Hannah Angela Wright
As amended at Substantive Hearing:
During the course of your employment as a Social Worker in the Assessment Team at Somerset County Council, between 2 October 2013 and 12 November 2013, and in respect of Service User Family A, you:
1. Completed a Children and Family assessment on 5 November 2013, which;
a. Was completed without adequately updating what had occurred since the first Children and Family Assessment dated 9 October 2013, in that:
i. You did not make reference to your meeting with Husband A that took place on 24 October 2013;
ii. You did not make reference to a complaint submitted by Wife A on 29 October 2013.
b. Was completed without contacting Wife A and/or Child A1 and/or Child A2
c. Was inaccurate;
d. Was not shared with Husband A and Wife A a minimum of 5 days before the Initial Child Protection Conference that took place on 12 November 2013, as required.
e. Did not include any reference to Dr Vaidya’s Paediatric Report and/or Ms Mylan’s report.
2. Did not arrange the appropriate support to Family A between 8 October 2013 and 12 November 2013, in that you:
a. Did not refer Family A to the Multi agency Risk Assessment Conference
b. Did not refer Wife A to an Independent Domestic Violence Support Agency (IDVA).
c. Did not refer Husband A to the Adult Social Care Team in a timely manner;
d. Did not provide any and/or any adequate information to Husband A as to the availability of organisations specialising in support of sufferers for the medical condition as set out in the schedule.
e. Did not arrange any Child Care Support after Husband A was removed from the family home on 9 October 2013;
f. Did not carry out at least weekly visits to Wife A, Child A1 and/or Child A2;
g. Did not provide adequate support and/or information to Husband A in relation to the ICPC procedure.
3. Did not arrange contact between Child A1, Child A2 and Husband A.
4. Did not provide and/or adequately refer to Dr Vaidya’s Paediatric Report and/or Ms Mylan’s Report to the Initial Child Protection Conference (ICPC) on 12 November 2013.
5. Did not investigate and/or document any investigation into Child A2’s stated involvement with a man over the internet.
6. The matters set out in paragraphs 1-5 constitute misconduct and/or lack of competence.
7. By reason of your misconduct and/or lack of competence your fitness to practise is impaired.
Proof of service and Proceeding in the absence of the Registrant
1. At the outset of the proceedings the Registrant was neither present nor represented.
2. Miss Turner on behalf of the HCPC invited the Panel to proceed in the absence of the Registrant.
3. She submitted first that the Panel was entitled to proceed in the absence of the Registrant because there was clear evidence that she had been served with notice of the proceedings in accordance with the Health and Care Professions Council (Conduct and Competence) (Procedure) Rules 2003 ("the Rules"). She submitted secondly that the Panel should exercise its discretion to proceed in the absence of the Registrant because there was clear evidence that the Registrant knew of the proceedings and had voluntarily absented herself.
4. The Panel received the advice of the Legal Assessor, which it followed and is incorporated in its determination set out below.
5. Accordingly, the Panel approached the question in two stages. First, it considered whether it was entitled to proceed in the absence of the Registrant. Secondly, it considered whether, in all the circumstances, it should exercise its discretion to do so.
6. The Panel received evidence in the form of a notice addressed to the Registrant dated 12 April 2017 setting out the nature, dates and location of this hearing. It saw a certificate and Proof of Service both dated 12 April 2017, which showed that notice of the proceedings had been sent by first class post on that date to the address for the Registrant held by the HCPC. It also saw a Response Proforma apparently signed by the Registrant and dated 12 July 2017 and a Response to Allegations apparently signed by the Registrant and dated 20 July 2017.
7. In the Response Proforma, the Registrant answered “no” to both the first question, “Do you intend to appear in person at the hearing?” and the second, “Do you intend to be represented at the hearing?”. At the end of the Response to Allegations she wrote, “Due to the emotional impact of this ongoing situation, after much consideration, I have made the decision not to attend the scheduled hearing with regards to this complaint. I am keen for this matter to reach a satisfactory solution as soon as possible both for the family and myself.”
8. After hearing the submissions of Miss Turner, the Panel caused an email to be sent to the Registrant offering to allow her to give evidence to the Panel by video link or telephone. The Registrant wrote back declining this offer but indicating she would reply to any requests for information by email.
9. The Panel had regard to Rule 3 of the Rules, which provides that the sending of a notice under the rules can be effected by sending it to the Registrant's address as it appears in the Register. It also had regard to Rule 6, which provides that a Registrant is entitled to 28 days’ notice of the hearing. Finally, it had regard to Rule 11 which provides that "where the health professional is neither present nor represented at a hearing, the committee may nevertheless proceed with the hearing if it is satisfied that all reasonable steps have been taken to serve the notice of the hearing under Rule 6 (1) on the health professional.”
10. In deciding whether all reasonable steps had been taken, the Panel had regard to the guidance given to panels by the Court of Appeal in GMC v Adeogba  EWCA Civ 162 that, in deciding whether reasonable steps had been taken to serve a Registrant when notice had been posted to their registered address, the Panel should bear in mind that the Registrant was under an obligation to maintain an up-to-date address on the regulator’s register. It also had regard to the Registrant’s written reply indicating she had received papers relating to this hearing.
11. In these circumstances, the Panel was satisfied that the HCPC had taken all reasonable steps to serve notice of the proceedings on the Registrant by posting a notice to the address held by the HCPC on the appropriate register.
12. The Panel then considered whether it should exercise its discretion to proceed in the Registrant's absence.
13. The Panel had regard to the guidance given in the Practice Note, “Proceeding in the absence of the Registrant" dated 22 March 2017 and to that given by the House of Lords in R v Jones  UKHL 5 and the Court of Appeal in GMC v Adeogba. It bore in mind that the discretion to proceed in the absence of the Registrant should be exercised with great care. It should look at the nature and circumstances of the Registrant's absence and in particular whether her absence was deliberate and voluntary so that it amounted to a waiver of her right to appear. On this question the Panel gave considerable weight to the Registrant's written communications. The Panel were satisfied that these demonstrated that the Registrant was aware of the hearing and its purpose and had voluntarily absented herself.
14. It also considered whether an adjournment was likely to result in the Registrant attending at a later date, the likely length of any such adjournment and whether there was any indication that the Registrant wished to be represented at an adjourned hearing. The Panel was satisfied that there is no evidence that an adjournment would secure the Registrant’s attendance or that she would wish to attend or be represented at any adjourned hearing. The communication from the Registrant indicated that she was not seeking an adjournment but wanted the hearing to proceed.
15. The Panel accepted that a Registrant is likely to suffer prejudice by not being able to present her case. The Panel did all it could to reduce that prejudice by inviting the Registrant to give evidence by video or telephone link but the Registrant declined the offer. Furthermore, the Panel and the Legal Assessor were able to ask questions that the Registrant may have asked if she had been present, based on her written representations.
16. The Panel also had regard to the position of two witnesses who had travelled considerable distances to attend and give evidence that day, with two further witnesses due to attend on the third day. It also had regard to the age of the allegations, over 3 ½ years, and the strong public interest in deciding this case within a reasonable time.
17. In any event, in so far as there was a risk of prejudice to the Registrant, the Panel balanced that against the public interest for matters to be dealt with expeditiously in protecting the public, and the guidance given by the Court of Appeal in Adeogba, that a Registrant cannot frustrate the work of the Panel by not attending.
Application to amend Particular 1(a)(ii) of the Allegation
18. Miss Turner applied to amend Particular 1(a)(ii) of the Allegation so that the date of the “complaint by Wife A” reads 29 October 2013 and not 19 October 2013.
19. The Panel heard her submissions and the advice of the Legal Assessor, which it accepted.
20. The Panel found that the amendment did no more than reflect the evidence that the date of the complaint was 29 and not 19 October. The Panel had regard to the Registrant’s written submissions and was satisfied that her response was not affected by the error in the date. The Panel was satisfied that it could allow the amendment without any risk of injustice and accordingly allowed the amendment.
Hearing in private those parts of the evidence relating to the health and private life of witnesses
21. The Panel also decided that it would hear in private any parts of the evidence relating to the health of HA and to protect the personal life of WA and Children A1 and A2. The Panel heard submissions from Miss Turner, accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and had regard to Rule 10(2).
22. The Panel determined that those parts of the evidence which related to the health of a witness or child referred to in evidence would be identified by counsel and the Chair as they arose and arrangements would be made to ensure that members of the public were not present to hear that evidence and the transcript of the evidence was edited accordingly.
23. Throughout the events which give rise to the Allegation, the Registrant was employed as a Social Worker in the Duty and Assessment Team of the Children’s Services Department at Somerset County Council.
24. The case relating to Family A was allocated to her on 2 October 2013 and remained her responsibility until 12 November 2013 when an Initial Child Protection Conference was held and Family A’s case was transferred to the Children in Need Team.
25. During that period the Registrant was on annual leave between 14 and 18 October and 11-13 November 2013, a total of eight working days.
26. The Allegation arises solely from her discharge of her duties during her involvement in the case of Family A, which led to HA making a referral of the Registrant’s handling of the case to the Health and Care Professions Council.
27. The Panel heard evidence that this period was a small part of Family A’s involvement with the Somerset County Council Children’s Services Department, an involvement which has been the subject of at least one wide ranging investigation into complaints made by Family A against the Council.
28. The Panel has received and accepted advice from the Legal Assessor that it should only determine those issues of fact that relate to the Allegation. It is no criticism of witnesses who have taken part in other investigations that a number of the matters they raised are outside the ambit of the matters the Panel can decide. Nevertheless, it found that there was a substantial body of evidence which led those in the Children’s Services Department to consider that the children in Family A were potentially at risk of serious harm.
Decision on Facts
29. When deciding the facts, the Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and bore in mind that the burden of proving the facts in this case rested on the HCPC throughout and that the standard of proof was the civil standard. It took into account all the evidence before it and had regard to the submissions of Miss Turner and the written submissions of the Registrant.
30. The HCPC relied upon the evidence of four witnesses who attended and gave evidence to the Panel.
31. SW1 was a social worker. At the time of the events which give rise to the Allegation, she was the team lead of the Duty and Assessment Team in Somerset County Council and the Registrant’s line manager. She gave evidence of the organisational difficulties at Somerset County Council Children’s Services Department and the circumstances in which the Registrant worked, as well as of her involvement in the case of Family A. The Panel found her to be a good and reliable witness who did her best to remember the events of October and November 2013. She was a balanced and fair witness who made appropriate concessions about the difficulties faced by the Registrant and the failures of management in the department in which she worked.
32. Mr Connolly was an experienced social worker who conducted a wide ranging and independent investigation for Somerset County Council into the complaints raised by HA and WA and their child, A1, against the Council’s handling of their case. His investigation had not been focused on the specific allegations before the Panel and he had been unable to interview the Registrant about all of the allegations because her indisposition. The Panel was satisfied it could rely upon the evidence he gave and accepted his evidence of the areas where the Registrant and her manager had particular responsibilities.
33. WA is the wife of HA and the mother of Children A1 and A2. She gave an account of the impact the events of October 2013 had on her, including managing her work commitments and childcare, and the lack of information given to her by the Children’s Services Department. This included not receiving the reports provided for the Initial Child Protection Conference (ICPC) held on 12 November 2013 until the meeting itself, and the lack of clear guidance on contact between the children and HA. She also explained the context of many of the things she had said to social workers at the time concerning HA, which had added to the department’s concerns about her children’s safety.
34. The Panel fully accepted her account of the difficulties she faced but found that she did not always acknowledge the evidence there had been at the time, both from her and other relevant sources, that there was a potentially significant risk to her children.
35. HA is the husband of WA and the father of Children A1 and A2. He gave evidence of the circumstances in which he left the matrimonial home and the unsatisfactory circumstances in which he then had to live, without adequate support, information or arranged contact with his children.
36. Understandably, a considerable amount of his concern was focused on the circumstances in which his family was referred to the Children’s Services Department and those in which he was effectively made homeless in October 2013. The Panel does not decide on those areas because they do not fall within the ambit of the Allegation against the Registrant.
37. Before dealing with each particular of the Allegation, the Panel sets out below the sequence of events, so that the Allegation can be seen in context.
38. The Panel heard evidence from SW1 that the Registrant transferred to the Duty and Assessment Team when it was set up in September 2013. Prior to her transfer, the Registrant had worked for the Children’s Community Safeguarding Team. During the course of the transfer it had been arranged that the Registrant's existing caseload would be transferred to another team so that she was free to deal with the new cases that she would have in the Duty and Assessment Team. SW1 gave evidence that this transfer had not been adequately planned and she had tried to intervene with senior management to slow the transfer down to enable social workers transferring to the Duty and Assessment Team to have a manageable caseload. Unfortunately, senior management had been unsupportive.
39. The result was that by the time the case of Family A was referred to the Registrant she was still dealing with 15 cases from her previous role, in addition to the new cases she had taken on with the Duty and Assessment Team.
40. In his evidence, Mr Connolly described the Registrant’s role as to “complete C&F assessments, (Children and Family assessments) create plans for any individuals referred to the Council, to arrange an ICPC (Initial Child Protection Conference), if necessary, and then to hand over to the appropriate team to take over long-term care."
41. A referral was made on 17 September 2013 by Family A’s GP to SW3, a Family Support Worker, in relation to Child A2’s welfare. SW3 met with WA on the same day and obtained consent to visit Child A2.
42. SW3 visited Child A2 at school on 1 October 2013. The records indicate that Child A2 made a number of disclosures to SW3, which indicated the need for further investigation by Somerset County Council’s Children’s Services Department.
43. On 2 October 2013, the Registrant was allocated the case of Family A. She had met with WA along with SW3, on 2 October 2013 and received further information about the family and the children, which properly gave rise to concerns about the safety of the children.
44. On 8 October 2013, the Registrant visited Child A2 at school. She also undertook an unannounced home visit with a colleague and later that day a strategy meeting was held between SW1 and the police, where it was agreed to carry out a child protection medical examination.
45. The Registrant took Children A1 and A2 to hospital on 8 October 2013, where they were examined by a consultant paediatrician who concluded that "it is very likely that both A2 and A1 have been undergoing a lot of emotional and occasionally physical abuse. It is very important that they are removed from this harmful environment for them develop (sic) and grow normally."
46. Following this assessment, WA and the children spent the night away from the family home.
47. On 9 October 2013, the Registrant attended the family home and advised HA to leave the family home allowing WA and the children to return. She also completed the initial Child and Family Assessment (C&F Assessment) on that date, which was approved and signed by SW1.
48. For the following week HA was homeless, sleeping in his vehicle, until he was allocated hostel accommodation. From 14 to 18 October 2013, the Registrant was on annual leave. During the Registrant’s absence, on 14 October 2013, WA emailed the Registrant to ask about supervised contact between HA and the children. On 15 October 2013, WA spoke to SW2, senior social work assistant, about her wish to discuss contact between HA and the children.
49. After her return from leave, the Registrant met HA at Somerset County Council’s offices on 24 October 2013. The meeting had originally been arranged with SW1 who, in the event, was unable to attend due to a court commitment.
50. On 25 October 2013, a further strategy discussion took place, the outcome of which was to progress the case to an ICPC. On the same day, WA sent an email to the Registrant setting out her concerns about HA.
51. On 29 October 2013 WA emailed and on 30 October 2013 hand-delivered a complaint about the Children’s Services Department.
52. On 5 November 2013, the Registrant completed a further C&F Assessment, which formed one of the documents placed before the ICPC on 12 November 2013.
53. The Registrant did not attend the ICPC because she was on leave and SW1 presented Family A’s case to the meeting. At the ICPC, it was decided that children A1 and A2 should be made subject to child protection plans and the case was transferred to the Children in Need Team. This ended the Registrant’s involvement in the case.
1. Completed a Children and Family assessment on 5 November 2013, which;
a) was completed without adequately updating what had occurred since the first Children and Family Assessment dated 9 October 2013, in that:
i) you did not make reference to your meeting with Husband A that took place on 24 October 2013;
ii) you did not make reference to a complaint submitted by Wife A on 29 October 2013.
54. Particular 1 relates to the C&F Assessment completed on 5 November 2013.
55. The Panel read that assessment and saw that it contained no reference to either the Registrant’s meeting with HA on 24 October 2013 or the written complaint of WA dated 29 October 2013.
56. The Panel accepts the evidence of SW1 and Mr Connolly that the C&F Assessment is an important document that is put before the ICPC, which must decide whether or not to implement a Child Protection Plan. The Panel accepts the evidence of Mr Connolly that the second assessment should have contained any relevant information that had become available since the first assessment. It was satisfied that both the omitted matters were relevant to the ICPC meeting so that the second assessment was not adequately updated. Accordingly, the Panel found Particular 1(a) (i)(ii) of the Allegation proved.
b) was completed without contacting Wife A and/or Child A1 and/or Child A2
57. The Panel found that although WA had contacted the department on many occasions, the Registrant had no face to face contact with her between 9 October and 5 November 2013 when she completed the second C&F Assessment, nor had she any contact with Child A1 or Child A2. The Registrant accepted that in her submissions. Accordingly the Panel found Particular 1(b) of the Allegation proved.
c) was inaccurate;
58. The Panel found that the assessment of 5 November 2013 was incomplete for the reasons set out above and contained a number of relatively small inaccuracies, which the Registrant accepted in her written submissions. The Panel also had regard to the evidence of Mr Connolly that the assessment was not “up to date”. It also took account of Miss Turner’s submission that it said that Child A1 had been seen when he had not. As a matter of fact, the Panel found that Child A1 was seen on 9 October 2013 both en route to and at the examination by Dr Vaidya.
59. Having regard to all the evidence, the Panel was not satisfied that it was correct to characterise the assessment as a whole as inaccurate, having regard to the importance of the inaccuracies and the extent to which the faults have been dealt with in the other particulars of the Allegation. Accordingly, the Panel found Particular 1(c) of the Allegation not proved.
d) was not shared with Husband A and Wife A a minimum of 5 days before the Initial Child Protection Conference that took place on 12 November 2013, as required.
60. The Panel heard the evidence of both SW1 and WA that WA attended the ICPC meeting on 12 November 2013 without WA having previously seen the C&F Assessment that was presented to the meeting. The Registrant accepted in her written submissions that she did not share the report with either HA or WA. Accordingly the Panel found Particular 1(d) of the Allegation proved.
e) did not include any reference to Dr Vaidya's Paediatric Report and/or Ms Mylan's report.
61. The Panel read the C&F Assessment dated 5 November 2013 and noted that neither document is mentioned. Accordingly, the Panel found Particular 1(e) of the Allegation proved.
2. Did not arrange the appropriate support to Family A between 8 October 2013 and 12 November 2013,
62. Particular 2 relates to the level of support that was given to Family A between 8 October 2013 and the ICPC meeting on 12 November 2013. It sets out seven actions at sub particulars 2(a)-(g) that could have been taken and were not. There is no evidence that they were done and the Registrant does not claim that she did them.
63. The result was that Family A received very limited support from the Registrant during the period from 8 October to 12 November 2013. The Panel heard and accepted evidence that the family required support for the following reasons:
• There were reasons to fear WA was at risk of domestic violence;
• HA was a vulnerable adult who had become homeless;
• WA had a full time job and needed support with Children A1 and A2 because HA, who had provided such support, was no longer living in the family home;
• The children needed to be visited in order to establish their views since the first C&F Assessment of 9 October 2013.
• HA was entitled to be notified of the ICPC meeting. The only notification sent to him was posted to the family home from which he had been effectively excluded.
64. Accordingly, the Panel found particulars 2 (a) – (g) proved.
3. Did not arrange contact between Child A1, Child A2 and Husband A
65. All the relevant records relating to the period from 8 October 2013 to 12 November 2013 show that there was no contact arranged by the Registrant between HA and Children A1 and A2 despite a number of written and verbal requests from WA. The Panel heard and accepted the evidence of WA and HA that no contact was arranged by the Registrant between HA and the children. In her written representations, the Registrant offered a number of reasons why the contact did not take place. Accordingly, the Panel found particular 3 proved.
4. Did not provide and/ or adequately refer to Dr Vaidya's Paediatric Report and/or Ms Mylan's Report to the Initial Child Protection Conference (ICPC) on 12 November 2013.
66. The Panel accepts that the Registrant was on annual leave during the period 11-13 November 2013 and so was not present at the 12 November 2013 ICPC. The Panel has already found that she did not refer to either document in her second C&F Assessment. The Panel saw the minutes of the meeting and the list of documents before the meeting, on which neither document is listed. The Panel is satisfied by this evidence that neither document was before the meeting and that the Registrant did not provide them to the meeting herself or through others.
67. There is some doubt, however, as to whether the Registrant had seen the letter from Ms Mylan. This letter was addressed, albeit incorrectly, to SW1 with whom Ms Mylan had previously had a telephone conversation. The letter, which was in the bundle before the Panel, was dated 22 October 2013, but not date stamped by Somerset County Council. The Panel heard from SW1 that it could take up to two weeks for letters to reach the relevant department. She thought it “highly likely” that she spoke to the Registrant about the letter, but could not be sure. Accordingly, the Panel is satisfied that particular 4 is proved in respect of Dr Vaidya’s Paediatric Report only.
5. Did not investigate and/or document any investigation into Child A2’s stated involvement with a man over the internet.
68. Child A2 told SW3, when she saw her at school on 1 October 2013, that she had contacted a man over the internet. The Registrant had a meeting with SW3 on 2 October 2013 when the case was allocated to her. The matter was sufficiently important to the Registrant to include it in the first C&F Assessment on 9 October 2013. No additional information relating to this concern was included in the second C&F Assessment dated 5 November 2013.
69. In her written representations, the Registrant described a meeting she had with WA on 9 October 2013, during which she discussed this concern. She recalled that WA told her that Child A2 "had a good imagination and told lies.” There is no evidence that the Registrant did anything else although, in her written representations, she stated that after discussions with her team manager (discussions which appear not to have been recorded on the family or supervisory file), it was felt that no further investigations were required at that time into this matter. In evidence, SW1 could not recall any such discussion, but was clear that she would not have advised that no further action was required. The Panel is satisfied that, in the context of a concern as serious as this, the Registrant's actions do not amount to an investigation. In the circumstances, the Panel prefers the evidence given on oath by SW1 that there was no agreement not to investigate the matter further. Accordingly, the Panel finds particular 5 proved.
Decision on Grounds
70. The Panel then went on to consider whether the facts proved amounted to lack of competence or misconduct.
71. The Panel had regard to the submissions of Miss Turner and the Registrant. It heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. It bore in mind that whether or not a fact amounts to misconduct is a matter for the judgment of the Panel and is not subject to any burden or standard of proof. Nevertheless, it had regard to the advice of the Legal Assessor that, where a finding of misconduct depended on the establishment of a duty on the Registrant, it should bear in mind that this duty could have been pleaded at the facts stage and it should ensure that any duty it finds is based upon clear evidence.
72. It bore in mind that not every failing by a registrant amounts to misconduct and it must consider whether any failing is sufficiently serious to amount to misconduct.
73. The Panel did not find any of the matters proved constitute lack of competence. The matters proved against the Registrant arise out of her conduct of one case over six weeks. The Panel found that there was no evidence from which it could conclude that the work done by the Registrant during that period had been shown to represent a fair sample of her work. On the contrary, SW1, the Registrant’s line manager, gave evidence that the Registrant was a good and enthusiastic social worker, albeit one who needed careful management to ensure that she did not take on more work than she could handle.
74. The Panel found that particular 1(a) constituted misconduct. The Panel accepted the evidence of Mr Connolly that the Children and Family Assessment was an important document, which would inform the discussion at the ICPC meeting. The Panel found that the written complaint by WA contained important information about the situation in which Children A1 and A2 were living and that it was important for the meeting to know that the Registrant had met with HA.
75. Having read the C&F Assessment of 5 November 2013 the Panel is satisfied that, aside from five paragraphs headed “’update since completion of original assessment’ it is no more than a copy of the first C&F Assessment.
76. The Panel also found that particular 1(b) amounted to misconduct. By the time the Registrant completed the second C&F Assessment on 5 November 2013, nearly a month had elapsed since the initial intervention.
77. WA had contacted the department in which the Registrant worked on a number of occasions, both by telephone and email, raising questions about the case in general and contact between HA and the children in particular. It was clear that these needed to be discussed before a final report was made to the ICPC.
78. The record of the first strategy meeting on 8 October 2013 records that those present recognised that “the children (were) to be monitored closely and their views and feelings being ascertained regularly”. In the event, the Registrant did not obtain their views directly or indirectly through other staff.
79. The Panel found that the Registrant’s conduct at 1(d) also amounted to misconduct.
80. The Panel accepted Mr Connolly's evidence that the Somerset Local Safeguarding Children’s Board online guidance, headed ‘Before the conference – what happens before the Child Protection Conference?’ states that "you should receive in most cases at least five days before the meeting, copies of the reports which the Social Worker and other professionals write for the conference." The Panel also accepts his evidence that it was the Registrant's responsibility to share the assessment with both HA and WA as she was the assessing social worker responsible for Family A.
81. For those reasons the Panel is satisfied that the Registrant had a duty to share the assessment with both HA and WA. Her failure to do so caused real unfairness and distress to WA who arrived at the ICPC with no time to absorb and comment on the material before the meeting.
82. The Panel found that the Registrant's conduct at 1(e) constituted misconduct with regard to Dr Vaidya’s report alone.
83. The Panel accepted Mr Connolly's evidence that the Registrant was the allocated social worker who would have been made aware of any documents received that were relevant to the case, including Dr Vaidya’s report.
84. The Panel found that the Registrant would have been expecting to receive the report because she was present at the medical examination. In her written submissions, the Registrant accepts that the failure to refer to the report in her second C&F Assessment was hers.
85. The Registrant made the point in her written representations that her report was signed off by her manager. The Panel found this was true but held nevertheless that the Registrant was responsible for her own report and must share in the responsibility for the failure to refer to the paediatric report.
86. The Registrant’s failure to refer to Dr Vaidya’s report meant that the ICPC was deprived of important information regarding Children A1 and A2.
87. The Panel found that the position is different with regard to Ms Mylan's letter. As noted previously, the Panel is not satisfied that the Registrant had received this letter. Accordingly the Panel does not find that the failure to place Ms Mylan’s letter before the ICPC constituted misconduct by the Registrant.
88. Turning to the matters proved under particular 2, the Panel found that the matters proved at 2(a) and (b) did not constitute misconduct. The referrals to the Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conference (MARAC) and the Independent Domestic Violence Support Agency (IDVA) were suggestions made at the first strategy meeting. The Panel was not persuaded that WA would have accepted a referral to the IDVA. These referrals should probably have been pursued or, at least, considered by the Registrant in discussion with SW1. However, it is far from clear that they would have assisted and accordingly, in the Panel’s view, the Registrant’s failure to pursue them falls short of misconduct.
89. The Panel found that the matters found proved at particular 2(c) amount to misconduct. The Panel found that it was clear to the Registrant and SW1 from early October 2013 that HA had a health condition and, after 9 October 2013, he was effectively homeless. The Panel heard evidence from Mr Connolly, which it accepted, that he would have expected Children’s Social Care to have referred HA to Adult Social Care in those circumstances.
90. The Panel heard evidence from SW1 that she had spoken to the Registrant about this and advised her to make a referral to Adult Social Care. The Panel accepted that evidence. Having heard the evidence of HA and read the representations of the Registrant, the Panel accepted that the Registrant provided information to HA on 24 October 2013 and suggested that he "self refer" to Adult Social Care. The Panel found that this fell short of a referral and occurred just short of 2 weeks after HA became homeless, and after he had spent a week living in his car.
91. The Panel accepted that the Registrant’s primary responsibility was to Children A1 and A2. Nevertheless, having had regard to HA’s needs, the advice that SW1 gave her and the relative ease with which she could have made a referral to Adult Social Care by email, the Panel concluded that the Registrant’s failure to make a referral amounted to misconduct because it put a vulnerable man at risk without taking reasonable steps to reduce that risk.
92. The Panel did not find that the facts proved at 2(d) constituted misconduct. HA had almost lifelong experience of managing his condition with support from organisations specialising in this area. At the time of the events in question, he had made contact with the national organisation relating to his health condition, one of whose officers attended the ICPC on his behalf, and with MIND. HA was not aware of any other organisation to which he could have been referred and there is no other evidence before the Panel of organisations about which HA should have been given information.
93. The Panel found that the facts proved at 2(e) constituted misconduct. The Panel heard and accepted the evidence of Mr Connolly that he would have expected the Children’s Services Department to provide financial or other support for childcare to WA. It was clear from the outset that HA had provided childcare when WA was at work and WA gave evidence of the difficulties she faced and the very real fear that she might lose her job if she was unable to organise childcare.
94. In her written representations, the Registrant recalled discussions with WA about childcare and that WA's employers were supportive by allowing her to work flexible hours. However, this is not recorded by the Registrant in the case notes and her lack of attention to WA’s requests for childcare support exacerbated the difficulties for Family A.
95. The Panel found that the matters proved at 2(f) amounted to misconduct. The need to monitor the children was highlighted at the first strategy meeting. However, the Registrant did not visit Family A after 9 October 2013. This left the family unsupported and, importantly, the views of the children were not therefore ascertained and taken into account for the purposes of the ICPC. The Panel has seen the emails and records of telephone calls from WA seeking information about contact and the progress of the case.
96. The Panel also had regard to the evidence of Mr Connolly that it was “SW1’s responsibility, as team manager, to ensure that a plan was in place to ensure this (weekly contact) happened.”
97. Having regard to this evidence, the Panel noted that in the national guidance applicable at the time – ‘Working together to safeguard children (March 2013)’ - the Registrant had a shared role with her manager to ensure that appropriate action was taken to safeguard and promote the welfare of a child suspected of, or likely to be, suffering significant harm. The Panel accepted therefore, that the responsibility was not hers alone but found nevertheless that, as the allocated social worker, the Registrant must share responsibility.
98. The Panel found that the matters proved at 2(g) did not amount to misconduct by the Registrant. The Panel accepts that the information given to HA about his attendance at the ICPC meeting was wholly inadequate, not least because notification of the meeting was sent to the family home from which he was effectively excluded.
99. However, having looked carefully at the records of how the meeting was arranged, it concluded that, once the date had been fixed, the arrangements were conducted by a separate administration department without any apparent reference to social workers.
100. Accordingly the Panel found that that there was no evidence that the Registrant was involved or able to be involved in the arrangements for the ICPC meeting.
101. The Panel found that the matters found proved at particular 3 constitute misconduct.
102. Having reviewed all the correspondence between the family and the Registrant and the Department for which she worked, the Panel concluded that the question of contact between the children and HA was raised at a very early stage by WA.
103. The Panel accepted the evidence of WA that the Registrant said that she would make arrangements for contact. The Panel has also noted the evidence of Mr Connolly that he took evidence from GG, a social worker, that he had heard the Registrant say to Child A1 that there would be some arrangements made for contact.
104. The Panel also accepted the evidence of Mr Connolly that the responsibility for arranging contact did not lie with the Registrant alone but was shared by her manager.
105. Having considered this evidence, the Panel was satisfied that contact, albeit almost certainly supervised contact, was important to Child A1 at least and also to his parents. The Panel found evidence that the absence of contact had caused distress and found that it was likely that this distress had been aggravated by the Registrant assuring WA and Child A1 that contact arrangements would be made and then failing to make the necessary arrangements.
106. The Panel considered the Registrant’s written representations and accepted that she received mixed messages from WA. However, the Panel concluded that this did not absolve her from her share of the responsibility for arranging something as fundamental as contact between children and their father, HA.
107. The Panel found that the facts proved at particular 4 constituted misconduct in relation to Dr Vaidya’s report alone.
108. The Panel accepted that the Registrant was not present at the ICPC meeting on 12 November 2013, because she was on leave from 11 to 13 November 2013, and so could not refer to the report at the meeting herself.
109. In her written submissions, the Registrant accepted that the failure to refer to the report in her second Child and Family Assessment was hers, but said that she did not have the opportunity to recognise that the information was missing from the "report pack for all attendees" at the meeting because she was on annual leave at the time of the meeting.
110. The Panel found that the Registrant must share in the responsibility for the failure to put the report before the meeting because she was the allocated social worker and she had been at work until two days before the meeting, which had been fixed since 5 November 2013. There is no evidence before the Panel that her absence was unexpected.
111. Accordingly, the Panel found that it was the Registrant’s responsibility, as the allocated social worker, along with her manager, to ensure that documentation was prepared for the meeting and that whoever was attending on her behalf was properly prepared to present the information to the meeting.
112. The failure to provide the paediatrician’s report to the meeting compounded the failure to refer to the report in the C&F Assessment. It ensured that important evidence of the risk of emotional and physical abuse of the children was not before the ICPC.
113. The Panel found the matters proved at Particular 5 constituted misconduct.
114. The disclosure by Child A2 that she had contacted a man on the internet who encouraged her to watch “funny videos” and from whom she had received a letter was potentially very serious.
115. The Registrant confined her inquiries to discussing this with WA. She never spoke to Child A2 about it. The Panel is not satisfied that the Registrant agreed with SW1 that no further investigation was necessary. The Panel found this was a wholly inadequate response and fell far short of what was required to deal with what was potentially a serious disclosure of grooming on the internet.
Standards of conduct
116. The Panel had regard to the following provisions of the HCPC Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics and the Standards of Proficiency for Social Workers:
HCPC Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics:
• Standard 1: You must act in the best interests of the Service Users
• Standard 7: You must communicate properly and effectively with Service Users and other practitioners
• Standard 10: You must keep accurate records
Standards of Proficiency for Social Workers:
• Standard 4: Be able to practise as an autonomous professional, exercising their own professional judgement.
• Standard 8: Be able to communicate effectively.
• Standard 9.3: Be able to work with service users and carers to promote individual growth, development and independence and to assist them to understand and exercise their rights.
• Standard 9.4: Be able to support service users’ and carers’ rights to control their lives and make informed choices about the services they receive.
• Standard 10: Be able to maintain records appropriately.
117. The Panel found that the Registrant’s misconduct resulted in a breach of those standards.
Decision on Impairment
118. The Panel next considered whether the Registrant's current fitness to practise is impaired by reason of misconduct.
119. The Panel heard submissions from Miss Turner on behalf of the HCPC. Miss Turner submitted that the Registrant’s fitness to practise was impaired by reason of both the private and public components. Under the private component she submitted that, although the Registrant had made some admissions and appeared to have reflected on some of the concerns raised, the Panel had not heard oral evidence from the Registrant, had been unable to test the veracity of her statements and was not aware of what steps the Registrant has taken to remediate.
120. Under the public component she submitted that public confidence in the profession would be undermined if there were no finding of impairment in particular because much of the Registrant’s misconduct related to breaches of fundamental tenets of being a Social Worker in children’s services, such as obtaining the views of children in order to assess and protect against risk.
121. The Panel read an email dated 16 August 2017 from the Registrant in response to questions submitted to her by the Panel, to which was attached a Postgraduate Certificate dated 20 July 2016 from Bristol University in “Advanced Social Work with Children and Families – with Merit”. It re-read the Registrant’s written representations, dated 20 July 2017 and the references attached.
122. It heard the advice of the Legal Assessor, which it accepted. It had regard to the HCPTS Practice Note on "Finding that Fitness to Practise is Impaired" and considered the additional evidence set out below.
123. The Panel was aware that impairment is a question for its own judgement. In reaching its decision the Panel considered both the personal component and public component of fitness to practise, which includes the need to protect service users, maintain confidence in the profession and uphold proper standards of conduct and behaviour.
124. The Panel first considered the ‘personal component’.
125. It was satisfied that the Registrant’s conduct was remediable because it related to matters of practice that could be remediated if the Registrant developed sufficient insight to be able to identify and address the issues.
126. The Panel was also satisfied that the Registrant’s conduct was capable of remediation and she is willing to remediate and starting to develop insight for the reasons set out below.
127. The Panel was satisfied that the Registrant’s misconduct occurred over a relatively short period against the background of an otherwise unblemished record.
128. The Panel came to this conclusion because it accepted the evidence of SW1 that the Registrant was a good and enthusiastic social worker who had practised competently for a number of years both before and after the misconduct and would have been unlikely to come before the HCPC if she had been well managed.
129. The Panel also read testimonials from two social workers, who had supervised the Registrant during the time she was employed by Somerset County Council. One of these is from her most recent line manager prior to her leaving Somerset County Council in January 2016. They give a very favourable picture of her performance in general terms.
130. The Panel also accepted that the Registrant’s caseload in October 2013 was too heavy because of senior management’s failure to arrange the transfer of her existing cases to another social work team, albeit that the Registrant has not explained how her caseload impacted on her conduct of Family A’s case.
131. The Panel has already found that the Registrant’s responsibility for her failures to provide evidence to the ICPC on 12 November 2013, visit family A between 9 October and 12 November 2013 was a responsibility she shared with her manager, SW1.
132. The Panel was also mindful that the Registrant faced difficulties engaging with Family A because WA withdrew her consent for her to see Child A1.
133. Nevertheless, having considered the Registrant’s representations, the Panel concluded that these do not provide evidence that the Registrant has developed full insight into her misconduct and remediated to the extent that the Panel can be reassured that there is no longer a risk of repetition.
134. With regard to insight the Panel has seen insufficient evidence that the Registrant has understood:
a) the need for continuing, proactive engagement with Family A to provide support and undertake assessment following her initial intervention which led to the removal of HA from the family home;
b) the emotional impact on the children of not having contact with their father and/or any explanation of what was happening;
c) the importance of obtaining the children’s views before completing the second C&F Assessment for the ICPC;
d) that visiting the children and ascertaining their views was central to her role and that this part of her role needed to be addressed with particular care when HA was apparently unwilling for her to speak to one of the children;
e) that HA’s vulnerability was an exceptional circumstance which she had to take into account and take steps to address;
f) that Family A, including Child A1 and A2, had a particular need for support so that WA could continue to work and support her family;
g) that it was important to investigate thoroughly an apparent example of internet grooming of Child A2.
135. Nor is there sufficient information before the Panel to reassure it that the Registrant has fully remediated. She told the Panel in her written representations that she had taken steps to improve her practise but did not explain what these were. The Registrant told the Panel in her email of 16 August 2017 that she understood the importance of limiting her workload but did not explain how she would deal with a similar case in the future. The Registrant has adduced evidence of success in a postgraduate course but has not explained what she has learned from it that addresses the concerns in this case.
136. The Panel is satisfied that, until the Registrant gains full insight into her failings and addresses how she would deal with a similar situation, there is a continuing risk that she will repeat her misconduct if a similar situation arises in the future.
137. The Panel also considered the impact of the Registrant’s misconduct on public confidence in the profession. The Panel is satisfied that the confidence of reasonable members of the public in the profession and its regulatory process would be undermined if no finding of impairment were made in respect of a practitioner who had failed to discharge her duty to a vulnerable family.
138. The Panel also considered its duty to uphold standards of conduct in the profession and is satisfied that that it would be failing in its duty to uphold standards if it made no finding in the case of a Registrant who had failed to address the needs of a vulnerable family over a number of weeks.
139. Accordingly, the Panel is satisfied that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is impaired by reason of misconduct.
Decision on Sanction
140. Having concluded that the Registrant’s current fitness to practise is impaired, the Panel went on to consider if a sanction is necessary and, if so, what would be the proportionate and sufficient sanction.
141. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. It had regard to the latest copy of the Indicative Sanctions Policy (ISP), dated 22 March 2017, and considered the sanctions in ascending order of severity. The Panel was aware that the purpose of a sanction is not to be punitive, but to protect the public and to safeguard the wider public interest, which includes upholding standards within the profession, together with maintaining public confidence in the profession and its regulatory process.
142. The Panel identified the following mitigating factors in this case:
• The Registrant’s misconduct took place in a working environment where management direction and oversight were notably lacking;
• The Registrant had an excessive case load;
• Her failings were not hers alone. She shared responsibility with her managers and the Panel accepted the evidence of Mr Connolly that there were significant systemic failures in the department where she worked;
• Her misconduct related to one case over a relatively short period during which she was on leave for 8 days;
• There are no other employment or regulatory concerns recorded against her.
143. The Panel considered that the following were aggravating factors:
• Vulnerable service users were not protected and the views of the children, whom the Registrant was responsible for protecting, were not taken into account.
144. The Panel does not consider the options of taking no further action or mediation to be either appropriate or proportionate in the circumstances of this case. Neither would address the identified risks, including the risk of recurrence, nor address the wider public interest because of the seriousness of the misconduct.
145. The Panel does not consider that a Caution Order meets the criteria as set out in paragraph 28 of the ISP because the lapse, although isolated, was not minor. In particular it does not address the need for the Registrant to reflect on and remediate the misconduct which the Panel identified.
146. The public interest aspect of this case was also too serious for a Caution Order.
147. The Panel next considered a Conditions of Practice Order. The Panel took account of paragraph 31 of the ISP, which provides:
“Conditions of Practice Orders must be limited to a maximum of three years and should be remedial or rehabilitative in nature. Before imposing conditions a Panel should be satisfied that:
• the issues which the conditions seek to address are capable of correction;
• there is no persistent or general failure which would prevent the registrant from doing so;
• appropriate, realistic and verifiable conditions can be formulated;
• the registrant can be expected to comply with them; and
• a reviewing Panel will be able to determine whether those conditions have or are being met.”
148. The Panel is satisfied that those conditions are met in this case.
149. The Panel noted that the Registrant is not currently working and had regard to paragraph 37 of the ISP which provides:
“Similarly, whilst conditions of practice may be imposed on a registrant who is currently not practising, before doing so Panels should consider whether there are equally effective conditions which could be imposed and which are not dependent upon the registrant returning to practice. For example, not all training, reflection or development requires a registrant to be in practice or have a workplace-based mentor.”
150. Having regard to all those matters, the Panel decided that a Conditions of Practice Order would be a proportionate and appropriate sanction. It would allow the Registrant to develop the insight she requires in order to protect the public.
151. The Panel considered whether it was necessary to impose a Suspension Order. It concluded that it was not because the conditions set out below provide sufficient protection for the public. It concluded that in the circumstances, and in particular having regard to the mitigating factors set out above, a Suspension Order would be disproportionate.
152. Accordingly, the Panel makes a Conditions of Practice Order for a period of 12 months.
ORDER: The Registrar is directed to annotate the Register to show that, for a period of 12 months from the date that this Order comes into effect (“the Operative Date”), you, Miss Hannah Angela Wright, must comply with the following conditions of practice:
1. You must identify a mentor who is a senior social work practitioner registered with the HCPC and advise the HCPC of the name of the said mentor.
2. You must discuss your management of the case of Family A with your mentor, taking into account the decision of this Panel and, in the light of that review, submit a comprehensive reflective statement to the HCPC for consideration by a future review panel which demonstrates:
a) your understanding of the impact of your acts and omissions with regard to Family A
b) what you would do differently if faced with a case of a similar nature in the future
c) what further reflective learning you have gained from this case
d) what other learning of relevance you have gained from study and training including that obtained from the Postgraduate Certificate in Advanced Social Work with Children and Families.
3. You must maintain your Continuing Professional Development (CPD) and provide evidence of the same to the HCPC in anticipation of your return to practice.
4. You must promptly inform the HCPC if you take up further employment as a Social Worker.
5. You must promptly inform the HCPC of any disciplinary proceedings taken against you by your employer.
6. 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).
The Order imposed today will apply from 15 September 2017 (the Operative Date).
This Order will be reviewed again before its expiry on 15 September 2018.
History of Hearings for Hannah Angela Wright
|Date||Panel||Hearing type||Outcomes / Status|
|10/08/2017||Conduct and Competence Committee||Final Hearing||Conditions of Practice|