Mrs Michaela Anne Bonner and Mrs Tara Pennington

: Social worker

: SW71062 & SW90645

: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing:10:00 06/11/2017 End: 17:00 13/11/2017

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

: Conduct and Competence Committee
: Other

Allegation

Matter 1 -

 

Allegation – Ms Michaela Anne Bonner (as amended at Final Hearing):

 

Whilst employed as a Social Worker as a Social Worker in the role of Team Manager in the Looked After Children Team at Bournemouth Borough Council, between March 2014 and September 2014 you:
 
1. In March and April 2014 did not ensure that a Looked After Child, Child A, was adequately protected, in that you:


a. Did not, in a timely manner, access Child A’s file on RAISE which detailed the concern that Child A’s health record showed a tear in his penis.


b. Did not speak to the health professionals who had dealt with the injury to Child A’s penis.

c. Did not record advice from the Health Professionals within the Looked After Children Team regarding the injury to Child A’s penis.

 

2. Signed off Colleague A’s risk assessment dated 23 July 2014 regarding Child A when this did not adequately reflect the risk posed to and/or by Child A.

 

3. On or around 24 July 2014, did not respond appropriately to safeguarding concerns received from the Independent Reviewing Officer regarding Child A, in that you:


a. Maintained that Colleague A’s risk assessment of Child A was adequate and/or addressed all the issues raised.


b. Did not ensure that Child A’s school was alerted of the risk Child A posed to his peers.


c. Did not ensure that the Scouts were alerted to the safeguarding concerns regarding Child A.

d. Did not organise a strategy meeting following Child A’s disclosures of his alleged sexual encounters.

 

4. On or around 28 July 2014, informed Manager A that all of the issues raised by the Independent Reviewing Officer Stage One Alert had been addressed appropriately, when this was not the case.

 

5. Did not adequately address with Colleague A the concerns that were raised in relation to Colleague A’s practice with regard to Child A.

 

6. Your action as described in Particular 4 was dishonest. 

 

7. The matters set out 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 practice is impaired.

 

Matter 2

 

Ms Tara Pennington - Allegation (as amended at Final Hearing):

 

Between 18 August 2013 and 7 January 2015, during the course of your employment as a Social Worker in the Looked After Children Team at Bournemouth Borough Council, you:

 

1. Between April and September 2014 did not appropriate case manage a Looked After Child (Service User A), in that you:

 

a. On or around 24 July 2014 did not produce an adequate risk assessment in respect of Service User A;

 

b. On or around 24 July 2014 did not interview Service User A to ascertain the extent and/or nature of the harm posed by and/or to Service User A.

 

c. Did not adequately record on the electronic case management system:


i. A meeting that took place in respect of Service User A on or around 26 August 2014;


ii. Conversations that occurred in relation to Service User A;


iii. Correspondence and/or information from third parties in respect of Service User A.

 

2. In relation to a visit to Service User A on or around 1 July 2014;

 

a. Did not check Bournemouth Council’s Case Management System before visiting Service User A;

 

b. Did not formulate a plan prior to visiting Service User A;

 

c. Did not meet with Service User A alone.

 

3. Between April and 24 August 2014, did not ensure appropriate safeguards to protect Service User A and/or other children were undertaken, in that you:

 

a. Did not alert Service User A’s school to the specific nature and extent of the risks posed to and/or by Service User A who had allegedly participated in sexual acts on his peers;

 

b. Did not alert the Scouts to the specific nature and extent of the risks posed to and/or by Service User A who had allegedly participated in sexual acts on his peers.

 

4. The matters 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.

 

Finding

Preliminary matters


Service and proceeding in the absence of Ms Bonner


1. The Panel found that the Notice of Hearing that was served on Ms Bonner’s registered address was sent by registered post on 26 July 2017. The Panel was satisfied there had been good service. Ms Pennington was not present but was represented by Mr David Higgins of Unison.

2. Ms Eales applied to proceed in the absence of Ms Bonner. She provided the Panel with emails from Ms Bonner to Kingsley Napley, acting for the HCPC. Ms Bonner had indicated that she had made written representations to the HCPC which were to be provided to the Panel.  On 22 June 2017 Ms Bonner indicated she would not be attending the hearing for personal reasons and this was acknowledged by the HCPC on 26 June 2017. On 21 July 2017 Ms Bonner emailed the HCPTS and confirmed that she did not want the hearing rearranged at a location closer to her home and indicated that she did not wish to attend in person or by telephone. She had not asked for an adjournment. Ms Eales referred the Panel to the HCPTS Practice Note on ‘Proceeding in the Absence of the Registrant’ and submitted that Ms Bonner had chosen to absent herself from the hearing.

3. The Panel heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor, and had regard to the HCPTS Practice Note on ‘Proceeding in the Absence of the Registrant’. It considered the criteria as outlined in that Practice Note and in the case of GMC v Adeogba [2016] EWCA Civ 162, balancing fairness to the Registrant with the HCPC and the public interest.  The Panel  concluded that Ms Bonner had voluntarily absented herself, having clearly indicated that she would not attend the hearing. An adjournment would be unlikely to secure her attendance in the future and accordingly the hearing should proceed in the absence of Ms Bonner. This was in the interests of justice, given the need to protect the public and was fair and appropriate. 

4. Ms Eales confirmed to the Panel that it had been given all the written representations from Ms Bonner that she had asked it to consider. These documents and further documents  from Ms Pennington were received by the Panel.

 Application by HCPC to amend the Allegation in respect of Ms Pennington


5. In respect of the Allegation in relation to Ms Pennington, Ms Eales, on behalf of the HCPC, made an application to amend the Allegation. Ms Pennington had received notice of the proposed amendments and not objected.  The proposed amendments related largely to dates and more properly reflected the evidence and corrected grammar.  Ms Eales confirmed there had been no change to the case or in the evidence to be presented.  Mr Higgins had no objection. 

6. The Panel took the advice of the Legal Assessor as to the proposed amendments. It concluded that the proposed amendments did not change the character or gravity of the Allegation and were not prejudicial to Ms Pennington. They properly reflected the evidence.  The application to amend was granted.

Ms Pennington’s response to the Allegation


7. Mr Higgins for Ms Pennington told the Panel that his clients admitted Particular 1(a) and agreed that the risk assessment was brief and set she had intended to expand it.  As to Particular 1(b), Ms Pennington’s position was that her actions were agreed with management.  On Particular 1(c), Ms Pennington accepted that the time frame for recording was not met.

8. Mr Higgins told the Panel that Ms Pennington denied Particulars 2(a) and 2(b).  Her position was that there was a standard list of criteria which had been covered;  on 2(c) Ms Pennington’s position was that the child had requested less frequent visits. Particular 3(a) was denied.  Ms  Pennington’s position was that the disclosure had been shared with the school and a minute of the meeting with school staff showed the risks were discussed.  Particular 3(b) was denied. Ms Pennington’s position is that she did call the Scout safeguarding lead. Particulars 4 and 5 were denied.

Background


9. At the time of the Allegation, Ms Bonner was employed as a Team Manager in the Looked After Children Team (LAC) of Bournemouth Borough Council (the Council). She had been in this role since September 2013.  Ms Pennington was employed as a Social Worker in the team from 18 August 2013. She was line managed by a Practice Manager but Ms Bonner was her Team Manager and therefore had overall management responsibility for Ms Pennington. At the time of the incidents to which this case relates, Witness Witness 2 was acting Service Director covering the role of the Head of Social Care. Witness Witness 3 was at the time the Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) Manager at the Council and had responsibility for oversight of all IROs.  An IRO is a qualified member of social work staff who has the responsibility of independently challenging the Social Workers’ care of the children to whom they have been allocated as IRO. The role of the IRO is to ensure that the Council is fulfilling its role in the best interests of a child. If an IRO had any concerns about a case or did not get a satisfactory response from a field worker team, then they would contact the IRO manager. In her role as IRO Manager, Witness Witness 3 was contacted by the IRO for Child A who raised concerns over the case.

10. The Council had a formal alert system. There were three levels of alert that could be raised by an IRO:

a) Stage 1. A Stage 1 alert would be sent to a child’s Social Worker and Team Manager responsible. A response was required to the sender of the alert setting out what actions had been taken as a result of the alert. If the alert was responded to appropriately at this point then the alert would be “closed down”.

b) Stage 2. If the IRO was not satisfied that the actions had been taken, either at all or completely, then a Stage 2 alert would be escalated to the Service Manager (in this case, EN) and Team Manager (Ms Bonner).

c) Stage 3. If the Stage 2 alert was not appropriately dealt with the case would be escalated to Stage 3 and sent to the Service Director (KD).

11. Child A was known to the Council and had been subjected to physical harm by his father. He became subject to Child Protection Plans and subsequently a care order. As a Looked After Child (LAC) he was in the care of the Council, with the Council holding the role of “corporate parent”. Child A was placed with a long term foster carer who was supervised by an independent foster care agency. He was allocated to Ms Pennington who was practice managed by Colleague A.

12. Child A had attended A&E in March 2014 with a small tear on his foreskin, his foster carer reporting this to the duty Social Worker at the time. The medical opinion was inconclusive and it was noted that the injury might have been caused by the zip of his trousers. It was not raised by the hospital as a safeguarding issue. At that time, the foster carer disclosed that Child A had advised her that he was in a relationship with another male at school but he didn’t wish for anybody to be made aware of this. This conversation was recorded on the RAISE system, a computer recording system used by the Council.  It was Ms Bonner’s duty to monitor all the cases that she had overall management for and keep them under review, including Child A’s case.  During the investigatory interview Ms Bonner stated she had not read the note of the conversation about Child A being at A&E and his relationship with another boy on RAISE and had only learnt of Child A’s injury as part of a conversation with Ms Pennington’s line manager, Colleague A. 

13. On 9 June 2014 Child A made a further disclosure to his foster carer alleging past sexualised behaviour with a number of children. A safeguarding meeting was held at the school on 25 June 2014. 

14. As a result of the concerns in the handling of the case, an audit was conducted showing when Ms Bonner viewed Child A’s file between 1 March and 30 September 2014. This showed that following the incident on 27 March 2014, Ms Bonner did not access Child A’s file until 3 April 2014.
 
15. Ms Pennington, the allocated Social Worker, was off work at the time Child A attended hospital. She returned to work on 28 April 2014. Ms Pennington wrote a risk assessment in relation to Child A on 23 July 2014.

16. The HCPC alleged that Ms Bonner signed off the risk assessment on 23 July 2014. The risk assessment contained no analysis of the situation and did not recognise the concerns raised nor provide any guidance for the professionals supporting him. Ms Bonner did not challenge Ms Pennington with regard to the quality of the risk assessment.  Ms Bonner subsequently challenged the electronic sign off of the risk assessment as being hers, at another time she claimed the risk assessment was adequate.

17. On 24 July 2014 a Stage 1 IRO alert was raised setting out that the risk assessment was inadequate.  Ms Bonner responded on 28 July 2014.

The Witnesses

18. The Panel heard from three witnesses who all provided witness statements and gave oral evidence.

Witness 1


19. Witness 1 was an Interim Service Manager at the Council in which role she was responsible for and supervised the Looked After Children’s Service.  Witness 1 is a registered Social Worker. Witness 1 took the oath and confirmed that the witness statement was signed by her and was true to the best of her knowledge and belief. Since 22 May 2017 she has been an  Interim Service Manager at another Council.

20. Witness 1 confirmed she was the line manager for Ms Bonner. As regards Child A, Witness 1 explained  she was aware of the case and of the concerns raised about the risk assesment. Witness 1 said she therefore assumed that Ms Bonner had addressed the IRO’s concerns at Stage 1, and the email that she received from Ms Bonner on 28 July 2014 implied that this was the case.

21. Mr Higgins examined Witness 1. Witness 1 confirmed the team were under pressure and that there had been a high turnover of staff. Witness 1 accepted caseloads were high at the time. 
 
22. Responding to Panel questions, Witness 1 said she agreed with her predecessor that Ms Bonner was a good performer. On the supervision structure, Witness 1 explained that a Practice Manager, supervised Ms Pennington’s case work and Ms Bonner did not have direct management of Ms Pennington but she was in the line of accountability.

23. Witness 1 told the Panel that she did not recall seeing the formal Stage 2 alert document which would have required a formal response from her. She added that she had never seen a Stage 2 alert whilst working at the Council.

Witness 2


24. Witness 2 was a Service Manager at the Council responsible for a number of teams at the Council.  Witness 2 took the oath and confirmed that both witness statements were signed by her and were true to the best of her knowledge and belief. She is now Director of Children’s Services in another council. She conducted the investigation in to both Ms Bonner and Ms Pennington.

25. Regarding Ms Bonner’s lack of support, Witness 2 told the Panel that she had no contact with her before the investigation and she did not recall this being raised during her investigation. She produced a report and interviewed Ms Bonner and others. Witness 2 confirmed that she had an impression during interviews that Ms Bonner failed to recognise her part in the management of the case and seemed quick to place responsibility on others.  She explained that Child A was a Looked After Child with the Council effectively acting as the parent of the child.

26. Witness 2 explained the importance of recording cases on the RAISE system at the Council and confirmed the chronology in the bundle was prepared by her as part of her preparation of her report. She referred to the report from the fostering agency regarding the injury to Child A’s penis. There was a separate health reporting system which was not on the RAISE system.

27. Witness 2 explained to the Panel that Ms Bonner should have considered the risk assessment and reviewed the case in March 2014 when she heard about the child’s injury, particularly given the child’s history.  Furthermore, at the Stage 1 alert in July 2014, there should have been a full review of the case file followed by an analysis of the risk, and a review of the formal risk assessment. The Stage 3 alert of 28 August 2014 prompted the investigation Witness 2 later carried out. Witness 2 had been satisfied that the required risk assessment had not been completed to a satisfactory standard. Witness 2 said she would have expected Ms Bonner to have had a full and robust understanding of the case but she did not.

28. Witness 2 confirmed that during the investigatory interview Ms Bonner had accepted the responsibility for the risk assessment was hers but defended it in an email of 24 July 2014. Witness 2 said that for some time Ms Bonner had sought to defend the risk assessment which Witness 2 asserted that Ms Bonner had not actually read.

29. Witness 2 explained to the Panel that she had checked Ms Bonner’s access on the system to Child A’s case.  She stated that Ms Bonner could not have managed the case properly given her lack of access to the file. Witness 2 concluded that Ms Pennington had not adequately disclosed the issues regarding Child A’s sexualised behaviour to his school. Ms Bonner should have ensured these matters were disclosed to the school immediately and to the Scout Group. Witness 2 stated that there was no record of the discussions with the Scout Group which should have taken place.
 
30. Witness 2 told the Panel that Ms Bonner had accepted responsibility for Child A’s case but Witness 2 considered Ms Bonner’s approach had been passive and alerts from the IRO service had not been properly acted upon to manage the risk and safeguard the child appropriately.

31. Witness 2 also carried out an investigation into Ms Pennington in relation to Child A and produced a report in that regard. An interview took place on 25 September 2014 and Witness 2 confirmed, as with Ms Bonner, that a copy was provided to Ms Pennington and the detail was not challenged.  Ms Pennington told Witness 2 at interview that she did not recall if the risk assessment had been seen by Ms Bonner.  Witness 2 said Ms Pennington used the term “generic” when describing the risk assessment and Witness 2 considered that meant the specific risk was not being assessed properly. 

32. Witness 2 explained that Ms Pennington was on a performance improvement plan in 2014 agreed with Colleague A. There was no record of any other discussions with the child, nor any telephone calls or interventions such as with the school, Scouts or foster carers. Witness 2 said that there was no record of Ms Pennington accessing the system prior to the 1 July 2014 visit. After the disclosures made by the child, Witness 2 said that a care plan should have been prepared urgently dealing with the issues raised and every child should have a care plan.

33. Witness 2 told the Panel that it was basic Social Work practice that a child be seen alone and that Ms Pennington had not done so. 

34. In response to questions by Mr Higgins, Witness 2 said it was not part of her brief to consider the case load or sickness level in the team. Witness 2 was not involved in Ms Pennington’s performance improvement plan or its management.

35. As to the safeguarding meeting with the school of 25 June 2014, Witness 2 accepted that Ms Pennington’s line manager Colleague A was also present. Witness 2 said she did not recall that Ms Pennington was on compassionate leave and on holiday during much of August 2014.

36. In response to Panel questions, Witness 2 said she felt Colleague A was “in the middle”. Witness 2 said Ms Bonner was ultimately responsible.  As to contact with health professionals regarding Child A’s injury, Witness 2 explained that in the case recording system there was a request for that to happen on 1 April 2014 but there was no actual instruction as to what was to happen and it was not clear who made the entry, possibly another colleague.  She said it was for Ms Bonner to decide upon the strategy in respect of safeguarding Child A. 

37. As regards Child A’s disclosure to his foster carer on 9 June 2014, Witness 2 explained she recalled a list of children’s names which was given by Child A to his foster carer. Child A alleged he had had sexualised behaviour with these children in the past. Some were names of children currently at the school with Child A. Witness 2 said she considered the current implications of the disclosure had been missed as the alleged behaviour had occurred in the past. No opportunity had been taken to assess whether the named children had been harmed and to ensure their safety and that of Child A. No consideration appeared to have been given to the question of whether there was a risk of harm either to Child A from others or from Child A to his peers. 

38. Witness 2 told the Panel that, fundamentally the issue was whether the evidence was properly used to determine and inform the appropriate steps necessary to protect the child and others. Witness 2 said that the evidence held was not fully disclosed to the appropriate partners to fully protect Child A and other children. As there were no records to explain, Witness 2 said that she could not comment on whether the reference to “full disclosure” in discussions with a colleague PS on the case recording system included both the current and past position as disclosed by Child A.

39. On the role of the IRO alert process , Witness 2 explained that the level of alert reached was Stage 3, as it had gone to the Service Director, KD. She could not explain why Witness 1 had said in evidence that she had not seen the Stage 2 alert. Witness 2 confirmed that the Service Manager would become formally involved at Stage 2.
  
40. Witness 2 was questioned by the Legal  Assessor in Ms Bonner’s absence.  Ms Bonner’s case was put to Witness 2 as expressed in her written representations and response to the Allegation dated 28 June 2015.  Witness 2 confirmed and reiterated her position as set out in her evidence so far.

Witness 3   

41. Witness 3 affirmed and confirmed that her witness statement was signed by her and was true to the best of her knowledge and belief. She was a registered Social Worker but is now retired. She was an IRO Manager at the Council at the time of the Allegation in respect of Ms Bonner and Ms Pennington. She explained that colleague VS was the IRO responsible for Child A.

42. Witness 3 reviewed the report by the IRO, VS, and raised a Stage 2 alert. She could not recall any further engagement with EN regarding it. She explained to the Panel she had not been satisfied with the risk assessment that had been completed for Child A.

43. Witness 3 told the Panel that the risk assessment should be a stand-alone document but it was extremely “scanty” and was substandard.  It was fundamental to keeping the child safe and it was the document on which decisions were made.  She recalled the issue of the past disclosures made by Child A in the list of children he had written. She was not sure that the implications of the disclosures had been explored.

44. In response to Mr Higgins, Witness 3 agreed that guidance and support should have been provided to Ms Pennington as a newly qualified Social Worker both by her Practice Manager and the Team Manager. 

Amendment of the Allegations


45. The Panel noted that it was appropriate in light of the evidence, to amend the Allegation regarding both Registrants. In respect of Ms Pennington by adding the word “allegedly” before “participated” in Particulars 3(a) and 3(b); and in relation to Ms Bonner by adding the word “alleged” before the word “sexual encounters” in Particular 3(d).  Ms Eales and Mr Higgins had no objection to this amendment and the Panel, after taking advice from the Legal Assessor, amended the Allegations accordingly.

Closing Submissions


46.  Ms Eales and Mr Higgins summarised their respective positions in Closing Submissions. Ms Eales made submissions in respect of dishonesty in Particular 6 in respect of Ms Bonner and referred the Panel to Ivey v Genting Casinos UKSC 2017 67. She made submissions regarding the evidence in respect of the Allegation for each Registrant. 

47. Ms Eales referred to the HCPC Standards of conduct, performance and ethics and the HCPC Standards of Proficiency of Social Workers.  For Ms Bonner she submitted the evidence showed a breach of the Standards of conduct, performance and ethics paragraphs 1,6,7,8,10 & 13 and in the Standards of Proficiency paragraphs 1.2, 1.3, 1.5, 2.2, 2.3, 2.4, 3.1, 4.1, 4.3, 4.4, 10.1, 10.2, 14.1, 14.2, 14.3. 

48. In relation to Ms Pennington Ms Eales submitted that the Standards breached were Standards 1, 6, 7, & 10 and in the Standards of Proficiency, paragraphs 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.5, 2.2, 2.3, 2.4, 4.1, 4.4, 8.1, 8.4, 8.5, 9.2, 10.1, 10.2, 14.1, 14.2, 14.3.

49. Mr Higgins made submissions for Ms Pennington and referred the Panel in detail to the bundle of documents provided by Ms Pennington and her written response to the Allegation. 

50. The Panel carefully considered all the evidence and documents before it together with the submissions from both Mr Higgins and Ms Eales.  It took the advice of the Legal Assessor and applied the relevant principles. It was mindful that the civil burden of proof, the balance of probabilities,  rests on the HCPC, and that the Registrant need not prove anything.  The Legal Assessor advised the Panel on the approach to adopt on the facts.  On the issue of the alleged grounds of lack of competence and/or misconduct he referred it to the guidance in Holton v GMC [2006] EWHC 2960 and Roylance v GMC (No 2) [2001] 1 AC 311.  He reminded the Panel that on grounds there was no burden of proof and that was a matter for their own professional judgement. 

51. The Legal Assessor provided advice on the issue of dishonesty and referred the Panel to the recent Supreme Court decision in Ivey v Genting Casinos [2017] UKSC 67 which decided that the second leg, subjective test for dishonesty set out in R. v Ghosh [1982] QB 1053 is no longer good law.  He advised the Panel that Ivey states “the question whether his conduct was honest or dishonest is to be determined by the fact-finder by applying the (objective) standards of ordinary decent people.”

Decision on facts and grounds
The Witnesses


52. The Panel considered all the evidence and considered the Allegations in respect of each Registrant separately. The Panel found that all three witnesses were credible and reliable. Witness 1 was credible, but her recollection was limited given this was some time ago. Witness 2 was credible and had good recall, however the Panel bore in mind that she was the investigating officer so was not directly involved in the events that took place.  She did not give evidence regarding the wider context of the workplace pressures relied upon by both Registrants. Witness 3 was credible and reliable.

53. The Panel did not hear from a number of the Registrant’s colleagues mentioned in the evidence of the live witnesses. Notably the Panel did not hear evidence from Ms Pennington’s immediate Line Manager Colleague A who was also involved in the care of Child A and whose evidence would have likely been of assistance. 

Ms Bonner - Decision on Facts and Grounds

Particular 1(a) - Not proved

54. The issue was reported on 27 March 2014 and there is a case note on 28 March 2014 by the emergency team regarding the fax received about the hospital visit. The Panel considered the email of 1 April from Colleague A to Ms Bonner which expresses concern about Child A’s injury. The case recording summary of 1 April 2014 indicates that Colleague A also asked PE, Specialist Nurse for Looked After Children, to report back. Colleague A had taken action. Ms Bonner accessed the RAISE records on 3 April and this is confirmed by the witness statement of Witness 2.  The Panel found that there was a timely consideration of the case notes.  Ms Bonner’s case notes also substantiate that she spoke to Colleague A on the 1 April. The Panel considers that day to day management by Ms Bonner was not required given her role as Team Manager and she knew about the issue by 1 April 2014 and was entitled to rely upon her discussions with Colleague A until she accessed the records on 3 April 2014. 

55. The Panel was mindful of the words used in the stem of this Particular which refer to Ms Bonner not ensuring adequate protection. The Panel is satisfied on the evidence that Child A was adequately protected by the steps taken and finds this Particular not proved.


Particular 1(b) – Not Proved

56. Ms Bonner did not speak to the Health Professionals but the records show that Colleague A had spoken with PE and it was appropriate for Ms Bonner to rely upon this. PE and the medical professionals were in discussion about the incident. The Panel notes this Particular relates only to the period March to April 2014. The Panel is satisfied that Ms Bonner was ensuring that the appropriate work was being undertaken and Child A was adequately protected and finds this Particular not proved.  

Particular 1(c) – Not Proved

57. The Panel has found that Ms Bonner was ensuring that the appropriate work was being undertaken and Child A was adequately protected.  For the reasons set out above, finds this particular not proved.

Particular 2 – Not Proved

58. The risk assessment shows Ms Bonner’s name printed in the signature box. The Panel was not provided with any evidence to clearly confirm that she had indeed signed it off. The supervision notes of 3 September 2014 between Ms Bonner and Ms Pennington and the investigative interview between Witness 2 and Ms Bonner indicate that the risk assessment was not signed off by Ms Bonner. The Panel finds this Particular not proved.

Particular 3(a) – Proved


59. The Panel considered the terms of this Particular carefully and noted the reference in the stem to the timescale “On or around 24 July 2014”. That is what the HCPC offer to prove and it is the timescale in which the Panel have considered the evidence on this Particular.   

60. The Panel noted the email from Witness 3 raising issues with the risk assessment on 24 July 2014. The Panel agrees with, and accepts, the evidence of both Witness 2 and Witness 3 that the risk assessment was generic and inadequate. It did not meaningfully assess risk.  It is basic social work practice to complete these documents adequately and correctly and Ms Bonner had a responsibility to ensure that the risk assessment was adequate. On 28 July 2014 Ms Bonner stated and maintained in an email to Witness 3 that she had read the risk assessment and that it “addressed all of the issues”. The accepted evidence of Witness 3 and Witness 2 is that it did not do so.  The Panel finds this Particular proved.

Particulars 3(b) and 3(c) – Not Proved

61. The Panel noted the words in the stem “not respond appropriately” and also noted the words “alerted to” in both sub-Particulars.

62. The Panel is satisfied from the evidence and documentation that at this time Ms Bonner was  asking both Ms Pennington and Colleague A whether steps were being taken and she understood from both that action was being taken. The Panel found that Ms Bonner was entitled, at this point in time, to rely on these assurances. The Panel found that in these circumstances it was not an inappropriate response to the known safeguarding concerns for Ms Bonner to do so.

Particular 3(d) - Not Proved

63. The Panel noted that a safeguarding meeting took place on 25 June 2014 chaired by Colleague A.  Ms Bonner had discussed matters with Colleague A who had reported to her that she had discussed the issue of a strategy meeting with the police liaison Social Worker, who had a role in deciding on whether such a meeting is required. In an email of 29 July 2014 Colleague A told Ms Bonner of that discussion and that had been agreed that “this did not meet the threshold for a strategy discussion.” This is also reflected in the statement taken by Witness 2 from the police liaison Social Worker. This Social Worker confirmed that she had received the full disclosure from the LAC team and had discussed this with her police colleague.

64. The Panel found that Ms Bonner had a responsibility to consider matters and form her own professional judgement of the circumstances and risks using her knowledge of the case at that time. However, she was entitled, and it was appropriate, to rely upon what was reported to her by Colleague A at this time. The Panel found that it was, in these circumstances, appropriate not to organise a strategy meeting at this time. Accordingly, the Panel finds this particular not proved.

Particular 4 – Proved


65. The Panel has found that the risk assessment was inadequate at Particular 3(a).  Ms Bonner reported to Manager A, EN, that all the issues raised by the IRO had been addressed when that was not the case given that the risk assessment, with which the Stage 1 alert was concerned, was inadequate. As a matter of fact it follows that when Ms Bonner informed Manager A that all of the issues raised had been addressed, that was not the case. The Panel accordingly finds this Particular proved.

Particular 5 – Proved


66. The Panel has found that the risk assessment was inadequate and that Ms Bonner told Manager A that all issues in the Stage 1 IRO had been addressed, when that was not the case. That being so, as a matter of facts found proved, it follows that Ms Bonner could not, and did not, adequately address with Colleague A, Ms Pennington, the concerns raised about Colleague A’s practice as Ms Bonner did not challenge her as to the adequacy of the risk assessment. Ms Bonner states that she asked Colleague A to address the matter with TP ‘in supervision’, but she admits that she did not record this conversation.  Indeed, there is no evidence that Ms Bonner herself revisited the risk assessment until 3 September 2014 after being prompted to do so. This followed the LAC review of 28 August 2014, when it was discovered that there had been no response to the Stage 2 alert. At that point the Stage 3 alert was raised. The Panel  finds this Particular proved.

Particular 6 – Not Proved


67. The Panel carefully considered the question of dishonesty and bore in mind the Legal Assessor’s advice.  It applied an objective test of the actions taken by Ms Bonner found proved in Particular 4 to decide whether they were dishonest and also considered the facts as to Ms Bonner’s knowledge in the time period specified in Particular 4.

68. At the time of the responses made by Ms Bonner in the two emails of 28 July 2014 she did not have the knowledge that all the issues raised by the IRO in the Stage 1 alert had not been addressed. Ms Bonner explained her position on the risk assessment in the emails she sent to Witness 3 and EN on that date. The Panel has found that Ms Bonner was wrong to believe that the risk assessment was adequate. However, the Panel finds that this was her genuinely held belief at that time.

69. Accordingly, the Panel finds that, given the actual and genuine state of knowledge of Ms Bonner on or around 28 July 2014, what she did in Particular 4  was not, objectively viewed, dishonest.

Misconduct - Ms Bonner


70. The Panel has found Particulars 3(a), 4 and 5 proved.  The Panel exercised its professional judgment and was mindful of the guidance in the Roylance case. 

71. The Panel found that although Ms Bonner accessed the case records on 28 and 29 July 2014 before responding to the Stage 1 alert, she did not appear to grasp the inadequacy of the risk assessment that had been completed by Ms Pennington. She did not appear to appreciate the danger or risks presented to both Child A and his peers by these disclosures.  She did not demonstrate any understanding of the gravity or the risks such graphic  and serious disclosures presented. The very nature and detail of the disclosures themselves raised serious issues.

72. It is the Panel’s view that as Team Manager, it was Ms Bonner’s responsibility to ensure that such standards were maintained. She did not exercise adequate management oversight when concluding that the risk assessment “addressed all of the issues”. Having not recognised the serious inadequacy of the risk assessment, Ms Bonner then failed to address the matter with Ms Pennington. She should have ensured that the risk assessment was updated to the required standard as a matter of urgency, but the evidence shows that she did not do so until 3 September 2014.  Ms Bonner did not appropriately act upon that information.

73. The Panel considers that it is basic to social work to complete risk assessments properly and to maintain proper management oversight. The Panel finds that the facts found proved as to Ms Bonner’s action and inaction fell seriously below what would be proper, and what is to be expected of a Social Worker and amount to serious misconduct. 

74. The Panel found the following ‘Standards of conduct, performance and ethics’ had been breached:


Standard 1 You must act in the best interests of service users


Standard 7 You must communicate properly and effectively with service users and other practitioners
Standard 8 You must effectively supervise tasks that you have asked other people to carry out.

75. In respect of the ‘Standards of proficiency for Social workers’ the following standards have been breached: 1.3, 4.1, 4.3, 4.4, 14.1, 14.3.

76. In light of this finding the Panel did not consider it necessary to consider the question of lack of competence.

Ms Pennington - Decision on facts and grounds

Particular 1(a) - Proved


77. This is admitted by  Ms Pennington. The Panel accepted the evidence it heard from Witness 3 and Witness 2 and agrees that a risk assessment must be a stand-alone document and is a fundamental tool to ensure the safety of the child and others. It accepted the evidence it heard from Witness 2 and Witness 3 that the risk assessment produced by Ms Pennington for Service User A, Child A, was scant and inadequate. Ms Pennington had not particularised the relevant history, nor analysed the current risks posed by this history, including the graphic detail with which Child A had described the alleged encounters to his foster carer. Nor had she set out any strategy regarding how the risks once properly identified might be mitigated. The Panel considered that it is basic to Social Work practice to complete important documents such as risks assessments to the required standard.

Particular 1(b) - Not Proved


78. The Panel noted the date in the Allegation of 24 July 2014. The Panel carefully considered the case note of 13 June 2014 from Colleague A to Ms Pennington and Ms Bonner. This note makes it clear that Colleague A is telling both Ms Bonner and Ms Pennington about the disclosures of past alleged behaviour. She states the matter can be dealt with by way of a safeguarding meeting rather than a strategy meeting.  It notes that Child A was sensitive about the disclosures and did not want to talk about them.  She advised Ms Pennington not to interview Child A about the disclosures. She considered that if these were explored with him he “ will close down and this could prevent him from confiding any further with his foster carer”. Child A was then seen on 1 July 2014, and according to her case note, Ms Pennington, apparently following Colleague A’s management advice set out in the note of 13 June, did not raise the issue of the disclosures. Further, it is not clear that Ms Pennington ever knew that there was a Stage 1 alert on or around 24 July 2014. The Panel finds that appropriate case management did not require Ms Pennington to visit Child A in the time scale of the Particular.  The Particular is not proved.

Particular 1(c)(i) - Proved

79. Ms Pennington admits that she did not adequately record the meeting in respect of Child A on or around 26 August 2014. She was suspended on  4 September 2014 and could create no further records. This Particular is proved.  

Particular 1(c)(ii) - Not Proved

80. The HCPC did not insist on this Particular and led no evidence. The Particular is not proved.

Particular 1(c)(iii) - Not Proved


81. The Panel considered the evidence on this Particular from Witness 2 and considered the bundle of documents.  The Panel does not know, and the evidence led does not indicate, who the “third parties” referred to were or that adequate recording did not take place.  Given the lack of evidence the Panel found this Particular not proved.

Particular 2(a) - Not Proved

82. The Panel noted from the case file access records that Ms Pennington accessed the relevant records and the significant events record for Child A on 12 and 13 June 2014 and reviewed the referral on 25 June 2014.  In her response to the allegation Ms Pennington confirms this is the case. The Panel found this Particular not proved.

Particular 2(b)  - Not Proved

83. The Panel noted that “plan” in this sub-Particular is not defined and it is unclear what “plan” is being referred to. The case note for 1 July 2014 records the visit made to Child A and it records safeguarding concerns.  The Panel found from the evidence in the case file that Ms Pennington did carry out work on the case prior to the visit. The Panel did not find evidence to prove this part of the allegation and found this Particular not proved.

Particular 2(c) - Not Proved


84. The Panel noted that Ms Pennington said she did see Child A “alone for about ten minutes” and this is recorded on the case note record of 1 July 2014. This Particular is not proved.

Particular 3(a) - Not Proved


85. The notes of the safeguarding meeting with the school on 25 June 2014 show that the issues were discussed, including the disclosure made by Child A. There is a record of the discussions about the sexualised behaviour of Child A and there is a discussion about the potential risk to Child A as victim or as perpetrator, as well to his peers. The meeting is attended by, among others, the Head of Year, an Education Social Worker and a teaching assistant from the school. Colleague A attended the meeting. As Chair of the meeting and as Ms Pennington’s line manager she had a responsibility to ensure all relevant information and risks were discussed at that meeting. Given that the minutes of the meeting before the Panel appear to summarise the issues, it is not clear to the Panel that it was Ms Pennington’s responsibility therefore to alert the school to any further detail as to the “specific nature and extent of the risks posed”. The Panel found this

Particular not proved.

 

Particular 3 (b) – Not Proved


86. The Panel considered Ms Pennington’s case note of the discussion on 23 July 2014 with the Scout leader. She records she had “shared safeguarding concerns” with the Scout Leader. The Panel accepts that it is a summary of the discussion.

87. Witness 2 said in her evidence said Ms Pennington told her that she had shared information, but had not recorded it.  Witness 2 said she could not find any such evidence.  The Panel have found that evidence in the 23 July 2014 case note and have considered it.

88. The Panel also considered the note of the  Disciplinary interview between Witness 2 and Ms Pennington on 30 October 2014 where Ms Pennington said she had alerted the Scouts and that there should be a case note.  The Panel has considered the case note of 23 July 2014 in which Ms Pennington did, indeed, record the matter. She was correct to say so in her interview with Witness 2. The Panel is satisfied that the case note Ms Pennington wrote records that the Scouts were alerted to the specific nature and extent of the risks posed. The Panel found this Particular not proved.

Misconduct - Ms Pennington

 
89. The Panel carefully considered the grounds alleged of lack of competence and/or misconduct. The Panel exercised its own professional judgement in doing so.  The Panel found Particulars 1 a) and 1(c)(i) proved. 

90. Ms Pennington had admitted that she realised the risk assessment was “brief” and that she needed to record the meeting adequately. The Panel did not consider her failings were due to a lack of competence.

91. In respect of Particular 1(a),  the Panel  found that an inadequate risk assessment could have led to harm and its inadequacy presented a serious risk to Child A and to his peers.  Ms Pennington accepted that this risk assessment needed to be done properly but she did not do it.  The Panel finds that this did amount to misconduct, as Ms Pennington knew what ought to have been done.
 
92. Ms Pennington failed to appropriately case manage a Looked After Child by not producing an adequate risk assessment. That assessment is fundamental to the care of the child and to identification and management of risks to the child and others. The inadequate risk assessment prepared by Ms Pennington fell seriously below the standard to be expected of a Social worker.  The Panel finds that amounts to misconduct.

93. In respect of Particular 1(c)(i) the Panel found that whilst this was not best practice, given that Ms Pennington was suspended just over a week later, her omission to adequately record the visit  does not amount to misconduct.

94. The Panel found the following ‘Standards of conduct, performance and ethics’ had been breached:


Standard 1 You must act in the best interests of service users
Standard 7 You must communicate properly and effectively with service users and other practitioners

95. In respect of the ‘Standards of proficiency for Social workers’ the following standards have been breached: 1.2, 1.3, 1.5, 4.1, 4.4, 14.1, 14.2, 14.3.
96. The Panel heard submissions from Ms Eales and Mr Higgins in respect of the issue of current impairment of fitness to practice.

 
Decision on impairment


97. In considering its decision on impairment the Panel was mindful that the purpose of these proceedings is not to punish the Registrant but to protect the public.  The Panel accepted the Legal Assessor’s advice. He advised on the issue of a finding of current impairment and the need to consider both past behaviour and to look to the future and assess risk.  He referred the Panel to the HCPTS Practice Note on Finding that Fitness to Practice is Impaired. The Legal Assessor reminded the Panel of the important guidance in CHRE v NMC & Grant [2011] EWHC927 (Admin).  He advised the Panel to exercise its own professional judgement on this issue, on which there was no evidential burden.  He stressed to the Panel the central importance of protecting the public and the wider the public interest considerations, including public confidence in, and the reputation of, the profession and the Regulator.


Impairment - Ms Bonner


98. Ms Bonner was not present or represented but the Panel took careful note of her written submissions and the references provided.  The Panel carefully considered both the personal and public components of impairment.

99. Following the events in the Allegation, Ms Bonner returned to work at the Borough of Poole, where she had been employed before she joined the Council.  Ms Bonner has a number of excellent references in respect of her practice, both before and after the events of the Allegation, from senior managers at Poole, who knew her well. A principal manager states that before she left Poole, she was being considered as ‘very capable of promotion to Team Manager’. Several references deal specifically with her practice as regards safeguarding and risk assessment since the time of these allegations. One reference from the Council refers to Ms Bonner’s skills being more “attuned and developed” than before with a clear understanding of the management role.  The Panel recognised that Ms Bonner was new to the role of Team Manager and accepted that she did tell Colleague A to address matters with Ms Pennington. Ms Bonner accepts that she should have recorded that discussion. The Panel notes that Ms Pennington was absent from work from 4-25 August 2014, during which time the failings of the risk assessment should have been addressed, but they could not have been directly addressed with Ms Pennington, who is Colleague A in particular 5. The case was complex and the Panel accepted that Ms Bonner was not aware of the Stage 2 alert. Ms Bonner says in her written submissions that she knows she ought to have recorded discussions and she has learnt from her experience.

 
100. The Panel also took account of Ms Bonner’s reflection, insight and remorse as set out in her submissions. 


101. The Panel finds that Ms Bonner does not present a risk of repetition of her failings, despite the fact that unfortunately due to personal health reasons she has not worked in the role of Social Worker for some time.


102. The Panel next considered the public element of impairment and the central public interest considerations.  The Panel has found misconduct and the potential for harm that could have flowed from an inadequate risk assessment. It found that an adequate and rigorous risk assessment was basic social work practice.  Given its findings in that regard, the Panel has determined that on the public component of impairment it is necessary to find Ms Bonner’s fitness to practice is currently impaired.  This is required in order to declare and uphold proper standards and to maintain public confidence in the profession and the Regulator and to mark the seriousness of the misconduct. 


Impairment - Ms Pennington


103. The Panel carefully considered the evidence and the submissions from Mr Higgins.  The Panel noted that Ms Pennington was a relatively newly qualified Social Worker and was supervised by both Ms Bonner and Colleague A in that role. Ms Pennington was also on a Performance Improvement Plan. The Panel took account of the fact that she was absent during a large part of August 2014.


104. The Panel has found misconduct and that the proper completion of a risk assessment is basic social work practice.  The risk assessment document, as a tool for recording risks and the actions to be taken to mitigate them, is fundamental to ensure safeguarding.  The Panel has some evidence from Ms Pennington that she has reflected on the incidents but has no evidence to  indicate that Ms Pennington has fully developed her insight into this incident.  The Panel has no evidence of Ms Pennington’s current circumstances and how she has maintained her practice and therefore no evidence of remediation.


105. The misconduct is serious and had the potential to cause harm to Child A and/or his peers. The Panel is of the view that the misconduct is remediable but to date it has no evidence of remediation by Ms Pennington. The Panel could therefore not be satisfied that there was not a real risk of repetition of the misconduct, or that the Registrant could practise safely without restriction. The Panel accordingly finds Ms Pennington’s fitness to practice is currently impaired with regard to the personal component.


106. The Panel had regard to public component and the critically important public interest considerations. The failing found proved was a fundamental aspect of social work required to ensure safeguarding.  Given the misconduct found, it would undermine public trust and confidence in both the reputation of the profession, and the regulatory process if a finding of current impairment was not made in this case.  Further, there is a need to declare and uphold proper standards of behaviour. The Panel accordingly finds Ms Pennington’s fitness to practice is currently impaired on public interest grounds. 

 
Submissions on sanction


107.  Ms Eales submitted to the Panel that sanction was a matter for it.  The Panel should act proportionately and have regard to the HCPC Indicative Sanctions Policy.  She reminded the Panel of the central purpose of sanction being protection of the public.


108.  Ms Eales submitted that as regards Ms Bonner, the Panel had found impairment on public grounds only and that a Caution Order may be suitable.  As to Ms Pennington, Ms Eales reminded the Panel it had no evidence of remediation and suggested that the appropriate sanction may be a Conditions of Practice Order.  She reminded the Panel that Conditions of Practice required to be workable and realistic.


109.  Mr Higgins for Ms Pennington told the Panel that from September 2016 to February 2017 she was employed as Team Leader in Adult Social Care which involved doing risk assessments and multi- agency team meetings.  From February 2017 Ms Pennington has worked as a Care Assistant in  a Day Centre for Adults. He submitted that Ms Pennington wished to return to social work and was very sorry for what happened and was certain similar incidents would not happen again.

  
110. The Panel took advice from the Legal Assessor.  He referred the Panel to the HCPC Indicative Sanctions Policy. He reminded it that it must act fairly and proportionately and apply the least restrictive sanction necessary to protect the public and the wider public interest. He stressed the importance of the public interest. 


Decision on Sanction


111. In considering the appropriate sanctions the Panel has had regard to its earlier findings as to misconduct and impairment and carefully considered the HCPC Indicative Sanctions Policy.    It bore in mind the need to act proportionately and to apply the least restrictive sanction necessary to protect the public and the public interest.


Ms Michaela Bonner


112. The Panel first considered Ms Bonner.  It was mindful of its findings on misconduct and impairment.  The Panel considered both aggravating and mitigating factors.  The Panel considers that it is an aggravating factor that whilst the inadequate risk assessment was in place, the risk to Child A and/or his peers was exacerbated.

 
113. The Panel considered the following mitigating factors applied :-


(a) Ms Bonner was a new Team Manager.
(b) She had a previous unblemished career.
(c) The work place was being restructured, there were four Service Managers in a short period of time and there was a high turnover of staff.
(d) Ms Bonner relied on information supplied to her from her Practice Manager, and was entitled to do so.
(e) Ms Bonner was not alerted to the Stage 2 alert.  The Council’s own processes for oversight and resolution were not effective in this case.


114. In view of the seriousness of the case, to take no further action would not be appropriate as such an order would fail to address the misconduct found.


115. The Panel next considered a Caution Order.  It has found that Ms Bonner does not currently represent a risk to the public and there is no requirement to impose a sanction to restrict her practice.  The Panel’s finding of impairment is in respect of the public component, that is in the public interest. The Panel is satisfied that Ms Bonner has shown insight, she does not represent a risk and she has remediated her practice. 

 
116. In these circumstances, the Panel determined that a one year Caution Order would be the appropriate and proportionate sanction.  That would send the appropriate message to Ms Bonner as to the seriousness of her misconduct and satisfy the public interest in declaring and upholding proper standards.  A Caution Order would also operate as a deterrent and maintain public confidence in the profession and regulator.  The Panel considers that a Caution Order of more than one year would be more restrictive than is necessary and disproportionate given its findings as to the risk to the public.

Ms Tara Pennington
 
117. The Panel considered the submissions from Ms Eales and Mr Higgins and bore in mind its earlier findings in respect of Ms Pennington.
118. The Panel considered the aggravating and mitigating factors.  The Panel found that an aggravating factor was that the risk assessment did not provide, as it should have, documented evidence to allow for the identified risks to be analysed and properly relayed to other agencies.  The fundamental purpose of the risk assessment was seriously undermined by Ms Pennington’s actions in failing to adequately prepare it.
 
119. The Panel found the following mitigating factors  :-  
(a) Ms Pennington was a newly  qualified Social Worker on  a Performance Improvement Plan.  She had a  reasonable expectation  that her work would be closely supervised and monitored.
(b) Ms Pennington had periods of absence during the time of the Allegation.
 
120. The Panel considered imposing a Caution Order.  Given the Panel’s findings as to impairment of fitness to practice, such an order would not be sufficient to protect the public and neither would it be appropriate or proportionate in the circumstances of this case given the earlier findings of the Panel as to misconduct and impairment.
 
121. The Panel next considered a Conditions of Practice Order.  It was mindful that such an order must protect the public and conditions must be realistic, workable, appropriate and verifiable.  It has found a lack remediation but Ms Pennington has expressed a willingness to return to social work. 

Order

Ms Michaela Bonner, Order:
The Registrar is directed to annotate the register entry of Ms Michaela Anne Bonner with a Caution which is to remain on the register for a period of one year from the date this order comes into effect.

Ms Tara Pennington, Order:

The Panel considers her practice is clearly capable of remediation and it has formulated the following Conditions of Practice which it determines appropriately address the failings in Ms Pennington’s practice –

The Registrar is directed to annotate the Register to show that for one year from the date that this Order comes into effect, you, Ms Tara Pennington must comply with the following Conditions of Practice.


1. On taking up employment as a registered Social Worker you must immediately place yourself and remain under the supervision of a work place supervisor registered by the HCPC or other appropriate statutory regulator and promptly supply details of that supervisor to the HCPC.  You must attend upon that supervisor as required and follow their advice and recommendation.
 
2. In advance of any review provide a report to the HCPC from the supervisor reporting on your practice and dealing specifically with your practice in the preparation of risk assessments.

3. You must promptly inform the HCPC if you cease to be employed by your current employers or take up any other or further employment.
 
4. You must promptly inform the HCPC of any disciplinary proceedings against you by your employer.

5. 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).

6. Provide to the HCPC before any Review hearing a reflective piece setting out the importance and impact of risk assessments.


 

 

Notes

No notes available

Hearing history

History of Hearings for Mrs Michaela Anne Bonner and Mrs Tara Pennington

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
06/11/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Other