Mr John Barrie Arnold
During the course of your employment as a Social Worker with Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council, in the period between 2014 and May 2015 you;
1) Obstructed a Social Services investigation into potential allegations of child abuse by not providing details of children to St Helens Children & Young Peoples Service.
2) Used your professional social work qualification and/or Adult Social Work position with Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council to attempt to unduly influence St Helens Children & Young Peoples Service’s investigation in that you:
a. Expressed your personal views to Councillors; ( in relation to the use of the Registrant’s Adult Social Work position)
c. Expressed support for, and denied the potential risk of, an adult who may pose a risk to children. (in relation to the use of the Registrant’s Adult Social Work position)
3) The matters set out in paragraphs 1-2 constitute misconduct.
4) By reason of this misconduct your fitness to practise is impaired.
1. The Panel was aware that written notice of these proceedings was posted by first class post to the Registrant at his registered address on 02 October 2017. The Panel was shown documents which established both the fact of the service and the identity of the Registrant’s registered postal address. Service was also effected by email to the Registrant’s email address. In these circumstances the Panel accepted that proper service of the notice had been effected in accordance with the rules.
Proceeding in the absence of the Registrant
2. Ms Ebanks on behalf of the HCPC submitted that the Panel should consider the case in the absence of the Registrant.
3. The Panel was informed by Ms Ebanks that the Registrant had sent an email dated 08 September 2017 in which he stated that he was not going to attend or be represented at the hearing of the review of the substantive order.
4. This Panel heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.
5. This Panel was aware that a decision to proceed in the absence of the Registrant was one to be taken with great caution. However, this Panel has decided to proceed in the absence of the Registrant. The reasons are as follows:
• service of the appropriate notice of this hearing has been properly effected.
• The Registrant has not applied for an adjournment and has indicated by his email dated 08 September 2017, that he will not be attending this hearing and will not be represented.
• There is no reason to suppose that an adjournment would result in the future attendance of the Registrant.
• The Registrant was not present and was not represented at either of the two previous hearings.
• There is a public interest in proceeding.
• This review of the Order is mandatory.
• In all the circumstances the absence of the Registrant should be treated as voluntary.
6. At the review hearing on 09 February 2017 the background to this case was set out in the following terms:
“The Registrant was employed as a Social Worker for some 13 years prior to the incident giving rise to these proceedings. The Registrant sent emails from his work email address to St Helens Children’s and Young People’s Service (CYPS) expressing support for and denying the potential risk of an adult who it was thought could pose a risk to children ‘Person A’ who was connected to his family. Person A had allegations of serious sexual abuse made against him and St Helen’s CYPS had advised that he did not spend time with children alone.
Within that correspondence, the Registrant named three of his grandchildren that he said he would continue to allow Person A to see as he did not believe he had done anything wrong. This prompted the social work Team Manager at St Helens CYPS to contact the Registrant by telephone on 29 December 2014 as they had no information on these 3 children. The Registrant refused to provide any information to the social work team.
The Registrant did not attend the final hearing but disputed the allegations in his written representations. The panel found Particular (1) and 2 (a) and 2 (c) (so far as they related to use of the Registrant’s ‘Adult Social Work’ position) proven. 2 (b) was not found proven. The panel was not satisfied that there was sufficient evidence to demonstrate the Registrant’s direct contact with St Helens Children & Young Peoples Service (St Helens) itself. The evidence indicated that whilst the Registrant did attempt to contact officers at St Helens, he did not succeed.
The panel at the final hearing was critical of the Registrant. It described the Registrant’s failure to provide details of his grandchildren during the telephone call on 29 December 2014 as ‘deplorable’. In relation to 2 (a) and 2 (c) he had deliberately included his work details. This could have led the recipients to believe that he was acting in an official capacity and therefore was an attempt to apply undue influence.
The previous panel found the Registrant’s fitness to practise impaired. The Panel considered the extenuating circumstances at the time of the misconduct.
However the Panel was concerned that it had no current information from the Registrant demonstrating any training or development activity undertaken by him, his reflection on the incidents or his development of insight. There was no indication that he understood the seriousness of obstructing a child safeguarding inquiry, even some months after the event.
The panel considered the facts found proved and considered whether the Registrant had remediated. The panel found only limited evidence of the Registrant’s recognition of his own culpability and the consequences of his misrepresentation. Having considered the seriousness of the incident, the risk to the public and the reputation of the profession, the panel was satisfied that a finding of impairment was appropriate.
In respect of sanction, the panel concluded that the only proportionate and appropriate order was a short period of suspension. It's reasoning is contained in paragraph 49 which bears repetition;
“The Panel believes, given that it sees the lack of insight as remediable but also sees some risk of repetition, that a short period of suspension is desirable in which the Registrant can demonstrate whether he has developed understanding and insight into his actions. It is satisfied that a period of suspension would protect the public as the Registrant would be temporarily removed from the Register. The Panel has decided on a period of 4 months as this would protect service users and would be otherwise in the public interest, maintain confidence in the profession and trust in the regulatory process. Such a Suspension Order would provide an opportunity, should he wish, for the Registrant to reflect on the findings of this Panel and demonstrate to a reviewing Panel whether he has developed an understanding and insight into his actions”.
That panel indicated that any reviewing Panel might be assisted by the following evidence from the Registrant in advance of the hearing and also evidence to be given in person at the hearing by the Registrant:
• evidence of engagement with the HCPC process;
• information as to how he now perceives his actions and their possible impact;
• information on how he is keeping his skills and practice up-to-date through CPD courses or other relevant training;”
Decision on impairment by the first review panel
7. The panel which reviewed the substantive order on 09 February 2017 [the first review panel], firstly considered whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise was still impaired. It decided that it was. Its reasons were stated as follows;
“Looking at the previous panel’s decision, it is clear that the Registrant displayed a significant lack of judgment and ability to set appropriate professional boundaries during an admittedly unusual and stressful set of circumstances. The Registrant’s actions led to the possibility of child safety being compromised. This was an unacceptable state of affairs for a qualified social worker of many years standing. The first question for the Panel is whether through the evidence provided, the Registrant can be said to have remedied the deficiencies previously identified such that his fitness to practise is no longer impaired. The Panel’s firm conclusion is that he has not.
The Panel essentially accepts the submissions made by the HCPC. The Registrant has produced no cogent evidence whatsoever of remediation or insight. The material produced largely pre dates the hearing and does not demonstrate in any way that the Registrant has reflected on the circumstances leading to his suspension and how such actions would not and could not be repeated in the future. There is no reflective piece, there is no example of current courses undertaken or due to be taken, there is no evidence of insight into how professional boundaries may be crossed and how this can be avoided.”
Decision on sanction by the first review panel
8. Having decided that the Registrant’s fitness to practice was still impaired, the first review panel proceeded to consider the appropriate sanction. It reviewed all the options available to it and decided that a suspension order for a further period of 9 months was the appropriate and proportionate order. It explained its reasons as follows;
“Accordingly the Panel has gone on to consider sanction. Considering available sanctions in ascending order as it must, it is clear that mediation or a caution would not be an appropriate and proportionate response to the impairment identified. There are no conditions of practice that can be properly formulated that would be practicable and verifiable and appropriately address the impairment identified. This leaves either a further period of suspension or strike off. The Panel is of the view that a further period of suspension is appropriate to enable the Registrant to demonstrate insight and remediation such as to establish that his fitness to practice is no longer impaired. A Striking Off Order at this stage would not be proportionate.
The Panel is of the view that given the comprehensive failure to address the matters raised at the last hearing a longer period of time is required and the Panel orders that the Registrant is suspended for a period of 9 months. The Panel has concerns that the Registrant appears to be under a misapprehension as to the function of a reviewing panel. The reviewing panel focusses on the present and future. It is no part of its function to go behind findings already made at a final hearing as to facts, grounds and impairment at that time.”
Guidance as to review
9. Having decided the sanction in the terms set out above the first review panel indicated that another reviewing panel might be assisted by the following:
“the Panel believes that in order to assist the Registrant, the HCPC and any future reviewing panel it should set out some evidence that the Registrant may wish to consider adducing at the next hearing. This should not be seen as binding on the Registrant nor of course a future panel but it may be useful in guiding him as to steps to be taken during the course of his suspension.
The steps that would be of assistance are:
• For the Registrant to engage with the HCPC process and to seek to attend the next hearing in person or if that is not practicable, by telephone
• To prepare and submit in advance a reflective piece including information as to what he has learnt from the experience and what he would do differently in similar circumstances in the future. The Registrant may wish to include evidence of how he is looking to develop safe and effective practice in the future
• To maintain CPD through attending courses and training. A course on maintaining appropriate professional boundaries may be particularly useful.”
10. At the conclusion of its determination the first review panel stated as follows;
“The Registrant is reminded that while this panel has imposed a suspension order, all sanctions remain available to any future reviewing panel should it continue to find that his fitness to practise remains impaired including that of striking off the register”
Decision (of this Panel, today):
11. Ms Ebanks on behalf of the HCPC made submissions to this Panel. In summary she said as follows; that the Registrant’s fitness to practise was still impaired. In support of this submission Ms Ebanks said that there was no evidence of appropriate remediation or insight; further that the Registrant had not provided any of the material that the first review panel suggested would be helpful to this Panel. She made no submissions as to the sanction, which she said was for this Panel to determine.
12. This Panel saw a number of documents that were submitted on behalf of the Registrant; they included the following;
• Three written statements from the Registrant dated 22 January 2016, 23 July 2017 and 30 August 2017.
• A performance appraisal form dated 20 June 2014.
• Five emails from the Registrant. Two, dated 14 February 2017 and 23 February 2017, in which he stated that he desired to appeal the substantive order and an email dated 13 July 2017 when he indicated that he was trying to secure a review of the substantive order. There is the further email from the Registrant dated 08 September 2017 in which he indicated that he was not able to attend or be represented at the hearing of review of the existing order. In addition, there is an email from the Registrant dated 26 October 2017 enclosing the documents referred to in the next paragraph.
• An email dated 06 December 2016 expressing thanks for work done by the Registrant; an email dated 28 February 2013 expressing thanks for the care that the Registrant had rendered to a service user together with brief supporting documents.
13. This Panel heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.
14. This Panel is aware that it has all the powers that are set out in Article 30  of the Health and Social Work Professions Order 2001 [The Order] and which are summarised in the letter dated 02 October 2017 addressed to the Registrant and giving notice of this hearing.
15. This Panel is aware that the process under Article 30 (1) of the Order is one of review and not one of appeal and that its function is to determine whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise is still impaired and if so whether the Suspension Order under review remains the appropriate and proportionate means of public protection or should be varied or replaced by some other order.
16. This Panel has considered the submission that it has heard and all the material that it has received including the written material furnished by the Registrant. This Panel noted with concern that this material did not demonstrate any evidence of remediation or sufficient evidence of appropriate insight. This Panel also noted that the Registrant has not supplied the material that the first review panel indicated might be of assistance to this Panel. Moreover he has not sought to participate by telephone which was an option identified by the first review panel.
Decision of Impairment:
17. This Panel has concluded that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is still impaired. This Panel has concluded from his email dated 30 August 2017, that the Registrant has shown signs of developing, albeit insufficient, insight, and no sufficient evidence of remediation. Accordingly, this Panel concluded that there was a risk of repetition and that a restriction on the Registrant’s ability to practise was necessary to protect the public and service users. This Panel also concluded that public confidence in the profession and in the HCPC as its regulator, and the need to uphold proper standards by practitioners, would all be undermined if a finding of present impairment was not made.
Decision on Sanction:
18. Having concluded that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is still impaired, this Panel proceeded to consider what order is appropriate, proportionate, sufficient and necessary to protect the public and to safeguard the public interest.
19. This Panel took into account the principles of proportionality balancing the interests of the Registrant with the public interest.
20. This Panel has had regard to the contents of the Indicative Sanctions Policy published by the HCPTS and is aware that sanctions should be considered in ascending order of severity. This Panel is aware that the purpose of sanctions is not punitive but to protect members of the public and to safeguard the public interest. The latter objective includes maintaining standards within the profession, together with public confidence in the profession and in its regulatory processes.
21. This Panel has concluded that to take no action, thus allowing the present order to lapse, or imposing a caution order would be inappropriate having regard to the nature and gravity of the matters found proved. Such outcomes would not sufficiently protect the public or the public interest. This Panel did not consider that mediation was applicable in the circumstances of this case.
22. This Panel did not consider that a Conditions of Practice Order could be formulated which would address the Registrant’s failings as previously established or which would provide sufficient protection for the public.
23. This Panel then considered the existing Suspension Order and concluded that a Suspension Order for a further period of 6 months effective from the expiration of the present order was the appropriate and proportionate sanction. This would protect the public and safeguard the public interest whilst enabling the Registrant to develop sufficient insight and evidence of remediation as to justify his return to professional practice.
24. This Panel did consider making a striking off order but concluded that it would not be appropriate at this time. However, the Registrant should understand that if he does not respond to the concerns of a reviewing panel, that panel may well decide to terminate his registration.
Review by a future panel
25. This order will be reviewed by another panel before it expires. That reviewing panel might be assisted by the following;
• Attendance by the Registrant either in person or by telephone.
• Evidence of maintaining CPD through attending appropriate courses and training, with particular emphasis on the maintenance of appropriate professional boundaries.
• An effective written reflective piece demonstrating his understanding of how he blurred personal and professional boundaries when (1) he was faced with the safeguarding enquiry as set out in Particular 1 of the Allegation and (2) in relation to the St Helen’s investigation and actions as set out in Particular 2 of the Allegation.