As many as 1,000 UK social workers could be travelling abroad every year to conduct “illegal” assessments, according to a charity that specialises in overseas work, writes Julie Griffiths.
Children and Families Across Borders (CFAB) has estimated that one in a 100 social workers are carrying out overseas assessments each year, the majority of them unaware they are doing anything wrong.
CFAB chief executive Andy Elvin said it was a combination of independent and council-employed social workers, both of whom were sent by local authorities, as well as officers from guardian’s body Cafcasss asked to go by the courts.
“It might be a court ordering an assessment and they don’t prescribe how it happens,” he said.
Local authorities often took this to mean they should send a social worker rather than working with CFAB, which would ensure assessments were arranged through the correct channels.
“Local authorities have no clue that what they are doing is actually not lawful. Social workers usually go on a tourist visa. But you can’t just go knocking on people’s doors and say, ‘I’ve come to assess you’,” he said.
If a social worker from overseas tried to practise in the UK without registration, it would be deemed unlawful, said Elvin. The same applied in other countries.
Colin Green, chair of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services families, young people and communities policy committee, said a common scenario was where a child in the care of UK local authority had a family member living overseas come forward to offer a home.
“Local authorities need to be sure about the suitability of such a placement and the ability of the carers to support the child’s needs, as they would with any placement in the UK. It is good practice to involve local agencies in the assessment process but quality and timeliness of assessment are the key concerns,” he said.
Elvin said that, while local authorities have a duty to ensure the child’s safety, they also have a duty of care to staff, which they were breaching by sending social workers overseas.
“There are basic problems like insurance that won’t cover a social worker if they go out to Ghana, for example, because they’re out of their jurisdiction,” he said.
Social workers were also at risk of personal harm when they travelled overseas to do an assessment, such as mugging, being shot or even kidnapped.
Green said that the legal complexities of assessing families overseas were the domain of the courts.
“The courts should be clear when making such a request about the legal circumstances, including whether the local authority can undertake assessments in the country in question,” he said.
Read more on “The dangers of conducting assessments overseas“
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