Mr Stephen P Johnson

: Social worker

: SW27652

: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing:10:00 23/10/2017 End: 17:00 26/10/2017

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

: Conduct and Competence Committee
: Conditions of Practice

Allegation

Between 1 January 2010 and 30 November 2014, whilst employed as a Social Worker by the London Borough of Barnet:

1. Regarding Service User A, you:
a) made an inappropriate recording on Service User A's case record in relation to a home visit conducted on 28 April 2014, whereby you wrote: "I did not bother asking [Service User A] what she would do if she fell out with her boyfriend and was asked to leave" or words to that effect;
b) did not complete and/or update a risk assessment by 19 June 2014, as requested on 11 June 2014;
c) did not complete the chronology section of Service User A's case record;

2. Regarding Service User B, you did not complete the chronology section of Service User B's case record;

3. Regarding Service User C, between 5 December 2012 and 18 September 2014, you:
a) did not complete the chronology section of Service User C's case record;
b) did not make a complete and/or comprehensive record of the Pathway Plan outcomes meeting with Service User C held on 17 April 2014;
c) did not conduct and/ or record Statutory Visits to Service User C as required;

4. Regarding Service User D, between 12 July 2013 to June 2014, you:
a) did not consistently update and/or complete the chronology section of Service User D's case record;
b) did not update a the risk assessment as instructed on 2 June 2014;

5. Regarding Service User E, from 8 October 2010 to June 2014, you:
a) did not conduct and/or record Statutory Visits as required;
b) did not record the following Statutory Visits within 7 days:
i. 19 November 2012
ii. 2 May 2014
c) did not conduct and/or record a visit to Service User E, as instructed on 2 June 2014;
d) did not record updates regarding Service User E's;
i. dental checks;
ii. health assessments.

6. Regarding Service User F, between 11 January 2010 and August 2014, you:
a) did not conduct a Risk Assessment;
b) did not conduct and/or record Statutory Visits as required;
c) did not update Service User F's Pathway Plan, as instructed on 2 June 2014.

7. Regarding Service User G, between 31 January 2013 and August 2014:
a) did not complete the chronology section of Service User G's case record;
b) did not consistently conduct and/or record Statutory Visits as required.

8. Regarding Service User H, between 8 January 2013 and June 2014:
a) did not complete the chronology section of Service User H's case record;
b) did not conduct and/or record Statutory Visits as required;
c)  did not attempt to and/or visit Service User H within the required time period, as requested on 11 June 2014;

9. The matters described in paragraphs 1 - 8 constitute misconduct and/or lack of competence.

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

Finding

Preliminary matters
1. At the start of the hearing Mr Short, on behalf of the Registrant, made full admissions to Particulars 1, 2, 3, 7 and 8 in their entirety. He also indicated that the Registrant accepted that those matters would amount to misconduct as set out in Particular 9.

Proceeding in private
2. The Panel heard an application from Mr Short that some parts of the hearing be heard in private because they related to the health of the Registrant. Mr Millin did not oppose the application. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and determined that it was appropriate to hear matters relating to the health and personal circumstances of the Registrant in private.

Background
3. The Registrant was a Senior Social Worker with the London Borough of Barnet (the Council). He had worked for the Council from August 2000. As a Senior Social Worker he was responsible for the more complex cases. He was based in the Children Leaving Care Service, which became the Onwards and Upwards Team. His responsibilities included providing advice, guidance and support to young people aged sixteen plus.

4. In January 2014, the Council commissioned an Independent Peer Review to review quality and issues within the service. In March 2014 the report was finalised and highlighted a number of issues.

5. Following the review, Witness 2, Service Improvement Manager for the Council at the relevant time, accelerated an improvement process and as part of this there was an audit of every case within the service. The audit revealed a number of concerns in respect of the Registrant’s record keeping including non-completion of Pathway Plans, chronologies, risk assessments and statutory visits. The Registrant was referred to the HCPC by Witness 2.

6. The Panel was informed on the 11 June 2014 the Registrant had a meeting with Witness 2 and, his newly appointed line manager, Witness 3. Concerns in respect of a number of service users which formed part of the Registrant’s caseload were identified and discussed. Following this, a Personal Improvement Plan was devised dated 16 June 2014. On 3 July 2014, the Registrant attended a three way supervision meeting with Witness 2 and Witness 3. As a result of ongoing concerns, he was invited to attend a formal meeting on 21 July 2014. However, the Registrant was signed off on sick leave on 10 July 2014. On 15 September 2014, the Registrant met with Witness 2 to discuss his return to work and the outcome was that he was suspended.

7. In addition to hearing from the various witnesses from the HCPC, the Panel also heard evidence from the Registrant. In summary, he denied having attitudinal issues in respect of what was required of him following the 11 June 2014 discussion. He highlighted what he claimed was bullying from Witness 2, pressure of workload and lack of time to carry out the remedial tasks required of him. He accepted in oral evidence that many of his acts and omissions in respect of various service users, especially in regard to record keeping, were not good enough and should have been better.

8. The Panel also heard from Witness 4 on behalf of the Registrant, who was a former colleague of the Registrant. The Panel found her to be a credible witness who was able to explain the context of the working environment at the relevant time.

Decision on facts
9. The Panel is mindful that the burden of proving the case rests throughout on the HCPC to the civil standard of the balance of probabilities. It accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.

10. Having had an opportunity to assess all of the witnesses in this case the Panel found Witness 1 to be very credible, professional, thoughtful and overall a very impressive witness in respect of her experience. She came across as objective, impartial and her oral evidence was consistent with her witness statement. The Panel noted that she had never met the Registrant and had no knowledge of him. She carried out an evidence based independent audit of the relevant service user records.

11. The Panel found Witness 2 and Witness 3 to be broadly credible. It was clear to the Panel that there was a degree of friction between Witness 2 and the Registrant and in particular it noted that Witness 2 had been tasked with the specific purpose of bringing the Onwards and Upwards Team to acceptable standards. Where Witness 2 and Witness 3  could not remember certain things, they were candid enough to say so.

12. The Panel found the Registrant to be adamant in his recollection as to work place stress and what he described as bullying. He was candid in the admissions he made in oral evidence. He gave an honest recollection of what he perceived to have happened. He accepted that his conduct was not acceptable for a registered Social Worker.

Particulars 1(a), 1(b), 1(c) – found proved
13. The Panel noted the Registrant admitted to this charge in its entirety at the outset of the hearing. The Panel had regard to Service User A’s case notes. The Panel noted that the Registrant accepted in oral evidence that he did make an inappropriate recording on Service User A’s case record on 28 April 2014, and that such recording was inappropriate given that she had experienced domestic violence in previous relationships. On that basis, the Panel finds Particular 1(a) proved.

14. The Panel acknowledged the supervision note dated 11 June 2014 which set a deadline for a risk assessment to be completed by 19 June 2014. The Panel is satisfied that the later entry dated 6 October 2014 (not by the Registrant) records that no risk assessment had in fact been carried out since 24 April 2014. The Panel therefore finds Particular 1(b) proved.

15. Likewise, having had regard to the case records there is no chronology completed during the time that the Registrant was allocated this case. Therefore, the Panel finds Particular 1(c) proved.

Particular 2 – found proved
16. The Panel noted that the Registrant admitted to this Particular at the outset of the hearing. The Panel has had regard to Service User B’s case notes. It noted that Service User B was allocated to the Registrant on 10 December 2010. There is no chronology from this date. The Panel accepted that on the 11 June 2014 when Service User B’s case was discussed there were significant matters which had not been produced on any chronology. Therefore, the Panel finds this Particular proved.

Particulars 3(a), 3(b), 3(c) – found proved
17. The Panel noted that the Registrant admitted this Particular in it’s entirety at the outset of the hearing. The Panel had regard to Service User C’s records. It noted that Service User C was allocated to the Registrant on the 5 December 2012 until 18 September 2014. There was no evidence of any chronology being produced by the Registrant during the period of this allocation. The Panel noted that significant life events, for example being granted leave to remain in the United Kingdom, have been omitted. The Panel therefore finds Particular 3(a) proved.

18. The Panel also noted that the case records for Service User C revealed no Pathway Plan following the outcomes meeting with the service user on 17 April 2014. The Panel finds Particular 3(b) proved.

19. In respect of statutory visits, the Panel noted that only two statutory visits were recorded in the case notes on 19 July 2013 and 26 June 2014. The Panel is satisfied from the evidence of Witness 1 that the guidance for visits to young people, which is supported  by the Leaving Care Act 2000, makes it clear that such visits should happen at least four times per year. There is no evidence to suggest that the Registrant carried out statutory visits until he was specifically asked to do so. Therefore, the Panel finds Particular 3(c) proved.

Particulars 4(a), 4(b) – found proved
20. The Registrant denied this Particular at the start of the hearing. However, in his oral evidence he accepted that he did not consistently update or complete the chronology section of Service User D’s case record. The Panel had regard to the case records produced by Witness 1 and it could not find a completed chronology section between the relevant dates. The Registrant admitted in oral evidence that he did not update the risk assessment as instructed to do so on 2 June 2015. Therefore, the Panel finds Particulars 4(a) and 4(b) proved in its entirety.

Particulars 5(a), 5(b), 5(c), 5(d) – found proved
21.  In his oral evidence, the Registrant accepted that he did not carry out and record statutory visits between 8 October 2010 to June 2014 in respect of the minimum required number of statutory visits. On that basis the Panel finds Particular 5(a) proved.

22. The Registrant accepted that the two statutory visits he did carry out on 19 November 2012 and 2 May 2014 were not recorded within seven days as per the Council’s case recording guidance. In fact, the evidence of Witness 1 was that the November 2012 visit was finalised on 30 April 2013 and the 2 May 2014 visit was finalised on 23 May 2014. The Panel finds Particular 5(b) proved.

23. The Registrant accepted in oral evidence that he did not arrange a statutory visit having been requested to do so on 2 June 2014 by Witness 2 and on that basis the Panel finds Particular 5(c) proved.

24. In respect of dental checks and health assessments the Panel noted the case records of Service User E and the lack of documentation in respect of dental checks and updates on health assessments during the relevant period in question. The Panel therefore finds Particular 5(d) proved.

Particular 6(a) – found not proved
25. The Panel noted the Registrant was adamant that he would have carried out a risk assessment for this particular service user who presented as high risk because of his sexualised behaviour towards under-aged females as well as towards female members of staff. It was his evidence that such risk assessment was done in conjunction with the Transitions Team. The HCPC invited the Panel to conclude that because there was no record of a formal risk assessment having taken place one was not done. However, the Panel was unable to infer that the Registrant did not conduct a risk assessment because there was no direct evidence in this regard. On balance, the Panel preferred the Registrant’s recollection that he would have done a risk assessment because he recognised the particular risks for this service user but had simply not documented it. His evidence in this regard has been consistent throughout. The Panel, therefore finds Particular 6(a) not proved.

Particulars 6(b), 6(c) – found proved
26. The Panel noted that during his oral evidence the Registrant accepted that he did not conduct and record statutory visits as required and nor did he update Service User F’s Pathway Plan as instructed to do so on 22 June 2014. In particular, the case records reveal that the Pathway Plan was not updated until August 2014 by another Social Worker. The Panel therefore finds Particulars 6(b) and 6(c) proved in their entirety.

Particulars 7(a), 7(b) – found proved
27. The Panel noted that the Registrant made full admissions to this Particular at the outset of the hearing. It had regard to the case records produced by Witness 1. In the case records the Panel noted that no chronology was completed during the relevant time and only four statutory visits had been recorded between January 2013 and August 2014 when there should have been a minimum of four per year. The Panel therefore finds this Particular proved in its entirety.

Particulars 8(a), 8(b), 8(c) – found proved
28. The Panel noted that the Registrant admitted to this Particular in its entirety at the outset of the hearing. It had regard to the case notes for this service user during the period in question and the evidence of Witness 1. The Panel is satisfied that there was no chronology on file and on that basis find Particular 8(a) proved.

29. The Panel noted that there had been only one statutory visit on 25 June 2014, when there should have been a minimum of four per year and the Panel therefore finds 8(b) proved.

30. The Panel noted that the statutory visit on 25 June 2014 was not conducted within the timeframe set out at the 11 June 2014 meeting. The Panel therefore finds Particular 8(c) proved.

Decision on grounds
31. Mr Millin submitted that the facts found proved amount to misconduct. It was clear from the evidence that the Registrant knew what he should be doing but he did not do it. He highlighted the risks posed to vulnerable service users, to members of the public from some of those service users and the risk to fellow colleagues who might have to deal with those service users without the information that should have been contained within their case notes.

32. Mr Short accepted on behalf of the Registrant that the acts and omissions could be described as amounting to misconduct. He highlighted the various issues in the Onwards and Upwards Team such as poor management and time pressures.

33. The Panel heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. It noted that the question of misconduct is for the Panel exercising its professional judgement. The Panel had regard to the ‘Standards of proficiency for Social workers in England’ (2012) and in particular the following standards from the HCPC ‘Standards of, performance and ethics’ (2012):
Standard 1  you must act in the best interests of service users.
Standard 10  you must keep accurate records.

34. In coming to its decision in relation to misconduct, the Panel took account of the importance of the following duties in supporting young care leavers:
• a chronology provides a summary of significant events in a young persons life since the start of their involvement with social services, which can extend to several years. An up to date chronology enables other professionals to gain a quick understanding of relevant events without reading the whole file;

• a Pathway Plan is a care plan developed with the young person looking at their physical and emotional well being, housing, education and work plans for the future. It needs to be reviewed regularly;

• a risk assessment is an assessment of the risks posed to and/or by the service users and those around them. The purpose is to ensure the young person, and the public are kept safe;

• the purpose of statutory visits is to ensure the young person’s needs are being accounted for and met.

35. The Panel is satisfied that the facts found proved amount to a serious departure from the above standards. The acts and omissions had the potential to put service users at risk. In some cases, some of the service users presented a high degree of risk to members of the public as well as to other Social Workers and professionals dealing with them. In particular, the acts and omissions with regard to keeping up to date chronologies, risk assessments and undertaking statutory visits posed a significant risk to service users, members of the public, colleagues and the reputation of the Council. These failings took place in some cases over a number of years. In addition, these failings could also have delayed or deprived young people of support and life opportunities. Not withstanding the evidence of Witness 1 that there were systemic failings generally across the Onwards and Upwards Team, the Panel was nevertheless satisfied that the Registrant had a responsibility as a senior Social Worker and an autonomous practitioner to comply with the relevant standards. The Panel is in no doubt that the Registrant’s acts and omissions were a serious falling short of the standards to be expected. The Panel therefore finds that the Registrant’s acts and omissions amounted to misconduct.

Decision on impairment 
36. Following its decision on misconduct, the Panel invited submissions from both representatives as to whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired.

37. Mr Millin submitted that the Registrant had provided no evidence of remediation and therefore a risk of repetition remains. Further, public confidence in the profession would be undermined if a finding of impairment was not made.

38. Mr Short, on behalf of the Registrant, accepted that the public interest would require a finding of impairment but he submitted that there was no ongoing or future risk to service users posed by the Registrant. He also submitted that no actual harm was caused.

39. The Panel heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. He reminded the Panel that the assessment of current impairment is a matter for its professional judgement.

40. The Panel notes that any assessment of impairment has a personal and public component. In relation to the personal component, it noted that the Registrant has not worked as a Social Worker since leaving the Council in 2014. His evidence was that he had worked briefly as a Care Manager in Adult Services and that he had not attended any courses or relevant training in respect of social work. There was no evidence before the Panel of any remediation undertaken by the Registrant in respect of the misconduct identified in this case.

41. The Panel accepted that the Registrant had engaged with the process throughout which was to his credit and that he had made appropriate admissions at the outset of the hearing and during his evidence. He presented as a caring individual in so far as the young people in his care were concerned. He acknowledged the risks that his acts and omissions had entailed and the Panel was satisfied that he had demonstrated some insight during his oral evidence. The Panel also noted that he had an unblemished career prior to the matters in this case.

42. However, in light of the fact that there was no evidence of current good practice and insight was limited in that he continued to highlight institutional failings rather than acknowledge his own individual responsibility, the Panel could not exclude the risk of repetition were the Registrant to be placed in a similar position again. In fact, he accepted that he would not want to have the same caseload again.

43. The Panel therefore finds that the Registrant’s misconduct presented a risk to service users, members of the public and fellow professionals and in the absence of any evidence of remediation such ongoing risk cannot be excluded.

44. Turning to the public component, the Panel is in no doubt that public confidence in the profession would be undermined if a finding of impairment were not made. The public, vulnerable service users and fellow colleagues would expect that proper professional standards of conduct and behaviour are upheld.

45. The Panel therefore finds the Registrant’s fitness to practise currently impaired.

Decision on sanction
46. Having announced it’s finding on current impairment, the Panel invited submissions on what, if any, sanction to impose.

47. Mr Millin submitted that the matter of sanction was up to the Panel and he drew the Panel’s attention to the HCPC’s Indicative Sanctions Policy (ISP) (March 2017).

48. Mr Short submitted that the Registrant had engaged openly and honestly with the HCPC; he had an unblemished career prior to these matters and was very committed to social work. He highlighted that there was no actual harm to service users. He submitted that the appropriate and proportionate sanction should be a Caution Order.

49. The Panel heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and it had regard to the ISP. It reminded itself that the purpose of sanctions was not to be punitive although they may have a punitive effect. Any sanction must be proportionate balancing the Registrant’s interest with the public interest.

50. The Panel considered the following to be aggravating features:
• acts and omissions over a period of years;
• not taking full responsibility as an autonomous professional;
• deflecting responsibility on to others.

51. The Panel considered the following to be mitigating factors:
• a lengthy, unblemished career prior to these incidents;
• engaging openly and honestly with the HCPC and the Panel;
• a commitment to the welfare of service users in his care;
• positive testimonial evidence;
• some developing insight;
• an acknowledgment by Witness 1 of the systemic failings in the Onwards and Upwards Team.

52. The Panel first considered whether a sanction was necessary in this case. In the circumstances where the Panel identified an ongoing risk to service users in the absence of any evidence as to remediation, the Panel determined that to conclude the case without any action would be wholly inappropriate.

53. The Panel then considered whether a Caution Order would be appropriate. It noted paragraph 28 of the ISP which noted that a Caution Order may be appropriate where the Registrant has taken appropriate remedial action and where the risk of repetition is low. The Panel noted that the Registrant had taken no remedial action since he left the Council in 2014; the Panel had found that insight was partial; and that there was a risk of repetition. The Panel therefore considered that a Caution Order would not be appropriate.

54. The Panel then went on the consider whether a Conditions of Practice Order would be appropriate and proportionate. It is satisfied that in the circumstances of this case where the misconduct relates primarily to record keeping and prioritisation of workload, conditions could be formulated that would adequately protect the public and the wider public interest.

55. In the circumstances, the Panel determined that the following conditions would be proportionate and appropriate.

56. The Panel determined that a period of 12 months would be a proportionate and appropriate time to enable the Registrant to develop further insight and remediate his failings.

Order

The Registrar is directed to annotate the Register to show that, for a period of 12 months from the date that this Order comes into effect (“the Operative Date”), you, Mr Stephen P Johnson, must comply with the following conditions of practice:  

1. Within the period of 12 months of the conditions coming into effect and prior to any review you must:
A. satisfactorily complete training on record keeping, risk assessments and statutory responsibilities; and
B. forward evidence of training to the HCPC.

2. You must place yourself and remain under the supervision of workplace supervisor registered by the HCPC or other appropriate statutory regulator and supply details of your supervisor to the HCPC within 28 days of commencing work as a Social Worker. You must attend upon that supervisor as required and follow their advice and recommendations.

3. You must work with supervisor to formulate a Personal Development Plan designed to address the deficiencies in the following areas of your practice:
• Prioritising workload
• Record keeping
• Risk assessments
• Statutory responsibilities

4. You must forward a copy of your Personal Development Plan to the HCPC within 3 months of commencing employment as a Social Worker.

5. You must meet with supervisor on a fortnightly  basis to consider your progress towards achieving the aims set out in your Personal Development Plan.

6. You must allow your supervisor to provide information to the HCPC about your progress towards achieving the aims set out in your Personal Development Plan.

7. You must provide the HCPC with a reflective piece addressing the failings identified at the substantive hearing 28 days prior to the review hearing.

8. You must promptly inform the HCPC if you cease to be employed by your current employer or take up any other or further employment.

9. You must promptly inform the HCPC of any disciplinary proceedings taken against you by your employer.

10. 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).

Notes

The order imposed today will apply from 23 November 2017 (the operative date).

This order will be reviewed again before its expiry on 23 November 2018.

Hearing history

History of Hearings for Mr Stephen P Johnson

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
23/10/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Conditions of Practice