Lawyers critical of social work reports for family courts

The majority of social work reports produced for the family courts are ‘poor’ or just ‘fair’, according to a sample of lawyers surveyed by Community Care.

Lawyers critical of social work reports for family courts

Fifteen legal professionals were asked for their views and experiences of social work in the family courts and revealed concerns over the quality of social work evidence.

Just two lawyers said that, on average, social work reports are ‘good’, while seven rated them ‘poor’ and six ‘fair’.

One lawyer described the poorest reports as, “lacking family balance and very often not accurate or well-informed historically, forensically poor, lacking chronology…often self protecting”.

Be better prepared for court: Principal social worker David Wilkins explains how a more analytical approach will help you evidence your decisions

Ten of the lawyers said social workers only seem well-prepared for court hearings ‘sometimes’, while 12 said social workers ‘never’ or only ‘sometimes’ use research properly. Most (11) of the lawyers said children’s guardians also only seem well-prepared for court ‘sometimes’.

“Of course, it varies from worker to worker – people are human beings, with all the wonders and flaws that this implies,” one lawyer said. “Some thrive in court and recognise that while others have read about the family, they have lived it. And others turn up to court without putting in the right effort to explain their decisions and be able to robustly defend them.”

Another said: “The better qualified and experienced social workers will turn up a good hour before a hearing to give instructions to the local authority lawyer and take part in negotiations. But I have experienced on some occasions the social worker arriving ten minutes before the hearing unprepared and being chastised by the court.”

Andrew Webb, vice president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, said concerted efforts were underway to support social workers’ professional development and to build inter-professional understanding of social worker expertise and role in the family courts.

He said: “ADCS is also working with Cafcass to establish good practice guidance on a sector-wide model of family court social work in which all social workers could practise to a high standard more comfortably than they can, or feel they can, now. The Children’s Improvement Board is planning jointly with the Family Justice Board a programme of learning sets and workshops for social workers, guardians and local family justice colleagues to share learning and good practice to improve working between local authorities, Cafcass and local family courts.

“Together, this suite of national and local activity, alongside the implementation of the recommendations of the Family Justice Review, will help to boost the confidence and expertise of social workers to prepare and deliver effective and timely evidence and reduce delays in court proceedings.”

Bullet pointCommunity Care is holding a family justice conference in London on 5 December. It will help you carry out better section 47 assessments and better prepare you for court appearances. Register your interest or request a brochure here.

Pic credit: Image Broker/Rex Features (posed by model)

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