Social workers giving evidence in court now able to use a standard template

The template will help fulfil the requirements for "balance sheet" evidence following the Re B-S case

A new form, that is part of a move to standardise social work evidence in court, is now available for all social workers in England and Wales to use and test out before a final review date next year.

The Social Work Evidence Template (SWET) was developed by Cafcass with input from the judiciary, Department for Education, Association of Directors of Children’s Social Services and a group of local authorities including Birmingham and Islington.

The template helps social workers set out the reasons for applying for an order backed up by evidence and balanced analysis, and to show that realistic alternatives for the child’s care have been properly considered.

It is hoped the form will provide better quality social work evidence and reasoning in a greater number of cases. This will minimise delay in court and limit the need for cross examination of evidence.

A properly completed SWET would also fulfil the requirement for a “balance sheet” style demonstration of reasoning described by Sir James Munby in the Re B-S adoption case in July 2013.

In the judgement of that case Sir James stated: “We have real concerns, shared by other judges, about the recurrent inadequacy of the analysis and reasoning put forward in support of the case for adoption, both in the materials put before the court by local authorities and guardians and also in too many judgments. This is nothing new. But it is time to call a halt.”

He called for both social workers and judges to start using a “balance sheet” to weigh and analyse the pros and cons of all options, including adoption. Later cases have confirmed this should only include the most realistic options in any particular case.

Speaking at Community Care Live about the new template, Julie Penny, principal social worker at Birmingham City Council, and Uma Mehta, chief lawyer at the London Borough of Islington, emphasised that Re B-S had not changed the legal test for adoption, but had simply demanded higher standards in the analysis and reasoning given in social work evidence.

Penny said the SWET, which was launched during the summer this year, will be revised in spring or summer next year once it has been used by local authorities and they have had feedback on any changes needed.

Community Care Inform Children users can access a summary of the Re B-S case and its impact on social work practice.

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