Mr Mark Stone

: Social worker

: SW38080

: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing:10:00 11/12/2017 End: 17:00 18/12/2017

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

: Conduct and Competence Committee
: Struck off

Allegation

Between 30 September 2013 and 28 June 2014, during the course of your employment as a Social Worker by Staffordshire County Council, you:

1. In relation to Child A:

a) Did not:

i. Following a Looked After Review, undertake statutory visits within the required timescales;

ii. Identify targets and/or record the child's views on the Personal Education Plan (PEP);

iii. Include placement information on TRIM;

iv. Update the care plan after 11 October 2013 ;

V. Record the date of last health assessment in the care plan;

vi. Update the chronology; and

vii. Progress a referral to SUSTAIN.

b) Recorded information in the care plan which was inaccurate and/or unsupported by evidence.

c) Recorded inappropriate information in the PEP dated 3 February 2014.


2. In relation to Child B, did not provide a Care Plan/Social Work Report for

a Looked After Review of 20 March 2014.


3. In relation to Child C:

a) Did not:

i. Following a Looked After Review, undertake statutory visits between 27 September 2013 and 27 December 2013;

ii. Record the PEP on TRIM;

iii. Record the child's views in the PEP;

iv. Update the chronology;

V. Progress the case following the looked after recommendation on 26 September 2012; and

vi. Obtain signatures on placement information.

b) Recorded a statutory visit on 3 April 2014 which did not take place.

c) Recorded a statutory visit on 9 May 2014 which did not take place.


4. In relation to Child D, did not:

a) Undertake a PEP within the required timescales;

b) Record the child's views in the PEP;

c) Obtain signatures on placement information; and

d) Update the Chronology.


5. In relation to Child E:

a) Did not:

i. Undertake a PEP within the required timescales;

ii. Include accurate information in the placement information;

iii. Obtain signatures in the placement information;

iV. Include dates in the care plan;

V. Update the care plan;

vi. Record the date of the last health assessment in the care plan;

vii. Undertake a chronology;

viii. Record the viability assessment; and

ix. Obtain the parents' views for the Looked After Review of 23 October 2013.

b) Recorded a statutory visit on 27 September 2013, which did not take place; and

c) Recorded a statutory visit on 4 April 2014, which did not take place.

6. In relation to Child F:

a) Recorded a statutory visit on 20 December 2013, which did not take place; and

b) Recorded a statutory visit on 3 March 2014, which did not take place.


7. In relation to Child G:

a) Recorded a statutory visit on 28 February 2014, which did not take place; and

b) Recorded a statutory visit on 10 April 2014, which did not take place.


8. In relation to Child H:

a) Recorded a statutory visit on 23 May 2014, which did not take place;

and

b) Recorded a statutory visit on 10 June 2014, which did not take place on that date.

9. In relation to Child I:

a) Recorded a statutory visit on 2 January 2014 which did not take place;

and

b) Recorded a statutory visit on 1 May 2014 which did not take place.

10. Your actions described in paragraphs 3 b) and c), 5 b) and c), and 6 - 9 were dishonest.

11. The matters described in paragraphs 1, 2, 3 a), 4 and 5 a) amount to misconduct and/or lack of competence.

12. The matters described in paragraphs 3 b) and c), 5 b) and c), and 6-10 amount to misconduct.

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

Finding

Preliminary Matters


Proof of Service
1. The Panel found that there had been good service of the Notice of Hearing by a letter sent to the Registrant’s registered address dated 17 August 2017. The letter informed the Registrant of the date, time and location of the hearing.

2. The Registrant was also notified of the hearing by an e-mail dated 17 August 2017.

Proceeding in the Absence of the Registrant
3. Mr Paterson made an application for the hearing to proceed in the absence of the Registrant. He referred the Panel to a Proforma completed by the Registrant dated 13 November 2017. In response to the question: “Do you intend to appear in person at the hearing?” the Registrant replied “I see no point. You have had this since 2014 and I am sure you have already made up your mind”. The Registrant indicated that he did not intend to be represented at the hearing or call witnesses.

4. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and applied the guidance in the HCPC Practice Note “Proceeding in the Absence of the Registrant”.

5. The Panel decided to exercise its discretion to proceed in the absence of the Registrant. The Panel carefully considered the Registrant’s completed proforma and decided that his absence was voluntary. The Registrant has not requested an adjournment of the hearing. An adjournment would not serve any purpose because there was little prospect that the Registrant would attend a hearing at a later date. The Panel noted that there were witnesses for the HCPC in attendance who were expecting to give evidence and that it was in their interest that the hearing was not adjourned. The Panel also considered that it was in both the Registrant’s interest and the public interest that the case was heard expeditiously. The Allegation related to events in 2013 and 2014 and it was inevitable that memories of the witnesses would fade over time.  The Panel took into account the Registrant’s interests, but decided that they were outweighed by the strong public interest in the expeditious disposal of cases of this nature.

6. The Panel drew no inference from the fact that the Registrant did not attend the hearing.

Hearing in private

7. The Panel identified a risk that the children, each of whom had been anonymised, might nevertheless be identified from their connection with their foster carers who gave evidence to the Panel.

8. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor that the Panel had discretion to hear part of the case in private to protect the private life of the children.

9. The Panel decided that it was appropriate to hear part of the case in private to protect the private life of the children. This decision was limited to sensitive information about the children’s history and information about the health of the children.

Background


10. At the relevant time, the Registrant was employed by Staffordshire County Council (SCC) as a Senior Practitioner in the Care Planning and Court Team. He initially worked for SCC through an employment agency on a temporary contract for approximately 12 months. He commenced his permanent role on 30 September 2013 and resigned on 28 June 2014.

11. As a Senior Practitioner, complex cases relating to Looked After Children (LAC) were allocated to the Registrant. A Looked After Child is a child within the local authority case system. The Registrant was the responsible for working with the children, their parents and guardians, and their wider families.

12. The Allegation relates to nine service users on the Registrant’s caseload who are referred to as Child A-I. The Registrant was supervised by LD, Team Manager.

13. The Registrant initially had a probation period of six months, but his probation period was extended because of concerns about his practice. Concerns were raised by LD and by Independent Reviewing Officers (IRO). The IROs are independent from the local authority. They chair the Looked After Child Review Meetings and their role is to ensure that children are being seen within the required timescales and that the child’s needs are being met.

14. LD addressed some of the concerns that are the subject of the Allegation in supervision meetings with the Registrant. After his resignation LD became concerned about the Registrant’s probity in providing dates of visits to the children. She called some of the foster carers and asked other staff to contact foster carers to find out if they had seen the Registrant on specific dates. She identified that there were some dates where the foster carers stated that Registrant had not visited when the Registrant had recorded that a visit took place.

Decision on Facts


15. The Panel carefully read the documents in the HCPC exhibits bundle.

16. The Panel heard evidence from the HCPC witnesses JW (foster carer for Child E), JF (Foster Carer for Child F), KW (Foster Carer for Child G) SC (Foster Carer for Child H), CH (Foster Carer for Child I) and LD.

17. The Panel found that JW was an honest, credible and clear witness. She spoke highly of the Registrant’s professional practice and her evidence was balanced. Her evidence in relation to the Allegation was weakened by the passage of time since the relevant events. She had no independent recollection of the dates the Registrant visited Child E and relied on her diary entries. She has lost her diary for 2013 and was therefore unable to provide any evidence about whether a visit took place on 27 September 2013. In relation to a visit on 4 April 2014 JW was unable to confirm that the Registrant did not visit, she could only confirm that there was no record in her diary. She stated that her diary may not be accurate.

18. The Panel found that JF was an honest, credible and clear witness. She also spoke highly of the Registrant, describing him as a very good, caring professional. Her evidence in relation to the Allegation was weakened by the passage of time. She has no independent recollection of the dates the Registrant visited Child F and relied on her diary entries. JF has lost her diary for 2013 and was therefore unable to provide any evidence about whether a visit took place on 20 December 2013. In relation to a visit on 3 March 2014 JD did not record that the Registrant visited that day. She accepted that he may have visited on that day. JF explained that caring for Child F was exhausting due to the child’s complex needs and that it was an intense and busy time.

19. The Panel found that KW was a credible, honest and clear witness. The quality of her evidence was not reduced by the fact that it was given over a video link. KW logged all visits by social workers in her fostering recordings, but the records for the relevant dates were missing. KW has retained her calendar and she referred to her calendar when preparing her witness statement. The calendar was not available to the Panel. Having referred to her calendar, KW noted that in relation to 28 February 2014 there was a visit booked, but she is not sure whether a visit took place. KW did not give evidence in relation to the date in the Allegation of 10 April 2014.

20. The Panel found that SC was an honest and open witness. The dates referred to in SC’s witness statement were inconsistent. She stated that the Registrant was the social worker for Child H from 26 February 2014 until 14 April 2014, but she also referred to visits in May and June 2014. SC acknowledged that the dates she had given could not be relied on and that her diary was not always clear. She described her evidence as “wishy washy” due to her poor recollection and said that the Panel could not rely on her facts. In the circumstances, the Panel did not find that her evidence was reliable.

21. CH was a credible, honest, and clear witness. Although she made some criticisms of the Registrant, the Panel found that this was due to her genuine concern in relation to the needs and health of Child I. Her evidence was balanced; she acknowledged that there was no difficulty in the Registrant’s interactions with Child I. CH kept a detailed chronology of relevant events for Child I, which she kept continually updated. This was more than simply a diary: it recorded when appointments were missed. CH explained to the Panel the reasons she is particularly vigilant in keeping accurate records. CH was clear that the Registrant did not visit Child I on 2 January 2014 or 1 May 2014. 

22. The Panel found that LD was a credible, honest and clear witness. Where she had no recollection due to the passage of time she explained that she was unable to give further details. She was engaged and thoughtful when answering questions from the Panel. Her evidence was balanced. The Panel did not detect any hostility towards the Registrant.

23. LD referred to her contemporaneous supervision notes and to the childrens’ records. The Panel gave weight to this hearsay evidence. The Panel noted that the supervision notes were signed by LD and dated the same day as the supervision meeting. Although the notes were not signed by the Registrant, there is a handwritten note stating that the notes were provided to him, but he did not sign. 

24. LD produced notes in relation to Child C, Child E, Child F, Child G, Child H, and Child I. These notes summarise information gathered after the Registrant’s resignation relating to visits to the child. The information includes, for each child, a list of dates on which the foster carer reported that visits had taken place. LD’s hearsay evidence was that the list of dates was provided by members of the team who had spoken to the foster carers. The Panel considered carefully the weight, if any, it should give to this hearsay evidence, bearing in mind that there has been no opportunity for the evidence to be tested.  The notes are not dated or signed. They are not corroborated by the evidence of the foster carers, who were unable to recollect a telephone call. The evidence is not agreed by the Registrant. In the circumstances the Panel decided to give no weight to this hearsay evidence where it is the sole evidence in support of the Allegation.

25. The Panel was also provided with e-mails from IROs. The Panel gave weight to this hearsay evidence where it was corroborated by other evidence, or by LD’s supervision notes, but did not give weight to the evidence where it is the only evidence to support the Allegation.

26. The Registrant did not present any written material for the consideration of the Panel. In his Proforma the Registrant response to whether he admitted the facts of the Allegation was: “I do not know who these children are or the adults, except LD, who are attending. If I have done this then I apologise but I struggle to admit to this but it must have occurred”. The Panel did not treat this statement as an admission of the facts of the Allegation.

Particular 1
27. The Panel found particular 1(a) proved in that he did not undertake statutory visits within the required timescales.

28. Child A was allocated to the Registrant on 1 July 2013. The Registrant attended the LAC Review for Child A on 14 October 2013. A LAC is chaired by an IRO. Its purpose is to review and progress the child’s Care Plan. The frequency of statutory visits is discussed at the LAC review. A statutory visit is a visit by the social worker to the child and is required under the Care Planning Regulations 2010. Where the child is in a long term foster care placement the statutory visits should take place on a minimum six weekly basis.

29. Child A had been moved to a new foster placement and there were significant concerns about his welfare. At the LAC Review on 14 October it was decided that statutory visits by the Registrant should take place on a minimum three weekly basis. This decision was recorded in the “Review Actions” section of the LAC Review.

30. On 1 April 2014 a further LAC Review was carried out. On 2 April 2014 the IRO sent an e-mail to LD informing her that he was grading the LAC Review as ‘inadequate’ because only two statutory visits had been recorded on TRIM, SCC’s electronic recording system, since the last review on 14 October 2013. The Panel gave weight to this hearsay evidence because it is corroborated by LD’s supervision notes and her oral evidence of the supervision discussion with the Registrant.

31. The supervision notes for 6 March 2014 record that the Registrant accepted that although he recorded a statutory visit for 22 February 2014, this did not take place because it was a Saturday. The notes do not record any explanation from the Registrant for the insufficient visits.

32. The visits the Registrant carried out were outside the required timescales; that applied both to the general requirement for statutory visits at a minimum of six weeks and to the requirement in the LAC Review of 14 October 2014 for statutory visits at a minimum of three weeks.

33. The Panel found particular 1(b) proved in that the Registrant did not identify and did not record objectives in Child A’s Personal Education Plan (PEP).

34. The PEP is a document which considers the child’s education needs and sets out plans for future development. It considers the appropriate use of available resources to ensure that the child’s educational needs are met. The PEP for 8 October 2013 was reviewed by the Panel. The objectives section has not been completed. 

35. The Panel found particular 1(c) proved.

36. LD explained that it is important for the child’s views to be recorded in the PEP. The child can record their own views if they attend the PEP, or the views of the child can be ascertained by the social worker by speaking to the child or the foster carer before the PEP meeting. The PEP for 8 October 2013 was reviewed by the Panel. The child’s views had not been recorded.

37. The Panel found particular 1(d) proved.

38. Although the Panel was unable to review the PEP dated 3 February 2014, the Panel accepted the evidence of LD, supported by her contemporaneous supervision notes, that the Registrant did not record the child’s views in the PEP dated 3 February 2014.

39. The Panel found particular 1(e) not proved.

40. The particular was unclear as to what placement information is being referred to. LD’s supervision notes simply record “Placement information is not on the system” without specifying any particular information which was missing. LD’s supervision notes start by saying that Child A is placed in long term foster care.

41. The Panel found particular 1(f) proved.

42. A Care Plan is a record of the child’s needs and information about how the local authority is meeting those needs. There was a clear expectation at SCC that the Care Plan should be updated within ten days of the LAC Review. LD confirmed that the Registrant was aware of this expectation. Although the LAC Review for Child A took place on 11 October 2013, the Care Plan had not been updated by the time of the supervision meeting on 6 March 2014. The Panel was not provided with the Care Plan to corroborate this. However, LD had access to all the relevant documents when she conducted her supervision meeting with the Registrant and she was clear that the Care Plan had not been updated prior to 6 March 2014.

43. The Panel found particular 1(g) not proved.

44. The notes of the LAC Review for 14 October 2014 indicate a need for the Registrant to update the health assessment for Child A. The notes of the LAC meeting on 1 April 2014 show that the last annual assessment was 28 June 2013. There is no evidence that a health assessment was carried out after this date. The Panel concluded that there was no health assessment carried out that the Registrant should have recorded.

45. The Panel found particular 1(h) proved.

46. The chronology for Child A had not been updated since 2012. This was partly the responsibility of previous social worker for Child A and partly the Registrant’s responsibility. At the supervision meeting on 6 March 2014, LD discussed with the Registrant her concerns that the chronology had not been updated since he took charge of the case.

47. The Panel found particular 1(i) proved.

48. The notes of the LAC review of 14 October 2013 state that the Registrant was to identify suitable therapeutic support for Child A urgently. Although the notes are unhelpfully redacted, it appears that the organisation identified to provide the report was SUSTAIN. In her supervision notes dated 6 March 2014, LD recorded her concern that this task was not actioned until on or around 27 February 2014. This cannot be considered to have been dealt with urgently.

49. The Panel found particular 1(j) not proved.

50. In her supervision notes for 6 March 2014 LD records that the Registrant had recorded inaccurate information in the Care Plan. However, she was unable to give any specific detail in her statement or her oral evidence. LD was referred to her supervision notes and identified detailed information regarding what she thought were inaccuracies. The Panel reviewed the notes and decided that they record a difference of views, and it is not possible to determine their accuracy or otherwise.

51. The Panel found particular 1(k) proved.

52. Although the Panel did not have an opportunity to review the PEP dated 3 February 204, the Panel accepted LD’s evidence and the evidence in her supervision notes for 6 March 2014. The supervision notes include an extract taken from the PEP dated 3 February 2014. A PEP may be circulated to a wide range of individuals and detailed references to Child A’s sexual behaviour should not have been included.

Particular 2
53. The Panel found particular 2 not proved.

54. The only evidence to support this particular is an e-mail dated 24 March 2014 from the IRO who carried out the LAC Review for Child B on 20 March 2014. In the e-mail the IRO states that there was no Care Plan or Social Work report provided. This email post-dates the supervision meeting held on 6 March 2014. However, there is no evidence that this matter was discussed with the Registrant in the supervision meeting with LD on 10 June 2014.

55. The Panel did not give weight to the hearsay evidence and therefore did not find the particular proved.

Particular 3
56. The Panel found particular 3(a) proved.

57. Child C was allocated to the Registrant on 29 July 2013. On 21 February 2014 the IRO sent an e-mail to LD grading the LAC Review on 20 February as ‘inadequate’ because dates of the statutory visits were incorrect and not at the minimum six weekly interval. The Registrant responded to the e-mail from the IRO on 21 February 2014 to explain that he had recorded 27 December 2013 visit as 27 November 2013, which was incorrect. The IRO responded on the same day to highlight that a statutory visit had not been carried out or recorded between 27 September 2013 and 27 December 2013, which was outside the six weekly timescale. The Panel gave weight to this hearsay evidence because it is corroborated by LD’s supervision notes for 6 March 2014 and her oral evidence of her supervision discussion with the Registrant.

58. In the supervision meeting on 6 March 2014 the Registrant told LD that he overlooked the visits and did not do the work as required.

59. The Panel found particular 3(b) proved.

60. LD’s evidence, confirmed by her supervision notes for 6 March 2014, was that there was no record on TRIM of a PEP for Child C completed by the Registrant on 20 November 2013.

61. The Panel found particular 3(c) not proved.

62. The Panel noted that the document completed by the Registrant on 5 March 2014 for Child C was a PEP review, not a PEP. The form is different. Unlike a PEP it does not have a section to record the child’s views. The PEP review has a section entitled “Young person’s role in their plan” which can be completed by the child. This section was not completed in the 5 March 2014 form. However, the Panel did not consider that particular 3(c) clearly referred to the failure to complete this section of the form.

63. The Panel found particular 3(d) proved.

64. Child C’s chronology had not been updated since 2010. This was partly the responsibility of previous social worker for Child C and partly the Registrant’s responsibility. At the supervision meeting on 6 March 2014, LD discussed with the Registrant her concerns that the chronology had not been updated since he took charge of the case.

65. The Panel found particular 3(e) proved.

66. On 26 September 2012, the LAC Review made a recommendation that the social worker should return to the Panel regarding a change of Care Plan aim. The social worker was asked to liaise with the Legal Section regarding an application for revocation of the placement order. On 6 March 2014, this had still not been achieved. LD accepted that this was the fault of the previous social worker, but that the Registrant should have progressed this once he took charge of the case.

67. The Panel found particular 3(f) proved.

68. On 6 March 2014 LD identified that the placement information for Child C had been updated on 24 February 2014, but had not been signed by the relevant parties, the social worker, manager, fostering social worker, parent and foster carer. The signatures were to confirm that everyone was in agreement with the plan.

69. The Panel found particular 3(g)(i), (ii) and (iii) not proved.

70. The Panel was provided with a statutory visit record for 9 May 2014. The only evidence that this visit did not take place is the hearsay evidence of LD which is not corroborated by any other evidence. The Panel gave no weight to the hearsay evidence.

71. The statutory visit record for 9 May 2014 refers to a previous statutory visit on 3 April 2014. The only evidence that a visit did not take place on 3 April 2014 is the hearsay evidence of LD, which is not corroborated by other evidence.

72. The HCPC have not proved that a visit on 3 April 2014 was not recorded by the Registrant. This is based on hearsay evidence that is not corroborated. There is also the record of 9 May 2014, which notes that a visit took place on 3 April 2014.

Particular 4
73. The Panel found particular 4(a) proved.

74. Child D was allocated to the Registrant on 29 July 2013. The previous PEP was completed on 21 February 2013. A first PEP review should be carried out within three months of the PEP. At the time the case was allocated to the Registrant the review was already out of time and it was the school holiday period. Factually the PEP was completed on 23 September 2013, but was not completed within the required timescale. However, it could not be, as LD accepted.

75. The Panel found particular 4(b) not proved.

76. Although the section of the PEP entitled “young person’s views about school” is not completed, it is recorded that “Child D did not complete this form”. Child D’s views are recorded elsewhere in the PEP and incorporated into the plan. For example under “young person’s role in their plan” it is recorded “Child D will try and spend more time with other pupils and will attend the support group to aid Child D to make links with other young people”.

77. The Panel found particular 4(c) proved.

78. The evidence of LD, supported by her supervision notes, is that signatures were not obtained for the placement information for Child D.

79. The Panel found particular 4(d) proved.

80. The chronology for Child D had not been updated since 2009. This was partly the responsibility of previous social worker for Child D and partly the Registrant’s responsibility. At the supervision meeting on 6 March 2014, LD discussed with the Registrant her concerns that the chronology had not been updated since he took charge of the case.

Particular 5
81. The Panel found particular 5(a)(i) proved.

82. Child E was allocated to the Registrant on 29 July 2013. Child E’s initial PEP took place on 17 January 2017 and the first review should have taken place within three months. The Registrant booked a review to take place on 5 June 2014. At the supervision meeting on 6 March 2014 LD advised the Registrant that the review should be re-arranged for an earlier date. The Registrant continued with the review planned for 5 June 2014, which was not in accordance with LD’s direction.

83. The Panel found particular 5(a)(ii) not proved.

84. LD referred to inaccurate placement information, but she was unable to provide any details. The supervision notes do not add any clarity.

85. The Panel found particular 5(a)(iii) proved.

86. The Panel was proved with a copy of Child E’s Placement Plan which required signatures from a number of parties. The evidence of LD, supported by her supervision notes, is that signatures were not obtained for the placement information.

87. The Panel found particular 5(a)(iv) not proved.

88. In the supervision meeting on 6 March 2014 LD highlighted to the Registrant that there were significant dates missing from Child E’s Care Plan. However, she did not specify the dates that were missing in the supervision note. In her oral evidence she was unsure what dates she was referring to. The Panel therefore found insufficient evidence to prove this particular.

89. The Panel found particular 5(a)(v) proved.

90. Although the Panel was not provided with a copy of the Care Pan, it accepted LD’s evidence that the Registrant had not updated the Care Plan for child E since the LAC Review on 21 October 2014. In the supervision meeting on 6 March 2014 the Registrant was challenged as to why the Care Plan had not been updated to reflect the outcome of the LAC review. The expectation was that the Care Plan should be updated ten days after the review.

91. The Panel found particular 5(a)(vi) proved.

92. The LAC Review on 21 October 2013 identified that a Health Assessment had been completed on 27 August 2013. As the Registrant did not update the Care Plan the health assessment could not have been recorded in the Care Plan. The Panel accepted the evidence that the date of the last Health Assessment was not recorded in the Care Plan.

93. The Panel found particular 5(a)(vii) proved.

94. When LD reviewed the case of Child E she found no chronology on the system. The Registrant had not rectified the lack of a chronology since he was allocated to the case in July 2013. At the supervision session on 6 March 2014 LD discussed her concerns that the Registrant had not updated the chronology since he took charge of the case.

95. The Panel found particular 5(a)(viii) proved in that the Viability Assessment carried out by the Registrant had not been recorded.

96. A Viability Assessment is an assessment the local authority carry out to consider whether a family member is able to provide the necessary care if the child was placed with them. On 6 March 2014 LD identified that the Registrant had carried out a Viability Assessment, but had not written it up. The assessment should have been completed and recorded on TRIM before the LAC Review so that decisions could be made regarding the child’s care. The Panel accepted the evidence of LD, supported by her supervision notes.

97. The Panel found particular 5(a)(ix) not proved.

98. The LAC Review for 21 October 2013 records under mother’s view “none provided” and under father’s view “none provided”. Elsewhere in the document, the Registrant has entered for other matters “not discussed”. The response “none provided” is ambiguous and does not establish that the parents’ views were not sought. The parents’ views may have been sought and they provided no view.

99. The Panel found particular 5(b) not proved.

100. There is no evidence to support this particular from JW, who did not have her diary for 27 September 2013 and could not confirm that this visit did not take place. The only other evidence to support this particular was the hearsay evidence of LD, to which the Panel gave no weight.

101. The Panel found particular 5(c) not proved.

102. The Panel found that JW’s evidence was not reliable in relation to the visit on 7 April 2014. She had a date in her diary but accepted that this may not be accurate. The only other evidence to support this particular was the hearsay evidence of LD, to which the Panel gave no weight.

Particular 6
103. The Panel found particular 6(a) not proved.

104. There is no evidence to support this particular from JF who did not have her diary for 2013. The only other evidence to support this particular is the hearsay evidence of LD, to which the Panel gave no weight.

105. The Panel found particular 6(b) not proved.

106. JF did not record a visit by the Registrant on 3 March 2014. However, she confirmed that this did not mean that the Registrant did not attend on that date as it may be her error. The only other evidence to support this particular is the hearsay evidence of LD, to which the Panel gave no weight.

Particular 7
107. The Panel found particular 7(a) not proved.

108. The evidence of KW is that that a visit was booked for 28 February 2014, but she was unable to say whether this visit took place. The only other evidence to support this particular was the hearsay evidence of LD, to which the Panel gave no weight.

109. KW gave no evidence to support this particular. The only other evidence to support the particular was the hearsay evidence of LD, to which the Panel gave no weight.

Particular 8
110. The Panel found particulars 8(a) and 8(b) not proved. SC was unable to provide the Panel with reliable evidence. The only other evidence to support this particular was the hearsay evidence of LD, to which the Panel gave no weight.

Particular 9
111. The Panel found particulars 9(a) and 9(b) proved.

112. The Panel was provided with records made by the Registrant of two statutory visits to Child I on 2 January 2014 and 1 May 2014. However, CH gave clear evidence, supported by her records, that visits did not take place on 2 January 2014 or 1 May 2014. CH’s record for 1 May 2014 states that the Registrant was due to see Child I on that day but that he “did not show”. The Panel concluded that the visits did not take place.

Particular 10
113. The Panel found particular 10 proved in relation to particulars 9(a) and 9(b).

114. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. It first considered the Registrant’s state of mind. Having considered the Registrant’s understanding and beliefs, it applied an objective test, and considered whether the Registrant’s conduct in particular 2 was honest or dishonest by the standards of ordinary decent people.

115. The Panel had no evidence from the Registrant in relation to his understanding or beliefs. The Panel therefore considered what inferences it could draw from the facts. The Panel has been provided with a record of visits undertaken by the Registrant on 2 January 2014 and 1 May 2014, but has decided that those visits did not take place. LD in her evidence stated that the Registrant’s recording of dates could be an error, due to his general disorganisation, rather than deliberate falsification. The Panel considered this possibility carefully, but decided that it was not likely. The Panel carefully reviewed CH’s contact log, but did not identify other dates when the Registrant visited Child I that might have been mistakenly recorded. The Panel also noted that LD recorded comments made by the Registrant in the supervision meeting where he acknowledged that he had recorded visits which had not taken place.

116. The Registrant was under pressure to carry out statutory visits within the minimum of the six week timescale and was aware that he was not meeting the requirements. The Panel inferred that he was motivated to falsify records to demonstrate that he was carrying out the required visits. The Panel decided that the records made by the Registrant for 2 January 2014 and 1 May 2014 were a deliberate falsification, and not a mistake. The Registrant therefore did not believe that the records he made of the visits were true and accurate.

117. On the basis of these conclusions, a reasonable and honest person would consider that the Registrant’s conduct was dishonest.

Decision on Grounds


118. The question of whether the proven facts constitute misconduct or a lack of competence is for the judgment of the Panel and there is no burden or standard of proof.

119. The Panel decided that none of the proved particulars constitute a lack of competence. The Registrant was a Senior Practitioner. He had previously worked as a Social Worker for SCC in a different team through an agency for approximately twelve months. The Registrant did not suggest in supervision meetings that he required additional training or that he was not able to carry out the tasks allocated to him. He had a sufficient level of knowledge, understanding, skill, and ability.

120. There is no statutory definition of misconduct, but the Panel had regard to the guidance of Lord Clyde in Roylance v GMC (No2) [2001] 1 AC 311: “Misconduct is a word of general effect, involving some 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…”. The conduct must be serious in that it falls well below the required standards.

121. In reaching its conclusions that some of the proven facts constituted misconduct the Panel considered the HCPC Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics (the Standards). The Panel considered that the Registrant’s actions and failures breached Standard 1 which obliged him to act in the best interests of service users, Standard 10 “you must keep accurate records”, and Standard 13 “you must behave with honesty and integrity and make sure that your behaviour does not damage public confidence in you or your profession”.

122. The Panel also considered the HCPC Standards of Proficiency for Social Workers, and found that the Registrant was in breach of the standards particularly  Standard 1.2 “recognise the need to manage their own workload and resources and be able to practise accordingly”, Standard 2.3 “understand the need to protect, safeguard and promote the wellbeing of children, young people and vulnerable adults, Standard 3.1 “understand the need to maintain high standards of personal and professional conduct”, Standard 4.3 “ recognise that they are personally responsible for, and must be able to justify, their decisions and recommendations, Standard 10 “be able to maintain records appropriately” and Standard 12.1 “be able to use supervision to support and enhance the quality of their social work practice”.

123. In considering the seriousness of the Registrant’s conduct the Panel considered the context and surrounding circumstances. There is no evidence that the Registrant raised significant concerns with LD in relation to his caseload. LD saw the Registrant every day and carried out supervision on a monthly basis. LD told the Panel that at some times when during her management of the Care Planning and Court Team there was a pressure of work within the team. However, the pressures were not continuous, or of an extent or level that they could be considered as an explanation for the Registrant’s failures.

124. The Panel’s finding in particular 10 that the Registrant was dishonest is extremely serious. This was dishonesty in a professional context. It involved the deliberate creation of a fraudulent record. The dishonesty had a direct impact on Child I for whom the Registrant was responsible. The Registrant’s records gave the impression that the Registrant was conducting the essential visits to ensure Child I’s welfare and safety, when he had not in fact carried out those visits. This conduct damaged the reputation of the Registrant and of the profession.

125. With the exception of particular 4(a), the Panel decided that the remaining proved particulars, considered both individually and collectively, constituted misconduct. The Registrant’s actions and failures fell far below the standard of a social worker.

126. The Panel found that particular 4(a) did not constitute misconduct because the PEP was arranged within a few weeks of the start of the school term. There was not a significant delay, given that the case was not allocated to the Registrant until 29 July 2013.

127. The Registrant’s failures to carry out the required statutory visits within the timescales was serious. The purpose of the visits is to ensure that the children are seen at regular minimum intervals by the social worker, which is an important safeguard for the safety and welfare of the child. The visits also provide an important support for the foster carers, enabling them to raise any issues of concern. The visits are an essential part of the role of the social worker, acting as the agent of the local authority as the corporate parent. The children in the Registrant’s care were vulnerable.

128. The Registrant’s failures to progress cases was also serious because of its impact on the vulnerable children, other professionals and adults involved with the children, and the local authority. The delay in progressing the referral of Child A to SUSTAIN was serious. All the professionals agreed in October that Child A needed therapeutic intervention to assist with his behaviour and managing his emotions and this recommendation was clearly documented. The delay had an impact on Child A and his foster carer because the child’s needs were not being met. There was a failure to progress the case of Child C by taking steps towards the revocation of the placement order. LD stated that the consequences of this failure was that the local authority did not explore the possibility of Child C being rehabilitated to the birth parents. The Registrant’s failure to record the viability assessment for Child E delayed the assessment of Child E’s relative as a potential carer for Child E.

129. The Registrant’s failure to complete and maintain accurate and up to date records was also serious. The failure was across a range of documents including PEPs, Care Plans, and chronologies. There were also failures to ensure that information was recorded on TRIM and the necessary signatures were obtained for documentation. There were repeated failures over a sustained period of time. Although an isolated incident of a failure to maintain a chronology over a short period of time, would not be sufficiently serious to constitute misconduct, in the Registrant’s case the failures to maintain accurate and complete records were repeated and they persisted over a long period of time. In her supervision session on 6 March 2014 LD was referring to documentation which had not been completed in October and November 2013, five to six months previously. It is a basic requirement for all social workers to maintain accurate and up to date records. The failure to maintain accurate records created risks for the vulnerable children in the Registrant’s care. The records should be full and up to date so that other professionals have a full picture of the child’s history and needs.


Decision on Impairment


130. The Panel applied the guidance in the HCPTS Practice Note “Finding that Fitness to Practise is Impaired” and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Panel considered the Registrant’s fitness to practise at today’s date.

131. The Panel first considered the personal component, which is the Registrant’s current behaviour. The Registrant has not engaged in the process. There is no information on the Registrant’s current employment or circumstances. He has provided no information to assist the Panel with insight or remediation. The dishonesty found by the Panel is difficult to remedy. In the absence of information, the Panel concluded that there is a high risk of repetition of similar misconduct.


132. The Panel next considered the public component, which involves the wider public interest considerations of protecting the public, upholding standards of conduct and behaviour and maintaining public confidence in the profession. The Panel has concluded that there is a high risk of repetition of similar misconduct. As a Social Worker the Registrant worked with highly vulnerable children with complex needs. The Panel therefore identified an ongoing risk to members of the public and a need to protect the public. The Registrant’s misconduct was a serious breach of the HCPC Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics. The fraudulent records of statutory visits are a particularly serious breach of the Standards. Members of the public expect social workers to be honest and trustworthy. Where a social worker has dishonestly created a false record of a statutory visit they would expect the regulator to take action to maintain standards in the profession.


133. The Panel therefore decided that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is impaired on the basis of both the personal component and the public component.


Decision on Sanction


134. In considering what, if any, sanction to impose the Panel had regard to the HCPC Indicative Sanctions Policy (ISP) and the advice of the Legal Assessor.

135. The Panel reminded itself that the purpose of imposing a sanction is not to punish the practitioner, but to protect the public and the wider public interest. The Panel ensured that it acted proportionately, and in particular it sought to balance the interests of the public with those of the Registrant, and imposed the sanction which was the least restrictive in the circumstances commensurate with its duty of protection.

136. The Panel decided that the aggravating features include:

• the dishonesty involved deliberately falsifying records of visits;

• persistent failings over a period of time;

• impact on vulnerable children

• breach of trust by a social worker.

137. The Panel decided that the mitigating features include:

• no previous fitness to practise findings;

• some evidence of good professional practice;

• the Registrant inherited cases with significant shortfalls.

138. The Panel considered the Registrant’s proforma response and decided that it was not clear enough to be an apology. In his very limited response the Registrant did not make any admissions or express remorse. The Registrant’s engagement with the HCPC process has been extremely limited. There is no evidence that he has taken any steps to reduce the risk of repetition.

139. The seriousness of this case and the ongoing risk of repetition meant that taking no action was not an option and a Caution Order, even for the maximum duration, would not provide adequate protection to the public or the required level of public reassurance. Mediation is not appropriate in this case.

140. The Panel next considered a Conditions of Practice Order. This case includes a finding of dishonesty and the Panel has decided that there is an ongoing risk in relation to the Registrant’s lack of honesty and integrity. There are no conditions which would address the risk the Panel has identified. Further, the Registrant could not be trusted to comply with conditions. Conditions of practice would not be sufficient to protect the public, given the nature of the misconduct and the ongoing risk of repetition.

141. The Panel next considered the more restrictive sanctions of a Suspension Order or a Striking Off Order. When considering the proportionality of a Suspension Order the Panel carefully considered and evaluated the mitigating circumstances.

142. The Panel noted the evidence from the foster carers about the positive and caring way in which the Registrant interacted with the children. However, this does not lessen the seriousness of the Registrant’s failings with regard to record keeping, progressing cases, and undertaking statutory visits within the required timescales. The Panel also noted that the Registrant inherited cases where there had been failures by the previous social workers. Nevertheless, the failings found by the Panel relate solely to the time the Registrant was responsible for the children. The mitigating circumstances in this case are limited. They do not reduce the gravity of the Registrant’s dishonesty.

143. The Registrant has not demonstrated any insight, nor is there any indication that he is motivated to resolve the issues. The Panel did not identify any realistic prospect that the Registrant will be able to remedy the matters and provide the necessary reassurance to a future panel that the risk of repetition is at an acceptable level. Members of the public would be extremely concerned about the findings the Panel has made, particularly the finding of dishonesty. They would expect the regulator to take action to mark the seriousness of the Registrant’s misconduct. The Panel therefore decided that a Suspension Order would not be sufficient to protect the public and to maintain public confidence in the profession and the regulatory process. Member.

144. The Panel considered the guidance in the ISP on striking off orders and decided that it applied to the circumstances of this case. The ISP states: “Striking off is a sanction of last resort for serious, deliberate or reckless acts involving abuse of trust such as sexual abuse, dishonesty or persistent failure. Striking off should be used where there is no other way to protect the public, for example, where there is a lack of insight, continuing problems, or denial. A registrant’s inability or unwillingness to resolve matters will suggest that that a lower sanction may not be appropriate.” The Registrant’s misconduct includes dishonesty and persistent failure. There is a lack of insight and the Registrant has not demonstrated a willingness to resolve matters.

145. The Panel decided that a Striking Off Order is also appropriate in the wider public interest. A Striking Off Order provides members of the public with sufficient reassurance that the regulator has taken the Registrant’s misconduct extremely seriously and has marked its disapproval by the highest sanction that is available to the Panel.

146. The Panel decided that the appropriate and proportionate order is a Striking Off Order.

Order

ORDER: The Registrar is directed to strike the name of Mark G B Stone from the Register.

Notes

No notes available

Hearing history

History of Hearings for Mr Mark Stone

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
11/12/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Struck off