Independent social workers being ‘forced out of system’

Independent social workers are seeking a meeting with children's minister Tim Loughton after claiming they are being systematically forced out of the child protection system

Independent social workers are seeking a meeting with children’s minister Tim Loughton after claiming they are being systematically forced out of the child protection system.

In a letter sent to children’s minister Tim Loughton, the British Association of Social Workers, Nagalro and the Confederation of Social Work Agencies said the experience and expertise of independent social work (ISW) experts had been “not only overlooked and undervalued but actively discouraged and disparaged” following the Munro Review of child protection and the recent Family Justice Review that called for fewer independent court reports.

At the same time, ISWs have seen their fees slashed substantially. They are now paid just £30-33 per hour – 75% less than a psychologist (£117), 70% less than a GP (£99) and 63% less than a nurse (£83) – making them the lowest paid experts called by family courts.

These factors are leading to the “rapid loss”of much-needed expertise, the bodies said, putting children at risk and limiting opportunities for the next generation of social workers.

The letter stated: “As a result of an accumulation of dis-incentivising factors there has been a steady haemorrhage of some of the best independent expert social workers who are being systematically forced out of the system at a time when they are most needed.

“This cannot be in the interests of vulnerable children and it appears out of tune with the government’s commitment both to speeding up decision-making processes and to retaining experienced social workers in frontline child protection services.”

The letter also criticised the Department for Education and Ministry of Justice, claiming that both departments had been “immensely discouraging and dismissive of the value of highly trained and experienced welfare professionals”.

The organisations asked Loughton to meet with them “as a matter of urgency” to clarify the government’s position and explore the role of the ISW expert witness.

Alison Paddle, former chair of Nagalro, said she hoped the minister would take the issue seriously, adding: “The value of ISWs cannot be underestimated. Often having an outside, highly skilled person can help people and families to accept recommendations and as a result they can reduce court timescales considerably.”

Nagalro is trying to establish how many ISWs have left the field, following the dispute over their services and fees. Community Care understands that research being carried out by Professor Julia Brophy of Oxford University is expected to provide evidence of the value of ISWs.

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