to proceed in private where any personal or private matters relating to the Registrant may be heard in evidence .

9. The Panel received advice from the Legal Assessor. The Panel considered the submission made by Mr Elton and noted this was not opposed by Mr Foxsmith. The Panel determined in the exercise of its discretion that the hearing would proceed in public except where the evidence related to health or family matters which would be heard in private.

Background

10. At the material time the Registrant was employed as a Supervising Social Worker at the National Fostering Agency (“NFA”), where she worked from 2 October 2002 until 16 October 2015.

11. In July 2014, Witness 1, TA, took over as the NFA’s Practice Manager for the London and South East Region, where the Registrant worked. At this time the Registrant was struggling with her case load and her performance was being reviewed under the NFA’s Disciplinary Policy and Procedures. The Registrant had previously already been the subject of and successfully completed a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) prior to 2014. A further PIP was started by the Registrant’s line manager DJ in November 2014. Insufficient progress was made and as a consequence the Registrant was subject to a disciplinary meeting in April 2015. She was warned to improve her case management and in particular the completion of her written work to required timescales. An action plan was put in place to assist her to do so. This included additional support to help her prioritise her work. 

12. On 19 August 2015, after Witness 1 had conducted her review of the Registrant’s progress, a second disciplinary meeting was arranged. This was held on 29 September 2015 and the Registrant attended. By this date the Registrant had already tendered her resignation.

The HCPC’s case:

13. The Panel heard oral evidence from Witness 1 (TA) on behalf of the HCPC.

14. The Panel also received a bundle of evidence which included:

(i) The NFA Group Investigation Report by TA dated 2 September 2015

(ii) The NFA Database Alerts

(iii) Annual Performance Review (Appraisal Report) dated 22 July 2015

(iv) Notes of Disciplinary meetings with the Registrant on 21 April 2015 and 29 September 2015

The Panel found Witness TA to be credible. She provided answers to the best of her recollection.

The Registrant’s case:

15. The Panel heard from the Registrant who chose to give oral evidence.

16.    The Panel also received a bundle of evidence which included:

(i)  An email from the Registrant to HCPC dated 29 April 2016 and accompanying documents.

(ii)   The Registrant’s Signed Witness Statement dated 8 May 2017

(iii)   References and testimonials

(iv)   Certificate of training

The Panel found the Registrant to be credible. She provided answers to the best of her recollection.

No Case To Answer Submission

Particular  2 iii, 2 vi and 2 xix.

17. At the conclusion of Mr Foxsmith’s case on behalf of the HCPC, Mr Elton on behalf of the Registrant made a submission to the effect that the HCPC has failed to discharge its burden of proof and there was no case to answer in relation to Particulars  2 iii, 2 vi and 2 xix.

18. Mr Elton submitted that the HCPC had presented no evidence upon which the Panel could find these elements of the Allegation proved. Mr Foxsmith for the HCPC indicated that he was making no opposing submission in respect of this.

19. Mr Elton then made no case to answer submissions in relation to:
 
Particulars 2i,ii,iv,v,vii,viii,ix,x,xi,xii,xiii,xiv,xv,xvi,xvii,xviii,xx insofar as they related to undertaking announced visits,
 
and

Particulars 3i,ii,iii,iv,v,vi,vii,viii,ix,x,xi, in so far as they related to undertaking unannounced visits

20. Mr Elton submitted, in respect of particulars 2 and 3, in relation to undertaking visits, that it was for the HCPC to prove the facts and it had not discharged the burden of proof as the evidence was so unsatisfactory in nature that the Panel could not find those elements of the Allegation.  proved.

21. The Panel had sight of hearsay evidence in the form of DJ’s signed statement in which she indicated that the Registrant was carrying out her monthly visits in accordance with timescales and DJ had agreed with the Registrant that in some circumstances it would not be necessary for the Registrant to carry out a monthly visit. This was further supported by the Registrant’s Annual Performance and Development Review 2014/2015 (APDR) in which DJ had recorded that the Registrant ‘‘ensures she visits regularly for supervision on a monthly basis’’. Supervision here refers to the Registrant’s supervising visits to foster carers. It was submitted that there was a clear separation between the particulars in relation to a failure to undertake a visit and a failure to record a visit and the overall tenor of the APDR contained nothing to contradict the assertion that the  Registrant was carrying out her visits.

22. Mr Elton submitted that from the date TA took over supervision there was no evidence that TA could point to, to support the charge that an unannounced visit did not take place. In the APDR which covered  the period 2014 to 2015 there was no evidence which pointed to unannounced visits not being done or not being done in an acceptable timescale. The evidence indicated that visits were taking place and there was no suggestion that visits were recorded which had not taken place. He noted the lack of specification in the evidence and submitted that it was insufficient for the HCPC to state that there were a few visits that might have been out of time.

23. With specific reference to particular 3 Mr Elton submitted that the ADPR confirmed that that all the first ‘unannounced visits’ were completed however the HCPC had not produced any evidence that they were not done in the appropriate timescale. TA’s evidence was to the effect some  unannounced visits were undertaken but her evidence was totally lacking in specification and was therefore unsatisfactory.

24. Mr Foxsmith submitted in relation to particulars 2 and 3 that Mr Elton, on behalf of the Registrant, sought to rely on the hearsay evidence of DJ in her statement. He stated that TA  had spoken to  DJ as part of the investigation and discussed which families were active or inactive in relation to what visits were required. He asserted that, the allegation was that the Registrant did not undertake or did not record home visits and, when an allegation was worded in the negative, it was always difficult to prove.

25. He further submitted that TA’s statement confirmed that she was aware that the visit requirements could be varied in agreement with the supervisor and that she was sure that no bimonthly visits had been agreed. TA’s statement also provided evidence to the effect that a visit had to be recorded and without a record within one month on the file it would be assumed that the visit had not taken place.

26. Mr Foxsmith also referred to TA’s statement where TA sought to evidence the Registrant’s awareness that she was being monitored and knew of a requirement to carry out two ‘unannounced visits’ per year. TA’s statement was to the effect that the Registrant knew this was a key task  as it was stated as such on the  tracking/compliance sheet used at the Registrant’s supervision meeting, a blank copy of which was produced for the Panel.

27. He said the failure to carry out such visits was evidenced by the documented computer alerts as spoken to by TA.

28. Mr Foxsmith acknowledged that TA said in the Disciplinary Meeting: ‘I hear that you do the home visits but the recordings are not done.’ He accepted that if the Registrant were to give evidence, the HCPC would have little to put to the Registrant to rebut that she did do the visits, however he stated that this did not mean that there was insufficient evidence so as to justify striking out the alternative. The HCPC acknowledged that there were admissions to not recording ‘announced visits’ and ‘unannounced visits’ within an acceptable timescale. Taking account of this Mr Foxsmith did not accept there was no case to answer on the HCPC’s case that the Registrant did not undertake the visits and it being a case against the Registrant in respect of a lack of recording alone.

29. The Panel accepted the Legal Assessor’s advice and also had regard to the guidance in HCPTS Practice Note on ‘Half Time’ Submissions.

30. In coming to its decision, the Panel considered each element of the particulars. Firstly, the Panel looked to see if there was any evidence to support the facts alleged. If there was, then the Panel went on to consider whether a Panel, properly directed as to the burden and standard of proof, could find that factual particular proved on that evidence. It was also conscious that at this stage, it should only take into consideration the evidence that has been presented on behalf of the HCPC.

Particulars  2 iii, 2 vi and 2 xix in relation to both “not undertake and/or did not record within acceptable timescales announced home visits” .

31. The Panel accepted the evidence of TA that she did not believe these cases had been allocated to the Registrant. As such, the HCPC had presented no evidence upon which the Panel could find these elements of the Allegation proved.

32. Therefore the Panel found no case to answer in respect of Particulars 2 iii, 2 vi and 2 xix in relation to both “not undertake and/or did not record within acceptable timescales announced home visits”.

Particulars 2 i, ii, iv, v, vii, viii, ix, x, xi, xii, xiii, xiv, xv, xvi, xvii, xviii, xx

33. The Panel accepted Mr Elton’s submission of no case to answer in relation to particular 2 in respect of “did not…undertake…..within acceptable timescales announced home visits”.

34. The Panel found that  that whilst the HCPC had presented some relevant evidence, this was so tenuous that, even if taken at its highest, the Panel could not properly find 2.i,ii,iv,v,vii,viii,ix,x,xi,xii,xiii,xiv,xv,xvi,xvii,xviii,xx in respect of “undertake…..within acceptable timescales announced home visits” capable of proof.

35. The Panel considered carefully Exhibit 6, the NFA database alerts, which had led TA to assume visits had not taken place. However, the Panel was of the view that these alerts could only show whether records of visits had been made; not whether visits had in fact been made.

36. In the light of the above, the Panel determined that the evidence, such as it was, was so unsatisfactory that the Panel could not find these parts of the particular proved.
37. Therefore the Panel determined that there was no case to answer in respect of the following parts of Particulars 2.i,ii,iv,v,vii,viii,ix,x,xi,xii,xiii,xiv,xv,xvi,xvii,xviii,xx “did not undertake….. within acceptable timescales  announced home visits”.
      Particular 3i, ii, iii, iv, v, vi, vii, viii, ix, x, xi
38. The Panel accepted Mr Elton’s submission in relation to particular 3 in respect of “did not undertake…..within acceptable timescales unannounced visits.”

39. For similar reasons to those set out regarding Particular 2 above, the Panel found that, whilst the HCPC had presented some relevant evidence, such evidence was so tenuous that, even if taken at its highest, the Panel could not properly find those aspects of Particulars 3i, ii, iii, iv, v, vi, vii, viii, ix, x, xi capable of proof.

40. In addition, the supervision note of 10 August 2015 confirmed that all the first ‘unannounced visits’ were completed. The HCPC had not produced any evidence that they were not done in the appropriate timescale. TA’s evidence was to the effect that some unannounced visits were undertaken but her evidence in this regard was totally lacking in specification and was therefore unsatisfactory.

41. In the light of the above, the Panel determined that the evidence, such as it was, was so unsatisfactory that the Panel could not find these parts of the particulars proved.

42. Therefore the Panel determined that there was no case to answer in respect of Particulars 3i,ii,iii,iv,v,vi,vii,viii,ix,x,xi as to “did not undertake….. within acceptable timescales unannounced visits.”

Panel’s Approach

43. The Panel was mindful that the burden of proving the remaining particulars outstanding rests throughout on the HCPC and the standard of proof is the civil standard based upon the balance of probabilities. There is no burden on the Registrant to prove anything.

44. The Panel heard submissions on behalf of the HCPC from Mr Foxsmith. The Panel also heard submissions on behalf of the Registrant from Mr Elton. It has accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.

45. With regard to the meaning of an Annual Foster Carer Review (AFCR) in particular 1 the Panel accepted the TA’s signed statement that in accordance with Regulation 28 of the Fostering Services Regulations (the FS Regulations) as contained within the evidence, an AFCR must be held annually. The FS Regulations state that the purpose of the AFCR is to review the foster carer’s approval and ensure that it is still safe to place Looked After Children with them.

46. In particular 2, with regard to the meaning of “announced home visits” the Panel accepted TA’s statement to the effect that Social Workers must carry out supervision visits on a monthly basis in order to support the Foster Carer with the children placed with them. The signed statement of DJ and the evidence of TA supported that this requirement could be varied but only with the agreement of the supervisor. The Panel accepted the evidence that the acceptable timescale for recording an announced visit was within one month from the date of the announced visit.

47. In particular 3 ,with regard to the meaning of “unannounced visits” the Panel accepted TA’s evidence  that these are visits the Social Worker must carry out at an unexpected time, in order to observe the practice taking place, in the Foster home. 

48. The Panel accepted the evidence that the acceptable timescale for recording an unannounced visit was within one month from the date of the unannounced visit.

Decision on Facts

(1)  Particulars 1 a(i) to 1a(xvii)

These Particulars were admitted and found proved


49. The Panel noted the Registrant’s admissions in respect of particulars 1a(i) to 1(a)xvii. The Panel had regard to the evidence of the witness TA and the NFA Group Investigation Report by TA dated 2 September 2015. This recorded the timescales were not acceptable in respect of the Registrant’s completion of her Annual Foster Carer reviews as alleged.


1c Long term addendum work in relation to: i. Household Q 

This Allegation was admitted and found proved.

50. The Panel noted the Registrant’s admission and the evidence of TA to the effect that whilst the work had been competed before the Registrant left her employment, it was not completed within an acceptable timescale.

2.Particular 2 i.ii,iv,v,vii,viii,ix,xi,xii,xiii,xiv,xv,xvi,xvii,xviii,,xx.

Did not record within acceptable timescales announced home visits..

These Particulars were admitted and found proved.

51. The Panel noted the Registrant’s admissions in respect of these Particulars. The Panel accepted the evidence of the Registrant that she did not record within acceptable timescales the announced home visits. The Panel also accepted TA’s evidence in respect of this and had regard to the NFA database alert information which indicated that those reports were not entered onto the system within the required timescales.

Particular 3i to xi

Did not record within acceptable timescales unannounced visits.

These particulars were admitted and found proved.

52. The Panel noted the Registrant’s admissions in respect of these Particulars. The Panel accepted the evidence of the Registrant that she did not record within acceptable timescales the unannounced visits. The Panel also accepted TA’s evidence in respect of this and had regard to the NFA database alerts, information which indicated that those reports were not entered onto the system within the required timescales.
 
Decision on Grounds:

53. The Panel proceeded to consider whether the matters found proved as set out above amounted to misconduct and/or lack of competence and if so, whether by reason thereof the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired.

54. The Panel was satisfied that this was a serious falling short of what the Registrant knew she was required to do. The Panel accepted the evidence that the Registrant had received extensive support from her managers over a number of years included PIPs as well as attempts to reduce the Registrant’s caseload. The Registrant had regular meetings with her supervisor and continuing support from her manager.

55. The Registrant did not complete within acceptable timescales AFCRs in respect of seventeen households. In addition the Registrant did not record seventeen announced home visits and eleven unannounced visits within acceptable timescales. This could have impacted on care planning and outcomes for children, support for foster carers and approval of new carers where necessary. The consequences of this could have put children at risk of harm or led to difficulty in retaining foster carers.

56. The Panel had particular regard to the HCPC Standards of conduct, performance and ethics and found breaches of:

The Panel identified a breach of:
• Standard 1 - You must act in the best interests of service users;

• Standard 7 - You must comunicate properly and effectively with… other practitioners.

• Standard 10 - You must keep accurate records.

The Panel also identified a breach of the following Standard of Proficiency (SoP) including:
• SoP 1.2 – recognise the need to manage their own workload and resources and be able to practise accordingly

Conclusion as to Misconduct and/or Lack of Competence:
 
57. The Panel noted that there is no definition of the term misconduct but that in case law it has been described as an act or omission that falls short of what would be proper in the circumstances. Such a falling short must be serious, falling far below the standard expected of a registered Social Worker.

58. The Panel determined that having regard to the guidance given by the courts in the relevant authorities, the facts found proved in particulars 1, 2  and 3 of the Allegation  are sufficiently serious as to amount to misconduct. Its reasons are as follows;

Particular 1

59. Regulatory timescales for the completion of AFCR’s of the carers of children in foster care are prescribed in order to protect children from harm and assess the ongoing suitability of the care. The Registrant was aware of the regulatory timescales. This was not a single, isolated incident or mere negligence. The omissions were long-standing and repetitive concerning review visits to 17 families as well as a Long term Addendum Review completed several months late, in respect of one of those families.

60. Accordingly the Panel found there was a serious departure from proper standards and guidance and that the omissions set out in this particular amount to misconduct.

Particular 2

61. Regulatory timescales for recording announced home visits to foster carers, are prescribed in order to ensure that vital information is available to professionals in a timely way, so that they can meet the children’s needs and protect them from harm. The Registrant was aware of the regulatory timescales. This was not a single, isolated incident or mere negligence. The omissions were long-standing and repetitive concerning not undertaking the recording within acceptable timescales of announced home visits to foster families. This occurred despite the ongoing supervision and assistance offered to the Registrant by her managers.

62. Accordingly the Panel found there was a serious departure from proper standards and guidance and that the omissions set out in this particular amount to misconduct.

Particular 3

63. Regulatory timescales for recording unannounced visits to foster carers, are prescribed for the same reasons as announced visits (see above). The Registrant was aware of the regulatory timescales. This was not a single, isolated incident or mere negligence. The omissions were long-standing and repetitive concerning not undertaking the recording within acceptable timescales of announced home visits to foster families. This occurred despite the longstanding supervision and assistance the Registrant received from her managers.

64. Accordingly the Panel found there was a serious departure from proper standards and guidance and that the omissions set out in this particular amounts to misconduct. The Panel did not consider that the Registrant’s conduct amounted to a lack of competence.

Decision on Impairment:

65. Whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired is a question for the Panel. The Panel paid due regard to the submissions of Mr Foxsmith and Mr Elton and reminded itself of the HCPC’s Practice Note ‘Finding that Fitness to Practise is Impaired’.


66. The Panel considered the Registrant’s current insight. In her live evidence she said that she would in future manage her caseload better. She would record visits within agreed timescales, manage her time better and seek help earlier in respect of her caseload. She would be more assertive with others and she outlined her strategies for managing stress in the future. She did not see the problems being repeated again in her work as a Social Worker. In support of this the Panel was referred to a reference received from a recent employer within a Social Work Department in which the Registrant had worked satisfactorily. This was one of two  appointments in which the Registrant had carried out social work without the need for referral since leaving the NFA.

67. When questioned, the Registrant expressed some insight into the risks
        associated with not meeting regulatory recording timescales. The Registrant acknowledged in her evidence the importance of recording visits and reviews on the computer system within acceptable timescales. She acknowledged that it was her responsibility to complete the records and to ensure that information required from third parties in order for her to do so was provided to her in a timely manner. Although there is no information in respect of any adverse effect arising from her actions, the Registrant did now seem to appreciate that making visits and not recording the information may have serious adverse effects on safeguarding service users and may put them at risk. She admitted that it also affects the opportunity for colleagues to act on shared information.

68. The Panel is satisfied that this demonstrates sufficient insight into her practice.

69. The Panel considered that the failings identified are remediable. There was evidence of some very recent relevant online training in record keeping having been completed by the Registrant. The Registrant herself however stated that she would benefit from further training on time management. In these circumstances, the Panel concluded she had not fully remediated her deficiencies.

70. The Panel considered the possibility of the risk of repetition and concluded that due to the lack of full remediation identified, there remains a risk of repetition of similar misconduct. The Panel cannot yet be confident that similar misconduct will not occur in the future.

71. For these reasons, the Panel determined that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired on the personal component.

72. The Panel has also concluded that the public interest also requires a finding of current impairment. The Panel has found that the failings of the Registrant as set out above and identified as misconduct were serious, frequent, repeated and extended over a lengthy period of time. In these circumstances the Panel has concluded that the need to uphold proper professional standards and public confidence in the profession and in the HCPC as its regulator, would be undermined if a finding of impairment was not made. Consequently a finding of impairment is in the public interest.

Decision on sanction:

73. The Panel heard submissions from Mr Foxsmith, who submitted that the imposition of a sanction was a matter for the Panel’s judgement. He reminded the Panel that it was not obligatory to impose a sanction. He stated that if the Panel was considering a sanction it should start with the least severe restriction that would allow the public to be protected and maintain the public’s confidence in the profession.

74. He submitted that if the Panel decided a sanction was appropriate, a disposal by way of a caution might be appropriate but if not a conditions of practice order requiring the Registrant to undertake further training would be appropriate.

75. Mr Elton agreed that the least restrictive sanction, if any should be imposed. He submitted that a caution would address the need for public protection identified by the Panel. Mr Elton submitted that if the Panel did impose conditions of practice, the order should be for the shortest possible length of time to avoid adversely affecting the Registrant’s employability and her finances.

76. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and took account of the Indicative Sanctions Policy. It was conscious of the need to apply the principle of proportionality in balancing the Registrant’s rights against the need to protect the public and the wider public interest.

77. The Panel is aware that the purpose of imposing a sanction is not to be punitive and that it must consider the risk the Registrant may pose to those using or needing her services in the future and determine what degree of public protection is required. The Panel must also give appropriate weight to the wider public interest which includes the deterrent effect on other registrants, the reputation of the profession and public confidence in the regulatory process.

78. In terms of mitigation the Panel took into account the following:
• There have been no previous referrals to the HCPC;
• The Registrant stated her work had been adversely affected by difficult personal circumstances;
• There was no evidence of actual harm caused to service users by the Registrant’s  failings;
• The Registrant has demonstrated insight;
• The Registrant has fully engaged with the regulatory process;
• The Registrant has identified a need for further training and has taken steps to address this;
• The Registrant has been employed as a Social Worker in two roles since the misconduct and there have been no further referrals.

79. Aggravating factors include the fact that:
• The failings occurred over a long period of time, affecting numerous households.
• The Registrant was provided with substantial support over a prolonged period but still did not make records within acceptable timescales and potentially her failings could have had very serious consequences.

80. The Panel considered the available sanctions in ascending order starting with the least restrictive sanction. The Panel has found that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired due to her misconduct and that she has failed fully to remediate her fundamental failings.  Taking no action would therefore be inadequate, given the seriousness of the misconduct and the risk of repetition. 

81. The imposition of a caution order was discounted because it does not fully address the Registrant’s breach of professional standards and lack of remediation. The Registrant’s lapse was neither isolated nor minor in nature and this Panel has found there remains a risk of repetition.

82. The Panel went on to consider the imposition of a conditions of practice order and considered this sanction to be appropriate as there are verifiable, realistic and measurable conditions of practice which could address the failings identified.

83. In the light of the above considerations and the circumstances of this case, the Panel determined that a conditions of practice order would suffice to protect the public and the public interest. It would provide the Registrant with an opportunity to fully remediate her failings, whilst protecting the public and the public interest by requiring compliance with conditions.

84. The Panel did go on to consider whether a period of suspension would be appropriate in this case. However, taking into account the mitigating factors in this case, which involve the Registrant’s insight into her behaviour and her starting to remediate, the Panel determined that it would neither be a just nor proportionate sanction at this point in time, given the circumstances of this case. The Panel considered this to be a case where the Registrant could continue to engage with the process and demonstrate remediation of the behaviour that led to a finding of misconduct. Accordingly, this more serious sanction is not appropriate and may be counterproductive to her remediation.

85. The order is to last for one year, as this should be a sufficient period to give the Registrant time to develop full remediation to assist her future practice. Public confidence will be addressed by the element of supervision the conditions include. This Order will be reviewed before it expires.

 

Order

ORDER: The Registrar is directed to annotate the HCPC Register to show that, for a period of one year from the date that this Order takes effect (“the Operative Date”), you, Elaine Marcia Stephens, must comply with the following conditions of practice:
1. You must satisfactorily complete a course in time management  relevant to your Social Work practice within 6 months of the operative date, and forward a copy of your results to the HCPC. 

2. At any time you are working in a paid or unpaid role as a Social Worker you must place yourself and remain under the supervision of a workplace supervisor, registered by the HCPC or other appropriate statutory regulator and supply details of your supervisor to the HCPC within one month of starting employment as a Social Worker. You must attend upon that supervisor as required and follow their advice and recommendations.

3. You must promptly inform the HCPC if you take up any other or further employment as a Social Worker.

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

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

 A. any organisation or person employing or contracting with you to undertake professional work;
 B. any agency you are registered with or apply to be registered with (at the time of application); and
 C. any prospective employer (at the time of your application).

86. Any reviewing Panel may be assisted by the following:
• The Registrant’s attendance at any Review Hearing;
• Evidence of successful completion of the course on time management she  has undertaken;
• References or testimonials from paid or unpaid employment;
• Evidence as to how the Registrant has put the learnings from her training on time management and record keeping into practice, either through work or in any other way relevant to her practice as a Social Worker. This may be in the form, for example, of supervision records, or a reflective piece and/or case studies.
• Information on how she is keeping her practice up-to-date through CPD courses or other relevant training.

The order imposed today will apply from 9 June 2017.

This order will be reviewed again before its expiry on 9 June 2018. 

Right of Appeal:

You may appeal to the High Court in England and Wales against the Panel’s decision and the order it has made against you.

Under Articles 30(10) and 38 of the Health and Social Work Professions Order 2001, any appeal must be made to the court not more than 28 days after the date when this notice is served on you.

European alert mechanism:

In accordance with Regulation 67 of the European Union (Recognition of Professional Qualifications) Regulations 2015, the HCPC will inform the competent authorities in all other EEA States that your right to practise has been restricted.

Interim Order:

The Panel makes an Interim Conditions of Practice Order under Article 31(2) of the Health and Social Work Professions Order 2001, the same being necessary to protect members of the public and being otherwise in the public interest. This order will expire: (if no appeal is made against the Panel’s decision and Order) upon the expiry of the period during which such an appeal could be made; (if an appeal is made against the Panel’s decision and Order) the final determination of that appeal, subject to a maximum period of 18 months.

 

 

 

Notes

This is a Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing which took place at HCPC, London on Monday 8 May 2017 to Friday 12 May 2017 at 10:00am.

Hearing history

History of Hearings for Elaine Marcia Stephens

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
08/05/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Conditions of Practice