Mr Adam T Campbell

: Social worker

: SW108521

Interim Order: Imposed on 16 Sep 2016

: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing:10:00 04/07/2017 End: 17:00 06/07/2017

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

: Conduct and Competence Committee
: Struck off

Allegation

Whilst registered as a social worker and employed by Cheshire West & Chester Council:

 

1. In relation to Child A, you breached professional boundaries in that:

 

a) Between approximately 3 June 2016 and 20 June 2016 you exchanged text and/or WhatsApp messages of a personal nature with Child A, which included:

 

i. "Do you need a cuddle", or words to that effect

ii. "Aww want me to save one for you", or words to that effect

iii. "I'd send you an emoji but I don't think there is one, would a real one do", or words to that effect

iv. "Do you still need that cuddle?", or words to that effect

 

2. In relation to Child B, you breached professional boundaries in that:

 

a. Between approximately 3 June 2016 and 20 June 2016 you exchanged an excessive amount of text and/or WhatsApp messages with Child B

b. Between approximately 3 June 2016 and 20 June 2016 you exchanged text and/or WhatsApp messages of a personal nature with Child B, which included:

 

i. "You'd love me to drag you out of school wouldn't you", or words to that effect

ii. "I mean hypothetically if you were off school sick I could always come and take you out somewhere", or words to that effect

iii. "What size are you, I don't know how girls sizes work"', or words to that effect.

iv. "so what about bikinis and swimming stuff, I'm so clueless", or words to that effect

v. "I'll be seeing you on your birthday", or words to that effect

vi. "In school I'll pull you of lessons for a bit cos it's your birthday", or words to that effect

 

3. Some or all of the messages described at paragraphs 1 and 2 were not recorded on the electronic records for Child A and /or Child B

 

4. Your actions as described in paragraphs 1 and 2 were sexually motivated

 

5. The matters described in paragraphs 1-4 constitute misconduct

 

6. By reason of your misconduct your fitness to practise is impaired

Finding

Preliminary Matters

Service

1. Having seen copies of the Notice of Hearing dated 24 February 2017, the Certificate of Registration and the proof of posting, and receiving the advice of the Legal Assessor, the Panel determined that the Notice of Hearing had been served in accordance with the applicable Health and Care Professions Council (Conduct and Competence) (Procedure) Rules 2003 (the Rules).

Proceeding in absence

2. Ms Watts applied for the hearing to proceed in the absence of the Registrant under Rule 11 of the Rules. She informed the Panel that there had been no communication from the Registrant to the HCPC. Ms Watts submitted that the Registrant had voluntarily absented himself and the hearing should proceed in his absence. There was no application for an adjournment. Overall, she submitted the public interest to proceed should prevail against the Registrant’s own interests at being present at this hearing.

3. The Panel accepted the Legal Assessor’s advice and took into account all the factors set out in the HCPTS Practice Note “Proceeding in the Absence of the Registrant”. After considering all the circumstances, the Panel concluded that, in view of the lack of any engagement from the Registrant, he had voluntarily waived attendance or representation at this hearing and therefore, the public interest requirement of proceeding expeditiously with regulatory hearings justified proceeding with the hearing in the absence of the Registrant.

Background

4. The Registrant was a social worker based within one of the Children in Need teams at Cheshire West and Chester Council (the Council). The Registrant started in this role on 5 January 2016. The Registrant was part of the Assessed and Supported Year in Employment (ASYE).

5. On 4 July 2016, Child A, a 14-year-old female who was assigned to the Registrant’s caseload, approached her School Support Officer to take advice on text messages allegedly received from the Registrant. As a result of this, the Deputy Head of the school contacted the Registrant’s Team Manager at the Council to make a complaint.

6. The Local Authority Designated Officer requested an investigation be conducted and GA, Senior Manager in the Children and Families Department at the Council, was appointed as Investigating Officer.

7. During the investigation, information was obtained in relation to text messages allegedly sent by the Registrant to another child on his caseload, Child B, a 13-year-old female. The matter was subsequently reported to the HCPC.

Decision on Facts

8. The Panel bore in mind the burden and standard of proof, namely ‘the balance of probabilities’, and considered each particular of the allegation separately.

9. The HCPC called one witness, GA. The Panel found GA to be clear in her oral evidence and consistent with her witness statement. She was credible, did not seek to embellish her evidence, and in questions she was willing to make concessions; the Panel found her evidence to be reliable.

10. The Panel also had the benefit of statements, other exhibits and an Investigatory Interview with the Registrant of 26 July 2016. The Panel accorded them the appropriate weight when considering the allegations made against the Registrant.

11. The Panel then considered the individual particulars.

Particular 1 – Proved

12. The Panel found this particular proved. In making this decision, it noted that Child A was a 14-year-old female. The Registrant exchanged a number of text messages with her on his personal mobile telephone, as detailed in particular 1. Child A reported the receipt of the text messages to her School Support Officer. The Panel found the content and circumstances of the messages between the Registrant and Child A, who was vulnerable, breached the professional standards expected of all registered social workers. The Panel considered that the Registrant’s offer to cuddle Child A had no basis in social work practice, nor was it a legitimate use of his power or authority. In all of these circumstances, the Panel is satisfied that the exchange of these messages by the Registrant breached professional boundaries.

Particular 2 – Proved

13. The Panel found this particular proved. Child B was a 13-year-old female. The Registrant exchanged over 100 text messages with her in a one week period in June 2016. Some of the messages were sent in the evening or over the weekend. The messages were personal in nature and some appeared to be inviting Child B not to attend school but to meet with the Registrant instead. Child B was vulnerable and the Registrant was her social worker with a responsibility to look after her. In all of these circumstances, the Panel is satisfied that the exchange of these messages by the Registrant breached professional boundaries.

Particular 3 – Proved

14. The Panel found this particular proved. The witness, GA, could find no evidence that the Registrant had recorded the exchange of any text messages between himself and Child A and/or Child B on the electronic case records.

Particular 4 – Proved

15. The Panel noted and adopted the definition of grooming given in the Investigation Report:

“when someone builds an emotional connection with a child to gain their trust for the purposes of sexual abuse or exploitation” (NSPCC)

16. In this case, the Panel was satisfied that the Registrant sought to build an emotional connection with both Child A and Child B. That emotional connection was outside his professional boundaries.

17. The Panel considered that the content of the text messages, as set out in particulars 1 and 2, was unduly personal in nature. There were frequent references to actions that would not form part of a professional relationship, such as cuddles and sharing photographs. The Panel also noted the number and times of the texts, that the messaging was elicited by the Registrant, and was frequently followed up by him when there had not been an immediate response.

18. The Panel was aware of the impact on the Registrant of a finding that his actions in particulars 1 and 2 were sexually motivated. It therefore gave careful scrutiny to whether there was another explanation for his actions and noted the Registrant’s explanation given during the Investigatory Interview.

19.  The Panel carefully considered the evidence that:

• The Registrant used his personal mobile phone when messaging both Child A and Child B;

• He made no record of his text messages with Child A or Child B, even if only to note the contact made; and

• Neither in his initial statement, nor when interviewed by GA did the Registrant volunteer the information that he had also sent text messages to Child B.

20. The Panel considered that even though the Registrant was a newly qualified Social Worker, he had sufficient knowledge, skills and experience to understand the need to maintain professional boundaries when dealing with young and vulnerable people, and that his actions as set out in particulars 1 and 2 were neither professional nor appropriate.

21. The Panel therefore decided, on the balance of probabilities, that his actions were sexually motivated and not those of a naïve or insufficiently trained social worker.

Decision on Grounds

22. Having found the facts proved, the Panel went on to consider whether they amounted to misconduct. It bore in mind the submissions made by Ms Watts and the advice of the Legal Assessor. It also bore in mind the legal authorities to which it had been referred.

23. The Panel considered whether the conduct found proved in each particular amounted to misconduct.

24. In particulars 1 and 2, the Registrant had contacted vulnerable female children. He should have been aware of appropriate professional boundaries. In both cases he was exchanging text messages of a personal nature with children put under his care. Child A was sufficiently worried by the text messages to show them to her School Support Officer. In addition, there was a risk that Child A and/or Child B could have formed an inappropriate attachment with the Registrant that had the potential to cause them harm. The particulars found proved are serious and, in the Panel’s view, amount to misconduct.

25. In particular 3, the Registrant made no record of the text messages exchanged between himself and vulnerable children. This included an exchange between the Registrant and Child B that she had three packets of paracetamol and was thinking of taking them. To make no record of this exchange potentially placed Child B at risk of harm. In the Panel’s view, this behaviour was serious and amounts to misconduct.

26. In particular 4, the Registrant’s behaviour was reprehensible and fitted with the definition of grooming cited above, and was thus sexually motivated. It would undermine public trust and confidence in the profession and the Panel considers that this behaviour is serious and amounted to misconduct.

27. The Registrant’s behaviour showed a blatant disregard for the underpinning values of Social Work and the HCPC Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics, namely:

1 Promote and protect the interests of service users and carers

1.7 You must keep your relationships with service users and carers professional.

2 Communicate appropriately and effectively

2.7 You must use all forms of communication appropriately and responsibly, including social media and networking websites.

9 Be honest and trustworthy

9.1 You must make sure that your conduct justifies the public’s trust and confidence in you and your profession.

Decision on Impairment 

28. Having found that the matters found proved amounted to misconduct, the Panel went on to consider whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired. It bore in mind the submissions made by Ms Watts, the advice of the Legal Assessor, and HCPTS Practice Note “Finding that Fitness to Practise is ‘Impaired’”.

29. The Panel considered both the ‘personal’ component and the ‘public’ component of impairment, and whether the Registrant’s conduct was remediable and whether it has been remedied or was likely to be repeated.

30. The misconduct identified goes to the heart of the Registrant’s professional responsibilities. He had a duty to look after Child A and Child B. He failed in that duty. The Registrant has shown no understanding of the potential consequences of his behaviour and the Panel has no evidence before it to suggest that it has been remedied. Consequently, the Panel could not be satisfied that the Registrant’s behaviour would not be repeated. The Panel therefore finds that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired on the basis of the ‘personal’ component.

31. Due to the serious nature of the misconduct found, the Panel concluded that the public, knowing the facts and findings in this case, would be appalled and their trust and confidence in the profession and the regulatory process would be undermined if a finding was made that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is not currently impaired.

32. Therefore, the Panel finds that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired on both the ‘personal’ and the ‘public’ component.

Decision on Sanction

33. Having found that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired, the Panel went on to consider the question of sanction. Before reaching its decision, the Panel considered the HCPC “Indicative Sanctions Policy” and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.

34. The Panel considered the gravity of the matters found proved and then aggravating and mitigating factors.

35. The mitigating factors are the relative inexperience of the Registrant in the role of social worker and the fact that no evidence was given of actual harm being caused to the children.

36. The aggravating features are the seriousness and gravity of the allegations. The Registrant’s behaviour was sexually motivated. The incidents were not isolated. The Registrant was reluctant to reveal the full extent of his contact with both children. His behaviour was a flagrant breach of the fundamental tenets and principles of Social Work practice.

37. In deciding what sanction, if any, to impose, the Panel has reminded itself that the purpose of sanctions is not to be punitive but to protect service users and the public interest, although a sanction may have a punitive effect. The Panel has taken into account the principle of proportionality, balancing the interests of the public with those of the Registrant.

38. The Panel has concluded, in light of the seriousness of the allegation and the misconduct, that a sanction is required. Further, the Panel does not consider that a Caution Order or mediation is a proportionate response to the misconduct in this case.

39. In the absence of any engagement by the Registrant in these proceedings, the Panel has concluded that a Conditions of Practice Order is not workable, practicable nor proportionate in this case.

40. The Panel then went on to consider whether to impose a period of suspension. It carefully considered all of the evidence and its findings of fact. The Registrant has not attended this hearing and the only evidence from him was contained in the Investigatory Interview. He has not communicated with the HCPC. During the Council’s investigation, the Registrant showed a lack of insight. The Panel does not have any evidence of remediation since the matter was first reported to the HCPC.

41. In these circumstances, because of the serious nature of the misconduct and in the absence of any information regarding the Registrant’s recognition of his failings, there remains a high risk of repetition and a real risk of significant harm to the public.

42. The Panel paid attention to the Indicative Sanctions Policy at Paragraph 41:

“Striking off should be used where there is no other way to protect the public, for example, where there is a lack of insight, continuing problems or denial.  A registrant’s inability or unwillingness to resolve matters will suggest that a lower sanction may not be appropriate.”

43. For all of the above, the Panel has determined to impose a Striking Off Order.

Order

That the Registrar is directed to strike the name of Mr Adam T Campbell from the Register on the date this order comes into effect.

Notes

The order imposed today will apply from 2 August 2017 (the operative date).

Hearing history

History of Hearings for Mr Adam T Campbell

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
04/07/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Struck off