Mr Kevin A Sharratt
1) Between November 2012 and October 2013, you were the Social Worker for Service User A and:
a) in or around August 2013 you did not make Person C aware of the risk that Service User A presented until prompted to do so;
b) the plan you identified for Service User A did not:
i. take account of Service User A’s sexual offending;
ii. take account of the assessment undertaken which identified that Service User A was on the Autistic Spectrum;
c) in August 2013 you provided inaccurate information to the Statutory Review about the level of support Service User A would receive as part of a supported living arrangement;
d) you did not disclose key information to East Cheshire College in relation to the risks that Service User A posed;
2) Between March and September 2013 you were the Social Worker for Service User B, and:
a) Only visited or made a record of visiting Service User B on two occasions after March 2013;
b) At a Secure Accommodation Review on 26 July 2013 proposed that Service User B be moved to independent living accommodation with visits from a support worker, when this was not an appropriate plan for Service User B;
c) Did not provide a report in relation to Service User B’s substance misuse at the Secure Accommodation Review on 26 July 2013 and/or at subsequent Secure Accommodation Reviews;
3) In relation to Service User D, you:
a) Did not add key information in relation to a child protection concern to PARIS;
b) Did not inform or record that you had informed managers of the child protection concern.
4) The matter set out in paragraphs 1 - 3 constitute misconduct and/or lack of competence.
5) By reason of your misconduct and/or lack of competence your fitness to practise is impaired
1. The Registrant, Mr Kevin Sharratt, has neither attended nor been represented at this hearing.
2. The Panel commenced by considering whether the Registrant had been sent a notice of hearing in the proper form. The conclusion of the Panel was that the letter dated 31 May 2017 addressed to the Registrant at his address for HCPC Register purposes by which he was informed of the date, time and location of the hearing, constituted a valid notice of hearing.
3. After the Panel announced its decision that it was satisfied as to service of the notice of hearing, the Presenting Officer applied for a direction that the hearing should proceed in the absence of the Registrant. In making this decision the Panel heeded the advice it received as to the care that should be taken in directing that a hearing should proceed in the absence of a registrant, and it considered the terms of the relevant HCPTS Practice Note. The conclusion of the Panel was that the hearing should proceed in the absence of the Registrant. The reasons for this decision were as follows:
• The Panel was satisfied that the Registrant’s absence from the hearing amounted to a voluntary waiver of his right to attend. The Panel was provided with numerous letters written to the Registrant, all of them addressed to his HCPC Register address. The letters were not only sent in relation to the present hearing, but also with regard to an earlier scheduling of the hearing in November 2016. A number of the letters were sent by Special Delivery, yet none had been returned. The Panel found on the balance of probabilities that the Registrant knew of the present hearing dates, and had decided not to engage in the process.
• The Registrant has not engaged with the HCPC since he self-referred in September 2013.
• There was no application for an adjournment.
• It followed that there were no grounds on which the Panel could conclude that if the hearing did not proceed on the present dates, the Registrant would be likely to engage to a greater extent in the future.
• Further delay would be particularly inappropriate in a case concerning events that occurred in 2013.
• There were witnesses who had travelled considerable distances to attend the hearing.
• The Panel had some ability to assess the Registrant’s case because it had material before it that he had provided to an internal process, as will be further described when the Panel turns to outline its findings on the facts.
• All of these factors resulted in the public interest in the hearing proceeding outweighing the absence of the Registrant.
4. Having decided that the hearing would proceed in the absence of the Registrant, the Presenting Officer applied to amend elements of the factual particulars of the allegations. Notice of the intention to seek an amendment was provided to the Registrant by a letter dated 7 January 2016, and the Registrant raised no objection to that suggestion. In the event, the Presenting Officer sought a further amendment (substitution of the month of August for September in particular 1(a)), notice of which had not been provided to the Registrant. The Panel was satisfied that all of the proposed amendments accorded with the evidence the HCPC proposed to advance, and that they were also in accordance with the case to answer decision of the Investigating Committee. The Panel carefully considered whether the amendments could result in prejudice to the Registrant, but concluded that they would not. They amounted, variously, to better particularisations and corrections. So far as the proposed amendment which had not been notified to the Registrant was concerned, the Panel was satisfied that the evidence underpinning the proposed change had been made available to the Registrant. Accordingly, the Panel acceded to the application to amend the factual particulars.
5. The matters being considered by the Panel concern the Registrant’s work as a Social Worker working in the 16+ Service of Cheshire East Council (“the local authority”). The Registrant qualified as a Social Worker in 1995 and by the time of the relevant events he had been employed by the local authority and its predecessor body for approximately 19 years. The Registrant moved to the 16+ Service in November 2010, having previously managed a range of services within residential care and family support.
6. The 16+ Service is for young people aged 16 years and above who are in need or who are in care. It was a specialist service and was staffed by a combination of Social Workers and personal advisors. One aim of the service was to work towards independence of young people leaving the care system.
7. The circumstances of the three service users involved in the allegations will be explained by the Panel when it explains its decision on the facts.
Decision on Facts
8. The HCPC relied upon the evidence of five witnesses. They were:
• JL, a self-employed Social Care Consultant who had been commissioned by the local authority to undertake an investigation into the matters that are now being considered by the Panel. JL had previously held a senior position in Children’s Services in another local authority.
• AC, a Social Worker who at the relevant time was working for the local authority as a Child Protection Coordinator/Independent Reviewing Officer. The evidence of AC was limited to the circumstances of Service User A.
• DL, a Social Worker who at the relevant time was employed by the local authority as a Practice Consultant. The evidence of DL related to Service User A and Service User B.
• CJ, a Social Worker who worked under an agency contract for the local authority. Her work did not overlap with that of the Registrant, but she inherited some of his caseload, and her evidence concerned the circumstances of Service User D after she assumed responsibility for that service user.
• JB, a team manager employed by another local authority which had responsibility for a residential unit where Service User B was housed.
9. Of the witnesses just described, JL, AC and DL attended the hearing to give oral evidence before the Panel. The Panel was satisfied that each of them did their best to assist the Panel, but the passage of time since the relevant events necessarily involved some limitations on the detail of the direct information they were able to give. CJ gave evidence by telephone, and the Panel was satisfied that she too sought to assist to the best of her ability. JB had been scheduled to attend the hearing but did not. The Panel permitted the HCPC to introduce her written witness statement as hearsay evidence. In receiving this evidence the Panel kept in mind the fact that it had not been possible to explore her evidence by asking questions.
10. In addition to the oral evidence of the witnesses and the evidence of JB given by way of a witness statement, the HCPC also produced a substantial exhibits bundle of relevant documents.
11. It has already been stated that the Registrant did not make any submissions for the purposes of the present hearing. The HCPC did, however, include in the exhibits bundle a number of documents which enabled the Panel to understand what his case had been during the local authority’s investigation undertaken by JL. These documents included the records of interviews with the Registrant undertaken by JL as well as a 12 page document entitled, “Statement of Kevin Sharratt in response to the allegation of Gross Misconduct”. The Panel fully considered the Registrant’s case as it emerged from these documents and also framed questions of the witnesses who gave oral evidence based on them.
12. Throughout its decision making the Panel reminded itself that the burden of proof rested on the HCPC, the standard of that burden being the balance of probabilities.
13. With this introduction completed, the Panel will turn to describe it findings in relation to each of the three service users involved.
Particular 1 – Service User A
14. Service User A became Looked After in 2011 following a conviction for child sexual abuse. He was in the care of the local authority on a voluntary basis as a result of an agreement between the local authority and Service User A’s parents. His case was allocated to the Registrant in November 2012, and at that time Service User A was placed at a unit that provided specialist provision for young people who had sexually offended. In February 2013, following an assessment by an appropriately qualified specialist, Service User A was diagnosed as being on the autistic spectrum. In July 2013 Service User A was moved to other accommodation. In early August 2013, Service User A was the subject of an allegation of rape of a young woman who was living in accommodation which had a connection with, and was close to, where Service User A was placed.
15. Particular 1(a) arises out of the intention of Person C (an adult member of Service User A’s family) to take Service User A on a foreign holiday. The HCPC’s case is that the Registrant failed to safeguard Service User A by not making Person C aware of the risks concerning Service User A until prompted to do so. At the time of the proposed holiday, Service User A was on bail in connection with the allegation of rape. The Panel finds that it required the prompting of AC at a Cared For Review meeting on 15 August 2013, for the Registrant to have a discussion with Person C concerning the risks arising from the proposed holiday. In the judgement of the Panel there was an obligation on the part of the Registrant to have this discussion and that it should have taken place without the need for prompting. The discussion was required not only to ensure that Person C was in possession of all the relevant information (including the fact that Service User A was on bail in respect of an allegation of rape), but also to discuss ways in which risks might be minimised. Clearly, there were potential risks to third parties, but the Panel is also satisfied that the failure to have the discussion until prompted resulted in Service User A himself not being adequately safeguarded. It follows that particular 1(a) is proved.
16. Both limbs of particular 1(b) concern the plan prepared by the Registrant in connection with the possibility that Service User A would be leaving the specialist unit in which he had been placed when the Registrant had assumed responsibility for his case. It is fair to say that the Registrant wished Service User A to remain at the unit. However, as it had been decided by senior management that Service User A could not remain at that unit, there was an obligation on the Registrant to ensure that the plan was up-to-date and contained all relevant information. In his report he did propose two other options, described in his plan as “Option 1” and “Option 2”. However, the information within the plan, and the proposed provision for support was, in the view of the Panel, wholly inadequate with regard to both the history of sexual offending and the diagnosis that Service User A was on the autistic spectrum. This is because the proposed two hours of support, did not provide to the specialist help and therapy that Service User A required. The Panel finds that particulars 1(b)(i) and (ii) are proved.
17. Particular 1(c) relates to information provided by the Registrant at a review with respect to Service User A that was undertaken by AC on 15 August 2013. The written record of that review records, “There was – additionally 24 hour; 7 day per week support to [Service User A]”, and the HCPC’s case is that by stating the words that are reflected in this written record, the Registrant inaccurately reported the support that would be available to Service User A. The Panel finds that the HCPC has not discharged the burden of proving this particular. There was support available at all times by way of telephone. In evidence AC did not state, despite questioning by the Panel, that when the Registrant described the support to him, that he believed that it was direct, on-site personal support that was being suggested. In these circumstances, without a clear idea of what AC believed was being suggested, and that his belief was that it was something more than support available on the telephone, the Panel is not able to find that the information provided by the Registrant was inaccurate. Particular 1(c) is not proved.
18. So far as particular 1(d) is concerned, the Panel finds that there was a clear obligation on the part of the Registrant to make disclosure of important information concerning Service User A to the safeguarding lead at the college to be attended by him. The Panel accepts that by the time Service User A had started at the college that disclosure had not been made by the Registrant, who stated that he had made an appointment with the college to make that disclosure on 10 September 2013. It was in fact made by DL before that date. The Panel finds particular 1(d) to be proved.
Particular 2 – Service User B
19. Service User B was a young person who was the subject of a Care Order. His case was allocated to the Registrant in March 2013. There was a requirement that the Registrant should visit him on a fortnightly basis. On 4 July 2013 he was admitted to secure accommodation under a Secure Accommodation Order.
20. Particular 2(a). In the period before he was admitted to the secure accommodation, the evidence is that the Registrant only visited Service User B on two occasions. The Panel has been provided with three records, but in the judgment of the Panel they relate to two visits as one of them is concerned with transportation, and the record of that transportation of Service User B is timed three minutes before a record of a visit. In his interview during the internal disciplinary process, the Registrant accepted that he only visited Service User B twice. The Panel accordingly finds particular 2(a) to be proved on the basis that only two visits were made.
21. Particular 2(b). At a review undertaken on 26 July 2013, when Service User B was in secure accommodation, the Registrant proposed that Service User B be moved to independent living accommodation with visits from a support worker. The written record of the review contains the following:
“The LA plan is not clear at this time as there appears not to have been any constructive discussions about the exit plan and how risks will be managed. Kevin Sharratt said he would probably look for a supported accommodation package in [location], to reflect [Service User B’s] views, but has not yet made enquiries nor achieved permission to puruse this option.
Both the SAR and cared for review indicated reservations about such a plan at this point.
This review was preceded by a SAR (secure accommodation review) which expressed concern about the lack of a clear plan and although it was agreed [Service User B] should stay in secure accommodation at this time, it was only due to the immediate risk likely to suffer is he was released today because of a lack of contingency plan.”
The Panel agrees with the reservations expressed at the meeting and is satisfied that the proposal made by the Registrant was not appropriate. The Panel finds particular 2(b) to be proved.
22. Particular 2(c). There is no clear evidence that the Registrant was required to produce a report in relation to substance abuse before the review undertaken on 26 July 2013. There is, however, clear evidence that the request was made at the review and the Panel accepts that one was not subsequently produced. Accordingly, the Panel finds particular 2(c) to be proved on the basis that it was not provided after 26 July 2013.
Particular 3 – Service User D
23. Service User D was a young woman who was living at a residential unit. During the summer of 2013, concerns arose that a member of staff at the residential unit was grooming young people living there. Service User D then disclosed that she had been in a sexual relationship with the member of staff. A Police investigation then ensued.
24. Particular 3(a). The Panel is satisfied that the Registrant was informed of the matter by an email dated 2 July 2013 which was copied to him and which attached documents which were described in the email as a “significant discussion”. These documents referred to the issue that had arisen at the residential unit. The Panel is satisfied that this information was not added to the electronic records relating to Service User D. It follows that the Panel finds particular 3(a) proved.
25. Particular 3(b). On the basis of the evidence available to it, the Panel is not able to find that the HCPC has discharged the burden of proving that the Registrant did not inform his manager of the issue that had arisen concerning Service User D. The Panel notes that in his interview for the internal disciplinary proceeding the Registrant said that he had told his line manager which the Panel finds is more likely than not to be correct. However, the Panel does find that the Registrant did not record having informed his manager. The Panel finds particular 3(b) proved on this basis.
Decision on Grounds
26. The Panel is required to decide whether the established facts, namely all of the facts with the exception of particular 1(c), demonstrate a lack of competence or amount to misconduct.
27. There are some contextual matters that are relevant to the findings on the statutory grounds:
• As has already been explained, by the time these events occurred, the Registrant had been a qualified Social Worker for many years. However, he had not long been working in what might be described as “front line” social work.
• The Panel is not called upon to make a judgement about the manner in which the Registrant was managed, and it does not have all the information that would be necessary to make such a judgement. However, fairness to the Registrant requires it to be noted not only that at the time of the relevant events there is material before the Panel that makes it clear that his management support was less than ideal, and also that there was evidence given at the hearing that during earlier periods when his management had been better, his professional performance had been satisfactory.
28. The Panel is satisfied that the established facts do not amount to lack of competence. All of the matters proved were aspects of basic social work practice that the Registrant was able to undertake.
29. In deciding whether the facts amount to misconduct, the Panel accepted the submission of the Presenting Officer that the Registrant’s conduct breached the HCPC’s Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics, in particular, Standard 1 (“You must act in the best interests of service users”); Standard 6 (“You must act within the limits of your knowledge, skills and experience and, if necessary, refer the matter to another practitioner”) and Standard 10 (“You must keep accurate records”). Furthermore, by behaving as he did, the Registrant did not practise in a manner that accorded with a number of the Standards of Proficiency for Social Workers in England.
30. In the case of three unrelated service users, the Registrant failed to take steps he knew were necessary to protect them from the risk of harm. Notwithstanding the Registrant’s relatively recent move to the 16+ Service and the management difficulties that have already been referred to, the Panel is satisfied that the Registrant knew what he should have been doing in order to discharge the basic requirements of his role in respect safeguarding these vulnerable service users. He failed to perform his responsibilities although he had the ability to do so. Fellow practitioners would regard his failings as deplorable. The Panel found that when all of the established facts were considered in the round, they demonstrated deficient performance of a sufficient degree of seriousness properly to be described as misconduct. The Panel was satisfied that each element of the factual particulars was appropriately included in this finding.
Decision on Impairment:
31. Turning to consider whether the misconduct arising out of the failings in 2013 are currently impairing the Registrant’s fitness to practise, the Panel considered both the personal and public components relevant to that consideration.
32. So far as the personal component is concerned, the Panel is satisfied that the identified shortcomings would be capable of being remedied. The only evidence available to the Panel as to the Registrant’s insight in the matters is that arising from his contributions to the local authority investigation, and that leads the Panel to conclude that at that time his insight was extremely limited. The information does not suggest that the Registrant fully understood the potential consequences of his behaviour. The only person who can provide evidence of insight is the Registrant, and the absence of any evidence from him in the three years since the local authority process concluded has the consequence that the Panel is unable to conclude that his insight is any greater now than it was at that time. Furthermore, there is a complete absence of information that would enable the Panel to conclude that the Registrant has taken any steps to address the shortcomings identified by the findings. In the judgement of the Panel, the consequence is that on the available evidence there remains a significant risk of repetition on the part of the Registrant to perform basic steps designed to minimise the risk to vulnerable service users. This requires a finding of current impairment of fitness to practise on the personal component.
33. Turning to the public component, the Panel is satisfied that a fully informed and fair minded member of the public would have grave concerns were the Registrant to be permitted to return to unrestricted practice. Further, a finding of impairment of fitness to practise is required to declare proper professional standards so other Social Workers will understand that failings of this seriousness will not go without censure. These findings additionally require a finding of current impairment of fitness to practise.
34. The finding that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is impaired by reason of his misconduct has the consequence that the Panel must proceed to consider the issue of sanction.
Decision on Sanction:
35. After announcing the Panel’s decision on the allegations, the Presenting Officer made submissions on sanction. The Presenting Officer identified aggravating and mitigating factors she submitted it would be proper to consider and she asked the Panel to have regard to the HCPC’s Indicative Sanctions Policy in making the decision.
36. The Panel has approached the issue on the basis that a sanction is not to be imposed to punish a registrant against whom a finding has been made. Rather, a sanction is only to be imposed to the extent that it is required to protect the public and to maintain a proper degree of confidence in the registered profession and in this regulatory process. As a finding that an allegation is well founded does not necessarily require the imposition of a sanction, the first question to be decided is whether the findings made in this case require the imposition of a sanction. If a sanction is required, then the available sanctions must be considered in an ascending order of seriousness until one that meets the proper sanction goals is reached. As the finding in the present case is one of misconduct, the range of available sanctions extends to the making of a striking-off order.
37. The Panel does not intend to repeat all that has already been said about the seriousness of the Registrant’s failings, although it is necessary to repeat that they represented shortcomings in core aspects of social work in connection with vulnerable service users. Furthermore, for the reasons already explained there is a significant risk of repetition arising from the limited insight demonstrated by the Registrant. Although the focus of the allegations was with regard to the risks to the service users concerned, it must also be recognised that in some instances, and particularly with regard to Service User A, third parties were also put at risk of harm. Against these aggravating factors, the Panel accepts that in respect of the many years the Registrant had worked as a Social Worker before the period relevant to the present allegations, it is not suggested that his practice was open to criticism. Further, the Panel does not overlook the Registrant’s statements made in the internal disciplinary process as to the personal difficulties and stress he was experiencing at the relevant time.
38. The Panel is satisfied that this is a case in which a sanction is required. Further, the imposition of a Caution Order would neither reflect the seriousness of the case nor would it provide a sufficient degree of protection from the risk of repetition. The Registrant’s limited insight, the absence of evidence as to the Registrant’s present activities and a lack of reassurance that he would comply with any conditions imposed, results in the Panel concluding that a Conditions of Practice Order is not appropriate.
39. The Panel has concluded that unless and until there can be a degree of reassurance that the Registrant will address the shortcomings that have been identified, and that he will not repeat them, there must be a sanction imposed that results in him being prevented from practising as a Social Worker. Were the Panel today to be completely satisfied that the Registrant would not wish to reflect upon its decision with a view to addressing matters, then it would consider that the only appropriate sanction is a Striking-Off Order. However, in order to give the Registrant a last opportunity to consider engaging in this process with a view to maintaining his professional registration, the Panel has stepped back from making a Striking-Off Order today. The Panel has concluded that the appropriate order to be made today is a Suspension Order for a period of 12 months.
40. It is important that the Registrant should understand that in common with all Suspension Orders, the order made today will be reviewed before it expires. The panel undertaking the review will have all the sanction options available to the Panel today, including the power to make a Striking-Off Order. If the Registrant chooses to take advantage of the opportunity that has been extended to him by the making of a Suspension Order to seek to persuade the reviewing panel that he should be permitted to return to practice, then the present Panel suggests that he consider taking the following steps:
• Engaging with the fitness to practise process and attending the review hearing.
• Preparing a reflective piece of writing explaining what insight he has developed into the matters that have been considered by the Panel and how he would seek to prevent a recurrence of similar failings.
• Provide evidence of any training undertaken, particularly with regard to safeguarding and record keeping.
• Provide up-to-date testimonials from people able to comment on structured activities he has undertaken.
The order imposed will apply from 12 October 2017 and will be reviewed before its expiry on 12 October 2018.
Right of Appeal:
You may appeal to the High Court in England and Wales against the Panel’s decision and the order it has made against you
History of Hearings for Mr Kevin A Sharratt
|Date||Panel||Hearing type||Outcomes / Status|
|12/09/2017||Conduct and Competence Committee||Final Hearing||Suspended|
|14/11/2016||Conduct and Competence Committee||Final Hearing||Hearing has not yet been held|