Ms Sayra Bibi

: Social worker

: SW68739

: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing:10:00 17/10/2017 End: 17:00 20/10/2017

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

: Conduct and Competence Committee
: Suspended

Allegation

(as amended at the substantive hearing):

During your employment as a Social Worker for the NSPCC:

1. In relation to Case A, during a home visit on 8 February 2016:

a) the child disclosed information which raised safeguarding concerns but you did not:

i. Inform your line manager in a timely manner;

ii. Make a referral to the Local Authority.

b) You did not discuss the mother’s whereabouts with the father

c) You did not raise concerns about the father leaving for work during the visit and leaving the child alone with you;

d) You left the child home alone at the end of the visit

e) You did not make a record of the visit in a timely manner

2. In relation to Case B:

a) You did not adequately assess the risk and/or safeguarding concerns relating to the family in that you did not;

i. discuss this safeguarding concern with your line manager;

ii. did not make the local authority aware of the safeguarding concern. 

b) You did not complete the Evidence Based Decision assessment

c) During your session on 9 February 2016, Child B1 disclosed her brother sometimes strangled her and you did not:

i. Explore this further with the child

ii. advise her what to do if she feels unsafe

iii. Inform your line manager of this safeguarding issue

iv. Make a safeguarding referral to the Local Authority

d) You did not produce a report for the Review Child Protection Conference of 2 November 2015

e) On 23 September 2015 when the door was not answered during an attempted home visit, you did not adequately investigate whether the sound of a baby crying was coming from the house

f) You did not progress the case in a timely manner

g) You did not complete the case notes for the following sessions/visits in a timely manner:

i. 7 October 2015;

ii. 2 February 2016;

iii. 9 February 2016.

3. In relation to Case C: 

a) You did not ensure the young person was seen in a timely manner, in that you did not meet the young person until 20 October 2015

b) you did not make adequate arrangements for your period of annual leave in that:

i. you did not communicate to the young person that you would not be available for visits due to your period of annual leave;

ii. you did not communicate to the foster carers of the young person that you would not be visiting due to being on annual leave;

iii. you did not arrange to visit Case C immediately after your return to work.

c) You did not complete the 6 week risk assessment in timely manner

d) During your session on 9 February 2016 the young person disclosed she had a new boyfriend but you did not explore and/or adequately risk assess this information

e) In relation to your session on 12 January 2016, you:

i. told the young person that it was “as much her session as mine” or words to that effect;

ii. recorded the following inappropriate and/or judgemental comment in the case notes: “got two cakes for [the young person] which she ate without offering me any considering I had bought them for her”.

f) Following a referral to the Local Authority on 22 December 2015 in relation to concerns about contact arrangements for the young person over Christmas:

i. you did not inform your line manager of this;

ii. you did not make further enquiries with the Local Authority about the arrangements for contact.

g) In relation to your session of 30 November 2015 you made inappropriate verbal and/or written comments in that you:

i. Stated you “found it hard to believe” she was not interested in boys, or words to that effect;

ii. Asked “what was the online scenario about if you said you’re not interested [in boys]” or words to that effect;

iii. recorded the following comments in the case notes:

(i) “She didn’t make any eye contact when talking about this incident and looked closed off so I didn’t pursue in asking her questions”
(ii) “I thought this session would be easier”
(iii) “this strikes me as quite odd as usually teenagers want to have friends their age or older finding younger children annoying”

h) You did not complete the case notes for the following sessions/visits in a timely manner:

i. 30 November 2015

ii. 12 January 2016

iii. 9 February 2016

4. In relation to your visit of 29 May 2015 to Case D, you recorded that “[the mother’s] laughing was inappropriate”

5. Your conduct in paragraph 4 was not appropriate in light of the mother’s mental health.

6. You did not close the following cases in a timely manner:

a) Case E

b) Case F

c) Case G

7. The matters as described in paragraphs 1 - 6 constitute misconduct and/or lack of competence.

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

Finding

Preliminary matters

Service

1. The Registrant was present by telephone on Tuesday 17 October and Wednesday 18 October and appeared in person on Thursday 19 October. The Registrant was not represented. No issue was taken as to proper service of the notice of hearing or the case papers.

Application to amend the Particulars of Allegation

2. Ms Manning-Rees applied to amend the Particulars of the Allegation in the manner set out in a letter sent to the Registrant dated 25 January 2017. Ms Manning-Rees submitted that the proposed amendments were necessary to accurately reflect the evidence in the case. The Registrant told the Panel that she did not object to the proposed amendments.

3. The Panel was satisfied that no prejudice would be caused by the proposed amendments and granted the application.

Admissions

4. The Registrant admitted all of the factual particulars.

Background

5. The Registrant is a registered social worker. At the relevant time, the Registrant was employed by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (‘NSPCC’) as a Children’s Services Practitioner and was assigned to several services that were offered to children and young people. Around October 2015, concerns arose regarding the Registrant’s productivity specifically, that she was not completing work to the required standard or agreed deadlines. In addition, comments made by the Registrant about her allocated families raised some concerns relating to the Registrant’s understanding of the children and families that she was working with.
 
6. In February 2016, a formal investigation into the Registrant’s practice was opened after a voicemail was left on the Team answering machine thought to be in relation to the child in Case A. The Registrant had been due to visit Child A, however, the case record showed no indication whether the visit had taken place. The formal investigation concentrated not only on this specific incident but the Registrant’s wider practice.

Decision on Facts

7. The Panel heard oral evidence from two witnesses called on behalf of the HCPC, witness MM, the Service Manager for the NSPCC who acted as the investigating officer concerning the Registrant and witness CA, who at the time was the Registrant’s team manager.

8. The Panel found that both HCPC witnesses were credible and consistent and were not motivated by any ill-feeling towards the Registrant and their evidence was balanced and measured. Both witnesses were prepared to make concessions in the Registrant’s favour when it was appropriate to do so.

9. The Panel was provided with a Final Hearing Bundle which included the witness statements of the HCPC witnesses and an Exhibits bundle. The Panel was also provided with written representations from the Registrant consisting of an email from her to the HCPC dated 20 October 2016 and accompanying statement.

10. Having carefully considered all of the evidence in the round, the Panel was not satisfied that all of the Particulars which had been admitted by the Registrant had been proved. Taking into account the Registrant’s admissions and the other evidence in the case, the Panel found the following Particulars of the Allegation proved: Particular 1 in its entirety; Particular 2 (b) and (c) (i)-(iv); (d),(f), (g) (i) – (iii); Particular 3 (a) and (b) (i) – (iii), (c), (e) (i)-(ii), f(i), (g) (i) – (iii), (h) (i) – (iii); Particular 4; Particular 6 (a) – (c). Before finding Particulars 3 (a) and (b) proved, the Panel had regard to the Registrant’s written submissions in which she stated that she did speak with the young person involved. However, the Panel regarded this submission as inconsistent with the Registrant’s admissions and the other evidence which it preferred.

11. In relation to the matters found not proved: Particular 2 (a) (i) and (ii), the Panel considered that these matters were included within Particular 2 (b) which was proved. In relation to Particular 2(e), the Panel considered the Registrant’s actions to be adequate, although she could have taken further steps. The Child’s social worker, the lead professional, was present and had made further enquiries to determine the situation.  In relation to Particular 3(d), the Panel had regard to the case notes and considered that the Registrant had made some efforts to explore and /or adequately risk assess that information. In relation to Particular 2 (f)(ii), Witness 2’s evidence was that the Registrant was asked to challenge the Local Authority rather than make further enquiries with it. In relation to Particular 5, the Panel was provided with insufficient evidence as to the mother’s alleged adverse mental health in order to make a judgment that the Registrant’s conduct was inappropriate.

Decision on Grounds

12. The Panel was provided with no material to suggest that the Registrant’s failings were due to her inability to perform to the standards expected of a Registered Social Worker and did not consider that lack of competence was made out in the circumstances of this case.

13. In relation to misconduct, the Panel was satisfied that the proved facts in relation to Case A and Case B were serious, put both service users at unwarranted risk of harm and amounted to misconduct. In relation to Case C, the Panel considered that the facts found proved in relation to Particulars 3(a), 3(b), 3(e) and 3(g), whilst falling below the required standards, were not serious enough either alone or cumulatively, to amount to misconduct. Particulars 3 (c), 3(f)(i) and 3(h) did amount to misconduct given the potential risk of harm to Child C. Whilst the facts in relation to Case D (Particular 4) were proved, they could not amount to misconduct given that the Registrant’s conduct was not found to be inappropriate. In relation to Cases E, F and G (Particular 6), the Panel determined that not closing those cases in a timely manner was not serious enough to amount to misconduct. Accordingly, the Panel concluded that Particular 6 (a) – (c) did not amount to misconduct.

14. The Panel was also satisfied that the Registrant had breached the following ‘Standards of conduct, performance and ethics’;

“ 1. you must act in the best interest of service users”;
“7. You must communicate properly and effectively with service users and other practitioners”;
“10. You must keep accurate records”;
“13.You must behave with honesty and integrity and make sure that your behaviour does not damage the public’s confidence in you or your profession”.

And the following Standards of proficiency for Social Workers:

“1. be able to practise safely and effectively within their scope of practice;
“3. be able to maintain fitness to practise”;
“4. Be able to practise as an autonomous professional, exercising their own professional judgement”;
“8. be able to communicate effectively;
“9. Be able to work appropriately with others”;
“14. Be able to draw on appropriate knowledge and skills to inform practice”;
“15. Be able to establish and maintain a safe practice environment”.

15. For all of the above reasons, the Panel is satisfied that the statutory ground of misconduct has been established.

Decision on Impairment

16. The Panel next considered whether, as a result of the misconduct found in relation to Particulars 1(a) – (e), 2 (b) – (d), 2(f), 2(g), 3(a), 3(c), 3(f) (i), 3(g) and 3(h), the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired. The Panel heard submissions from Ms Manning-Rees on behalf of the HCPC. The Panel also heard oral evidence from the Registrant and from a character witness who had supervised the Registrant at the NSPCC from 2011 – 2013.
 
17. The Panel had regard to its findings that the Registrant had caused unwarranted risk of harm to young and vulnerable service users. The Panel also took into account the extent to which the Registrant had breached the HCPC Standard of conduct, performance and ethics and the Standards of proficiency for Social Workers as set out above.

18. The Panel carefully considered the HCPC practice note on ‘Finding that Fitness to Practise is Impaired’ and the references therein to the factors to be taken into account, as set out in the case of Cohen v GMC [2008] EWHC 581 (Admin). In particular, whether the misconduct was remediable, had been remedied and was highly unlikely to be repeated.

19. The Panel had regard to the Registrant’s written submissions and her oral evidence given at the impairment stage. The Panel considered that although the Registrant had demonstrated some insight and remorse, she had yet to develop sufficient insight as to the potential harm which her misconduct could have caused and the damage done to her profession as a result. The Panel also noted the Registrant’s own admission that she is not yet in a position to practise safely as a Social Worker and requires time to achieve full remediation. Accordingly, the Panel determined that, due to the traumatic incidents in her personal life the Registrant has yet to undertake significant remediation. The Panel therefore determined that the Registrant’s misconduct had not been remediated and there was risk of repetition. Accordingly, the Panel found that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired in respect of the personal element of impairment.

20. The Panel was also mindful of the wider public interest considerations in this case, particularly the need to declare and uphold proper standards of conduct and behaviour and maintain confidence in the reputation in the Social Work profession. Each of the witnesses, including the Registrant, testified that the public would be appalled by the Registrant’s misconduct, particularly her acts and omissions in relation to Cases A, B and C.

21. The Panel had regard to the judgement of Mrs Justice Cox in CHRE v NMC and Grant [2011] EWHC 927 (Admin) and concluded that public confidence in the Social Work Profession and in the HCPC as the regulator would be undermined were a finding of impairment not made on public interest grounds.

22. For all of the above reasons, the Panel found that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired.

Decision on Sanction

23. The Panel considered the submissions made by Ms Manning-Rees on behalf of the HCPC and the submissions made by the Registrant. The Panel received and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.

24. The Panel was mindful that the purpose of any sanction was not to punish the Registrant but to protect the public and maintain public confidence in the profession and the HCPC as its regulator, by the maintenance of proper standards of conduct and behaviour.

25. The Panel had regard to the Indicative Sanctions Policy dated 22 March 2017. The Panel applied the principle of proportionality by weighing the Registrant’s interests with the public interest and by considering each available sanction in ascending order of seriousness.

26. The Panel had regard to paragraph 8 of the Indicative Sanctions Policy which states,

 "Even if a Panel has determined that fitness to practise is impaired, it is not obliged to impose a sanction. This is likely to be an exceptional outcome but, for example, may be appropriate in cases where a finding of impairment has been reached on the wider public interest grounds identified above but where the registrant has insight, has already taken remedial action and there is no risk of repetition".

27. In deciding whether to impose any sanction, the Panel had regard to paragraph 13 of the Indicative Sanctions Policy which states,

 "The degree of insight displayed by a registrant is central to a proper determination of whether fitness to practise is impaired and, if so, what sanction (if any) is required. The issues which the Panel need to consider include whether the registrant: 
• has admitted or recognised any wrongdoing;
• has genuinely recognised his or her failings;
• has taken or is taking any appropriate remedial action;
• is likely to repeat or compound that wrongdoing.”

28. Having carefully considered the above paragraphs of the Indicative Sanctions Policy, the Panel concluded that given the serious nature of the Registrant’s misconduct and that her fitness to practise is currently impaired, a sanction was required in the public interest, to mark the seriousness of the matter.

29. The Panel considered as aggravating factors, the potential for harm to several service users caused by the Registrant’s misconduct and the length of time over which the misconduct occurred. A further aggravating feature was the serious potential consequences of her failures to act.

30. In considering mitigating factors, the Panel took into account the lack of any disciplinary record and the positive evidence from the Registrant’s former supervisor that she could perform well as a Social Worker. The Panel also had regard to the evidence that the Registrant had experienced difficult personal circumstances and had succumbed to stress. The Panel has already found that she has displayed some insight and remorse and had admitted the allegations at an early stage.

31. The Panel considered the available sanctions in ascending order of seriousness and concluded that taking no action or imposing a Caution Order would be not be appropriate to mark the seriousness of the matters for which the Registrant’s fitness to practise is found to be impaired. This was not an isolated incident of a minor nature.

32. The Panel next considered conditions of practice. The Panel had regard to the Registrant’s own evidence that she had not worked as a Social Worker since May 2016 and, due to her circumstances, had not undertaken any paid or unpaid work or had achieved any significant remediation.

33. In all the circumstances, the Panel was unable to formulate practicable and workable conditions which would adequately protect the public or satisfy the public interest.

34. In considering a Suspension Order, the Panel had regard to the indicative sanctions policy which states at paragraph 39,

“Suspension should be considered where the Panel considers that a caution or conditions of practice would provide insufficient public protection or where the allegation is of a serious nature but unlikely to be repeated and, thus, striking off is not merited”.

35. Whilst the Panel had found that there was a risk of repetition, it considered that the misconduct was remediable and would be unlikely to be repeated if there was sufficient remediation. Accordingly, the Panel considered that a period of suspension could afford the Registrant the opportunity to demonstrate that she has remedied her misconduct and has developed sufficient insight such that her misconduct is highly unlikely to be repeated.

36. In considering whether a suspension order was proportionate, the Panel was mindful that striking off is a sanction of last resort for serious, deliberate or reckless acts involving abuse of trust such as sexual abuse, dishonesty or persistent failure. It therefore considered that a striking off order would be disproportionate at this time.

37. In determining the length of a Suspension Order, the Panel considered that 10 months was appropriate. It had regard to what is said in paragraph 42 of the Indicative Sanctions Policy that [a shorter period of suspension] may be appropriate “to facilitate a staged return to practice for example, where the Registrant concerned would be unable to respond to and comply with conditions of practice but may be capable of doing so in the future”.

38. The Suspension Order will be reviewed prior to its expiry.  A reviewing Panel would be assisted by the following:

• Evidence of the Registrant’s engagement with the HCPC and her attendance at the review;

• Evidence by way of a log, that the Registrant has kept her professional knowledge as a Social Worker up to date by maintaining her continuing professional development requirements and completing relevant courses/learning activities which may be on-line and self-directed.

• Evidence of the Registrant’s insight and appreciation of the potential harm caused by her to service users and the damage which her misconduct has caused to her profession by means of a reflective piece.

• Testimonial evidence from any organisation for which she has gained voluntary or paid dealing with her ability to manage stress, identify and assess risk, record keeping and communication.

Order

That the Registrar is directed to suspend the name of Ms Sayra Bibi from the Register for a period of 10 months from the date when this order comes into effect.

Notes

The order will be reviewed before its expiry.

Hearing history

History of Hearings for Ms Sayra Bibi

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
17/10/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Suspended