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Independent Social Workers Feel the Width

February 4, 2010

I see that the growing community of Independent Social Work Expert Witnesses are worried that the Legal Services Commission (LSC) intend, as from October this year, limiting what they will pay for an Independent Social Worker to provide assessments to the courts to the notional fee rate Cafcass pay their Self Employed Contractors (SECs). I say notional because Cafcass are gradually divesting themselves of their SECs and anyway the SECs have long complained about the inadequacy of Cafcass rates. The LSC cheerfully  pay Psychologists and Physicians about 500% of what they intend paying independent social workers.

Doing an ISW assessment, let me tell you, is very, very demanding work which calls on every ounce of all the  knowledge and skill hard earned over many, many years of professional experience if it is to be of any value to the courts or the families and children involved.

The ISWs comfort themselves with the thought that at that miserly fee rate it will not be possible for the courts to obtain high quality assessments by independent expert social workers. Sadly, I doubt the LSC care about the quality – “just feel the width”, and will happily pay this insulting fee rate to local authority and Cafcass employees who will gladly earn some extra cash on top of their salaries by doing the work in their “spare time”. That would take us right back to over 50 years ago. Then, when an “independent” social work report was required, it would indeed be done for “pin money” by somebody in their so called spare time. Also in that era when Medical Consultants provided reports to the courts they interviewed and wrote their reports in NHS time and even had the report typed up by their NHS secretary on NHS paper.

I though we had got away from those indefensible sort of arrangements but it seems not. The LSC, like several other arms of government, seem determined to roll back services to children to somewhere around the pre-1960 standard while their political masters loudly shout their great concern for children and their deep commitment to family life.

The Legal Services Commission is a non-departmental public body answerable to the Ministry of Justice and the Lord Chancellor – Jack Whitaker Straw MP. He seems to have had little to say about children but his “reluctant” approval of the invasion of Iraq and his kindly decision not to extradite the former Chilean dictator, General Augusto Pinochet, to Spain to face charges of torture and violation of human rights show him to be a sensitive and sympathetic man *. I’m sure when this situation is brought to his attention he will correct it. OR can it be, as a colleague of mine writes:-

… the message from ‘the system’ and from the state is that social work is not a respected or valued profession and remains at the bottom of the pile, along with the children whose lives are at stake. Its time for all social work professional bodies to meet with government to say we’ve had enough. Perhaps if less was spent on advertising for people to join social work on the tv and more looking at the reasons why people have left the profession (in addition to being whipping posts for child deaths) then may be something would be learnt. Now there’s an idea for a phd or is it better to research the life of plants instead!

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. February 7, 2010 12:13 pm

    It seems I may need to retire a little earlier than planned – either that or accept the LSC mandate. I do not fault the LSC in finding ways to reduce expenditure but there are other ways, I think, of doing so.

    Acting as I do as an expert witness and Guardian I am aware that some expert reports are very ill focused – sometimes because the expert is ill focused and sometimes because their instructions are a dogs breakfast. Even worse some expert reports are quite simply not needed as it is yet another assessment in, sadly sometimes, a hopless case where earlier evidence is at worst reasonably compelling.

    Do not get me wrong – parents, and especially children, require robust and competent representation, but I am unconvinced in some cases that a further assessment is needed. To that extent the Courts must accept responsibility in not enforcing and ensuring how expert reports tackle either absent evidence or adding to or challenging earlier evidence by the authorities/parties.

    I spend, sometimes, as much time trying to read behind the instructions as I do investigating, analysing and reporting. There can be some savings there by reducing the number of expert reports and when they are being commissioned, as focused and explicit as possible.

    Also, some expert reports (and this is not limited to social workers) are not worth the paper they are written on – they tell you nothing new and spend page after page going over their credentials, methodology and history of the case and actually add nothing to the resolution of the case. In terms of social work experts – we need to take responsibility for this. Whereas there is a place for reflective analysis there is no room for “opting out” or “timid” conclusions. That simply adds further to delay and added costs. A no win situation for anyone, least of all the child.

    In one case where I am currently acting as a Guardian, the Court took the view that a social work expert report was actually surplus to requirements as the Guardian is the social work expert – and you know, I think the court was spot on. The Court actually described the additional expert report as a duplication.

    I agree however that social work expert evidence should not be singled out for cost cutting but there does need to be a root and branch review of when expert reports are actually needed and CAFCASS officers will need to fill the gap in some instances, I think. Sometimes so called experts (I prefer professional) witnesses are needed because of a lack of (or competent) assessments by local authorities and in which case they should be financed by those authorities – not the LSC.

    We (Guardians and experts) are going to have to face the financial recession constrictions like everyone else – it is for us to make the case that we are economically and professionally focused, together with the courts, enough to serve a ever increasing cost to the public purse in family proceedings. It is not as simple as it is needed therefore we pay for it – if only it were. But then I think it is very unclear what it is we do need.

    In short, it is a mess.

    Wilt

  2. Brick permalink*
    February 8, 2010 11:06 am

    Welcome Wilt. You may have seen what the Public Accounts Committee says about the Legal Services Commission – “It is an organisation with poor financial management and internal controls and deficient management information”. The Times report is at:

    http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/law/article7011706.ece

    Many would agree with you that the system is in a mess but what to do? Any suggestions anybody?

  3. February 8, 2010 5:17 pm

    Brick

    First, thank you for this forum – excellent 🙂

    I think I am going to take it day by day, as I suspect most will do – it is not exactly a new issue and in the autumn of my career I do not have the energy to fight it any more. I suspect, Brick, it will come down to people opting out of doing this work and although you see there are others who might take their place, I aint so sure – I stand to be corrected if wrong.

    In the end we will win out, I think – I hope so for the children, young people and their families. Unless of course the GSCC get us first!

    Hard times ahead I think. Hello older employees at B&Q! We aint lost the war yet, just the latest battle.

    We could I suppose ask Community Care to raise an article in Community Care? I am aware NAGALRO are doing their best.

    Wilt

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