Mrs Katharine Wilson
During the course of your employment as a Senior Youth Offending Team Officer with Blackpool Council, you:
1. On 19 December 2014, completed a Youth Conditional Caution
Compliance Notice in relation to Child 1 and you:
a. did not record on the compliance notice that:
i. you had agreed with Colleague A and Colleague B that you were not required to see Child 1;
ii. Colleague A had been allocated a pre-sentence report to complete on Child 1;
iii. that you had agreed with Colleague A that Child 1 would only be seen by Colleague A.
b. recorded that Child 1 had breached his Youth Conditional Caution when this was not the case
2. in relation to a Community Safeguarding and Public Protection incident involving Child 2, who had been admitted to hospital on 15 November 2014 following an overdose, you:
a. when completing a Youth Offending Team assessment in relation to Child 2, you:
i. did not take into consideration the impact of historical information held by the Youth Offending Team and/or the Counselling Service and Crisis Team;
ii. did not cite Child 2's vulnerability factors which resulted in Child 2 being assessed as low vulnerability;
iii. despite Child 2 having 4 previously recorded incident of selfharm and/or overdose, did not indicate this as a risk factor in the assessment;
iv. recorded a score of 1 in the emotional and mental health section of the assessment despite evidence of Child 2's identified difficulties in managing her emotions appropriately;
v. did not reference key information from other agencies, in relation to:
b) domestic abuse;
c) volatile family relationships;
d) parental relationships;
e) parental alcohol and drug abuse;
f) risk of child sexual exploitation;
g) Chiid 2 having been the subject of a Child Protection Plan for a
h) Child 2's lack of engagement with and refusal to access Child; and
i) Adolescent Mental Health Services
b. did not follow direction given in supervision to complete the sections of the assessment appropriately;
c. did not change Child 2's assessment and record of needs despite Child 2:
i. becoming homeless
ii. using drugs
3. Did not undertake and/or record having undertaken home visits in order to:
a. support Child 2's compliance
b. encourage parental engagement.
4. Did not keep appropriate records of warning letters sent to Child 2.
5. Delivered substance misuse sessions for Child 2, despite a referral having been made to specialists, and did not record how this had been agreed.
6. Between 20 November 2014 and 03 March 2015 undertook and / or recorded having undertaken only 3 home visits to child 2, despite:
a. initially been required to undertake one visit per week
b. from 09 February being required to undertake 3 home visits per week.
7. Stated that you maintained regular contact with Child 2, which was not true.
8. The matters described in Paragraph 1 (b) and 7 were dishonest.
9. The matters set out in Paragraphs 1-8 constitute misconduct and/or a lack of competence.
10. By reason of your misconduct and/or lack of competence, your fitness to practice is impaired.
Application to amend
1. Ms Chaker made an application to amend the Allegation. The Registrant was notified of the proposed amendments by a letter dated 1 March 2017. The proposed amendments were to add greater specificity to some of the particulars, better reflect the evidence, and make minor grammatical changes. Ms Chaker submitted that the proposed amendments do not widen the scope of the particulars and that they do not prejudice the Registrant.
2. Ms Shafton did not oppose Ms Chaker’s application.
3. During the hearing Ms Chaker made further applications to amend the particulars. She applied to amend particulars 2(c) and 9 of the Allegation so that the wording of the particular precisely matches the evidence. These amendments were agreed by Ms Shafton.
4. The Panel agreed to all the proposed amendments because they are appropriate and do not prejudice the Registrant.
Hearing in private
5. The Panel exercised its discretion to hear part of the hearing in private to protect the Registrant’s private life. This decision was limited to evidence which included personal information relating to the Registrant’s family and the Registrant’s health.
6. The Registrant made admissions to all the factual particulars with the exception of particular 4(a) which was admitted in part, and particular 10.
7. Ms Chaker informed the Panel that the HCPC offered no evidence on particulars 1(a)(iii), 2(e)(iii), 2(e)(iv), 2(e)(v), 2(e)(viii), 2(e)(ix), 4(b) and 8.
8. The Panel has a role as the guardian of the public interest and the Panel may itself investigate any particulars on which the HCPC offers no evidence. The Panel did not identify any relevant evidence to support the particulars listed in paragraph 7 above and found them not proved.
9. The Registrant began working in the Leaving Care Team at Blackpool Council in November 2003. She was promoted to the roles of Senior Practitioner and Advanced Practitioner. In 2012 there was a restructure of the department. The Registrant spend nine months as an Advanced Practitioner in the Fostering Team. Following a further restructure the Registrant was redeployed to the Youth Offending Team (YOT) in the role of a Senior YOT officer. The role of Senior YOT does not require the post holder to be a registered social worker.
10. The YOT was divided into three work streams, First Time Entrants, Reduce Re-offending, and Reduce Custody. The Registrant worked in the First Time Entrants work stream. She held a small caseload and was responsible for supervising more junior employees. She also had a number of other responsibilities which included co-ordinating the Referral Order Panels, managing Reparation Projects, and sitting on the Youth Disposal Panel.
11. From May 2014 the Registrant was managed by JB, Operational Manager who stepped in to cover the maternity leave of the Registrant’s manager. In November 2014, JB removed the Registrant’s supervisory responsibilities because he believed that her knowledge of the youth justice system would be enhanced if she was provided with more experience. JB planned to increase the Registrant’s caseload and to provide guidance in supervision.
12. The Allegation relates to the Registrant’s handling of the cases of Child 1 and Child 2. These cases were investigated by JG, Service Manager for Mental Health and Learning Difficulties. In the case of Child 1, the allegation was that the Registrant had “unlawfully breached” Child 1, stating that he should be returned to court for having breached his Conditional Caution Order, when he had not. In the case of Child 2 the allegation was that the Registrant “displayed a lack of action in relation to …a young person who had been admitted into hospital for taking an overdose”.
13. JG’s investigation into the case of Child 2 drew on a Critical Learning Review which had been prepared and completed on 2 December 2014 by SH, the acting Operational Manager in the Reduce Re-offending Team. SH reviewed the relevant documentation including the electronic records for Child 2 held by Child Social Services (Framework-I) and the electronic records held by the YOT (Childview). The purpose of the Critical Learning Review was to analyse the contact of the YOT with the young person prior to the incident and to draw lessons from the way the case was managed looking at areas for development and areas of good practice.
Decision on Facts
14. The Panel heard evidence from HCPC witnesses SG, Colleague A, JB and SH. The Panel found that SG was an honest and credible witness. She acknowledged that her investigation was based primarily on information provided to her in the form of witness interviews. Colleague A gave clear and robust evidence and was a credible witness. The Panel found that JB was a credible witness. In the Panel’s view he was more frank and open in the latter part of his evidence as to the working environment, particularly when he was answering questions from the Panel. SH was a clear, consistent and credible witness who was able to give detailed answers about the standards which should be met.
15. The Panel heard evidence from Ms Wilson on the facts. The Panel found that she answered questions honestly and was a straightforward witness.
16. Child 1 received a Youth Conditional Caution (“YCC”) on 29 September 2014. A YCC is a caution administered by a police officer to a young person as an alternative to charging the young person with a criminal offence. The young person who is given a YCC must comply with the conditions of the caution which applies for 16 weeks from the date of the offence. If the young person fails to comply with the conditions this may lead to a prosecution for the original offence.
17. The Registrant was allocated the case of Child 1 on 4 November 2014. One of the conditions was that Child 1 should attend Blackpool YOT office for sessions. Child 1 committed further criminal offences on 13 September 2014 and 21 September 2014. He was convicted of these offences following a guilty plea and the court requested a Pre-Sentence Report (PSR). The task of completing the PSR was allocated to Colleague A, Acting Senior YOT Officer. Colleague A discovered that Child 1 was subject to the YCC and discussed this with him during a meeting on 11 November 2014.
18. Having spoken to Child 1, Colleague A thought that the YCC conditions did not reflect or support his personal circumstances or address the factors in his life which were linked to his offending behaviour. She spoke to the Registrant and told her that she thought a fresh start was needed for Child 1. Colleague A had already arranged approximately seven appointments for Child 1 as part of the PSR process over a two week period. The Registrant and Colleague A agreed that the Registrant would not offer those appointments to Child 1 and that the Registrant would explain this to Child 1 when he attended his next appointment with her.
19. The Registrant met Child 1 on 13 November 2014 and told him what had been agreed. She made a note on the Council’s electronic case management system of this discussion in which he was told not to attend any future appointments with her and instead to focus exclusively on his appointments and work with EJ.
20. On 19 December 2014 the Registrant completed a Compliance Notice for Child 1’s YCC. These notices inform the Youth Disposal Panel’s decision as to whether the young person needs to be sent back to court for failing to complete the conditions of their caution without a reasonable excuse. This will normally result in a prosecution for the original offence.
21. The Registrant “breached” Child 1 for not having completed the terms of his caution. She ticked the box entitled “breached” and recorded in the box entitled “Decision Rationale”: He did not complete the conditions of his Youth Conditional Caution as he re offended, appeared in Blackpool Youth Court and was made subject to an Intensive Referral Order. The Registrant did not mention on the Compliance Notice the circumstances in which Child 1 missed his appointments or her agreement with Colleague A. There were alternative options on the form, for the Registrant to indicate either that “no further action” was appropriate or tick the “completed” box.
22. The Youth Disposal Panel referred Child 1 to court for prosecution of the original offence.
23. On 28 January 2015 Colleague A was informed by a colleague that Child 1 was due in court the following day. Colleague A was surprised because she was unaware that Child 1 had committed further offences. When Colleague A learned that the offence was the burglary offence for which Child 1 had received the YCC she was concerned because she was under the impression that Child 1 was not in breach of the YCC. Colleague A contacted JB and arrangements were made for Child 1’s case to be adjourned and later withdrawn.
24. The Panel found particulars 1(a)(i) and (ii) proved by the admission of the Registrant, the evidence of the Registrant, the evidence of JG, Colleague A and JB and the documentary evidence.
25. The Compliance Notice was completed by the Registrant. The notice did not record the agreement the Registrant had made with Colleague A, or that the completion of the PSR was allocated to Colleague A.
26. The Panel found particular 1(b) provided by the admission of the Registrant, the evidence of the Registrant, the evidence of JG, Colleague A and JB and the documentary evidence.
27. On the Compliance Notice the Registrant ticked the box “breached” when Child 1 was not in breach of his YCC because he was not required to attend any further appointments with the Registrant.
28. In May 2014 the Registrant became the case manager for Child 2 who received a referral order from the Youth Court on 3 April 2014. Child 2 had stolen 2 bottles of wine from a shop. As case manager, the Registrant was responsible for Child 2’s contact with the YOT and monitoring her compliance with her court order.
29. Child 2 had been known to the Council for almost all her life; her mother was a heroin addict and alcoholic, there were issues of domestic violence in the home, and her brother had been removed by social services. Child 2 had a history of suicide attempts, including an attempt in February 2014. On 15 November 2014, Child 2 took an overdose of paracetamol tablets. This incident was the subject of SH’s Critical Learning Review.
30. The Registrant completed a YOT ASSET assessment in relation to Child 2 on 29 May 2014. An ASSET assessment is a written form completed by a YOT worker which focuses on core areas of the young person’s life including: the risk that a young person will re-offend; vulnerability including the risk that a young person might be harmed either by their own actions or those of others; and the risk that a young person might inflict serious harm on another. Within the ASSET assessment there are a series of questions and the YOT officer scores the young person on a scale of zero to four. A score of zero is appropriate where the YOT officer considers that there is no risk or association with their offending. Four is the appropriate score where there is a high degree of risk and association with the offending behaviour.
31. The ASSET assessment tool is a trigger for further key assessments including a Vulnerability and Risk Management Pan which is completed where a young person was assessed as posing a medium, high or very high risk of vulnerability.
32. In the ASSET assessment completed by the Registrant on 29 May 2014 the Registrant did not complete the section entitled “Care History and “looked after status”. This section is provided on the form for the YOT worker to write details of contact between the young person and Social Services. Child 2’s previous history included that she was previously subject to a Child Protection Plan, a Child in Need Plan, and Child 2’s younger brother had been removed from the family home in December 2013.
33. The Panel found particular 2(a) proved by the admission of the Registrant, the evidence of the Registrant, SH, JB and the documentary evidence.
34. The Registrant assessed Child 2 as low vulnerability in her ASSET assessment Form despite Child 2’s vulnerability factors. The vulnerability factors included that Child 2 had previously and recently been considered to be at risk of child sexual exploitation and had been referred to the Awaken Project. The Awaken Project supports people who are victims of, or at risk of, sexual exploitation. Other vulnerability factors were that the Registrant had previously been referred to other services, including Child Social Services, her family life was difficult and she had been neglected by her parents, her mother was a heroin addict, there was a history of domestic violence, she was not in education, training, or employment and she had attempted suicide.
35. The Panel found particular 2(b) proved by the admission of the Registrant, the evidence of the Registrant, SH, JB and the documentary evidence.
36. In the ASSET assessment of 29 May 2014 the Registrant recorded “no” in response to the question “Are there indications that s/he is at risk of self harm or suicide”. The relevant history for Child 2 was that she had previously attempted suicide several times, most recently in February 2014.
37. The Panel found particular 2(c) proved by the admission of the Registrant, the evidence of the Registrant, SH, JB and the documentary evidence.
38. The Registrant recorded a score of 1 in the emotional and mental health section of the assessment. This was despite the evidence of Child 2’s history of self-harm and suicide attempts, Child 2’s statement to the Registrant in relation to a previous suicide attempt that she wanted to die, Child 2’s admission that she “rush[es] into things without thinking and often gets angry or loses her temper” and the Registrant’s statement that Child 2 “has many issues in her past that she still needs to come to terms with” including “stress, anger, and sadness around her brother who is in the care of the local authority”.
39. The Panel found particular 2(d) proved by the admission of the Registrant, the evidence of the Registrant, SH, JB and the documentary evidence.
40. In the ASSET assessment the Registrant did not record that Child 2 had been neglected, that there was a history of domestic abuse in Child 2’s life, that Child 2 had been considered at risk of child sexual exploitation, or that Child 2 had been referred to Awaken.
41. The Panel found particulars 2(e)(i), 2(e)(vi) and 2(e)vii proved by the admission of the Registrant, the evidence of the Registrant, SH, JB and the documentary evidence.
42. In a supervision meeting with JB on 22 July 2014 the Registrant was directed to complete information in the Asset assessment including care history and criminal history. By the next supervision session on 11 September 2014 the gaps in the assessment had still not been completed. On 11 September 2014 the Registrant updated the ASSET assessment to complete the “Care History” and “Looked after status” sections.
43. The Panel found particular 3 proved by the admission of the Registrant, the evidence of the Registrant, SH, JB and the documentary evidence.
44. The Registrant admitted part of this particular in that she did not update the ASSET assessment following Child 2 becoming homeless.
45. The records in Childview show that the Registrant came to the YOT office on 12 September 2014 and disclosed that she was staying with a friend because she had been locked out of the house by her Mother. A further note on 15 September 2014 showed that Child 2 was describing herself as homeless. The Registrant was informed and made entries on Childview in relation to this situation, but she did not update the ASSET assessment.
46. It was the Registrant’s responsibility, as the case manager for Child 2, to maintain and update the ASSET Assessment to reflect changes in Child 2’s circumstances in accordance with the Youth Justice Board’s Standards for Youth Justice Services.
47. The Panel’s interpretation of particular 4(a) was “or discuss this with your line manager” refers to a discussion of the need to update the ASSET assessment, rather than a general discussion of Child 2 being homeless in or around September 2014. The focus of particular 4(a) is the updating of the ASSET assessment, and the relevance of a discussion with the line manager is that the line manager could have varied the requirement to update the ASSET assessment.
48. The Registrant’s recollection is that she spoke to a senior Service Manager at a meeting and asked if she could be excused from the meeting so that she could make a referral for Child 2 because she had become homeless. The Registrant could not be sure that JB, her line manager, was present at the meeting. The Registrant accepted in evidence that she did not discuss with JB, her line manager, updating the ASSET assessment in relation to Child 2 becoming homeless.
49. The Panel found particular 4(a) proved in its entirety by the evidence of the Registrant, JB, SH and the documentary evidence.
50. The Registrant recorded four home visits to Child 2 between 21 October 2014 and 3 March 2015. This was fewer than the visits required by the National Standards for Youth Justice Services which require a minimum of monthly visits. It was far fewer than the number of visits which the Registrant agreed in supervision with JB on 22 July 2014 that contact should be intensive and made at least three times per week, either at home or in the YOT office.
51. The Panel found particular 5 proved by the admission of the Registrant, the evidence of the Registrant, SH, JB and the documentary evidence.
52. When Child 2 failed to attend an appointment with the YOT without an appropriate excuse, the Registrant was required by the National Standards for Youth Justice Services to send her a warning letter within 24 hours. JB pointed out to the Registrant the absence of the warning letters to reflect missed appointments in a supervision meeting on 22 July 2014. In her Critical Learning Review SH identified 6 specific occasions from May to September 2014 when Child 2 missed appointments, but no letter was sent or recorded on Childview.
53. The Panel found particular 6 proved by the admission of the Registrant, the evidence of the Registrant, SH, JB and the documentary evidence.
54. Child 2 was referred for substance abuse sessions at the “HUB” (the YOT substance misuse department) on 28 May 2014. The entries in Child 2’s records show that these sessions were delivered by the Registrant, not at the HUB. SH contacted CJ, a specialist substance abuse worker at the HUB, and learned that the HUB workers had made several unsuccessful attempts to see Child 2. An agreement was reached between the Registrant and CJ that Child 2 would not be offered appointments at the HUB because of the failure to engage and that the Registrant would provide the advice. The Registrant did not record this agreement on Childview.
55. The Panel found particulars 7(a) and 7(b) proved by the admission of the Registrant, the evidence of the Registrant, SH, JB and the documentary evidence.
Particulars 9 and 10
56. The Registrant was interviewed by JG on 31 March 2015. The interview transcribed from a tape recording. During the interview the Registrant answered questions openly and made admissions. The HCPC allegation of dishonesty is limited to one answer given by the Registrant which is towards the end of the interview.
57. The Registrant had been asked a series of questions by JG about the extent to which Child 2 had engaged with her. The Registrant agreed that there was a period of time where it was very difficult to engage with Child 2, but that there was improved engagement after Child 2 had taken an overdose.
58. A union representative was present at the interview to support the Registrant. The transcript records that the union representative said: “I think you need to elaborate on how much she did engage when her [???]”. The recorded answer from the Registrant was “Err – daily. More or less daily by telephone. I did do home visits, I did a planning meeting at college – erm – which involved CM, our Mental Health Worker and we agreed that we’d do alternate weekly home visits or collect her from college, etc, etc. So at the time she took the overdose was a time when she was most engaging”.
59. The Childview records show that the Registrant had varying regularity of contact with Child 2 by telephone, but that contact was not daily contact or contact that could accurately be described as “more or less daily”.
60. The Registrant admits that it was not accurate that she engaged with Child 2 “more or less daily” by telephone contact.
61. The Panel found particular 9 proved by the admission of the Registrant, the evidence of the Registrant, JG and the documentary evidence.
62. In considering whether the Registrant’s conduct was dishonest the Panel applied the modified Ghosh test as proposed by Longmore LJ in Hussain v General Medical Council  EWCA Civ 2246:
• on the balance of probabilities, according to the ordinary standards of reasonable and honest social workers, was the statement made by the Registrant dishonest; and if so
• on the balance of probabilities, whether the Registrant herself must have known that what she was doing was dishonest by those standards.
63. The Panel took into account the Registrant’s previous good character.
64. The Panel reviewed the whole of the interview transcript and found that the Registrant was honest in her answers to questions to the best of her abilities. There was no attempt by the Registrant to cover up or to give untruthful answers. The Panel considered that it was not likely that the Registrant would suddenly change her approach and lie when she was asked a question by her union representative, when throughout the interview up to that point she had been answering the questions fairly and honestly. It was also not likely that the Registrant would lie when she was asked to provide further information by her union representative, whose role was to support her, when she had not lied previously.
65. It was not possible for the Panel to make an assessment of the extent to which the Registrant’s answer in the interview was inaccurate. There were periods of time when the Registrant made more frequent contact with Child 2, although such contact was not on a daily basis. The transcript of the question the Registrant was asked by her union representative is partial. It is unclear whether the union representative was asking about Child 2’s engagement with the Registrant or the Registrant’s engagement with Child 2. It appears that the latter part of the question could not be transcribed because it ends “[???]”. There is therefore uncertainly about precisely what question was asked and the context in which the Registrant’s answer was given. There was therefore a lack of cogent evidence of dishonesty.
66. The Panel took into account the evidence of JG. JG was asked about the Registrant’s demeanour during the interview. She described the Registrant as being “devastated and distressed”. The Registrant became so distressed during the investigation that a break was required. JG said that she had no concerns with the depth of answer she had received from the Registrant. JG did not suggest that the Registrant’s demeanour changed at any point during the interview.
67. The Panel decided that an ordinary and honest social worker, who had been present at the interview would conclude that the Registrant’s answer was inaccurate, but was due either to a mistake or inaccurate recollection of the events, and was not a lie. The Panel therefore found that by the ordinary standards of reasonable and honest social workers the statement made by the Registrant was not dishonest.
68. The Panel found particular 10 not proved.
Decision on Grounds
69. The Panel heard further evidence from the Registrant relating to statutory grounds and impairment. The Panel found the Registrant’s evidence credible, but had some concerns about her answers to questions for the reasons explained below.
70. The question of whether the proven facts constitute misconduct or a lack of competence is for the judgment of the Panel and there is no burden or standard of proof.
71. There is no statutory definition of misconduct, but the Panel had regard to the guidance of Lord Clyde in Roylance v GMC (No2)  1 AC 311: “Misconduct is a word of general effect, involving some act or omission which falls short of what would be proper in the circumstances. The standard of propriety may often be found by reference to the rules and standards ordinarily required to be followed by a …practitioner in the particular circumstances”. The conduct must be serious in that it falls well below the required standards.
72. A lack of competence is a standard of work which is unacceptably low. It will be demonstrated by a fair sample of the Registrant’s work, save in exceptional circumstances.
73. The Registrant was working in a role which required either a qualification as a social worker or other appropriate professional qualification such as a Diploma in Probation Studies. She had worked in the YOT for more than two years and had received relevant training. She had many years of experience as a social worker, including in senior roles, and had relevant transferable skills, particularly in writing assessments, identifying vulnerability factors and reviewing child cases.
74. The Panel’s view was that the Registrant’s failures in particulars 1-7 were not attributable to the Registrant’s lack of knowledge, skill or ability. In respect of Child 1 the Panel considered that the relevant information for the Registrant to complete the form appropriately was available to her, if she had carefully read and considered the prompts and information on the Compliance Notice. The underlying reason for the erroneous completion of the Compliance Notice was not a lack of knowledge, but a failure by the Registrant to take due care and attention when she completed the form. In respect of Child 2 the Registrant had the necessary knowledge, skills, and ability to enable her to complete the ASSET assessment, identify vulnerability factors, and take pro-active steps such as sending warning letters and carrying out home visits.
75. The Panel next considered whether the Registrant’s conduct was sufficiently serious to constitute misconduct. The Panel considered and took into account the context and the surrounding circumstances. The team in which the Registrant was working was not functioning well and there were high levels of sickness. This placed pressure on the Registrant, and the opportunities for her to delegate work to other team members were limited. The Registrant raised the issue of her workload with her line manager, but he did not agree that her workload was excessive. The Registrant had a caseload of approximately five cases in addition to her other responsibilities. The five cases held by the Registrant were not of a high complexity in comparison to the cases held by the other Senior YOTs. The Registrant also faced pressures due to her personal circumstances.
76. Although these circumstances had some impact on the Panel’s assessment of the level of the Registrant’s culpability, they did not substantially reduce her culpability. The Panel took the view that some of the tasks could be completed within a relatively short time-span. For example, the addition of the missing information in the ASSET assessment would not have taken a lengthy period of time. The Panel would also expect the Registrant to prioritise her work where she was the case manager directly responsible for the child, which applied to both Child 1 and Child 2.
77. The Panel first considered the Registrant’s actions in relation to Child 1. The Registrant accepted in her evidence that she did not carefully read all the information on the Compliance Notice. The Registrant had very limited previous experience of completing Compliance Notices for YCCs. However, she sat on the Youth Disposal Panel (YDP) and therefore knew the purpose of the Compliance Notice. She understood that a breach of the order could lead to serious consequences for Child 1, including a return to court for prosecution of the original offence. In these circumstances it was a basic requirement for the Registrant to take care to read and understand the Compliance Notice before she completed it. The Registrant completed the form without reading the form carefully, without checking her own previous notes, and without speaking to Colleague A or her manager. In the Panel’s view this behaviour was reckless, in that the Registrant did not have regard to the potential implications of her actions for Child 1. Those implications were that Child 1 might be prosecuted wrongly for breach of the YCC when he was not in breach of the conditions and furthermore the reputation of the YOT would be damaged.
78. The Registrant also made serious errors of judgment in her assessment of the vulnerability of Child 2. The Panel was particularly concerned that she had not identified Child 2’s vulnerability due to the risk of sexual exploitation, given Child 2’s previous history.
79. The Registrant’s failures to comply with the required standards or her manager’s instructions in relation to visiting Child 2 and sending the warning letters was also involved a serious degree of culpability. The Registrant was not pro-active, even after Child 2’s paracetamol overdose in November 2014. The Registrant allowed Child 2’s case to drift, exposing Child 2 to the risk of harm.
80. The Registrant’s failures in relation to Child 2, considered as a whole, had the consequence that the risks of self-harm and risks of sexual exploitation were not identified, appropriately assessed, and action taken. If Child 2 had been assessed as medium risk there would have been a VMP and if she was assessed as high risk there would have been a multi-agency approach with additional monitoring and a professionals meeting every month to review the case. Child 2 would have been more closely monitored and would have access to services. Although there was no actual harm to Child 2, there was the potential for serious harm.
81. The Registrant’s failures in relation to Child 2 were reckless, in that she did not have regard to the potential risks for Child 2.
82. The Panel found that the Registrant’s actions and failures in particulars 1-7 were a breach of the HCPC Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics (2012) standard 1 “you must act in the best interests of service users” and standard 7 “you must communicate properly and effectively with service users and other practitioners”. The actions and failures were also a breach of the HCPC Standards of Proficiency for Social Workers in England (2012) paragraph 1 “be able to practise safely and effectively within their scope of practice”, paragraph 4 “be able to practise as an autonomous professional, exercising their own professional judgment”, paragraph 8 “be able to communicate effectively”, paragraph 10 “be able to maintain records appropriately”, paragraph 11 “be able to reflect on and review practice”, and paragraph 14 “be able to draw on appropriate knowledge and skills to inform practice”.
83. The Panel found that the Registrant’s actions and failures in particulars 1-7 fell well below the standards of a social worker and were sufficiently serious to constitute misconduct.
84. The Panel did not find that the Registrant’s inaccurate answer when she was interviewed by JG constituted a lack of competence or misconduct. The Panel has found that the inaccurate statement was due to a mistake or the Registrant’s poor recollection of events. The inaccurate statement does not demonstrate poor quality of work. It is not sufficiently serious to constitute misconduct, in the absence of a dishonesty finding.
Decision on Impairment
85. The Panel applied the guidance in the HCPTS Practice Note “Finding that Fitness to Practise is impaired” and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Panel considered the Registrant’s fitness to practise at today’s date.
86. The Panel first considered the personal component, which is the Registrant’s current competence and behaviour.
87. Following a lengthy period of suspension from work the Registrant was offered the opportunity by Blackpool Council to return to work as a senior YOT or to be redeployed to take a demotion to the role of social worker. After careful consideration the Registrant decided not to return to the role of senior YOT because she did not consider that this role was appropriate for her. She took a role of social worker in the Duty and Assessment Team starting in April 2016. The Registrant enjoys her work in this team.
88. The Registrant provided two references from her current manager and from her manager up to 19 June 2017. Both referees were aware of the Registrant’s previous position at the YOT and the referral to the HCPC. The references were very positive. They confirmed that the Registrant’s reports and assessments are child centred and that her work is of a “very high standard” and the quality of her recording “of a high standard”. The Registrant provides “a timely service to families which ensures that children receive the right support at the right time”. The referees do not have any reservations or concerns about the Registrant’s practice as a social worker.
89. The Registrant provided evidence of the training she has undertaken. The Panel noted that the Registrant received relevant training both before and after the relevant events. The Panel therefore applied some caution because the training the Registrant received prior to and during the relevant events had not prevented the Registrant’s misconduct.
90. The Registrant’s statement included her reflections on her work with Child 1 and Child 2. The Panel noted that the Registrant is extremely remorseful. She said that she had “failed” both children. The Registrant is deeply committed to her profession and to the children in her care.
91. In her written reflection the Registrant demonstrates some insight in that she now recognises that she was not reaching the standards that are expected of a YOT officer. Her actions in taking a step down to the position of social worker and her recognition that she needed to start by ensuring that she was carrying out the basic tasks correctly also demonstrate her insight.
92. In her written reflection the Registrant focuses on the effect of her suspension and the allegation made against her. While the Panel recognised that the investigation, suspension and the HCPC process have been extremely distressing for the Registrant, the Panel is of the view that this level of distress has limited the Registrant from undertaking a critical practice reflection focused on the impact of her failures on Child 1 and Child 2, and the wider implications for her employer and the profession.
93. The Panel was concerned by some of the Registrant’s answers to questions. When the Registrant was asked about her assessment of Child 2’s vulnerability, the Registrant said that she would still assess Child 2 at medium risk. When Ms Chaker pointed out that other witnesses had given evidence that the risk was high or very high, the Registrant maintained her view that the risk was medium. While the Panel recognise that professionals may disagree about the level of risk, the Panel was nevertheless concerned that with the benefit of hindsight and taking into account all the information now available to the Registrant the Registrant continues to assess Child 2 at medium risk. The Registrant said that she did not think that Child 2 was at risk of sexual exploitation at the relevant time. This was despite documents available to the Registrant and the Panel which showed that that a child sexual exploitation risk for Child 2 was recorded by Social Services in November 2014. The Registrant also stated that she did not consider that teenagers taking an overdose of paracetamol should be assessed as high vulnerability.
94. The Panel’s view was that the Registrant has demonstrated some insight, but that she has not completed her reflective journey. Although the Registrant has admitted the facts, she has not fully acknowledged the error in her own judgment with regard to Child 2’s vulnerability and she has not fully reflected on the impact of her failures on Child 1 and Child 2. The Registrant herself recognises that it has taken some time for her to rebuild her confidence. In the Panel’s view the Registrant has shown her commitment to her profession and her ability to reflect. She has the ability to move on to further reflection, focused on the evidence given by SH and JB about the risks for Child 2.
95. The Panel considered the current risk of repetition of similar misconduct. In the Panel’s view the risk of repetition of similar misconduct exists. The Registrant is working in her current role in the Duty and Assessment Team at Blackpool Council and the Panel is of the view that there still remains a risk of repetition because of the Registrant’s lack of full insight. In the current team there are safeguards in place which reduce the risk. The Registrant is in a supportive team which is functioning well and she is working well with others in the team. Her current manager is aware of her past history and will be alert to any similar matters. The Registrant’s current plan is to remain in the Duty and Assessment Team.
96. These protections will not be available in every workplace. The Panel was concerned that there remains a higher risk of repetition of similar misconduct if the Registrant was to move to work in a more challenging environment or role, or if she were to face difficult personal circumstances. The Registrant undertook a training course on “coping with pressure and increasing resilience” in 2016. The Panel was nevertheless concerned that if the Registrant was placed under significant pressure she might make an error of judgment in her assessment of risk. The Registrant’s answers to questions on the level of risk for Child 2 did not reassure the Panel that there is no risk of repetition of similar misconduct.
97. The Panel next considered the critically important public policy considerations which include the need to protect the public, to uphold standards of conduct and behaviour and to maintain confidence in the profession and the regulatory process. The Panel has found that there remains a risk of repetition of similar misconduct. The failure to adequately assess risks for vulnerable children involves a risk of harm to service users. The Panel therefore decided that there is an ongoing need to protect the public.
98. The Panel agreed with Ms Shafton’s submissions that the Registrant’s misconduct was not at the top end of the scale of gravity for misconduct. Nevertheless, the Panel considered that the Registrant’s departure from the standards expected of a social worker were sufficiently serious that a finding of current impairment is necessary to uphold standards of conduct and to maintain confidence in the profession. Members of the public would expect the Regulator to find that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is impaired in circumstances where the Panel has found that there is a lack of full insight and an ongoing need to protect the public.
99. The Panel therefore found that the Registrant’s current fitness to practise is impaired on the basis of the personal component and the public component.
Decision on Sanction
100. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and applied the guidance in the HCPC Indicative Sanctions Policy (ISP). The purpose of a sanction is not to punish the Registrant, though it may have that effect. The purpose of a sanction is to protect the public. The Panel should also give appropriate weight to the wider public interest, which includes the deterrent effect to other registrants and the need to maintain public confidence in the profession and the regulatory process.
101. The Panel applied the principle of proportionality, balancing the Registrant’s interests against the public interest.
102. The Panel identified the following aggravating circumstances:
• the risk of repetition of similar misconduct;
• the Registrant’s lack of full insight;
• the Registrant’s limited remediation.
103. The Panel identified the following mitigating circumstances:
• two very good testimonials regarding the Registrant’s current work;
• the Registrant’s sensible decision to take a demotion to a role involving a reduced level of stress;
• the Registrant’s difficult personal circumstances at the time of the events;
• the challenging work environment;
• the Registrant’s remorse.
104. The Panel considered the sanctions in ascending order of severity. The Panel decided that taking no action was not sufficient because the matter is too serious and the Panel has identified an ongoing need to protect the public.
105. The Panel considered a Caution Order but decided that it would not be sufficient to protect the public. The risk of repetition the Panel has identified is not so low that a sanction which would enable the Registrant to practise without restriction would be sufficient. The Panel would not describe the matter as an isolated incident. The Registrant’s failures persisted over several months. The matters were not limited or minor in nature. Although there has been some remedial action, including training, the Panel was not persuaded that the lessons learned during the training have been fully consolidated in the Registrant’s practice.
106. The Panel next considered a Conditions of Practice Order. The Panel’s view was that rehabilitative conditions could be drafted which address the risk of repetition the Panel has identified and are sufficient to protect the public. The Panel was satisfied that the issues are capable of correction, there is no persistent failure which would prevent the Registrant from doing so. Appropriate, realistic and verifiable conditions can be formulated and the Registrant can be expected to comply with conditions and a reviewing Panel will be able to determine whether those conditions have or are being met.
107. The Panel drafted conditions to support the Registrant in fully remediating the deficiencies which are apparent in the Panel’s previous decision. Those deficiencies are in the areas of comprehensive information gathering, recording and critical analysis and appraising risk. Because of the risk of repetition identified by the Panel, which is linked to the Panel’s concerns about the Registrant’s current assessment of the risks for Child 2 the area of appraising risk is particularly important. The Panel expects that the Registrant will continue on her reflective journey and that the personal development plan will assist her in this process.
108. The Panel’s view was that conditions of practice are proportionate and appropriate. They are not onerous and the Panel hopes that the Registrant’s current employer will embrace the conditions.
109. The Panel considered the more serious sanction of a Suspension Order, but decided that it would be disproportionate. The Registrant is currently working satisfactorily. She has taken a downgraded role in order to build her confidence and her skills. The public would be sufficiently protected by the less serious sanction of a Conditions of Practice Order. It would not be in the public interest for the Registrant to be prevented from working as a social worker when she is carrying out good work for the benefit of the public.
110. The Panel considered the appropriate length for the Conditions of Practice Order and decided that it should be for twelve months. This period is appropriate to allow the Registrant time to comply with the conditions of practice and to further develop and demonstrate her level of insight.
111. The Panel decided that the appropriate and proportionate order is a Conditions of Practice Order for a period of 12 months.
112. The Order will be reviewed before it expires. A future review Panel will be assisted by evidence to demonstrate that the Registrant has complied with the conditions of practice.
ORDER: The Registrar is directed to annotate the HCPC Register to show that, for 12 months from the date that this Order takes effect (“the Operative Date”), you, Katharine Wilson, must comply with the following conditions of practice:
1. You must place yourself and remain under the supervision of a workplace supervisor registered by the HCPC or other appropriate statutory regulator and supply details of your supervisor to the HCPC within 4 weeks of the Operative Date. You must attend upon that supervisor as required and follow their advice and recommendations.
2. You must work with your supervisor to formulate a Personal Development Plan designed to address the deficiencies in the following areas of your practice:
• Comprehensive information gathering
• Recording and critical analysis
• Appraising risk and vulnerable factors
3. Within three months of the Operative Date you must forward a copy of your Personal Development Plan to the HCPC.
4. You must meet with your supervisor on a monthly basis to consider your progress towards achieving the aims set out in your Personal Development Plan.
5. You must allow your supervisor to provide a report to the HCPC about your progress towards achieving the aims set out in your Personal Development Plan; this report to be provided to the HCPC at least 28 days before the next review in one year’s time.
6. You must maintain a reflective practice profile detailing at least six occasions when you demonstrated risk analysis and safeguarding actions taken. You must provide a copy of that profile to the HCPC at least 28 days before the next review in one year’s time, or confirm that there have been no such occasions in that period.
7. You must promptly inform the HCPC if you cease to be employed by your current employer or take up any other or further employment.
8. You must promptly inform the HCPC of any disciplinary proceedings taken against you by your employer.
9. 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).
10. You will be responsible for meeting any and all costs associated with complying with these conditions.
The order imposed today will apply from 13 October 2017.
This order will be reviewed again before its expiry on 13 November 2018.
Interim Order Application:
113. Ms Chaker made an application for an Interim Order to cover the 28 day appeal period and, if an appeal is lodged, for a period of eighteen months to cover the period until the appeal has been determined or withdrawn. Ms Chaker made the application on the ground that it was necessary for the protection of the public.
114. Ms Shafton did not oppose the application for an interim order.
115. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and applied the guidance in the HCPTS Practice Note on Interim Orders.
116. The Panel considered the application carefully. Although the Registrant was not previously subject to an Interim Order, the Panel has now made findings of fact and identified that there is an ongoing need to protect the public. The Panel decided that an interim order was necessary to protect the public because of the risk to service users. It would be inconsistent with the Panel’s decision that a sanction is required to protect the public if the Panel were to decide that an Interim Order is not required. In reaching its decision the Panel took into account the Registrant’s interests, but decided that they were outweighed by the need to protect the public.
A Final Hearing concluded on 15 September 2017 in London. Conditions of Practise were imposed.
History of Hearings for Mrs Katharine Wilson
|Date||Panel||Hearing type||Outcomes / Status|
|11/09/2017||Conduct and Competence Committee||Final Hearing||Conditions of Practice|