That you, a Residential Child Care Worker, whilst employed by Woodlands Limited:
1. In or around November and/or December 2019, you exchanged inappropriate messages with Colleague A in which you discussed having sex with a child.
2. In or around November and/or December 2019, on one or more occasions you engaged in an inappropriate discussion with Colleague A by telephone in which you discussed having sex with a child.
3. Between approximately November 2019 and March 2020, you failed to make an appropriate and/or timely report about the conduct of Colleague A to your employer.
AND, in light of the above, your fitness to practise is impaired by reason of your serious misconduct.
Decision on facts
In reaching our decision, we have carefully considered the documentation before us. We heard opening remarks from Mr. Delme Griffiths. We have accepted the legal advice provided to us. This is a case in which you have signed a Statement of Agreed Facts. We have considered that document carefully and note that you have admitted all the charges alleged.
On the basis of those admissions, we find the facts of all charges proved.
Decision on impairment
We have concluded that your fitness to practise is impaired by reason of serious misconduct, and that your 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. We bear in mind that, in the Statement of Agreed Facts that you have signed, you admit that the matters admitted amount to serious misconduct. We have nevertheless examined the issue for ourselves and exercised our own judgement in this respect.
The term “misconduct” is not defined, but we have accepted the legal advice that this term is generally regarded as some act or omission which falls short of what would be proper in the circumstances, and that serious misconduct arises where a falling short is “serious”. We were also told that this can be conduct which may be viewed as “deplorable” (but need not be).
We are satisfied that each of the charges you have admitted (and which we have found proved) amount, in and of themselves, to serious misconduct. It would, in our view, be impossible to realistically argue otherwise. Whilst employed as – and sometimes whilst on duty as – a Residential Child Care Worker, you exchanged inappropriate messages and engaged in inappropriate discussion with Colleague A, which discussed his fantasy about having sex with a child. This was compounded by your failure to make an appropriate and/or timely report to your employer about the conduct of Colleague A in sending such messages to you and discussing this topic with you. We have read the exchanges passing between you and Colleague A. Whilst you maintain that you sent him these messages in order to appease him, there is no doubt that, on any objective analysis, the content of the messages is sickening. That those messages would be sent by an individual whose professional obligation it is to safeguard the welfare of vulnerable young people – some of whom are themselves displaying sexualised behaviours – is both shocking and troubling. Engaging in these exchanges, by messages and telephone discussion, falls very far below the standard expected of social care workers, and very obviously, in our view, amounts to serious misconduct. You were not a passive observer in that process. The exchanges that we have read demonstrate that you took an active part in responding to Colleague A’s messages; in some cases, you can be seen to be encouraging responses from him.
Insofar as your failure to report these matters to your employer is concerned, this too amounts to serious misconduct. You accepted in your oral evidence that you could not be confident that Colleague A would not act on the fantasies he was describing to you. It is a matter of significant concern to us that you did not take any action to draw this matter to your employer’s attention, given what, in our view, was a clear and obvious risk posed to young people by Colleague A. Your initial response, to the effect that Colleague A worked with young boys so there was no risk, demonstrated a wholesale lack of appreciation of the nature and extent of the safeguarding of vulnerable young people. This represents an omission that falls considerably short of what would be proper in the field of professional social care practice, to such an extent that it cannot be fairly categorised as anything other than serious.
In his submissions to us on the issue of impairment, Mr Griffiths referred to many parts of the Code that Social Care Wales says have been breached. In our view, the factual findings we have made are such that there has been a significant departure from the provisions of the Code, with breaches of Parts 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6. We find that the conduct breaches Parts 2.1, 2.2, 2.5, 2.7, 3.2, 3.3, 3.4, 3.6, 3.7, 3.8, 4.2, 4.3, 5.7 and 6.1 of the Code. We are further satisfied that, because of these breaches, which include fundamental tenets of the profession, your conduct calls into question your suitability to work in the social care profession (Code 5.8). We are clear that this serious misconduct undermines public confidence in the profession.
Next, we considered whether your fitness to practise was currently impaired. In this respect, we reminded ourselves that just because we had made a finding of serious misconduct, this does not automatically mean that your fitness to practise is currently impaired.
We considered whether the matters that gave rise to the charges we found proved were isolated, such that we could say that, notwithstanding the ground of serious misconduct being made out, the prospect of repetition is so remote that your fitness to practise cannot be said to be currently impaired. There is some evidence that the issues with your practice were situational; we recognise that the matters we have found proved arose at a time when you were in a relationship with Colleague A. You are no longer in that relationship. To an extent, therefore, a distinction can be drawn between your current position and that which you were in at the time referred to in the charges. We also bear in mind that, in his oral evidence, Witness A was complimentary about you and aspects of your practice whilst you were working at Woodlands. However, we were concerned about how, without any disciplinary investigation, Witness A could conclude that the conduct that you engaged in did not impact upon your ability to practise safely.
However, we also bear in mind that we are not dealing with a single allegation that arises from a single event. Rather, the matters we have found proved took place over a number of months and relate, as we said earlier, to fundamental tenets of social care practice. We are not therefore able to confidently or fairly say that the matters we have found proved are truly isolated.
We then considered whether the conduct that we have found proved was capable of being remedied. In our view, it is generally possible to improve understanding of safeguarding, and be able to recognise that, even in their private lives, Registered Persons have a duty to conduct themselves in a manner that would not call into question their suitability to work in the social care profession.
We have doubt as to whether, at the present time, full remediation is possible in your case. We recognise that you told us you have been able to reflect on your conduct, and that you now recognise that you should not have engaged in the messages and dialogue with Colleague A. Moreover, you told us that you now recognised that you should have reported Colleague A to your former employer. Whilst it is encouraging that you are now expressing these views, we consider that you lack full insight into your admitted misconduct and the reasons why it occurred. We bear in mind the legal advice that was given to us that the question of whether your fitness to practise is impaired is answered by an exercise of our judgment; it is not a question of proof and we are not required to apply any standard of proof. We are entitled, however, to look for evidence to support the assertions that you make in relation to the insight you say you have developed.
At the present time, we have concerns about your ability to make exercise your own judgement safely, to identify risks appropriately, and place the needs of vulnerable young people before your own. This is important, because if you are unable to fully develop insight into your misconduct, or demonstrate how you would practise safely in the future, then you cannot begin the process of remediating the conduct that we have found proved. In your case, the misconduct relates to fundamental tenets of the profession that must be observed at all times. For so long as you lack full insight into your misconduct, and it goes unremedied, there remains a risk of harm to individuals using services, and a tangible risk of repetition of the matters we have found proved.
The nature of social care work is such that, if you return to practice, you will face challenging circumstances and stressful situations. In some cases, individuals using services and/or colleagues will themselves seek to, for example, cross boundaries with social care workers (sometimes manipulatively or with dangerous motives). We are not satisfied, on the evidence before us today, that you will not be susceptible to, or at risk of manipulation by, individuals with whom you might come into contact in your professional capacity. That brings with it a risk of harm to those individuals, and to yourself.
When you were asked what you would need to do to practise safely and effectively in the future, you said that you would complete any training that formed part of any new employer’s induction process. You also said that you would go back and do some reading around the subject of safeguarding. We take from that assertion that you have not yet taken up this opportunity, despite the fact that you have been the subject of a fitness to practise investigation for a number of months. We also entertain some doubt as to whether, in your case, this will be sufficient. This is because we have seen evidence of the training that you undertook as part of your former employment. We have been provided with your certificates of attendance and, in some cases, copies of the materials that formed the basis of those training courses. Your training appears comprehensive and addresses what we would consider to be the basis of practise as a Residential Child Care Worker. Your misconduct arose notwithstanding this training, so we have some scepticism that simply repeating any training will be sufficient in your case.
We therefore conclude that, at the present time, you are not equipped with the skills that you need to practise safely and effectively in the future.
Taking all these matters into account, we have concluded that your fitness to practise is impaired by reason of your serious misconduct, and that your fitness to practise is currently impaired.
Decision on disposal
We have decided that it is necessary and proportionate to impose a Suspension Order for 12 months. We direct that this order should be reviewed three months before its expiry.
In considering which disposal, if any, was appropriate in this case, we considered the mitigating and aggravating features present. As to the mitigating factors, this is the first time that you have appeared before a Fitness to Practise Panel. However, this is a point of limited force in your case, since you were only registered with Social Care Wales in February of this year. This was, therefore, misconduct that was taking place before, during and after your application for registration.
We recognise that you have engaged with Social Care Wales’s investigation, and have attended this hearing. As referenced earlier in our decision, we have had regard to the fact that you were in a relationship with Colleague A at the time your misconduct took place, and that there is some evidence that the misconduct was situational, occurring in consequence of that relationship. We have also had regard to the positive aspects of your work referred to by your former work colleagues in oral and written evidence.
As to the aggravating features, we consider the following to be present. Whilst, in the strictest sense, the misconduct did not take place exclusively in a work setting, some did take place whilst you were in work, and a consequence of your misconduct was that vulnerable young people were put at risk of harm. The misconduct found proved took place over a period of months and so was not an isolated event.
A further aggravating feature is the lack of insight that we judge to be present. Finally, there has been, in our view, a serious disregard for the Code of Professional Practice for Social Care.
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, we did not consider that this was a case that ought to be closed with no further action.
Next, we considered whether to impose a Warning. In this respect, we had regard to the Indicative Disposals Guidance, which provides that a Warning may be appropriate where 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 is keen to improve and avoid such action or behaviour in the future. Whilst some of these are features of your case, we do not consider that a Warning appropriately reflects the seriousness of the conduct that we have found proved.
We then went on to consider whether a Conditional Registration Order was appropriate. We again considered the Indicative Disposals Guidance, and noted that this might be an appropriate disposal if you demonstrated insight into the conduct engaged in, and where there was potential for you to respond positively to remediation or retraining. We are of the view that your lack of insight hampers the prospect of this being a workable order because your current lack of insight prevents you from fully remediating your misconduct. We have concluded that, notwithstanding the indication from your former employer that he would be prepared to re-employ you, a Conditional Registration Order would not be workable, given that it requires, as a starting point, demonstrable insight into the conduct engaged in, which we have judged to be lacking in your case. Consequently, this is not an appropriate disposal.
We then considered whether to impose a Suspension Order. In this respect, 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. We have commented already on our views of your insight, in that full insight is lacking in your case. However, we have concluded that (at this stage at least) yours is not a case where removal from the Register is the only option available to us, and that we can properly make a Suspension Order. This will, adequately protect the public by preventing you from working in the social care sector (in the shorter term at least) but will also afford you an opportunity to develop fuller insight into your misconduct, put measures in place to remediate that misconduct (perhaps with the assistance of those individuals who spoke highly of you and, in one instance, indicated that they may be prepared to re-employ you). We do not consider that there is any evidence of harmful deep-seated personality or attitudinal problems, that, of themselves, prevent this from being a workable order in your case. Likewise, there is no evidence of any repetition of the matters that we have found proved.
In your case, we think that the appropriate length of such an Order is 12 months. We do, however, think it essential that your Suspension Order is subject to a review hearing, at which you will have to demonstrate to a Panel that you have remedied your proven misconduct. We therefore direct that a review hearing should take place three months before the expiry of your Suspension Order. We have no power to direct, but seriously recommend, that you attend the review hearing. Likewise, we cannot attach conditions to this Suspension Order, but we anticipate that the review Panel will want to see evidence that you have reflected upon, and addressed, the concerns that we have expressed in our decision on impairment.
In saying this, we make it clear that you will bear the responsibility for demonstrating insight and remediation to the Panel. We also make it clear that if, in time for the review hearing, you have not developed the necessary insight, remediated your misconduct, and evidenced this to the review Panel, your removal from the Register may be the only appropriate outcome. You should not, therefore, underestimate what is required of you between now and that review hearing. We have concluded, on the evidence before us, that you have the potential to continue your career in the social care sector but you must avail yourself of this opportunity, take responsibility for making these changes, and show the initiative that is required.
We have been informed that you are currently subject to an Interim Suspension Order. We now discharge that Order.
In the ordinary course of events, the Suspension Order we have made would 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 current risk of harm to individuals using services, we are of the view that we should make an Immediate Order to suspend your registration in order to protect the public and the public interest until the full Suspension Order comes into effect.
This Immediate Order will have effect from the date on which you are notified of it, until the date on which the Suspension Order takes effect, or any appeal against our decision is upheld.