On 15 May 2019, whilst registered as a Residential Child Care Worker employed by Keys Child Care and temporarily accommodated on placement in Anglesey:
1. You failed to undertake appropriate monitoring to verify that Young Person A was present on the morning of 15 May 2019 and/or to ensure that appropriate checks were undertaken on Young Person A throughout the same day.
2. You failed to ensure that Young Person A was:
a) Offered sustenance and/or her prescribed medication; and/or
b) Encouraged to participate in activities.
3. Your actions in Charge 1 and/or 2 were such that you:
a) Failed to adhere to Young Person A's Personal Plan; and/or
b) Failed to take appropriate action to reduce the risk of Young Person A absconding; and/or
c) Placed young Person A at risk of harm.
4. You failed to ensure that the relevant Local Authority was notified in a timely manner that Young Person A was missing.
AND, in light of the above, your fitness to practise is impaired by reason of your serious misconduct.
Decision on facts
We find the facts of Charges 1, 2(a), 2(b), 3(a) and 3(c) proved.
We do not find the facts of Charges 3(b) and 4 proved.
Our reasons are as follows.
Mr Hughes was registered with Social Care Wales as a Residential Child Care Worker on the 19 December 2018. He was employed in that capacity by the Keys Group, and was based at Keys’ facility at Arthog, which is a residential facility providing day-to-day care for up to 7 young people, and who display challenging behaviours. Notwithstanding the fact that Mr Hughes had registered with Social Care Wales on the 19 December 2018, he had been employed by Keys for some 7 years, commencing there on the 18 June 2012. He was more experienced than Colleague B.
Arthog offers an activity service, where young people can be placed – sometimes on an emergency basis – for up to 90 days. These placements are intended to act as a circuit breaker to disrupt the young persons’ behaviours, which may include behaviours that are harmful, and which may put themselves and others at risk.
One such individual was Young Person A. She was 16 years of age at the time and had lived with family members and in foster care. She was a vulnerable young person who was subject to a Care Order, meaning that parental responsibility for her was shared by the relevant local authority. She had been a Looked After Child since June 2017 and had been in secure accommodation previously. She was identified as having a tendency to engage in risky behaviours, had links to gang members, and was at risk of child sexual exploitation. She was also identified as being at risk of absconding, a factor which is of particular relevance in this case, and it was known to Keys that Young Person A associated with other individuals with a history of absconding from accommodation provided for them.
Young Person A was placed at Arthog on the 15 March 2019, on a 90-day emergency placement. We have seen copies of Young Person A’s personal care plan, which provides that she should be cared for on a 2:1 staffing ratio, save for in limited circumstances. The evidence before us demonstrates that Young Person A did not engage with the services offered to her at Arthog, and was generally considered to be an individual with whom it was difficult to engage, preferring to spend time alone in her room. Indeed, the evidence is that management at Arthog were in discussions with the placing local authority about whether Young Person A’s placement should be ended early, because there was a concern that requiring her to remain at Arthog for the full 90-day term may not be in her best interests.
On the 13 May 2019, whilst Young Person A was still being accommodated by Keys, Mr Hughes and Colleague B were responsible for Young Person A on a trip to Anglesey. The accommodation in question (a 2-bed static caravan) was in a remote location, deliberately selected so as to provide activities to Young Person A but also to minimise the risk of her absconding. In short, whilst at the accommodation, Young Person A did abscond and made her way by public transport back to London, where she was seen at 7pm, entirely by chance, by Witness 2, shopping in a supermarket on the Old Kent Road. Witness 2 was Young Person A’s allocated social worker at the placing local authority.
It was not until 4:30pm that Colleague B discovered that Young Person A had absconded (which, in consequence of our finding above that she had absconded somewhere between 5:00am and 6:00am that morning, meant that she had been out of Mr Hughes and Colleague B’s care for something between ten and a half and eleven and a half hours). Mr Hughes and Colleague B were suspended from their posts whilst an investigation was carried out, and a referral was made to Social Care Wales. Mr Hughes received a final written warning from his employer. He no longer works for the Keys Group.
Charge 1 alleges that Mr Hughes failed to undertake appropriate monitoring to verify that Young Person A was present on the morning of the 15 May 2019 and/or to ensure that appropriate checks were undertaken on Young Person A throughout the same day.
This charge is put on the basis of a culpable failure. We have accepted the legal advice that, for us to find this charge proved, Mr Hughes must have been under a professional duty to undertake the tasks referred to in the charge. If so, it must then be proved that he did not carry out those tasks as required.
We can say with confidence that, having regard to Young Person A’s personal care plan and the other documents in the bundle (which were available to Mr Hughes and Colleague B) Young Person A presented a significant risk of absconding. Young Person A did not want any restrictions placed on her, and the documentation produced by Keys demonstrates that she was prepared to use any opportunity to return to London. Rural locations were no bar to her in this respect. Consequently, we have no doubt that Mr Hughes was under a professional duty (heightened by this absconding risk) to undertake appropriate monitoring of Young Person A.
We have found that it was more likely than not Young Person A had left the accommodation (probably through her bedroom window) somewhere between 5:00am and 6:00am on the 15 May 2019. As such, by the time Colleague B carried out her first check of the day at 8:00am, Young Person A had already gone. We have carefully considered Young Person A’s personal care plan and risk assessment relating to absconding, in which a 2:1 staffing ratio is prescribed, requiring that Young Person A is in sight at all times except at for at night or when using the bathroom.
We make no criticism of the fact that the first check of the day took place at 8:00am; that seems appropriate to us given Young Person A’s age. Colleague B told us that she undertook a check on Young Person A at 8:00am, and hourly thereafter. We accepted her evidence that she did undertake hourly checks during the day, until 4:30pm when she discovered that Young Person A was missing. We also accepted her evidence that she genuinely believed that Young Person A was in bed because there appeared to be the outline of a figure. She accepted in her evidence that the checks that she carried out were cursory, since she didn’t go into Young Person A’s room or try to speak to her.
We are prepared to infer that the cursory nature of the checks Colleague B carried out were, in part, borne out by the events of the previous day (this being only the second full day of Mr Hughes and Colleague B’s responsibility for Young Person A) where she had not got up from bed until mid-afternoon. We bear in mind the evidence from Witness 1 that Young Person A had, throughout the placement at Arthog, shown no interest in engaging in activities and had generally been difficult to engage. Whilst the cursory nature of the checks were contributed to by Mr Hughes’ and Colleague B’s experience with Young Person A the day before, their error was to overlook the likelihood of Young Person A trying to abscond from the accommodation and return to London. This was the basis upon which we understood Colleague B admitted Charge 1, and we accepted her admission on that basis. This was not, in our view, a deliberate dereliction of Colleague B’s duty; rather, she allowed the events of the day before to obscure the high risk that Young Person A would use any and all means available to her to abscond.
In our view, however, Mr. Hughes is in a rather different position to Colleague B. Mr Hughes appears, on the evidence, to have adopted a position of sedentary indifference on the 15 May 2019. Colleague B’s evidence was that Mr. Hughes was disinterested and spent much of the day playing games on his mobile telephone, until such time as he left the accommodation later in the afternoon to swap a hire car.
In his written representations, Mr Hughes advances three reasons for not undertaking any checks on Young Person A himself. The first is that, because (he says) Young Person A had taken to sleeping naked, it was inappropriate for him to undertake the checks and enter Young Person A’s bedroom. The second was that Colleague B had been undertaking the hourly checks, and he accepted what he was told by Colleague B that Young Person A was still in bed. The third reason was that, because Colleague B was undertaking the checks, there was no reason for Mr Hughes to do so.
In our view, there is no evidence to gainsay Colleague B’s evidence that, on the 15 May 2019, Mr Hughes was contributing little, if anything, to the supervision or, or care for Young Person A. In his written representations, Mr Hughes does not say what he was doing during the day on the 15 May 2019 when he believed that Young Person A was in bed. We bear in mind that Mr. Hughes was the more experienced member of staff on duty on the 15 May 2019. Whilst not superior to Colleague B in status, he was not inferior, either, and was subject to the same professional duties as Colleague B, which he was required to exercise jointly with her.
In our view, the three reasons put forward by Mr. Hughes are poor excuses for inactivity on his part. If Colleague B’s efforts did not result in Young Person A rousing, then he was perfectly free to intervene and take action himself. He did not do so. As to the suggestion that Young Person A slept naked, an obvious solution was to knock on the door and give Young Person A the opportunity to cover herself. Whilst this is academic (because Young Person A had long gone from the accommodation by 8:00am, and was not present for each of Colleague B’s subsequent cursory checks) Mr Hughes’ inactivity did, in our view, have some causative link to the delay until 4:30pm in discovering that Young Person A was missing.
In our view, Mr Hughes’ sedentary indifference is, at least in part, explained by the evidence of Witness 1 that, around the time in question, Mr. Hughes was “incredibly unhappy” in the organisation, and was displaying a negative attitude in work. Witness 1 told us that Mr Hughes had both work and personal issues (the latter of which she didn’t want to go into detail about). That, in our view, provides some context for the attitude displayed by Mr Hughes, and the lack of interest spoken about by Colleague B in her evidence.
Charge 2(a) alleges that Mr Hughes failed to ensure that Young Person A was offered sustenance and/or her prescribed medication, and Charge 2(b) alleges that he failed to ensure that Young Person A was encouraged to participate in activities. This, charge, too, is put on the basis of a culpable failure on Mr Hughes’ part.
It is clear from Young Person A’s personal care plan that she was to be offered sustenance and was to be given her prescribed medication. There were, therefore, duties upon Mr Hughes in this respect. It follows that, from the cursory checks that Colleague B admitted undertaking, which did not involve interacting with Young Person A, and the total inactivity on Mr. Hughes’ part, neither of these was done. In her oral evidence, Colleague B told us that Young Person A had refused to take her medication the previous day, maintaining that it made her feel sick. Colleague B also made the point that, insofar as sustenance was concerned, her experience was that Young Person A tended to eat in the evening.
Insofar as activities are concerned, it is clear that the reason why Young Person A was being accommodated in Anglesey was to take part in activities. It may be that Mr Hughes and Colleague B’s decision not to specifically engage with Young Person A regarding activities was because it was known to them and to management at Arthog that Young Person A had no interest in activities. The documentation that we have read makes clear that Young Person A was reluctant to engage, and this was confirmed by Witness 1 in her oral evidence to us. We also bear in mind that consideration was being given to ending Young Person A’s placement at Arthog because of her lack of interest and engagement.
The evidence therefore reveals that whilst the placement at Arthog had the desired effect of removing Young Person A from the environment in which she had been at risk, it was doing little to excite her interest in the activities on offer. Nonetheless, Mr Hughes had a responsibility, under Young Person A’s personal plan, to encourage her to participate in activities, and he failed to do this.
This charge alleges that Mr Hughes’ conduct in Charges 1 and 2 were such that he failed to adhere to Young Person A’s Personal Plan (Charge 3(a)), failed to take appropriate action to reduce the risk of Young Person A absconding (Charge 3(b)) and/or placed Young Person A at risk of harm (Charge 3(c)).
Insofar as Charge 3(a) is concerned, Mr Hughes’ proven actions in Charges 1 and 2 were such that he failed to adhere to Young Person A’s personal plan. On the 15 May 2019, she was not appropriately monitored or checked to verify her presence, nor was she offered sustenance or her prescribed medication. Additionally, she was not encouraged to participate in activities. All these actions were required under Young Person A’s personal plan.
As to Charge 3(c), Mr Hughes’ conduct in Charge 1 placed Young Person A at risk of harm, particularly given the length of time she was missing from home, making her journey to London. We do bear in mind, however, that we are being asked to examine the events of one day only, namely the 15 May 2019. There is no suggestion that Mr Hughes or Colleague B left Young Person A alone in the accommodation, or that she was left unsupervised in breach of her care plan, a matter to which we will return when discussing Charge 3(b). There was, in our view, a clear risk of harm to Young Person A during the journey that she undertook, unaccompanied, from Anglesey to London. It is not known whether Young Person A had any food with her, or any money. It also appears, from the evidence, that she did not have her medication with her.
Turning to Charge 3(b), the consequence of our finding that Young Person A had absconded sometime between 5:00am and 6:00am on the 15 May 2019 is that Mr Hughes cannot be said to have failed to have taken appropriate action to reduce the risk of her absconding.
This arises on the basis that Young Person A’s personal plan did not prescribe that she should be subject to the 2:1 staffing ratio at night-time. Young Person A’s Daily Living Plan provides that, on a weekday (the 15 May 2019 was a Friday) she should be woken in the morning between 8:30am and 9:00am. Colleague B’s initial check on Young Person A, which we accept was at 8:00am was, therefore, appropriate. However, we have found that, by that time, Young Person A had already absconded. As her personal care plan did not provide for a 2:1 staffing ratio at night time, nor did it require that at least one member of staff must be awake at night to guard against late night or early morning absconding, we cannot identify any measures that Mr Hughes was under a duty to take between midnight and 8:00am on the 15 May 2019 to reduce the risk of Young Person A absconding. It follows, therefore, that he did not fail in this respect. We do not find the facts of Charge 3(b) proved.
This charge alleges that Mr Hughes failed to ensure that the relevant Local Authority was notified in a timely manner that Young Person A was missing.
We are satisfied that, for the purpose of this charge, the “relevant Local Authority” was the London Borough that had placed Young Person A with Keys. It is alleged that, upon discovering at 4:30pm that Young Person A had absconded, there was an unacceptable delay in notifying the Local Authority of Young Person A’s disappearance. Witness 2’s (hearsay) evidence was that the authority’s Emergency Duty Team was not notified until 6:27pm.
Here, too, there is an allegation of a culpable failure. In order to find this charge proved, we must be satisfied that Mr Hughes was under a duty to notify the relevant Local Authority in a timely manner that Young Person A was missing. If we are so satisfied, then we must determine whether he failed in that respect.
We have paid careful attention to the oral evidence of the witnesses, and to the documentary evidence provided to us, in order to determine when the obligation to notify the relevant Local Authority arose.
Young Person A’s personal plan records that, if she went missing, the Police were to be contacted on 101 “immediately”. The plan goes on to say that, once the police had been notified, a search of the immediate area was to be commenced. In a separate section of the plan, it is specified that Young Person A’s Social Worker, or the authority’s Emergency Duty Team (“EDT”) was to be contacted “as soon as practicable when [Young Person A] has been out of staff care/MFH”.
We heard oral evidence from Witness 1, who told us that the obligation to carry out these notifications rested with the members of staff caring for Young Person A. However, Witness 1 also told us that her first expectation was that, upon discovering that a young person had absconded, the Home itself should be notified, in case it had any further information. Her next expectation was that the Police should be notified, and a search commenced. She told us that the next step to take would be to notify the relevant Local Authority.
Colleague B’s evidence was that, upon discovering that Young Person A was missing at around 4:30pm, she first telephoned the Home, and spoke with the Deputy Manager. His advice was to make immediate contact with the Police, which Colleague B told us she did at 4:40pm, identifying that time from the call log on her telephone. She told us that, between telephoning the Home and the Police, she telephoned Mr Hughes, who had gone to swap a hire car, to alert him to what she had discovered. Her evidence was that the telephone call to the Police lasted from 4:40pm until approximately 5:15pm, partly because of a delay in the call being answered. Once she had completed the call to the Police, both she and Mr Hughes (who had, by that time, returned to the accommodation) commenced a search of the area.
Insofar as contacting the Local Authority is concerned, Colleague B told us that she made this call at 5:40pm. She was able to identify this time from the call log on her telephone. She told us that she was unable to call any sooner because there was no mobile telephone signal coverage in the area. Once the signal was stable, she telephoned the Local Authority. She told us that, in her view, her actions were in accordance with Keys’ policy, and that the notification to the Local Authority was made as soon as practicable.
We accepted Colleague B’s evidence in this respect and take the view that the actions taken were reasonable. We accepted that Colleague B’s efforts to contact the Local Authority were hampered by a lack of mobile telephone signal. She and Mr Hughes were, by this time, away from the accommodation and travelling around Anglesey in search of Young Person A. Mr Hughes could not, in our view, have assumed the responsibility for notifying the Local Authority because he was engaged with Colleague B in searching for Young Person A, and was, in any event, driving the vehicle in which they were both travelling. It is not for us to resolve why, having been notified that Young Person A was missing, management at the Home itself could not have assisted in this respect, but we are left with the impression that Colleague B was indeed left shouldering the responsibility for making all the notifications herself, and we accept that she was faced with a number of competing demands in a short space of time.
We take the view that, if Colleague B did speak to the Local Authority at 5:40pm, then she and Mr. Hughes did not fail in their duty to contact the Local Authority as soon as practicable. As against Colleague B’s direct, oral evidence that she telephoned the Authority at 5:40pm, and spoke to a member of council staff, we have been encouraged to have regard to the hearsay evidence of Witness 2, who says that the Authority’s records refer to a notification being received at 6:27pm. We have concluded that rather more is required to gainsay Colleague B’s evidence than the production of a record. In any event, we do not think that we can rely solely upon the record produced by Witness 2 (which she has copied into an email to Social Care Wales). This is because we have reservations about the accuracy of the time stamps on the records produced. The same document records that Witness 2 had “just spotted” Young Person A on the Old Kent Road at 8:35pm that day, whereas Witness 2’s own oral evidence is that she saw Young Person A around 7pm. Our concerns are heightened by a further record (timed at 7:20pm) which refers to Young Person A still being missing, whereas she had by that time been located, by chance, by Witness 2. We therefore cannot place the reliance that we are being asked to place on these records, because there is sufficient doubt about the correlations between the timing of the entries and the information it records.
We therefore do not find this charge proved. We also observe that Mr Hughes’ account of these events (as given in his disciplinary interview with Keys) corroborates the account given by Colleague B in her oral evidence to us.
Decision on impairment
We have again considered the information before us, including the written statement made to Social Care Wales on 30 may 2019, and the emails to Social Care Wales dated 7 and 11 January 2021. We heard submissions from Mr Delme Griffiths, and have accepted the legal advice provided and have had regard to the relevant edition of the Code of Professional Practice for Social Care.
We have concluded that Mr Hughes’ fitness to practise is currently impaired.
Our reasons are as follows.
We have considered the issue of fitness to practise in two stages. First, we considered the question of whether one (or more) of the six grounds of impairment was present. This is a case where it is alleged that your fitness to practise is impaired by reason of serious misconduct.
The term “misconduct” is not defined, but we have accepted the legal advice that this term is generally regarded as some act or omission that falls short of what would be proper in the circumstances, and that serious misconduct arises where a falling short is “serious”.
In our view, each of the matters we have found proved represents conduct that falls significantly short of what would be proper in the field of professional social care practice. We do consider the factual findings that we have made cross the threshold of serious misconduct. We bear in mind that inadequate checks were repeatedly undertaken on the 15 May 2019, on an hourly basis between 8:00am and approximately 4:30pm. However, in Mr Hughes’ case, we have also taken into account that, notwithstanding that he was under a professional obligation to do so, he undertook none of the checks himself. As we referred to in our findings on the facts, Mr. Hughes adopted a position of sedentary indifference on the 15 May 2019, and, through his conscious inaction, left the checks to Colleague B. Whilst Colleague B therefore has some credit afforded to her for carrying out those checks, and being under a genuine, if mistaken, belief that Young Person A was still under her and Mr Hughes’ care, Mr Hughes does not have that mitigation available to him. These are matters that compound our findings of instances where Mr Hughes failed to adhere to Young Person A’s personal care plan. We have also found that, as a consequence of those matters, Young Person A was put at risk of harm.
In his submissions to us on the issue of impairment, Mr Griffiths, on behalf of Social Care Wales, referred to many parts of the Code of Professional Practice for Social Care which, in Social Care Wales’ view, had been breached. We are satisfied that the matters that we found proved at the first stage represent several breaches of the Code, including breaches of specific parts of Sections 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6.
In light of the factual findings we have made, and the breaches of the Code that we feel have occurred - which do include fundamental tenets of the profession - we conclude that the ground of serious misconduct is made out.
Next, we considered whether Mr Hughes’ fitness to practise was currently impaired. In this respect, we reminded ourselves that just because we had made a finding of serious misconduct did not automatically mean that his fitness to practise was currently impaired. We considered whether the matters that gave rise to the charges we found proved were isolated, or whether they represented a pattern of improper practice. In this respect, we bear in mind that we are concerned only with the events of a single day. We have not, however, lost sight of the fact that there were a number of failings that day, as set out in our decision on the facts. That said, we are prepared to accept that, in Mr Hughes’ case, we are concerned with an isolated error, given that it is limited to one day in what is, as far as we are aware, a career with Keys spanning some seven years.
We then considered whether the conduct that we have found proved was capable of being remediated. In principle at least, it is possible, in our view, to remedy misconduct that is based upon failures to adhere to the personal care plans for young people under the care of regulated professionals. However, we consider that in Mr. Hughes’ case, there are doubts about whether remediation could be easily achieved by him. In this respect, we bear in mind that, in his disciplinary interview, Mr. Hughes described himself as a “third party” on the 15 May 2019 and contended that he had been lied to by Colleague B (a contention that we have rejected). In our view, Mr. Hughes sought to downplay his role as a Residential Child Care Worker that day, and showed a lack of insight into his proven misconduct and the risk of harm to Young Person A. His conduct on the 15 May 2019 stands in stark contrast to his assertion in his disciplinary interview that he adopts a child-centred approach to his work, and to his assertion in his written representations that he considers himself a father figure to the young people in his care.
We also bear in mind that, in correspondence with Social Care Wales regarding this matter, Mr Hughes’ stance has been one of defensiveness, coupled with attempts to transfer responsibility for the events that day onto Colleague B. Because Mr Hughes has not attended this hearing, we cannot have any confidence that his serious misconduct is capable of remediation.
There is no evidence of any actual insight before us, or of any acceptance of wrongdoing. Having been interviewed as part of his former employer’s disciplinary process, he has not, in the period between 30 May 2019 and 7 January 2021, had any engagement with Social Care Wales and its investigation. His account given to Social Care Wales on the 30 May 2019 essentially repeats what he had told his former employer during its investigation. He said nothing in that interview that could be interpreted as him apologising for what had happened, or as him taking any responsibility for what happened on the day.
His position in his disciplinary interview and his May 2019 statement has been maintained in the written representations submitted by him to Social Care Wales in the emails of 7 and 11 January 2021. Here, too, he focuses heavily on transferring responsibility onto Colleague B, and on his perceived grievances with the manner he believed had been treated by his former employer. Those representations offer no apology for his own failures, and show no appreciation of either the gravity of those failures, or the risk of harm caused to Young Person A. The apology that he does convey is an expression of remorse for what happened on the day, rather than a reflective apology for what he himself did wrong that day. In our view, he has not done this at any time since the events of the 15 May 2019.
There is no evidence that, in the period between the 15 May 2019 and this hearing, Mr. Hughes has taken any steps to remedy the actions which led to the breaches of the Code that we have identified. Consequently, we have no evidence before us as to whether he has taken any steps to ensure that this conduct would not be repeated in future. He has not attended this hearing, and so we have not heard any direct evidence from him in this respect. Consequently, we are unable to say that circumstances such as these would not arise again in the future.
In our view, Mr Hughes’ lack of insight creates a current risk to individuals using services. This, in our view, aggravates matters as it demonstrates a lack of insight into the potential effect of his conduct not just on Young Person A, but also on public confidence in the profession. Looking forwards, that is a matter of significant concern because Mr Hughes does, in our view, pose a similar risk to vulnerable individuals with whom he might work in the future (and to whom he would have a duty of care).
On the evidence before us, Mr Hughes also poses a risk to colleagues. This arises on the basis that he sought to expend as little effort as possible caring for Young Person A, and abrogated responsibility for that onto Colleague B. In the investigation that ensued into how Young Person A had absconded, Mr Hughes then sought to shift the responsibility for that disappearance onto Colleague B, maintaining what we have found to have been an untruthful account to his former employer. This conduct showed a disregard for the responsibility he owed to Colleague B, as enshrined in the Code of Professional Practice, to work in partnership with her to promote the wellbeing of Young Person A. His conduct in seeking to transfer responsibility for what went wrong on the 15 May 2019 onto Colleague B offended against the requirement to work openly and co-operatively with her and treat her with respect.
We consider that in the absence of any real insight or remorse, we cannot conclude that Mr Hughes would make different decisions or behave differently in the future. We also consider that public confidence in social care would be undermined if a finding of impairment was not made in this case.
Taking all these matters into account, we have concluded that Mr. Hughes’ fitness to practise is currently impaired by reason of his serious misconduct.
Decision on disposal
We have carefully considered the submissions made on behalf of Social Care Wales and have accepted the legal advice provided. In reaching our decision, we have had regard to the Indicative Disposals Guidance. We have reviewed the range of disposals available to us and exercised our own judgement in this respect.
We have decided that it is necessary and proportionate to impose a Removal Order.
In considering the appropriate disposal, we had regard to the mitigating and aggravating features of this case. In this respect, we readily recognise that we are without any submissions or representations from Mr Hughes in relation to this particular issue. From our consideration of the material before us, and the evidence we have heard, we have identified the following mitigating factors.
We were told that Mr. Hughes has no previous fitness to practise findings made against him. Whilst we take this into account, we also consider this to be a point of limited force, because he only registered with Social Care Wales in December 2018. The circumstances that led to his referral to Social Care Wales took place within 5 months of his registration. Of greater relevance here is that Mr. Hughes began working for Keys in 2012 and has an unblemished record. We also take into account the positive aspects of his practice spoken about by Witness 1 in her oral evidence.
We have also given some weight to the fact that Witness 1 told us that, at the time of the incident involving Young Person A, Mr Hughes was facing personal and professional issues. The nature of those personal difficulties were not made known to us by Witness 1, but we are aware, from the evidence before us, that the professional difficulties encountered by Mr. Hughes centred around rumours at work regarding him and another member of staff.
As to the aggravating features, there has been, in our view, a serious departure from the Code of Professional Practice for Social Care (to which we have already referred). The conduct that we have found proved took place in a work setting, when Mr Hughes was the more experienced member of staff on duty, and which related to Mr Hughes’ duty of care to a vulnerable young person.
By Mr Hughes’ subsequent conduct during the disciplinary investigation and during Social Care Wales’ investigation, there was an adverse impact on Colleague B, to whom Mr Hughes attempted to shift the blame for what had occurred on the 15 May 2019.
Additionally, there is a persistent lack of insight displayed by Mr Hughes, which has prevented him from expressing any regret or remorse specifically in relation to his misconduct. This has led us to conclude that he continues to present a substantial risk of harm both to people under his care and to colleagues. Further, his misconduct has, in our view, undermined public confidence in the social care profession. We also bear in mind that Mr Hughes did not co-operate with Social Care Wales in the period between May 2019 and January 2021. He also did not attend this hearing.
In determining the appropriate disposal, we first considered whether to close the matter without taking any action. In view of the seriousness of the findings we have made, and the risk of harm we feel to be present in Mr Hughes’ case, we did not consider that this was appropriate. This would be a wholly insufficient response to the matters we have found proved.
Next, we considered whether to impose a Warning. We had regard to the Indicative Disposals Guidance, which provides that a Warning may be appropriate where a Registered Person has admitted the facts and impairment, there is evidence of insight and remorse, and where evidence has been provided of remedial action taken by a Registered Person. The Guidance also suggests that a warning may be an appropriate disposal where there is evidence that the impairment found is capable of being remedied, and where it has been shown that the Registered Person concerned is keen to improve and avoid such action or behaviour in the future. None of these features are present in Mr Hughes’ case, which leads us to conclude that a Warning would be ineffective to protect against the risks we have identified. Additionally, such a disposal would not, in our view, adequately reflect the seriousness of the matters we have found proved. We therefore concluded that a Warning is not an appropriate disposal in this case.
We then considered whether a Conditional Registration Order was appropriate. In general terms, it would be possible to formulate conditions to address the failings that we have found proved. However, the Indicative Disposals Guidance provides that this might be an appropriate disposal if Mr Hughes had demonstrated insight, and where there was potential for him to respond positively to remediation or retraining. These are not features of his case. Additionally, there is no evidence before us that Mr Hughes is employed in, or is seeking employment in the social care sector, and there is no evidence of any employer being prepared to engage him subject to conditions. Even if this was the case, we bear in mind our finding that Mr Hughes poses a risk to colleagues and individuals using services, which again could not be sufficiently managed by a Conditional Registration Order. Quite apart from this, such an Order would not be an adequate disposal in this case, because in our view the public interest requires a more significant disposal.
We then considered whether to impose a Suspension Order. The Indicative Disposals Guidance provides that this may be an appropriate disposal where there has been an acknowledgment of failings, or there is evidence before us of insight. Neither feature in this case. We also recognise that a Suspension Order is appropriate where a panel is satisfied that the behaviour found proved is unlikely to be repeated. As we have already determined in our findings on impairment, we cannot be confident on the evidence before us that this applies in Mr Hughes’ case. This is because there is no evidence of reflection or insight before us, and he has not attended this hearing to assist our consideration of his case. We are therefore without any information about how he would behave differently in future, or what measures he has, or will, put in place to ensure that matters such as those found proved would not re-occur. Whilst suspension would remove Mr Hughes from the register for an initial period of up to 12 months, and we could direct that the order should be reviewed before expiry, we asked ourselves what such a disposal would achieve in his case. We are doubtful that, during the suspension period, Mr Hughes would undertake any reflection or be able to demonstrate any insight, particularly given his indication that he has no intention or returning to employment in the social care sector. We have therefore concluded that a Suspension Order would not be appropriate.
We have therefore decided that, on the evidence before us, only a Removal Order will be adequate. This is because, in our view, there has been a serious departure from the relevant standards set out in the Code. We do not consider that any lesser disposal would protect the public, given the persistent lack of insight and absence of remediation to which we have already referred. We consider that public confidence in social care regulation would be undermined if Mr Hughes remained on the Register. We therefore make a Removal Order.
We have been informed that Mr Hughes is subject to an Interim Suspension Order. We now discharge that Order. In the ordinary course of events, the Removal Order that we have made today will not come into effect for a period of 28 days. In view of the seriousness of the matters we have found proved, and our findings in relation to lack of insight, and risk of harm to colleagues and young people through repetition, we are of the view that we should make an Immediate Order to suspend Mr Hughes’ registration because it is necessary to protect the public and is otherwise in the public interest.
This Immediate Order will have effect from the date on which Mr Hughes is notified of it, and will remain in force either until the date on which the Removal Order takes effect, or until any appeal against our decision is upheld.