A revised social work evidence template (SWET) has been issued for consultation, alongside a new, shorter version for urgent cases, on the back of concerns raised by sector leaders.
The proposals respond to criticisms that social work statements in support of urgent applications to remove children from their families failed to evidence the need for urgency or that the legal threshold to remove a child was met, and also that SWETs more generally had evidence gaps in key areas.
The changes, issued by the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) and Cafcass, and drawn up by representatives from council children’s social care and legal teams, judiciary and Cafcass, are out for consultation until 18 September.
The SWET, introduced in 2014 and previously revised in 2016, provides a blueprint for social work evidence to the courts in applications for care and supervision orders. Used in many, but not all areas, it asks social workers to provide case details, a chronology, analyses of risk and protective factors, the child’s experience, welfare and wishes and feelings, parental and family capability and the proposed care plan.
Concerns over urgent cases
Though recommended for use by the courts and government, as well as Cafcass and the ADCS, it came in for criticisms from representatives of these organisation on family court president Sir Andrew McFarlane’s public law working group, in a report last year.
The group raised particular concerns about the use of the SWET in urgent cases – where councils were pursuing interim care orders – where it said the template “frequently contains little or insufficient evidence of the urgency and why/how the legal test for removal is met”.
It recommended the creation of a shortened SWET for such cases, addressing these issues. The proposed interim SWET is designed to fulfil this, including an initial section asking the practitioner to detail whether immediate removal is required and reasons for this, and asking why risks have moved from significant to immediate harm. It then asks for similar information to that covered by the full SWET but in shortened form.
The public law working group also raised concerns about information being duplicated between the SWET and other court documents. It also identified common evidence gaps including pre-proceedings assessments, work undertaken with the family so far, whether a family group conference has taken place with the reason if not, any previous proceedings involving the child or whether he or she had been accommodated, the view of the independent reviewing officer and specific analysis in relation to newborn babies.
The revised SWET is designed to take account of these issues. ADCS and Cafcass have set out how the template has been changed, and put out a survey asking for views on the specific changes themselves, whether the amended document better meets social workers’ needs in presenting their evidence and what training materials might support its implementation.