Paula Anne Archbold

: Social worker

: SW00866

Interim Order: Imposed on 03 May 2016

: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing:10:00 15/05/2017 End: 17:00 18/05/2017

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

: Conduct and Competence Committee
: Struck off

Allegation

During the course of your employment as a Social Worker at Newcastle City Council:

 

1. In relation to Case 1:

a. between approximately 16 February to 21 May 2015, you did not respond to Service User 1’s requests for a phone call in a timely manner;

b. between approximately 19 February to 26 May 2015 you did not carry out any statutory visits.

 

2. In relation to Case 2, between approximately 15 October 2014 to 20 February 2015, you did not:

a. complete 9 statutory visits;

b. complete a section 47 report.

 

3. In relation to Case 3, between approximately 15 October 2014 to 17 February 2015, you did not:

a. complete a statutory visit;

b. complete any unannounced or announced visits.

 

4. In relation to Case 4, between approximately 4 November 2014 to 6 July 2015 you did not

a) complete a viability assessment on Service User 2

b) complete a viability assessment on Service User 3

 

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

 

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

Finding

Preliminary matters:


1. The Registrant, Miss Archbold, has neither attended this hearing nor been represented at it.


2. The Panel first considered whether a valid notice of service had been sent to the Registrant.  It concluded that the letter dated 13 December 2016, sent to the Registrant at her address as it appeared on the HCPC Register, constituted good service of the notice of hearing.


3. The Panel then considered the HCPC’s application that the hearing should proceed in the absence of the Registrant.  In this context the Panel was informed that there had been a complete lack of engagement on the part of the Registrant with the HCPC’s fitness to practise processes.  In particular, the Panel was told that the Registrant had not made any response for consideration by the Investigating Committee at the “case to answer” stage, and that she had not attended, or in any other way communicated in connection with, four hearings that had taken place between May 2016 and April 2017 regarding interim order applications.  The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor that any decision to proceed with a hearing in the absence of the registrant concerned requires the exercise of considerable care and caution.  The Panel also had regard to the HCPTS Practice Note on Proceeding in the Absence of the Registrant.  The conclusion of the Panel was that the hearing should proceed in the absence of Registrant for the following reasons:


• The history of the Registrant’s non-engagement with the HCPC’s fitness to practice proceedings, including the lack of response in relation to the four earlier hearings, led the Panel to conclude that she had disengaged from the process generally, and, in particular, had voluntarily waived her right to attend the present hearing.

• The absence of communication from the Registrant meant that there was no application for an adjournment of the hearing.


• Accordingly, there were no grounds on which the Panel could conclude that the Registrant would be likely to attend the hearing on another occasion if it did not proceed at the present time.


• There was clearly a disadvantage to the Registrant in her not advancing a case, whether in person or in writing, but that disadvantage was a consequence of her conscious decision not to engage.


• Four days had been scheduled for the present hearing, two of the three witnesses the HCPC intended to call at the hearing were present at the hearing venue in readiness to give evidence, and arrangements had been made for the third witness to attend on the second day of the hearing.  A decision not to proceed with the hearing would result in a waste of resources and inconvenience to the witnesses.


• Furthermore, there is a clear public interest in allegations being determined expeditiously.


• For all these reasons the Panel concluded that the public interest in the hearing continuing outweighed the absence of the Registrant.  Accordingly, the Panel directed that the hearing should continue in the absence of the Registrant.


4. After the Panel directed that the hearing should proceed in the absence of the Registrant, the HCPC applied to amend some of the factual particulars of the allegations.  Notice of its intention to make this application was communicated by the HCPC to the Registrant by a letter dated 27 July 2016.  The Registrant did not respond to the letter advising her of the proposed amendments.  The Panel was satisfied that the proposed amendments could properly described as “tidying up”, dealing with such matters as the refinement of dates relevant to the factual particulars.  The proposed amendments did not alter the substance of the HCPC’s case, nor did they widen the scope of the allegations or make them more serious.  The Panel was satisfied that the proposed amendment accorded with the Investigating Committee’s decision that there was a case to answer and that they also accorded with the substance of the HCPC’s case as it appeared in the witness statements and exhibits that had been distributed to the Panel in advance of the hearing.  The Panel was also satisfied that there would be no risk of prejudice to the Registrant if the amendments were allowed.  Accordingly, the Panel acceded to the HCPC’s application to amend the particulars of the allegation to the form set out at the beginning of this written determination.

Background:


5. The Registrant was employed as a Social Worker by Newcastle City Council (“the local authority”) from 2003 until the events between July 2014 and May 2015 with which this case is concerned.  She worked in the Children’s Social Care Team.  In this role the Registrant had a full range of childcare cases, including Looked After Children, Safeguarding and Children in Need cases.

6. For a period ending in September 2014, the Registrant was line managed and supervised by a Social Worker who was not called by the HCPC to give evidence.  On 25 September 2014 the responsibility for line managing and supervising the Registrant passed to Ms KK.  When this change was made it was recognised that Ms KK would be supervising the Registrant for a short period because it had already been arranged that Mr SM would take over as line manager and supervisor.  Ms KK’s interim involvement was required because there was a delay in Mr SM being able to take up his new post.  It is the HCPC’s case that at an early stage of Ms KK’s supervision of the Registrant, concerns about the latter’s work became apparent leading to a very significant frequency of both formal supervision and informal oversight of the Registrant’s practice.


7. The transfer of line management and supervision of the Registrant to Mr SM took place on 24 November 2014.  It is the HCPC’s case that Mr SM similarly had concerns about the Registrant’s practice.  It is contended that Mr SM reduced the Registrant’s caseload and conducted supervision of her more frequently than would be the norm.  However, Mr SM’s concerns were not abated, with the result that on 13 January 2015, he instigated a formal action plan.  The action plan was reviewed on 11 February 2015 and again on 5 March 2015, but in circumstances where it is claimed that the Registrant’s work did not show any marked improvement, on 10 April 2015 Mr SM discussed his concerns relating to the Registrant with the Service Manager during his own supervision.  He was advised to undertake an audit of three of the Registrant’s cases.  The cases reviewed by Mr SM were those that have been presented to the Panel as Case 1, Case 2 and Case 3 which he told the Panel had been randomly selected.


8. Subsequently, Mrs LM, a Team Manager in the Social Services Department working for the local authority in another team was appointed to undertake an investigation into the Registrant’s performance.  Mrs LM investigated not only the three cases that had been the subject of Mr SM’s review, but also Case 4, a case in which concerns had recently been raised.  In order to investigate matters, Mrs LM interviewed witnesses and retrieved documents, including the case records relating to the relevant cases stored on the local authority’s electronic recording system which was known as “CareFirst”.  Mrs LM offered the Registrant four opportunities to meet on dates of the Registrant’s choosing to which the Registrant did not respond.  She was therefore not able to interview the Registrant. 


9. The circumstances of each case will be briefly described when the Panel describes its findings on the facts.


Decision on Facts


10. In reaching its decisions on the facts, the Panel remembered throughout that it was for the HCPC to prove matters on a balance of probabilities.  Each specific contention advanced by the HCPC in support of its factual case was to be considered separately by reference to the evidence that related to it.  In deciding on the facts it was not appropriate to draw any inferences adverse to the Registrant simply because she had not produced any evidence for consideration by the Panel.


11. The Panel commenced its discussion on the facts by forming a view about the reliability of the evidence called by the HCPC.  Three witnesses were called to give evidence before the Panel, the involvement of each of whom in the relevant events has already been explained.  They were Ms KK (who supervised the Registrant between September and November 2014), Mr SM (who managed and supervised the Registrant from November 2014) and Ms LM (who undertook the investigation on behalf of the local authority).  The Panel found that all of them gave their evidence in a straightforward manner.  They did not exaggerate and did their best to help the Panel to reach a balanced decision.  The Panel found them all to be credible witnesses whose evidence could safely be relied upon.


Case 1.


12. Case 1 concerns a single child, identified in this case as “Child 1A”, who was a child under the age of 5 years.  The local authority’s involvement with Child 1A arose because his parents had been involved in an acrimonious separation.  The case was allocated to the Registrant on 16 June 2014, at which time Child 1A was subject to child protection measures.  His mother had been admitted to a mother and baby unit due to mental health issues and both those health issues and the mother’s relationship with the father resulted in child protection measures being put in place.  Service User 1 (referred to in particular 1(a)) was Child 1A’s maternal grandmother. 


13. The Panel is satisfied that on 16 February 2015. Service User 1 telephoned the local authority requesting that the Registrant should telephone her, the same being clearly recorded in the “CareFirst” case note recording system used by the local authority.  It is clear from the records that the Registrant did not respond to this telephone call until 18 March 2015.  In the Panel’s view that this was not a timely response to a service user.  Furthermore, Service User 1 called again asking to speak to the Registrant, twice on 24th March 2015, twice on 25th March 2015 and again on 26 March 2015.  The Registrant did not respond to these calls by the time the case was re-allocated to another Social Worker on 1 May 2015. The Panel finds particular 1(a) to be proved.


14. As has already been stated, when the case was allocated to the Registrant on 16 June 2014, Child 1A was subject to child protection measures.  From 20 March 2015 Child A became a Child in Need.  According to the local authority’s requirements, statutory visits should have been made not less frequently than every fortnight to a child under 5 years of age, as Child 1A was.  The Panel is satisfied by both the documentary and oral evidence it has received that, as a Social Worker who had been working for the local authority for a period of approximately 12 years by the time of these events, the Registrant fully understood the requirement for statutory visits to be made with this frequency.  This is a finding that is relevant not only to the factual particular currently being considered, but also to other factual particulars being decided by the Panel.  A statutory visit is recorded on CareFirst as having been made on 5 February 2015, but not thereafter until the case was allocated to another Social Worker on 1 May 2015.  Again, the Panel is satisfied that the absence of a recorded visit in this period of nearly three months reflects the fact that the Registrant did not make any such visits.  The Panel finds particular 1(b) to be proved.
Case 2.


15. Case 2 concerned two children, Child 2A and Child 2B.  The mother of the children had herself been involved with the local authority as a Child in Need when younger.  The case was allocated to the Registrant on 10 October 2014, at which time both children were subject to child protection measures.  The mother suffered from alcohol and drug abuse issues, and she had trouble parenting.  Accordingly, the children did not live with her.  Child 2A lived with her birth father, and child 2B was placed with a maternal aunt.  Child 2B was under the age of 5 years, and should therefore have been visited not less frequently than fortnightly.  Statutory visits were made by another Social Worker, Ms CP, on behalf of the Registrant on 28 November 2014 and again on10 December 2014.  Thereafter there is an absence of recorded visits until 20 February 2015, on which date a statutory visit was recorded as having been made by the Registrant.  On 20 March 2015, a complaint was received by the local authority on behalf of the children’s mother of lack of visiting on the part of the Registrant.  The Panel is satisfied that the records (and, in particular, the absence of recorded statutory visits), coupled with the complaint and the notes of supervision of the Registrant are all factors that result in the Panel concluding that the visits were not made.  For the reasons already explained in relation to Case 1 the Panel is satisfied that the Registrant knew of the frequency with which she should have been visiting.  The Panel finds particular 2(a) to be proved.


16. There is an entry in the case records that on 15 October 2014 the Registrant was requested to prepare a section 47 report.  The Panel is satisfied that the Registrant, an experienced Social Worker, was aware of the requirements of a section 47 report, namely that it was a comprehensive risk assessment on a child which would involve a visit not only to the child, but also contact with others involved with the child.  Crucially, the timescale for the preparation of a section 47 report was 15 working days from allocation of the task.  The Panel is satisfied that the Registrant did not complete this task, with the result that it had to be allocated to another Social Worker.  The exhibits put before the Panel included the section 47 report prepared by the Social Worker to whom the task was re-allocated, Ms CP, after the Registrant failed to produce it.  It was recorded in the report that it was “…. being completed in retrospect …” following reallocation.  The Panel finds particular 2(b) to be proved.


Case 3.


17. The family concerned with Case 3 was one with a large number of children.  Four of the children were allocated to the Registrant in June 2014.  The remaining siblings were allocated to another Social Worker.  Three of the four children allocated to the Registrant (the eldest and the two youngest) were subject to child protection plans.  Risks included a fear that an older child was being sexually exploited.  Younger siblings included two children under the age of 5 years.


18. The CareFirst records disclose that the Registrant made a statutory visit on 4 July 2014.  Around the beginning of October 2014 the mother of the children contacted Ms KK to complain that the Registrant had not visited for many weeks.  The next recorded visit after that made on 4 July 2014 was recorded as having been made on 20 October 2014.  The Panel is satisfied that the absence of a recorded visit represents the fact that visits were not made in this period.  The Panel finds particular 3(a) to be proved.


19. The Panel heard consistent evidence that for a proper and realistic assessment of the welfare of children to be made, it is necessary that from time to time unannounced visits should be made.  The Panel accepts the importance of unannounced visits being made, and that they provide a good opportunity for the Social Worker to assess how parents and others are managing children when they do not have advance warning that their parenting might be assessed.  The Panel is equally satisfied that the Registrant was aware of the importance of including unannounced visits in the visits to families on her caseload. No such visits were made in relation to Case 3.  The Panel finds particular 3(b) to be proved.


Case 4.


20. The allocation of the case to the Registrant was on 19 September 2014.  Child 4A was an only child, and at the material time was a subject to an interim care order and was a Looked After Child being housed by the local authority.   Various family members wished to have contact with Child 4A, including Service Users 2 and 3, his grandparents.  On 2 April 2015 the Court ordered that a contact contract should be prepared within the day.  The purpose of a contact contract was to provide for all the contact that was to take place and to make all of the relevant parties aware of the responsibilities they had in relation to contact.  In order for the contact contract to be established it was necessary for there to be completed viability assessments in relation to Service Users 2 and 3.

21. During an informal discussion between the Registrant and Mr SM before the former went on leave on 10 April 2015 she stated that the contact contract had been completed and that everything had been “sorted out”.  However, on 14 April 2015, Mr SM received a telephone call from an officer of the NSPCC who said that there was confusion surrounding contact.  It transpired that the Registrant had not completed viability assessments on Service Users 2 and 3, who made a complaint the following day.  The Panel is satisfied that the Registrant was required to undertake viability assessments and failed to do so.  The Panel finds particular 4 to be proved.


Decision on Grounds


22. As the Panel has found all of the factual particulars to be proved against the Registrant, it has been necessary to consider whether those facts demonstrated a lack of competence on her part and/or amounted to misconduct.


23. The Panel is of the clear view that the proved facts did not arise from a lack of competence.  At the time of the relevant events the Registrant had been practising as a Social Worker in the area of child protection for a period in excess of ten years.  None of the tasks she was required to, but did not, undertake represented unusual or newly-instigated procedures.  During the numerous supervision sessions that took place in the relevant period, the Registrant at no stage said to either Ms KK or Mr SM that she was unaware of what she should be doing.  The Panel is satisfied that in relation to each and every one of the identified shortcomings the Registrant knew that she should have undertaken them.  The Panel is equally satisfied that she knew how to carry them out.


24. The Panel sought to explore with both Ms KK and Mr SM possible reasons why the Registrant failed to discharge the duties required of her in relation to the four cases being considered by the Panel.  However, in the absence of any contribution by the Registrant, that is a matter the Panel is unable to decide.  It is important to note that the failings occurred while the Registrant was being reminded of outstanding tasks in supervision, and, in relation to the later period over which the breaches occurred, while she had a reduced caseload, was being supervised weekly and was subject to an action plan.  As has already been stated, the Panel is satisfied that the Registrant knew what she should have been doing and had the ability to undertake the required tasks.  Nevertheless, against this background over a significant period of time and in a number of different cases, she repeatedly failed to perform to an acceptable standard.  The HCPC has not advanced the case against the Registrant on the basis that any identifiable harm was suffered by any of the children involved, but the risks created for acutely vulnerable children when a Social Worker fails adequately to monitor their welfare are too obvious to require elaboration. There were other negative impacts of the Registrant’s behaviour. One was the upset and annoyance experienced by parents and other service users. An experienced Social Worker would know that there is a real risk that the willingness of service users to engage with Social Workers charged with child protection responsibilities would be reduced when they experience service of the type offered by the Registrant.  The evidence received by the Panel included clear evidence not only of a number of complaints made against the Registrant, but also evidence of disaffection by service users. Further, the failure by a practitioner in the position of the Registrant to carry out vital tasks inevitably imposes additional burdens on colleagues, a fact demonstrated by the additional time that Ms KK and Mr SM had to spend chasing the Registrant and the re-allocation of her work to other Social Workers.


25. The Panel finds that the Registrant’s behaviour breached the following standards of the HCPC’s Standards of conduct, performance and ethics that were in force at the relevant time, namely:


• Standard 1 (“You must act in the best interests of service users”);
• Standard 7 (“You must communicate properly and effectively with service uses and other practitioners”): and,
• Standard 10 (“You must keep accurate records”).


26. Taking all these factors into account the Panel is satisfied that fellow practitioners would regard the Registrant’s behaviour to have been deplorable, and that the proved facts are properly to be described as misconduct.


Decision on Impairment


27. The Panel next considered whether the misconduct is currently impairing the Registrant’s fitness to practise as a Social Worker.


28. Breaches of the sort in issue in this case are capable of being remedied by a person who wishes to put matters right.  However, in the case of this particular Registrant there was no discernable or sustained attempt to improve her practice during the period she was supervised by Ms KK and Mr SM.  There was no explanation offered by her to either of those supervisors, nor to Mrs LM during her investigation for the local authority or in the context of this HCPC fitness to practise process why she was failing to discharge her duties.  In these circumstances the Panel cannot conclude that there has been any remediation or even a desire to do so.  For the same reasons there is no evidence of insight on the part of the Registrant as to her shortcomings and the consequences of them.  Furthermore, there is a similar absence of evidence of remorse.   When asked by Ms KK or Mr SM why she had not done what she should have done, she either had no reason for the failure or erroneously claimed that she had performed the tasks. When these factors are taken together there is inevitably a high risk of repetition.  This finding requires a finding of current impairment of fitness to practise.


29. Quite apart from the risk of repetition, the Panel is satisfied that a finding of current impairment of fitness to practise is required in the wider public interest. It is necessary to declare and uphold proper professional standards and to maintain confidence of the public in the Social Work profession and in the regulatory processes of the HCPC.


30. The finding of current impairment of fitness to practise means that the misconduct allegation is well founded with the consequence that the Panel must proceed to consider the issue of sanction.


Decision on Sanction


31. After the Panel handed down its decision on the allegation, the Panel heard submissions from the Presenting Officer on the issue of sanction.  It also received and accepted advice from the Legal Assessor in relation to sanction.


32. The Presenting Officer submitted that the risk to the children concerned, the upset to other service users and the additional burden imposed on colleagues were all factors that could properly be considered as aggravating factors. The Presenting Officer urged the Panel to have regard to the HCPC’s Indicative Sanctions Policy and took the Panel through elements of that document when identifying the available sanctions.  While submitting that the issue of the proper sanction to be imposed was entirely a matter for the Panel to decide, she submitted that each of the sanctions less restrictive than striking-off might not be appropriate.


33. The Panel has approached its decision by accepting that a sanction is not to be imposed to punish a registrant against whom findings have been made.  Rather, a sanction is only to be imposed to the extent that it is required to protect members of the public and to maintain a proper degree of public confidence in the registered profession and in the HCPC’s regulatory function.  To ensure that these principles are applied, it is necessary for a Panel first to consider whether the findings it has made require the imposition of any sanction.  If the Panel considers that a sanction is required, then the available sanctions must be considered in an ascending order of seriousness until one is reached that addresses the proper sanction goals just identified.  As the finding in the present case is one of misconduct, the whole sanction range up to, and including, striking-off is available.


34. As mitigating factors the Panel considers that it is appropriate to take into account that it has not been suggested that the Registrant has a history of regulatory findings, as well as the fact the case has not been presented on the basis that identifiable harm was suffered by the children concerned or other service users.  However, the Panel is of the clear view that the aggravating factors result in this being a case of serious misconduct. The Registrant’s behaviour resulted in acutely vulnerable children being exposed to the risk of harm, as well as diminishing the confidence of other service users in the service for which the Registrant worked and imposed extra burdens on colleagues and other agencies. Furthermore, the Registrant has not expressed remorse, has demonstrated no insight into her conduct or the consequences of it, has not remedied her shortcomings and presents a high risk of repetition.  The Panel approached the available sanctions with these findings in mind.


35. The finding of misconduct currently impairing the Registrant’s fitness to practise necessitates the imposition of a sanction.  Mediation is not appropriate and the findings are far too serious to result in the imposition of a Caution Order, not least because such an outcome would not offer sufficient protection to the public from the risk of harm.  A Conditions of Practice Order would not be appropriate because there are no grounds on which the Panel could conclude that the Registrant has a genuine commitment to resolving the issues identified by the Panel’s findings.


36. Having rejected a Conditions of Practice Order as an appropriate outcome, the Panel next considered a Suspension Order. The risks presented by the Registrant are such that she could not be permitted to return to practise without restrictions and a significant degree of confidence that she would address the shortcomings identified.  Notwithstanding the seriousness of the misconduct, if there were grounds for believing that the Registrant had both the desire and ability to address the shortcomings, the Panel is satisfied that the making of a Suspension Order might well be appropriate.  The only person who can provide evidence of a desire to address the shortcomings is the Registrant herself, yet the lack of communication by her over the last two years means that the Panel simply cannot conclude that she currently has that desire.  The evidence received by the Panel demonstrated that the Registrant had significant opportunities to improve her practice while being managed and supervised by Ms KK and Mr SM, yet failed to do so, and this evidence from 2014 to 2015 does not encourage the Panel to conclude that she would wish to address matters.  She has also shown no insight at all into her failings. That being the case, the Panel has concluded that a Suspension Order would not be appropriate because the position at the end of any period of suspension is likely to be exactly the same as it is at the present time.

37. The Panel has concluded that the making of a Striking Off Order is the appropriate sanction in this case.  The Panel has not overlooked the seriousness of making such an order, but it is satisfied that the need to protect the public in a case with a total lack of insight and apparent unwillingness or inability to resolve matters results in such an order being one that is proportionate in the circumstances of this case.

Order

Order:
The Registrar is directed strike the name of Paula Anne Archbold from the HCPC Register on the day this order comes into effect.

Notes

No notes available

Hearing history

History of Hearings for Paula Anne Archbold

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
15/05/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Struck off