Top Story : Kids Company psychologist suspended for giving MDMA to client

A psychologist at 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 was given an interim 18-month suspension by a Health and Care Professions Council panel and will discover on 10 February if she is to be struck off. Photograph: Anthony Devlin/PA
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 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 ruled on Tuesday that 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 10 February if she is to be struck off.

The chair of the panel, 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.”

Griffith said 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.

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”, Griffith added.

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

Griffith said Winter had insisted there would be no repeat of her actions: “She expressed remorse and stated that she would no longer resort to the use of illegal drugs to deal with problems in her private life.

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

The closure of Kids Company and her sudden redundancy had not led her to take drugs again, Griffith added. 

“The panel accepted there was evidence of remorse and insight into [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.

During the four-day hearing, Winter had 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 was impaired.

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