Kids Company psychologist suspended over drugs


A psychologist at troubled Kids Company has been suspended after she was found to have given illegal drugs to a vulnerable youngster 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.

But Dr Winter denied taking MDMA in front of client C in the toilet cubicle at the club and then giving her some of the class A drug.

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

Following a four-day hearing in London, she was given an interim 18-month suspension and will discover on February 10 whether or not she will be struck off.

Panel chair Penny Griffith said: "(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 particularly 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 panel found.

Ms Griffiths said Dr Winter had insisted there would be no repeat of her actions.

"She expressed remorse and stated that she would not longer resort to the use of illegal drugs to deal with problems in her private life," Ms Griffith said.

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

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

"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," she said.

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

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

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

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

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

She told how they bought some MDMA which they took in the toilet at the club, and later saw clients C and D, who were both in their early 20s, in the same club.

Later Ms Shall went to a toilet cubicle with Dr Winter and client C, a woman who she taught at the academy. There 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 that she was guilty of misconduct and that her fitness to practise is impaired.