Children’s social workers unaware they can be named in court judgements, survey finds

The majority of social workers do not think their employer would support them if they were named in negative media coverage of a case

Seven out of ten children’s social workers are unaware their name could be made public in court judgements, a survey by public sector Unison has found.

The research also found only one in four social workers were confident their employer would support them if they were named in negative media coverage of a case, almost half (49%) do not feel confident before a judge and 90% do not have enough time to adequately prepare for court appearances.

Naming and shaming?

The study was conducted one year after Sir James Munby, President of the Family Court, issued guidance that judgments should be published and expert witnesses named, unless there are compelling reasons not to.

One third of experienced social workers felt their training left them unprepared for writing court reports or presenting to a judge while 90% of newly qualified social workers felt this way.

Four in five of the 1080 social workers surveyed said they would consider leaving their job because of negative media coverage of social workers in court proceedings. The impact on pracitioners’ families of being publicly named, on top of harassment and threats after court appearances that some already face, was seen as “the last straw” by many.

Carrying the can

Social workers are unable to defend themselves against public hostility or hounding by local newspapers, because confidentiality rules means they cannot speak about a case, the report notes.

Unison general secretary, Dave Prentis, said often those likely to be named are the least senior staff in the decision-making chain.

“It is unacceptable that social workers are having to carry the can in court for decisions which their supervisors have overseen,” he said.

One respondent to the survey commented: “Although we are the allocated social worker and may have written the reports and given the evidence, it is not just our personal view, but a professional one which has been developed through social work assessments and discussions with social work managers. It is…not appropriate for the individual worker to be publicly named and put at risk for presenting the agency’s view and for doing our job.”

Heavy workloads

Another social worker said they had left child protection work after untrue things were said about them by a mother in court. Unison fears anxiety about being “publicly pilloried” could increase problems with morale, recruitment and retention in the sector.

More than 90% of the social workers surveyed also said that heavy workloads meant they do not have enough time to prepare for court cases and needed to work on statements in evenings and weekends.

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