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ISW Pay Rates

May 27, 2010

When Cafcass started to be unable to meet courts request’s for Children’s Guardians the Legal Services Commission (LSC) became concerned that its legal aid funds were at risk of being used to engage Independent Social Workers (ISWs) as substitutes for the absent Cafcass Guardians. Indeed, I think this did occur on a few occasions. At the same time Cafcass, in pursuit of its aim of having a fully employed workforce wanted its self-employed contractors to sign up for contracts of employment and not be tempted to start to practice as Independent Social Work experts in the courts. Thus, it greatly suited both the LSC and Cafcass to decide that ISWs would be paid at a maximum of the Cafcass “hourly rate”. This would help the LSC to reduce its expenditure on experts in the family courts and would encourage ISWs to seek employment with Cafcass. Both organisations found it convenient to fudge the actually very distinct differences between the roles of Guardian and ISW expert. For explanation of the different roles see Pink Tape’s very helpful summary.

However, the courts increasingly find they need ISW expert assessments and evidence in complicated cases. They have come to realise that often these ISWs are able to deploy skills that shift the logjams in otherwise intractable cases which, apart from helping the individuals involved, can reduce overall costs significantly by shortening cases. The “Cafcass rate” is £30 and hour which might seem quite good until one realises that medical and psychologist experts are usually paid at up to five times that hourly rate. What is more a few professional ISW agencies have sprung up to supply approved ISWs and ensure their work is up to scratch. ISWA and Willis Palmer are possibly the best known. If the LSC will only pay Cafcass rates then ISWs, working through such agencies will probably only receive about two thirds of the Cafcass rate.

The result of these various bureaucratic manipulations is that the more skilled ISWs will, like many solicitors nowadays, refuse Legal Aid work leaving that field to the less experiences and less expert. That will reduce the quality of social work expertise available to the courts and in turn the courts will find such work less and less useful and will become less inclined to value or use social work expertise even in intractable cases.

The answer, to the sometimes alleged although difficult to pin down idea, that there is a lot of overuse of experts in the family courts is not to try to price one group of experts out of the system but rather to force the courts to be more disciminating in deciding which cases do and which do not require expertise and to be more precise about what expert help they require.

One Comment leave one →
  1. June 3, 2010 10:23 am

    It is undoubtedly true that both Guardians and ISW’s represent (mostly) the most experienced and competent of workers – but let us not forget that our colleagues “on the front line” are also experts in their own right, and (mostly) competent.

    Acting both as a Guardian (self-employed) and as an expert witness I am fully aware of the impact of these changes – however I think though protests too much. There are far too many inspectors and “milk monitors” to the extent that it causes major cost implications and detracts from retention/recruitment of staff at the sharp end.

    I for one, if it comes to it, will be back at that sharp end earning my dosh – I do occasionally as an interim manager just to ensure I keep my feet firmly on the ground.

    If I ever had to do a child protection investigation, or man the duty desk and work very unpredictable hours I am sure I would manage – just about. It would however be very hard and very scary. Other Guardians and experts could of course go back to the frontline – somehow me thinks many think it below them.


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