Mrs Beverley Corinna Convery

: Social worker

: SW43657

: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing:10:00 04/09/2017 End: 17:00 08/09/2017

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

: Conduct and Competence Committee
: Suspended

Allegation

(as amended at the final hearing)
Whilst employed as a Social Worker by Durham County Council:
1. Following allocation on or around 17 September 2014, you did not complete a Single Assessment for Child A within the required timeframe;

2. Following allocation on or around 10 October 2014, you did not complete a Single Assessment for Child B within the required timeframe;

3. On or around 12 January 2015, you completed a shared assessment report for Child A and Child B, rather than a separate assessment for each child;

4. Between 17 September 2014 and 21 May 2015, you did not undertake any direct work with Person C;

5. Between 10 October 2014 and 12 January 2015, you did not undertake a visit to Person D;

6. Between 12 January 2015 and 13 May 2015, you did not share the Single Assessment of Child B with Person D;

7. Between 10 October 2014 and 21 May 2015, you did not inform the Police and/or Probation Services that Child B was living in the family home on a permanent basis;

8. You did not record an analysis of the potential risk to Child A and Child B in the Single Assessment;

9. You did not record the following in the case notes for Child A and Child B:
a) Your visit to Child B on 8 October 2014;
b) The fact that, on 16 October 2014, Person E had left Person C and was staying in bed and breakfast accommodation with Child A and Child B;
c) The fact that Person E returned to live with Person C due to lack of finances;
d) Your visit to Person D in April 2015;
e) Any discussions with the Police and/or Probation Services regarding the case;

10. Between September 2014 and December 2014, you did not arrange a multi-agency meeting in relation to Child A and Child B;

11. You did not carry out a home visit to Child A and/or Child B and/or Person E between the following dates:
a)  16 October 2014 and 29 December 2014;
b)  16 April 2015 and 21 May 2015;

12. Between 17 September 2014 and 21 May 2015, you did not produce a Written Agreement regarding contact arrangements between Person C and Child A and/or Child B;

13. You did not contact the Police following the Strategy Meeting on 17 September 2014 to discuss why Person C was considered ‘high risk’ and/or to clarify what work was being done with Person C to address his offending behaviour;

14. You did not complete a stand-alone Risk Assessment in respect of Child A;

15. You did not complete a stand-alone Risk Assessment in respect of Child B;

16. On or around 13 May 2015, you provided a Section 37 Report to the Court which stated that Person C is not considered a high risk, which was:
a) Inaccurate; and/or
b) Misleading;

17. Your actions described at particulars 1 to 16 constitute misconduct and/or lack of competence;

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

Finding

Preliminary matters
1. The Registrant participated in the hearing by telephone. On the first day of the hearing, Ms Eales applied to amend the Allegation. Notice of the proposed amendments had been given to the Registrant by letter dated 16 August 2016. The proposed amendments were clarificatory and did not alter the substance of the Allegation. Ms Convery stated that she had no objections to the proposed amendments. The Legal Assessor advised that the Panel may allow the amendments if they created no injustice. The Panel decided that they did not do so and granted the application to amend in the terms sought.

2. Before closing her case, Ms Eales applied to admit the witness statement of the Registrant’s former line manager, KS, dated 9 November 2016. Ms Eales referred to medical evidence regarding the ability of KS to attend and give evidence and argued that the evidence was admissible as hearsay evidence and should be admitted in the circumstances. The Panel also heard from Ms Convery, who identified various respects in which she challenged the contents of the witness statement. The Legal Assessor advised that the evidence would be admissible hearsay evidence, but the Panel should decide whether or not it would be appropriate to admit it in view of the requirements of procedural fairness, in particular those identified in Bonhoeffer v GMC [2011] EWHC 1585 (Admin) at [108 (vii) and viii)]. The Panel gave weight to the medical evidence regarding KS’ ability to give evidence and also to the nature of the matters in dispute between the Registrant and KS and concluded that the Registrant would be able to give evidence on these matters and there would be no undue prejudice to her if the witness statement were admitted. The Panel decided that the witness statement would be admissible as hearsay evidence and that it would be fair in all the circumstances to allow the HCPC to rely on it.    

3. At the conclusion of the Registrant’s case, Ms Eales applied to amend the Allegation in the light of answers given by the Registrant in cross-examination. In Particulars 4, 10, 11 and 13 it is variously alleged that Ms Convery did not take certain actions. Ms Convery stated in cross-examination that she did take those actions, but accepted that she did not record them in the case notes. The substance of the proposed amendments was to allege an alternative case that she did not record the actions in the case notes. Although Ms Convery stated that she did not oppose the making of those amendments, the Panel (having received advice from the Legal Assessor) decided to refuse the amendments sought. In making that decision, the Panel balanced its investigatory function and the need to make due inquiry into the case with fairness to the Registrant. Ms Convery’s position has consistently been that she took those actions, having made her position clear in the investigation conducted in 2015 by Durham County Council (‘DCC’), which employed Ms Convery at that time. In all the circumstances, the HCPC has had ample opportunity in advance of the hearing to allege that case and the Panel concluded that it would be unfair to allow the amendments at this very late stage to the disadvantage of Ms Convery, who is not legally represented.

4. At the same stage, the Panel decided not to exercise its power to amend Particular 8 of the Allegation, which would have required Ms Convery to address an alternative case that the analysis referred to in that Particular by her was inadequate. The possibility of such an amendment had been raised by the Legal Assessor after Ms Convery had given evidence in the light of observations made by the Panel Chair as to the ambit of Particular 8. Despite the importance of the Panel’s investigatory function and the need to make due inquiry into the case, the Panel concluded that it would be unfair to make the amendment at this very late stage, again to the disadvantage of an unrepresented Registrant.

Background
5. The Registrant was employed by DCC as a Social Worker from 18 May 1982. At the time to which the Allegation relates, the Registrant was a Level 3 Social Worker who worked in one of the Assessment and Interventions Teams (‘the Team’) within the Children’s and Adults’ Services division of DCC.

6. On 21 May 2015, there was a court hearing in proceedings for a residence order at which the judge expressed concern as to the contents of a report prepared by the Registrant under section 37 of the Children Act 1989 (‘Section 37 Report’) relating to Child B, in relation to the risks presented to her safety and welfare by Person C, her step-father.

7. In view of the judge’s observations, an internal investigation within DCC was carried out in relation to the Registrant’s work on that case.

8. The Allegation relates to the Registrant’s handling of the cases of Child A and Child B from the time when those cases were allocated to her until 21 May 2015.   

9. On 11 September 2014 DCC’s Children and Adult Services received a referral from Durham Police in respect of Child A, who at the time was around 5 years old. Child A and Child B shared a mother (Person E) and had different fathers. Person C was the father of Child A and Person D was the father of Child B.

10. Durham Police informed DCC in the written referral that Person C was a high-risk registered sex offender who had been convicted on 11 August 2014 of 3 counts of Voyeurism. He had been sentenced to 4 months custody suspended for 12 months and made subject to Registered Sex Offenders requirements for 7 years. His criminal conviction related to a 16 year old girl and his conviction classified him as ‘a risk of harm to children.’ The circumstances of the offence were that he made a recording with his watch of his having sex with a 16 year old girl, who was employed by him at the time, working in a restaurant.

11. At the time of the referral, Child A lived with Person C and Person E. Child B subsequently moved into the home with Person E, Person C and Child A. She had been living with her father. The Police informed DCC that she was in the household on 2 October 2014 and a referral to DCC’s Children’s and Adults’ Services was made by Durham Police and accepted on 7 October 2014. The written referral stated that Child B was aged 13. She had been living with her mother for approximately 4 weeks. Person B wanted his daughter to be returned to him in view of his discovery that Person C was a registered sex offender. The referral recorded that police officers had attended at the home and Child B had said that she did not want to return to her father as she did not like his “new wife” and they had fallen out.  

Decision on facts
12. The Registrant admitted Particulars 1, 14 and 15 of the Allegation. She variously denied or did not admit the remainder of Particulars 2-16.

13. The Panel heard oral evidence from the following witnesses on behalf of the HCPC, -
 OC – Social Worker now retired from full time social work; and formerly an independent social work consultant who conducted DCC’s investigation into the work carried out by the Registrant.

 SO – currently Team Manager of DCC’s Adult and Children’s Services who was a Senior Practitioner within the Team from late November 2014.   

14. Ms Convery gave oral evidence. She did not call other witnesses, though she was given the opportunity to do so.

15. The HCPC relied on two bundles of documents. Ms Convery chose not to rely on any other documents. The bundles contained hearsay evidence, including the witness statement of KS. The Panel has given that evidence such weight as it considered to be appropriate in the circumstances, bearing in mind all relevant considerations.

16. It is explicit or implicit within each of Particulars 1-16 that it is alleged that the Registrant failed to do something that she ought to have done in the circumstances. The case has been fought on that basis. 

17. The Panel has considered whether the HCPC has established the facts alleged in Particulars 1-16 of the Allegation in view of the evidence, both oral and documentary so far as relevant at this stage. The Panel considered such admissions as were made by Ms Convery at the start of the hearing and the submissions made by Ms Eales and Ms Convery. The Panel was also given, and accepted, advice from the Legal Assessor.

18. The Panel has borne in mind that the burden of proof rested on the HCPC, the standard of proof being the balance of probabilities.

19. The Panel considered OC to be a credible witness. She was open and honest and accepted where she was unable to respond to questions. Her opinion evidence was fair-minded and convincing and she was clear about the distinction between her own opinion and what actions would have been required by written policies and procedures.

20. SO was also a credible witness. She was able to assist the Panel to a limited extent, because she did not join the Team until the end of November 2014 and was not the Registrant’s manager. Her evidence was reliable and she made it clear if she could not recall matters that were put to her.

21. The Registrant was open and honest and gave evidence to the best of her recollection. In cross-examination, she made a number of concessions. Understandably, she was anxious and stressed during her evidence. She was not always clear about dates and the sequence of events.    
   
Particular 1 – found proved
“Following allocation on or around 17 September 2014, you did not complete a Single Assessment for Child A within the required timeframe;”

22. Child A’s case was allocated to the Registrant on 17 September 2014. The relevant procedures were set out in a document entitled, ‘County Durham Practice Framework: Single Assessment Procedure and Practice Guidance’, April 2014 (‘the Guidance’). These procedures replaced the former Common Assessment Framework and Children in Need processes and combined them into a Single Assessment (paragraph 1.3). No assessment was to take longer to complete than 40 days from referral (paragraph 7.7).

23. In those circumstances, the Registrant should have completed the Single Assessment for Child A by 5 November 2014. The date when the Single Assessment was completed does not appear on the document itself. The assessment contained information concerning events which occurred in December 2014 and it was signed off by KS on 12 January 2015, which the Panel finds was to have been the likely date of its completion. Ms Convery also admitted Particular 1 at the outset of the hearing and in cross-examination.

24. In those circumstances, the Panel has found Particular 1 of the Allegation to have been proved.

Particular 2 – found proved
“Following allocation on or around 10 October 2014, you did not complete a Single Assessment for Child B within the required timeframe;”

25. The case was allocated to the Registrant on 10 October 2014, as set out in the Case Allocation Sheet. In those circumstances, the Registrant should have completed the Single Assessment for Child B by 4 December 2014. However, the assessment was not completed until 12 January 2015, as the Panel has found. 

26. Therefore, the Panel has found Particular 2 of the Allegation to have been proved.

Particular 3 – found not proved
“On or around 12 January 2015, you completed a shared assessment report for Child A and Child B, rather than a separate assessment for each child;”

27. OC’s opinion was that a shared assessment was inappropriate in the circumstances. An assessment has to be shared with a child’s parents and this would cause difficulties as the children had different fathers. As an experienced Social Worker who had been a Level 3 practitioner for 15 years, the Registrant ought to have appreciated those potential difficulties and she should have prepared separate reports for each child.

28. The Registrant’s evidence was that KS instructed her to do one assessment. She accepted in cross-examination that the potential difficulties did not occur to her at the time but said that she was following the format of the new Single Assessment.

29. The Single Assessment provides for referrals for more than one child. The pro forma assessment in the Guidance states that a separate sheet is required for additional children. The fact that the document might have to be shared between more than one set of parents could be addressed by redaction. There was no separate written or other policy requiring the creation of separate assessments and the Registrant received no management instruction from KS to prepare separate documents. 
30. Therefore, although only one (shared) Single Assessment was completed, the Registrant was not required to have completed separate assessments in the circumstances. 

31. Therefore, the Panel has found Particular 3 of the Allegation to have been not proved.

Particular 4 – found not proved
“Between 17 September 2014 and 21 May 2015, you did not undertake any direct work with Person C;”

32. The HCPC’s case was that at the Strategy Meeting in respect of Child A which took place on 17 September 2014, the Registrant was instructed to carry out a risk assessment on Person C. The Registrant was present at the meeting and she signed the written record of that meeting as an attendee. OC’s evidence was that it was important that the Registrant visited Person C to gauge his attitude to the offence so as to assess the likelihood of  re-offending, and to assess how much of a risk he presented to his own daughter and to his step-daughter. Ms Eales referred to the absence of any case notes or other records showing that the Registrant had visited Person C and the absence of any record of such a visit in the Single Assessment.

33. Ms Convery said in evidence that she did visit Person C with a colleague, in September 2014. She talked to him and to Person E about the offence at the house where they were living together. She said that he had said that he realised that he should not have done it and referred to having a young family himself. Ms Convery stated that Person C expressed remorse that she felt was genuine.

34. When interviewed by OC during the investigation Ms Convery also maintained that she had visited Person C for the risk assessment and that she had found him to have been remorseful. The Section 37 Report (at paragraph 5.4) prepared by the Registrant also made reference to her having interviewed Person C. 

35. The Panel has accepted Ms Convery’s evidence on this part of the Allegation. Therefore, Particular 4 of the Allegation has been found not proved.

Particular 5 – found proved
“Between 10 October 2014 and 12 January 2015, you did not undertake a visit to Person D;”

36. The Panel has accepted OC’s evidence that such a visit would have been necessary in order to obtain a fuller understanding of the circumstances of Child B for the purposes of preparing the Single Assessment. Solicitors for Person D wrote to DCC by letter dated 29 October 2014 to seek an update on whether an assessment was being conducted. The case records contained no reference to any visit by the Registrant to Person D prior to completion of the Single Assessment on 12 January 2015. In her oral evidence, the Registrant was unable to put a date on the visit that she said she had carried out. The Panel has concluded that the Registrant did visit Person B, but for the purposes of compiling the Section 37 Report. In his written evidence provided to the court for the hearing Person B stated that the Registrant had only visited him once, which was after the dates referred to in this Particular of the Allegation. The Panel has concluded that this was the most likely time when the visit did take place.      
  
37. In those circumstances, the Panel has found Particular 5 of the Allegation to have been proved.

Particular 6 – found not proved
“Between 12 January 2015 and 13 May 2015, you did not share the Single Assessment of Child B with Person D;”

38. Ms Convery’s evidence was that KS instructed her not to share the report with Person B. When interviewed by OC during the investigation, KS stated that she could not remember whether or not Ms Convery had asked for her advice on this aspect of the case. In the circumstances, the Panel has accepted Ms Convery’s evidence on this part of the Allegation and has found that Ms Convery was given a management instruction not to share the Single Assessment with Person B. Therefore, this Particular of the Allegation has been found not proved.

Particular 7 – found proved
“Between 10 October 2014 and 21 May 2015, you did not inform the Police and/or Probation Services that Child B was living in the family home on a permanent basis;”

39. OC’s evidence was that Ms Convery should have alerted the Police and Probation Services that Child B had moved into the family home with Person C and Person E on a permanent basis as this represented a significant change in circumstances. In her evidence Ms Convery did not accept that Child B had moved in on a permanent basis. Therefore, she did not contend that she had advised the Police or the Probation Service that there had been a permanent move.

40. A Discussion and Decision Making Form signed by Ms Convery on 17 November 2014 relating to supervision meeting between her and KS recorded that, ‘Child B, .., has moved in with the family following breakdown with [sic] her relationship with father and step-mother. This is now a permanent arrangement …’

41. In those circumstances, the Panel has found Particular 7 of the Allegation to have been proved in its entirety.

Particular 8 – found proved
“You did not record an analysis of the potential risk to Child A and Child B in the Single Assessment;”

42. The Single Assessment required an analysis of risk to the subject child or children. The analysis was to be provided in a box on the form headed, ’Child Protection Risks / Threshold for intervention (including risks associated with family / household)’. Although Ms Convery did complete the box with several lines of text, this contained no analysis at all of the potential risk to either child. Therefore, this Particular of the Allegation has been found proved.

Particular 9(a) – 9(e) – found proved
“You did not record the following in the case notes for Child A and Child B:
a) Your visit to Child B on 8 October 2014;
b) The fact that, on 16 October 2014, Person E had left Person C and was staying in bed and breakfast accommodation with Child A and Child B;
c) The fact that Person E returned to live with Person C due to lack of finances;
d) Your visit to Person D in April 2015;
e) Any discussions with the Police and/or Probation Services regarding the case;”

43. There were no case notes recording any of these facts. During her evidence Ms Convery had stated that she had made hand-written notes, in her diary or notepad, of various visits and events. She stated that she had failed to put these notes on to the case files or the electronic case recording system. These hand-written notes were not available to the Panel. The Registrant stated that she had tried to find them at work but had been unable to do so. Each of them should have been recorded by Ms Convery, being either important or a change of circumstances, or both. The Section 37 Report prepared by her contained references to the facts alleged in sub-Particulars b), c) and d) above. In cross-examination, she admitted that she had not recorded the facts alleged under sub-Particulars a), b), d) and e). So far as sub-Particular e) is concerned, Ms Convery failed to record a conversation she had with the probation officer regarding the level or risk posed by Person C (see below under Particular 16).

44. Therefore Particular 9 of the Allegation has been proved as set out above.

Particular 10 – found proved
“Between September 2014 and December 2014, you did not arrange a multi-agency meeting in relation to Child A and Child B;”

45. The Registrant did not accept before this Panel that she had failed to arrange a multi-agency meeting between these dates. The Guidance specifies (paragraph 7.6) that a Team Around the Family ‘TAF’ meeting must be convened within 10 working days of the referral. When interviewed by OC during the investigation she accepted that the meeting did not take place due to the demands of another case. As the allocated Social Worker it was the Registrant’s responsibility to have arranged the meeting. Therefore, this Particular of the Allegation has been found proved.

Particular 11(a) and 11(b) – found not proved
“You did not carry out a home visit to Child A and/or Child B and/or Person E between the following dates:
a)  16 October 2014 and 29 December 2014;
b)  16 April 2015 and 21 May 2015;”

46. Both children were at that stage Children in Need. As such, they were to be visited by their Social Worker every four weeks. The Panel accepted the Registrant’s oral evidence that she was on leave of absence from work between on or around 18 November 2014 and 16 December 2014. This was supported by the case records. The period between 16 October and 17 November is just over one month. In those circumstances, the Panel was not satisfied that the Registrant should have conducted a home visit in that period. The period between 16 December 2014 and 29 December 2014 was one of 13 days. On her return to work the Registrant must have had a huge backlog of work. The Panel was unable to conclude that she was at fault by not carrying out a home visit in that period.   

47. The case records showed that the Registrant did carry out a home visit to Child A and Child B on 22 April 2015.

48. Therefore, the Panel has found this Particular to have been not proved with respect to Child A, Child B and Person E, i.e. in its entirety. 

Particular 12 – found not proved
“Between 17 September 2014 and 21 May 2015, you did not produce a Written Agreement regarding contact arrangements between Person C and Child A and/or Child B;”

49. Ms Eales offered no evidence with respect to this Particular of the Allegation. The Panel concluded that this concession was well-founded. There was no written policy or instruction that would have required the Registrant to produce such an agreement. OC’s oral evidence was that one may have been useful but she did not go so far as to say that it would have been required in the circumstances. Therefore, this Particular of the Allegation has been found not proved.

Particular 13 – found proved
“You did not contact the Police following the Strategy Meeting on 17 September 2014 to discuss why Person C was considered ‘high risk’ and/or to clarify what work was being done with Person C to address his offending behaviour;”

50. At the Strategy Meeting on 17 September 2014 attended by the Registrant, she was instructed to speak to AP from the Police Protection Unit so as to clarify the reason for the level of risk relating to Person C and whether or not he was complying with the requirements of his registration as a sex offender and to ascertain what work he was undertaking. That instruction was recorded in the record of the Strategy Meeting.

51. The Registrant’s evidence was that she did contact the Police but had been unable to speak to anyone with knowledge of the case. In the circumstances, it was not sufficient for the Registrant to have let matters rest. She had been instructed to obtain this information and should have escalated the matter to KS. She failed to take this action during the entire period to 21 May 2015.

52. Therefore, the Panel has concluded that the Registrant should have contacted the Police following the Strategy Meeting on 17 September 2014 to discuss why Person C was considered ‘high risk’ and to clarify what work was being done with Person C to address his offending behaviour. Therefore, this Particular has been found proved in its entirety.   

Particular 14 – found proved
“You did not complete a stand-alone Risk Assessment in respect of Child A;”

53. At the outset of the hearing the Registrant admitted Particular 14, though she said that she had prepared notes for the assessment. At the Strategy Meeting on 17 September 2014 the Registrant was instructed to prepare a risk assessment within 8 weeks. During supervision sessions KS also gave the Registrant instructions to complete a risk assessment for the child on 17 November 2014, 27 February 2015 and 31 March 2015. The Registrant did not complete a stand-alone risk assessment for Child A at any stage. Therefore, this Particular has been found proved.

Particular 15 – found proved
“You did not complete a stand-alone Risk Assessment in respect of Child B;”

54. During supervision sessions KS also gave the Registrant instructions to complete a standalone risk assessment for Child B on 17 November 2014, 27 February 2015 and 31 March 2015. The Registrant did not complete a stand-alone risk assessment for Child B at any stage. Therefore, this Particular of the Allegation has been found proved.

Particular 16(a) and 16(b) – found proved
“On or around 13 May 2015, you provided a Section 37 Report to the Court which stated that Person C is not considered a high risk, which was:
a) Inaccurate; and/or
b) Misleading;”

55. Person B and Person E applied to the court for a Residence Order (a Child Arrangement Order as such an order is now named). In March 2015, the Court requested that a Section 37 Report be completed in relation to Child B. As the allocated Social Worker the Registrant was required to complete the report. The Registrant’s report was provided to the Court on 13 May 2015.

56. A Section 37 Report requires a Social Worker to determine whether there is any risk to the child and whether a Supervision Order or Care Order is required to protect the child. The Registrant prepared a report relating to Child B consisting of 19 typed pages. The report concluded (paragraph 10.6) that, ‘It is the opinion of the local authority that Child B should continue to reside with Person C and Person E and that contact with Person D .. should be promoted on a flexible basis, based on Child B’s wishes and needs.’

57. In so concluding the Registrant also stated in the Section 37 Report as follows, -
‘Person C has Risk to Children status. Safeguarding for Child B is paramount and she must never be exposed to these behaviours by Person C. There is no evidence to suggest that Person C would go on to abuse his own children or Child B’ (paragraph 7.4).
‘Durham County Council does not intend to seek any order in respect of Child B at present as Person C poses a low risk to Child B.’ (paragraph 9.3).
‘Assessments and involvement with Children’s services have not provided any evidence that Person E is unable to care for and protect Child B .. has remained adamant that she wants to remain living with her mother and stepfather. Child B has never given any cause for concern about her contact with her step-father and advice from Probation in respect of Person C have concluded [sic] that there is not a high risk that he would go on to abuse his own children or Child B. .. is aware of her step-father’s conviction and she is of an age and maturity [sic] she would vocalise any concerns she had to her mother or grandmother’ (paragraph 10.2).

58. The Panel has accepted that a Probation Officer did give Ms Convery the advice recorded in paragraph 10.2. Her case was that in view of that advice her report was satisfactory.

59. However, the Panel has concluded that the Section 37 Report did not provide an accurate picture of the risk to Child B. The report was deficient in analysis. There was an unexplained tension between Person C’s status as being a high-risk registered sex offender (as recorded at the strategy meeting on the 17 September 2014) but presenting a low risk to Child B, his stepdaughter. Information that was obtained by SO from the Police and probation on her return from court on 21 May 2015 showed that Person C was not remorseful at all about the offence he had committed. Northumbria Police had recorded Person C as being very high risk. The Registrant therefore had taken at face value the indications given to her by Person C on her visit to him in September 2014. This information was not qualified by obtaining information from the police or probation. There was no consideration in the report of Child B’s proximity in age to the 16 year old girl who had been the victim of the offence. Child B was aged 14 at the time of the report.

60. For those reasons, the Panel has concluded that the Section 37 Report was both inaccurate and misleading in relation to the level of risk to Child B presented by Person C. 

61. Therefore, each sub-Particular of Particular 16 has been found proved and Particular 16 has been found proved in its entirety.

Decision on grounds
62. The Panel received further legal advice from the Legal Assessor on the issue of the statutory grounds and accepted that advice. The facts proved will amount to the statutory ground of misconduct if they fell short of what would have been proper in the circumstances and if, in context, they were sufficiently serious bearing in mind any relevant mitigating factors:  Roylance v GMC [2000] 1 AC 311, PC at pp. 330 to 331 and R (Campbell) v GMC [2005] 1 WLR 3488, CA at [19] - [21] and Holton v GMC [2006] EWHC 2960 (Admin) at [75]. Competence, he advised, refers to what a registrant ‘can do’. Lack of competence would generally be demonstrated by reference to a fair sample of cases and the level of performance should be that to be expected of a competent practitioner occupying the post of the registrant, in the circumstances: Calhaem v GMC [2007] EWHC 2606 (Admin) at [39]; and Holton v GMC at [70]-[75]. 

63. Although lack of competence is generally to be found by reference to a fair sample of cases, the findings made by the Panel concerned fundamental aspects of the Registrant’s professional performance over a period of 8 months during which she struggled to perform her job. There was also evidence that the Registrant had struggled in previous periods, having been placed under formal Action Plans by her employer on more than one occasion prior to the period in question.

64. Ms Convery did possess the knowledge, skills and experience to perform competently in the post to which she had been appointed. However, the stresses in her personal life and difficulties she experienced in the workplace had the effect of preventing her from performing to a competent level. The Registrant had family pressures as she was caring for family relatives and did not have the necessary time to relax and take ‘time out’. The Panel was of the view that in the context of vacant posts within the Registrant’s team, the absence of any other Level 3 Social Workers for much of the period in question and the Registrant’s health and personal difficulties, she was allocated a high caseload. She considered it necessary to ask KS to reduce her caseload and she told KS that she was not sure that she could adequately protect children in view of her difficulties in managing her caseload. One of her other cases, in particular, was very difficult. It required her daily attention, concerning an adoption breakdown case where a female young person was at risk of sexual exploitation. KS refused to take her off other cases. She did give Ms Convery some protected time to catch up with her work, which Ms Convery was often unable to take as she was the only Level 3 practitioner in the Team. The Panel also noted that the Registrant had asked for a reduction in her working hours or alternatively transfer to another team in recognition of the difficulties that she was experiencing.

65. In these circumstances and in view of the shortcomings in her practice found by the Panel, the Registrant did not function as a competent Level 3 Social Worker during the period to which its findings of fact related.

66. In view of those findings, the Panel has concluded that the Registrant failed to comply with the following standards set out in the HCPC’s written ‘Standards of conduct, performance and ethics’ 1 August 2012:
Standard 1    - ‘You must act in the best interests of service users.’
Standard 10 - ‘You must keep accurate records.’

67. In the light of those findings the Registrant also failed to comply with the following parts of the written ‘Standards of Proficiency for Social Workers in England’, 1 August 2012: -
Standard 1.2 - ‘recognise the need to manage their own workload and resources and be able to practise accordingly;’
Standard 1.3 - ‘be able to undertake assessments of risk, need and capacity and respond appropriately;’
Standard 4.1 -  ‘be able to assess a situation, determine its nature and severity and call upon the required knowledge and experience to deal with it;’
Standard 4.2 - ‘be able to initiate resolution of issues and be able to exercise personal initiative;’
Standard 8.2 - ‘be able to demonstrate effective and appropriate skills in communicating advice, instruction, information and professional opinion to colleagues, service users and carers;’
Standard 8.11 -  ‘be able to prepare and present formal reports in line with applicable protocols and guidelines;’
Standard 10.1 - ‘be able to keep accurate, comprehensive and comprehensible records in accordance with applicable legislation, protocols and guidelines;’
Standard 10.2 - ‘recognise the need to manage records and all other information in accordance with applicable legislation, protocols and guidelines;’
Standard 14.1 - ‘be able to gather, analyse, critically evaluate and use information and knowledge to make recommendations or modify their practice’. 

68. The timescales for the writing of assessments and the holding of meetings exist for good reason and are necessary to ensure that children are given due protection. Ms Convery failed to comply with those timescales in the preparation of the Single Assessment and stand-alone risk assessments for both children. These delays were substantial, particularly in the case of the stand-alone risk assessments which were never completed. The holding of a multi-agency meeting before January 2015 was vital in the circumstances. The pooling of information from the Police and Probation in particular in the circumstances of this case was essential in order to assess and address the risks to the children. The shortcomings in the Section 37 Report written by the Registrant were significant. Such reports are relied on by the courts in order to make appropriate orders to protect children who are the subject of legal proceedings. However, it is fair to say that both the Section 37 Report and Single Assessment were quality assured and approved by the Registrant’s team manager.

69. These shortcomings in particular in the Registrant’s work over the 8 month period were serious and had the potential to put Child A and Child B at risk.  

70. Therefore, the Panel has concluded that the facts it has found (with the exception of those under Particular 5 of the Allegation) amounted to a lack of competence on the part of the Registrant and this statutory ground has been found proved. However, those shortcomings did not amount to misconduct. Therefore, Particular 17 of the Allegation has been found proved in relation to lack of competence but not proved in relation to misconduct. 

Decision on impairment 
71. As a result of its conclusions on the issue of statutory ground, the Panel has considered whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired. The Panel accepted the advice given by the Legal Assessor, who referred to the principles set out in Cheatle v GMC [2009] EWHC 645 (Admin) at [21] and [22] and in CHRE v NMC & Grant [2011] EWHC 927 (Admin) at [64] – [76], to the guidance given in the Practice Note, ‘Finding that Fitness to Practise is Impaired’ and to the Overarching Objective contained in Art. 3(4) and 3(4A) and paragraph 18(10A) of Schedule 1, Health and Social Work Professions Order 2001, as amended.

72. In CHRE v NMC & Grant Cox J stated at [76], -
“I would also add the following observations in this case …. as to the helpful and comprehensive approach to determining this issue formulated by Dame Janet Smith in her Fifth Report from Shipman, referred to above. At paragraph 25.67 she identified the following as an appropriate test for panels considering impairment of a doctor's fitness to practise, but in my view that test would be equally applicable to other practitioners governed by different regulatory schemes.
"Do our findings of fact in respect of the doctor's misconduct, deficient professional performance, adverse health, convictions, caution or determination show that his/her fitness to practise is impaired in the sense that s/he:
a. has in the past acted and/or is liable in the future to act so as to put a patient or patients at unwarranted risk of harm; and/or
b. has in the past brought and/or is liable in the future to bring the medical profession into disrepute; and/or
c. has in the past breached and/or is liable in the future to breach one of the fundamental tenets of the medical profession: and/or
d. has in the past acted dishonestly and/or is liable to act dishonestly in the future."”

73. In view of the findings made by the Panel, the Registrant has put service users at unwarranted risk of harm.

74. The Section 37 Report brought the social work profession into disrepute at the court hearing on 21 May 2015 in view of the judge’s observations as to the contents of that report prepared by Ms Convery. Members of the public would also be very concerned by the inadequate assessment of risk in relation to a registered sex offender contained in such an important report. Therefore, the Registrant has brought the profession into dispute.

75. She has also breached fundamental tenets of the social work profession by failing to produce and deliver accurate assessments on time and in failing to produce an accurate report for court proceedings.

76. The Registrant does have significant insight into her shortcomings. Her insight grew during the course of the hearing. She expressed an understanding of the importance of recording the necessary facts in a social work case and the potential impact of any failure to do so. She understood the potential adverse effect on the reputation of the profession for her shortcomings and she apologised and showed genuine remorse for these. The Registrant expressed on more than one occasion her commitment to safe guarding children and that she would never knowingly put service users at risk.

77. These failings in Ms Convery’s practice are remediable. However, the Registrant has not been practising as a Social Worker since 21 May 2015. She told the Panel that she had retired. Hence, there is no evidence that the shortcomings in her practice have been remedied, though the Panel has accepted that in future she would probably escalate concerns if her manager did not respond to them appropriately. Although the Registrant has mentioned her retirement, the Panel has been unable to conclude at this stage that there are no circumstances in which the Registrant might choose to practise again. Therefore, there is a risk of repetition of the unremediated shortcomings in Ms Convery’s practice.

78. The Panel has also borne in mind the Registrant’s personal circumstances and the context in which her practice failings took place, the fact that her team was short-staffed and that she was the only Level 3 Social Worker at times during the period in question.

79. The Panel has also taken into account the public component of the case. Members of the public made aware of the circumstances of this case and the findings of the Panel would be concerned if no finding of impaired fitness to practise were made in view of the shortcomings of the Registrant in relation to her responsibilities for the assessment and management of the risk presented to Child A and Child B by a registered sex offender.  

80. In all the circumstances, the Panel has concluded that a finding of impairment is necessary in order to protect members of the public and to maintain public confidence in the social work profession and to promote and maintain proper professional standards and conduct for members of the Social Work profession.

Decision on sanction
81. The purpose of fitness to practise proceedings is not to punish registrants, but to protect the public. Inevitably, a sanction may be punitive in effect, but should not be imposed simply for that purpose.

82. The powers of the Panel are set out in Article 29(5) and (6) of the Schedule 1 of the Social Work Professions Order 2001 as amended (‘the 2001 Order’). Thus, there is no power to direct a Striking Off Order in view of the statutory ground that has been established, namely lack of competence. The Panel must have regard to the statutory overarching objective, which is the protection of the public. In context that involves the following objectives, namely (a) to protect, promote and maintain the health, safety and well‐being of the public, (b) to promote and maintain public confidence in the social work profession; and (c) to promote and maintain proper professional standards and conduct for members of that profession (paragraph 3(4) and (4A) and paragraph 18(10A) of the 2001 Order).

83. In deciding what, if any, sanction to impose, the Panel has sought to apply the principle of proportionality as that principle is explained in paragraph 9 of the Indicative Sanctions Policy, 22 March 2017 (‘ISP’). The Panel has taken into account the matters set out in the ISP in reaching its decision, its earlier findings and the evidence before it at the earlier stage of the hearing. The Panel has also taken into account the further oral evidence given by Ms Convery at this stage as well as the submissions of Ms Eales. Ms Convery did not make further submissions.

84. In her further evidence, Ms Convery said that in principle she would have no objection to engage in further retraining, however, she had no intention of returning to registered practice. She said she had a part-time job.

85. The Panel took into account the seriousness of the shortcomings in the Registrant’s work shown by its findings and the potential risks to which Child A and Child B were exposed. The case involved important safeguarding risks in relation to those children.

86. The Panel also took into account the following mitigating factors, -
• Ms Convery’s difficult personal family circumstances and health issues which had an adverse effect on her work;
• the high caseload under which she was operating;
• the staff shortages for much of the period in question;
• that she was the only Level 3 practitioner in the Team for much of the period;
• the fact that she raised concerns with her manager and suggested ways of addressing those concerns;
• Ms Convery’s significant insight into her professional shortcomings;
• her apology and the genuine remorse she has shown.

87. The Panel considered the available outcomes in ascending order of seriousness. This was clearly not a ‘no action’ case in view of the seriousness of the Panel’s findings, the public protection issues and the absence of remedial action.

88. Mediation would have been inappropriate in the circumstances. A Caution Order would also not satisfy the seriousness of the case. The practice failings were not isolated, limited or minor and there is no evidence that they have been remedied.

89. The Panel next considered a Conditions of Practice Order and had particular regard to paragraph 31, ISP. The failings were capable of correction and there was no persistent or general failure which would prevent Ms Convery from correcting them. However, appropriate, verifiable and realistic conditions could not be formulated that would address the impairment and with which Ms Convery could be expected to comply due to her stated retirement from social work practice. In those circumstances, a Conditions of Practice Order would not have been appropriate.

90. The only sanction that meets the requirements of this case is that of suspension. A Suspension Order is necessary to maintain public confidence in the profession and to promote and maintain proper professional standards and conduct among members of the social work profession and to address the residual risk of unremedied professional shortcomings to which members of the public might be exposed should the Registrant seek to return to practice, notwithstanding her retirement.

91. In view of the Registrant’s intention not to practise again, it would serve no purpose to recommend actions to remedy the practice failings on the part of the Registrant that might assist the Panel that will review this case. The Panel also notes that there are procedures for the voluntary removal of registrants from the register. It expresses no view on whether such removal might be appropriate in the circumstances. However, this is a matter on which the Registrant might wish to reflect.

92. The Panel has decided that in all the circumstances a period of suspension of 6 months is necessary and sufficient.    

Order

The Registrar is directed to suspend the registration of Beverley Corinna Convery for a period of 6 months from the date this order comes into effect. 

Notes

The order imposed today will apply from 6 October 2017 (the operative date).
This order will be reviewed again before its expiry on 6 April 2018.

Hearing history

History of Hearings for Mrs Beverley Corinna Convery

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
04/09/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Suspended