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'Deplorable' Kids Company psychologist suspended for giving client drugs

Published 12/01/2016

Helen Winter was found to have given illegal drugs to a youngster she met through Kids Company
Helen Winter was found to have given illegal drugs to a youngster she met through Kids Company

A psychologist at troubled Kids Company has been branded "deplorable" and suspended from working in the UK after giving class A drugs to a vulnerable young woman she met through the charity.

Helen Winter admitted taking MDMA, the active ingredient in ecstasy, and being under its influence with two clients of the charity at a nightclub in south London in January 2014.

She said she took drugs "on several occasions" during her leisure time, testing positive for cocaine, and letting two vulnerable young people, known only as clients C and D, stay at her flat.

She denied taking MDMA in front of client C in the toilet at the club and giving her some of the drug.

A Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) panel ruled that Dr Winter's fitness to practise was impaired after finding "all the charges proven".

Following a four-day hearing in London, she was given an interim 18-month suspension and will discover on February 10 whether she will be struck off.

Panel chairwoman Penny Griffith said Dr Winter's actions "brought the profession into disrepute".

"(Dr Winter's) behaviour set a deplorable example to clients C and D. It undermined the work of her profession and her then employer, particularly as Kids Company had a stated anti-drugs policy.

"There was a lack of recognition of the serious potential impact of her behaviour in taking a class A illegal drug, taking it in the presence of a client, offering the drug to the client and a week later inviting that client back to her home.

"The actions of (Dr Winter) have damaged public confidence in the profession of practitioner psychologists and brought the profession into disrepute."

Ms Griffith said Dr Winter's clients were young people with "significant complex histories of trauma and abuse" and it was important to protect boundaries for such a "vulnerable and fragile" group.

Dr Winter admitted she put vulnerable young people at risk of harm but the panel was not satisfied she recognised "the full implication and seriousness of this harm", Ms Griffith added.

While Dr Winter was relatively inexperienced, she should have been "well aware of the appropriate professional boundaries".

The case is the latest in a series of damaging allegations against London-based Kids Company - founded by Camila Batmanghelidjh - which closed last year following claims it misspent public money.

The charity, which is under the control of administrators, is also being investigated by the complex case team of the Met Police's Sexual Offences, Exploitation and Child Abuse Command.

Dr Winter took MDMA with a colleague, teacher Nicci Shall, on the night at Hidden club in Vauxhall on January 24 2014.

The pair met while working at the Urban Academy, a pupil referral unit run by Kids Company in Southwark, south London.

Ms Shall said she had been drinking wine and shots in a pub from 4pm when she and Dr Winter decided to carry the night on at Hidden.

She said they bought MDMA which they took in the toilet, and later saw clients C and D, who were in their early 20s, in the club.

Later Ms Shall went to a toilet cubicle with Dr Winter and client C, a woman who she taught at the academy. Ms Shall said she watched the pair take drugs.

During the four-day hearing, Dr Winter wept as she pleaded with the panel to allow her to maintain her "commitment to helping others in the role of clinical psychologist".

She said she was now drug-free and would not "blur" professional boundaries as she had done at Kids Company.

She admitted she was guilty of misconduct and that her fitness to practise was impaired.

Ms Griffith acknowledged Dr Winter had "expressed remorse" and stated she no longer resorted to illegal drugs to deal with personal problems.

The "stressful" closure of Kids Company and Dr Winter's "sudden redundancy" had not led her to take drugs again, she added.

"She had undertaken therapy, had a life coach, now controls stress with a healthy lifestyle and has professional supervision," Ms Griffith said.

"The panel accepted there was evidence of remorse and insight into (Dr Winter's) drug behaviour and concluded that the prospects of repetition were low."

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