Bridget Prentice urges councils to call fewer experts in court

Justice minister Bridget Prentice has said councils must reduce their reliance on expert witnesses in care proceedings and called on social workers to have more faith in their expertise.

She made the comments at a Community Care conference in London yesterday on the public law outline, a new system for managing care proceedings which will come into force on 1 April.

Later Kevin Williams, chief executive of fostering and adoption agency Tact, told the conference the public law outline gave social workers a real opportunity to “reclaim professional credibility”.

He added: “If we allow expert reports to replace social work assessments we are doing the profession a disservice.”

Cases are often held up while experts are appointed and their services can cost between £500 and £800 a day.

Under the public law outline, judges will give a timetable for each child’s case, effectively scrapping the current 40-week target for applications, and local authorities will be expected to carry out core assessments before making a court application.

Currently, 86% of applications do not have a core assessment attached, which causes long delays. A Ministry of Justice study published this week found less than half of a sample of cases, commenced in 2004, were completed within 40 weeks.

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