Ms Katherine Margaret Trivett

: Social worker

: SW85542

: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing:10:00 02/11/2017 End: 17:00 03/11/2017

: 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 the course of your employment as a Senior Support Worker with Out There Supporting Families of Prisoners Limited, whilst registered as a Social Worker with the Health and Care Professions Council, between 03 December 2012 and 01 August 2016, you:

1. Did not maintain professional boundaries in relation to Person A, in that;

a) you exchanged letters of a personal nature with Person A.

b) you transferred £150.00 from Person A's post office account into an unknown account because he told you he was being threatened, and you:

i) did not inform the prison Safer Custody Team about this;

ii) did not inform your employer about this.

c) during a prison visit you gave a pen to Person A.

d) during a prison visit as a legal visitor, you allowed Person A to kiss you on the cheek.

2. The matters set out in paragraph 1 constitute misconduct.

3. By reason of your misconduct your fitness to practise is impaired.

Finding

Preliminary Matters

Service

1. The Panel found that there had been good service of the proceedings, in accordance with Rule 3 of the Health and Care Professions Council (Conduct and Competence Committee) (Procedure) Rules 2003 (the Rules), by Notice dated 1 August 2017.

Proceeding in absence

2. The Panel next considered whether to proceed with the hearing in the absence of the Registrant. The Panel was advised by the Legal Assessor to consider the guidance in the HCPTS Practice Note entitled “Proceeding in the Absence of the Registrant” and followed that advice. The Registrant returned a pro-forma document to the HCPC dated 21 September 2017, indicating that she would not be attending the hearing and would not be represented. The Panel was satisfied that the Registrant has waived her right to attend this hearing, that it is in the public interest that the hearing proceeds today, that a witness is in attendance to give evidence and that no injustice or prejudice will be caused to the Registrant if the case proceeds. It is not likely that, if the hearing were adjourned today, the Registrant would attend a hearing on a future date.

Application to amend

3. The HCPC made an application to amend the particulars of the allegation. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and considered whether there was any unfairness or prejudice to the Registrant by reason of the proposed amendments, which served to clarify the HCPC’s case in accordance with the evidence. There was no prejudice to her from this application and she has not raised any objection following notification of the proposed amendments on 7 March 2017 (save for two minor additional amendments). The Panel granted the amendment application in order to clarify the HCPC’s case, and made an additional amendment to the stem of the allegation to make clear that these matters arose when the Registrant was an HCPC-registered Social Worker.

Background

4. From 3 December 2012 until 1 August 2016, the Registrant was employed as a Senior Support Worker at a small registered charity called “Out There Supporting Families of Prisoners” (Out There).

5. In 2012 Person A, who was serving a prison sentence, referred his partner, Person B, to Out There for support, and the Registrant was the allocated case worker. Person A was released from prison in April 2015. Person B died suddenly in September 2015 and the Registrant, with permission from Out There, supported Person A. He was then recalled to prison in November 2015 and the Registrant continued to support him.

6. FC, who was the Registrant’s line manager, raised concerns regarding the relationship between the Registrant and Person A in late 2015 and suggested to the Registrant that the relationship was “a little bit too close”. However, the Registrant replied that there was nothing to worry about.

7. During one of their regular supervision sessions, in February 2016, FC and the Registrant discussed Person A. It was noted that Person A was “vulnerable because of his current situation and his recent bereavement” and they agreed that “there is a need to be extra vigilant in maintaining professional boundaries in these circumstances”. On 18 July 2016, FC received a telephone call from GJ, the Senior Probation Officer for the North West National Probation Service, who informed her that correspondence had been intercepted between the Registrant and Person A and passed on to Person A’s Probation Officer. An email was sent from GJ to FC detailing concerns regarding the contents of the correspondence between the Registrant and Person A. FC met the Registrant on 20 July 2016 to discuss these concerns. The Registrant stated she was “just friends” with Person A. When confronted with the correspondence she became upset, apologised for her behaviour and stated matters had “snowballed”. Their friendship had “turned into something else”, and “she didn’t think it through”.

8. The Registrant was suspended from work and FC conducted an investigation into the Registrant’s conduct. During the course of the investigation, the Registrant also provided information in relation to transferring money for Person A, giving him a pen, and allowing him to “peck her” on the cheek during prison visits. On 1 August 2016 the Registrant submitted her resignation to FC, which was subsequently accepted. On 15 August 2016 the matter was referred to the HCPC.

9. In determining the case, the Panel considered sequentially:

(1) whether the factual particulars are proved;
(2) if the proved facts amount to misconduct, and if so;
(3) is the Registrant’s fitness to practise currently impaired?

Decision on Facts

10. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor that the burden of proof is upon the HCPC on the balance of probabilities, in relation to findings of fact. Whether any proved facts in this case amount to the statutory grounds of misconduct and the issue of current impairment are not matters which need to be proved; they are matters of judgement for the Panel.

11. The Panel heard oral evidence from the following HCPC witness:

• FC (Service Director of Out There and the Registrant’s line manager).

12. The Panel also considered the written evidence from the Registrant.

13. The Panel found the HCPC witness FC to be credible, reliable, consistent, thorough, open and considered in her responses.

Particular 1(a) – Proved

14. The Registrant admitted that in February 2016 the tone of Person A’s letters to her began to change and in April 2016 she was aware that her own feelings were changing. She felt Person A was supporting her. The Registrant accepted that the relationship became inappropriate and that letters she sent to Person A, which she headed with her employer’s name, Out There, contained matters of a personal nature; for example, “Hopefully I’ll speak to you tomorrow ... on the phone it will be so good to hear your voice again … you are always in my thoughts … thank god for special friends!! Good night [Person A] Love Kay”. It also appeared from her correspondence with Person A that they were planning to holiday together when he was released. FC stated she would expect the Registrant to know that her letters to Person A were not appropriate when he was a prisoner being supported by her as a member of staff at Out There.

15. The Panel found this particular proved because it was admitted that the Registrant exchanged letters of a personal nature with Person A and this was clearly established by the evidence.

Particular 1(b)(i) – Proved
Particular 1(b)(ii) – Not Proved

16. The Registrant had access to Person A’s bank account with permission from her employer, to enable her to send money from Person A’s bank account to his prison account using a postal order, because he did not have a relative or friend to do this for him. The Registrant stated she received telephone calls from Person A asking her to pay money from his bank account into another account. She visited Person A on 10 May 2016, when he told her that he was being threatened and wanted her to transfer £150 from his bank account into another account. The Registrant subsequently transferred £150 into another person’s bank account as requested by Person A, and the receipt relating to this transaction was provided to FC by the Registrant when her conduct was being investigated. FC stated that the Registrant did not have permission to handle service users’ money in this way and she should have informed the prison’s Safer Custody Team of the reported threats to Person A and the transfer of the money for what appeared to relate to illicit activity.

17. The Panel found that particular 1(b)(i) is proved because it was admitted and clearly established by the evidence. However, particular 1(b)(ii) was not proved, in that it was clear from the evidence of FC and the notes of her contemporary investigation that the Registrant did inform her (as her employer) that she had transferred money at the request of Person A.

Particular 1(c) – Proved

18. The Registrant admitted that Person A asked her for a pen during a prison visit and she had given him a pen in breach of Section 70 of the Prison Rules 1999. FC stated that the Registrant would have been aware of this prohibition and it was a serious error for the Registrant to pass a pen to Person A when he was in prison.

19. The Panel found this particular proved because it was admitted and clearly established by the evidence.

Particular 1(d) – Proved

20. On 27 July 2016, the Registrant was asked whether there had been any breaches of prison rules or security in relation to Person A with regard to legal visits and physical contact. The Registrant replied “sometimes he would peck me on the cheek as I was going, just on the last couple of visits. I didn’t know that was going to happen. I felt uneasy but didn’t talk to him about that”. FC stated that any kind of touching between a Support Worker and a prisoner was generally not acceptable. Legal visits are not observed by members of prison staff in the same way as with social visits and this behaviour was a serious breach of professional boundaries and should not have been tolerated by the Registrant.

21. The Panel found this particular proved because it was admitted and clearly established on the evidence.

Decision on Grounds

22. Misconduct is defined in the case of Roylance v GMC (No 2) [2000] 1 AC 311 as “a word of general effect, involving some serious act or omission which falls short of what would be proper in the circumstances. The standard of propriety may often be found by reference to the rules and standards ordinarily required to be followed by a … practitioner in the particular circumstances.”

23. The Registrant stated that she admitted “all the allegations”. Particular 3 was an allegation of misconduct.

24. Under the HCPC Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics (2016 edition) (the HCPC Standards), registrants are required to comply with the following standards:

Standard 1.7 “You must keep your relationships with service users and carers professional”;

Standard 7.6 “You must acknowledge and act on concerns raised to you, investigating, escalating or dealing with those concerns where it is appropriate for you to do so”;

Standard 9.1 “You must make sure that your conduct justifies the public’s trust and confidence in you and your profession”.

25. The HCPC submitted that the Registrant’s actions amounted to misconduct, falling seriously short of what would be proper in the circumstances.

26. The above HCPC Standards were breached by reason of particulars 1(a), 1(b), 1(b)(i), 1(c) and 1(d) being found proved.

27. The Panel found that the allegation of misconduct arising from these proven factual particulars was well founded. The Panel found that the Registrant’s behaviour was sufficiently serious to amount to misconduct and the Panel was satisfied that the proven factual particulars demonstrated a serious falling short of the standards to be expected of a Social Worker. The Registrant breached one of the fundamental tenets of the profession (to keep relationships with service users on a professional footing) in respect of her inappropriate behaviour with Person A.

28. The Panel was satisfied that there was a serious falling short of the standards to be expected of a Social Worker in respect of these particulars.

Decision on Impairment

29. The Panel considered the HCPTS Practice Note on “Finding that Fitness to Practice is ‘Impaired’”. In determining whether fitness to practise is impaired, Panels must take account of a range of issues which, in essence, comprise two components:

1. the ‘personal’ component: the current competence, behaviour etc. of the individual registrant; and

2. the ‘public’ component: the need to protect service users, declare and uphold proper standards of behaviour and maintain public confidence in the profession.

30. The HCPC submitted that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is impaired on public and personal grounds as set out in the HCPTS Practice Note.

31. It is important to note that the test of impairment is expressed in the present tense: that fitness to practise is impaired at the current date. The Panel has taken into account the lapse of time since these matters occurred, but has also looked at the Registrant’s past actions in order to assess the likelihood of future misconduct.

32. The Panel has taken into account the critically important public policy issues, namely public protection, the public interest and maintaining proper professional standards.

33. Dame Janet Smith, in her Fifth Shipman Report, identified the circumstances where impairment might arise as:

(a) where a registrant presents a risk to service users;

(b) has brought the profession into disrepute;

(c) has breached one of the fundamental tenets of the profession; or

(d) has acted in a way that his integrity can no longer be relied upon.

34. In respect of the public interest, the following guidance was provided in the case of CHRE v NMC & Grant (2011) EWHC 927 (Admin): “In determining whether a practitioner’s fitness to practise is impaired by reason of misconduct, the relevant panel should generally consider … whether the need to uphold proper professional standards and public confidence in the profession would be undermined if a finding of impairment was not made.”

35. There has been insight demonstrated by the Registrant, who has engaged with the HCPC process and admitted the factual particulars which have been found proved and offered her apologies “…for my unforgivable actions and the impact it has had upon everyone involved and for bringing the reputation of social work into disrepute” in her email dated 21 September 2017. She admitted the matters in particulars 1(c) and 1(d) before they were raised with her. She has reflected upon the effect of her misconduct on Service Users and the reputation of her employer. She is remorseful and clearly reflective.

36. She also suffered bereavement from the death of Person B, whom she had supported for a long period of time, and from the death of another service user with whom she had been closely involved professionally. The impact of these events was illustrated by the Registrant’s reference in her meeting with FC on 20 July 2016 to the effect that she “could not get Person A or Person B out of her head”. She appears to have had a high number of complex cases and should have closed some cases but failed to do so. She was employed by a small employer and was in an unusual situation, visiting and supporting a prisoner. Some of the necessary policies and procedures which now form part of the induction training were not in place at the relevant time. This was a one-off situation against a background of a practitioner who, in the testimony of FC, was a “dedicated person whose work was of the highest quality”.

37. However, the Panel considers that the Registrant is impaired on personal grounds because she has not undertaken training to improve her ability to maintain proper professional boundaries in future or to develop strategies to avoid any recurrence in similar circumstances.

38. The Panel finds the Registrant’s fitness to practise is impaired primarily under the public component, because the requirement to uphold proper professional standards and public confidence in the profession would be undermined if a finding of impairment was not made in this case. Person A was a vulnerable Service User, a prisoner, and recently bereaved, with mental health issues. He was also isolated, with limited support, and the Registrant acted inappropriately towards him in breach of the trust placed in her as his Support Worker. She was also complicit in a potentially illicit prison activity in making a money transfer for Person A, and failed in her duty to report the threats Person A alleged had been made against him. This behaviour is not conduct the public would expect of an HCPC-registered practitioner.

Decision on Sanction

39. The purpose of fitness to practise proceedings is not to punish registrants, but to protect the public. In coming to its decision on sanction, the Panel gave careful consideration to all the circumstances of this case and all the evidence which contributed to its findings on the facts, the statutory ground and current impairment.

40. It considered the submissions made on behalf of the HCPC and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. In accordance with that advice, the Panel had due regard to the HCPC Indicative Sanctions Policy (ISP). The Panel noted that any sanction must be proportionate; that it is not intended to be punitive, although it may have a punitive effect; and that it should be no more than is necessary to meet the legitimate purposes of providing adequate protection to the public and otherwise meeting the wider public interest in protecting the reputation of the profession, maintaining confidence in the regulatory system, and declaring and upholding proper professional standards.

41. The Panel first identified the aggravating and mitigating factors that it should take into account.

42. The aggravating factors are:

• The Registrant breached of one of the fundamental tenets of the profession;

• Person A was a vulnerable Service User, a prisoner, recently bereaved, and with mental health issues. He was also isolated, with limited support;

• The Registrant acted inappropriately in breach of the trust placed in her as a Support Worker;

• The Registrant improperly made a money transfer on behalf of Person A;

• The Registrant failed in her duty to report the threats Person A alleged had been made against him to the prison authorities;

• The Registrant is impaired primarily under the public policy component, but also under the personal component.

43. The mitigating features are:

• The insight demonstrated by the Registrant;

• The Registrant has engaged with the HCPC process, admitted the factual particulars which have been found proved and offered her apologies;

• The Registrant admitted the matters in particulars 1(c) and 1(d) before they were raised with her and has reflected upon the effect of her misconduct on Service Users and the reputation of her employer and profession;

• The Registrant is remorseful and clearly reflective;

• The Registrant had a high number of complex cases and suffered the bereavement of two service users within a short space of time;

• Some of the necessary policies and procedures which now form part of the induction training for a Support Worker in the organisation were not in place at the relevant time;

• This was a one-off situation against a background of a practitioner who was otherwise dedicated and working to a high standard.

44. In deciding what, if any, sanction to impose under Article 29 of the Health and Social Work Professions Order 2001, the Panel had regard to the principle of proportionality and the need to balance the interests of the public with those of the Registrant.

45. Taking no action and mediation would not be appropriate in the circumstances of this case.

46. The ISP states that a Caution Order should be considered in cases where the nature of the allegation means that meaningful practice restrictions cannot be imposed but where the Registrant has shown insight, the conduct concerned is out of character, the risk of repetition is not high and thus suspension from practice would be disproportionate. The Panel has decided that a Caution Order is not an appropriate sanction in this case. The lapse is isolated and, in the Panel’s view, there is a low risk of recurrence, but the misconduct is not minor in nature. Therefore, a Caution Order would not deal with the need for remediation.

47. The Panel next considered whether a Conditions of Practice Order would be an appropriate sanction, but concluded that no workable conditions could be formulated, nor has the Registrant expressed a commitment to resolving matters. The Panel also noted that the Registrant is not currently working as a Social Worker or expressing a wish to do so in the future.

48. The Panel concluded that the most appropriate sanction in this case is a Suspension Order for a period of 12 months. Such a sanction is necessary to protect the public and to uphold public confidence in the profession, and 12 months will also allow the Registrant the opportunity to reflect further on the possibility of resuming her practice after further training.

49. The Order will be reviewed by a Panel before it expires. A reviewing panel is likely to be assisted by:

• Evidence of remediation in the form of training in relation to professional boundaries;

• Evidence of strategies to prevent a recurrence of the misconduct; and

• Evidence of Continuing Professional Development to maintain the Registrant’s skills.

50. The Panel considered a Striking Off Order, but considered that, in all the circumstances, such an Order would be disproportionate.

Order

That the Registrar is directed to suspend the registration of Ms Katherine Margaret Trivett for a period of 12 months from the date this order comes into effect.

Notes

This order will be reviewed again before its expiry.

Hearing history

History of Hearings for Ms Katherine Margaret Trivett

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
02/11/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Suspended