Information was disclosed to BACP, which was considered under Article 12.6 of the Articles of Association.
The matter was referred to an article 12.6 Panel in relation to the Member’s dismissal on 21 March Year 3 from her employment with Organisation A.
The background to the disciplinary process was as follows:
a) Ms Morris had a counselling session with X on 5 December Year 2. This was the first of an intended set of 10 sessions. [ . . . ] X was admitted to hospital by ambulance following [ . . . ] triggering an investigation into her conduct.
b) X had been referred to the service on 2nd November Year 1, some time before this appointment. It was noted there were no indications of risk, safeguarding concerns or suicidal ideation or intent recorded before 5th December Year 2. However, X had overdosed on [ . . . ] October Year 2. While this had not been shared with Organisation E, it was referred to in an email to which Ms Morris had had access. Ms Morris confirmed she went into the session on 5th December knowing there was a potential risk.
c) In her submissions to Organisation A, Ms Morris stated she was more familiar with written notes and had difficulty locating information stored on the electronic system about the X’s background. She said she was receiving support on the content of clinical notes, accountability, documenting risk and other administrative processes.
d) Organisation E expected Organisation employees to work to the standards contained in the [ . . . ] service risk protocol. This prioritised carrying out a risk assessment before building a therapeutic relationship with a new client. Ms Morris however said she felt doing a risk assessment in the first session undermined the therapeutic relationship and admitted she had not carried out a risk assessment stating ‘if there were any hints of high risk for example in their language, behaviours, or expressions of intent’ she would have done so. Ms Morris said she had, however, carried out some ice-breaker discussion to put X at ease, talking about things they liked, the support they had and how they were feeling. She said X didn’t engage very much.
e) The notes Ms Morris recorded on the system did not contain the level of detail Organisation E expected and were entered onto the system at later dates. Ms Morris admitted she hadn’t recorded “accurate contemporaneous notes linked to the correct dates” on the system which meant senior staff couldn’t track how the case developed and appropriately assess the level of risk. In addition, there was no evidence of a risk plan on the system and X was not provided any guidance on how to keep safe between that session and the next.
f) With regard to safeguarding, Ms Morris said that on 5th December Year 2 a safeguarding issue arose about [ . . . ] in the home but Ms Morris had assumed the social worker had raised the safeguarding issue regarding X. As a result, she did not discuss any safeguarding issues until her supervision on 17 December Year 2.
g) Ms Morris stated when she spoke to the social worker, they had said X’s actions had nothing to do with the session and the timing was coincidence.
The Organisation A disciplinary hearing identified the following reasons for her dismissal:
1. Serious failure to perform properly the duties of her employment.
2. Failure to adequately risk assess at first contact with a young person.
3. Failure to document a risk assessment on the clinical database used.
4. Failure to keep accurate contemporaneous notes to evidence liaison with allied services, as well as with line managers and supervisors.
5. Failure to communicate safeguarding concerns.
6. Working outside of the BACP Ethical Guidelines
7. Conduct had the potential to bring the organisation into serious disrepute with Organisation E where the relationship is still evolving.
8. Breach of Organisation procedures and code of conduct
9. Breach of the BACP Ethical Framework
The Article 12.6 Panel was convened to consider whether the nature of the information provided by Organisation A raised questions about the suitability of Ms Morris’ continuing membership of this Association, in particular that:
• To date, Ms Morris had failed to notify BACP of her disciplinary hearing and subsequent dismissal from her former workplace as required by the terms and conditions of her BACP membership
• It was alleged that, in having been dismissed from her employment, Ms Morris had brought, or may yet bring, not only this Association, but also the reputations of counselling/psychotherapy into disrepute.
• It was alleged that being dismissed was incongruent with what is expected of a member of BACP.
• The information further suggested that there may have been a serious breach, or breaches, of the Ethical Framework for the Counselling Professions.
The Panel considered all of the available information [. . . ].
Having done so the Panel determined to implement Article 12.6 of the Articles of Association and to recommend that Ms Morris’ membership should be withdrawn subject to appeal.
In coming to its decision, the Panel noted the following points:
• In relation to Ms Morris’ actions resulting in summary dismissal, the Panel considered her employer to have conducted a fair and effective investigation. In particular, the Panel took account of the investigation report and the explanations given by Ms Morris in her response to BACP, but it found nothing to indicate her employer had failed to follow its disciplinary procedures and no evidence to justify the Panel going behind the conclusions of the disciplinary hearing. The Panel therefore found the investigation and findings of Ms Morris’ employer to be credible and persuasive evidence of Ms Morris’ behaviour as a practitioner.
• The Panel took into account the behaviours that Ms Morris was found responsible for by her employer. These included a serious failure to adequately risk assess a young person at the first appointment, to identify, document and communicate the safeguarding concerns to the relevant organisations and staff and the failure to keep accurate and contemporaneous notes, both of this particular session and more generally.
• The Panel was particularly concerned at Ms Morris’ failure to carry out an appropriate risk assessment with the vulnerable young person at the first meeting and beginning of the counselling relationship. Without this assessment it was not possible to gauge the risk to the individual in question and the possible need to take action. The Panel, therefore, found that this was a significant failure that had the potential for serious harm. It considered that Ms Morris’ conduct amounted to serious breaches of the Ethical Framework for Good Practice in Counselling and Psychotherapy 2018 in particular paragraphs 9,10, 15, 16 and 18.
• The Panel gave careful consideration to Ms Morris’ explanation as to why she had not carried out the risk assessment with X at the first meeting. However, under the processes put in place by her employer, Ms Morris was required to carry out such a risk assessment at the first meeting, but she had decided not to do so. This was despite the fact that the notes of the investigation meeting on 29 January Year 3 recorded that Ms Morris had stated that “she went into the first session on 5 December knowing there was a risk but that she had still failed to carry out the risk assessment”.
• The Panel noted from the information provided that her client was young and potentially vulnerable. In the circumstances the Panel would have expected the Member to have undertaken the appropriate assessment so that any risks could be identified, and any necessary safeguarding measures put in place to ensure the client’s safety. It seemed Ms Morris had made a conscious decision not to carry out the required risk assessment at this first appointment. The Panel considered this to be a serious failing which had the potential for serious harm to the client.
• The Panel noted that, prior to the first meeting between the client and the Member, an email had been sent to Organisation A on 3 December that gave further details about the young person including details of a previous overdose. This was information that may have been directly relevant to the counselling relationship but Ms Morris said she had been unable to access this email on the system and as such had not seen it before her meeting with the young person This was a serious omission. Further, this underpinned the concern that Ms Morris had been unable to adapt to her employer’s IT system for recording and maintaining clinical records. The Panel could see that, despite a significant amount of support from her employer, this had been a persistent problem for Ms Morris since Year 1. In addition, there was evidence from Organisation A to show that Ms Morris’ notes, when entered, were not always accurate. This had the potential to affect the decisions of other people who were reliant on this information and raised serious implications for recording and sharing information and for the overall care of the client.
• The Panel acknowledged Ms Morris’ personal circumstances at the time of the appointment with the young person. It had sympathy with her situation but it reminded itself of the requirements of paragraph 91 of the 2018 Ethical Framework and that, as a counsellor it was for her to monitor her own wellbeing to ensure she was able to provide any service at a professional standard and if not, to seek support.
• The Panel also took into account Ms Morris’ record as a counsellor and that there had been no previous complaints to BACP. It bore in mind her submissions that she hoped to be able to continue as a counsellor However, the Panel reminded itself of its overarching requirement to protect clients, the public and to maintain confidence in the professions of counselling and psychotherapy and in BACP.
• In this case, the Panel considered that Ms Morris’ failure to undertake a risk assessment in a timely manner was a serious failure that raised significant safeguarding concerns and could have had serious consequences for the client.
• The Panel also took into account the Member’s limited insight and learning into the events that had led to her dismissal. In summary, the Panel determined that, if the details of Ms Morris’ conduct and dismissal were accurately made known to the public, they would bring not only the BACP, but also the reputations of the professions of counselling and psychotherapy into disrepute.
Accordingly, the Panel concluded that the failing demonstrated by Ms Morris warranted the withdrawal of her membership of BACP. The Panel unanimously decided to implement Article 12.6 and withdraw Ms Morris’ membership, subject to appeal.
Ms Morris appealed the decision. In summary she said that:
a) she felt she had learned from this experience. She understood that she should have complied with the Organisation A procedure, in particular with regard to the use of IT and documentation. At the time however she felt that she was acting in X’s interest in seeking to put them at ease. She also noted that they had been previously assessed prior to this session and that she had discussed them in supervision. She also felt she had been let down by Organisation A in the way they had handled this and that she hadn’t received appropriate support or advice. Her dismissal appeared to be based on her failure to follow administrative procedures not because of her work as a counsellor.
b) She had worked with children and young people for more than 10 years and had never intentionally put them at risk. Their well being was central to her work. She had received praise from parents, colleagues and staff for her work and felt she was well regarded for her professionalism as a counsellor She noted she had had no complaints about her work before this incident and felt that she had provided a valuable service in her time at Organisation A.
c) The Organisation A decision had impacted on her financially, emotionally and physically. Due to her personal circumstances, she had been unable to obtain legal advice and her health had also suffered.
d) She had learned from what had happened and would be more thorough and conscientious in her work with young people in the future. She asked for the opportunity to continue with her career as a counsellor and to put what she had learned into practice in her work.
Ms Morris also provided a further 3 letters of support from colleagues and supervisors.
APPEAL PANEL’S DECISION
The Appeal Panel gave very careful consideration to all the information before it. It also had the benefit of hearing Ms Morris make her submissions and answer questions. In its decision however it has only referred to that information which was key to its decision. The fact that any particular piece of information is not specifically mentioned should not be read as meaning it was not taken into account.
The Appeal Panel reminded itself that its role was to consider if the decision made by the Article 12.6 Panel in February 2020 to implement Article 12.6 was “just and reasonable in the circumstances” and that was the focus of its deliberations.
Having considered the information available to the first panel together with the further information provided by the Member in her appeal, the Appeal Panel was satisfied that the decision of the Panel on 13 November 2019 was just and reasonable in the circumstances.
In coming to that decision, the Appeal panel took into account the personal circumstances of the Member both at the time of the first Panel and since then. It acknowledged that this had been a difficult time for Ms Morris, as she had explained clearly in her submissions, both written and oral. However, while it had taken this into account in its decision, the Appeal Panel noted that its overarching remit was to protect the public and it had to consider the information before it in that context.
It also took into account the long delay that had occurred between the decision in November 2019 and this Appeal hearing. This had been due to a number of circumstances, including the recent Covid-19 pandemic but it appreciated the impact of this on Ms Morris.
The Appeal Panel first considered Ms Morris’ actions on the day of the first session with X. It was concerned that Ms Morris appeared still to have limited insight into the potential consequences of her actions, in particular the impact on the client. It noted what Ms Morris had said about her approach at this session but the risk assessment was an integral part of the process and intended to protect the client. Further, in this case Ms Morris had agreed that she knew the X had made a previous suicide attempt before the session and so she would have been aware of the client’s vulnerability. The failure to do a risk assessment was, therefore, serious and had the potential to put the client at risk. However, in response to questions, Ms Morris had stated that she would not have changed anything in the session. This suggested that Ms Morris had not fully understood the implications of her approach which, in turn, raised the possibility of repetition in the future.
The Appeal Panel noted that Ms Morris had struggled with the administrative side of this role but this was an essential part of her work at that time, and in being a counsellor in general, so it couldn’t agree that Organisation A had been unreasonable to expect its staff to follow its processes. The failure to keep detailed and contemporaneous notes meant that other staff were unable to access the records as required and make appropriate decisions.
The Appeal Panel took into account Ms Morris’ comments and concerns about Organisation A’s approach but it was part of the requirements of her role and the Appeal Panel could not go behind that or behind the decision of the Organisation A disciplinary panel.
Having reviewed the information and heard Ms Morris’ submissions, the Appeal Panel acknowledged that in the period following the 13 November 2019 to appearing before the panel, Ms Morris had developed some insight and reflection into what had happened. However, it was not satisfied that Ms Morris had provided sufficient information at this point in time to demonstrate that she had fully understood the implications of what had happened and that she had changed her practice as a result, to comply with the requirements of the Ethical Framework. Should this change in the future then she would be free to re-apply for membership and this could be taken into account at that time.
It acknowledged that Ms Morris had provided a number of supportive letters.
On the evidence before it, the Appeal Panel did not find that the decision of the Panel in November 2019 had been unjust or unreasonable. Accordingly, it did not allow Ms Morris’ appeal against the decision to implement Article 12.6.
The Chair of BACP notified Ms Morris of the decision to remove membership.
Any future re-application for membership will be considered under Article 12.3 of the Memorandum & Articles of the Association.
The decision is published in accordance with BACP’s Publication Policy.
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