I return from my break as the fag end of summer is ground beneath the heel of advancing autumnal gloom and winter drawers on, as the late and greatly lamented Humphrey Lyttelton might have said. So, what’s new on the social work scene? Answer – not a lot and certainly not much that’s good.
The consultation about the College of Social Work is to conclude on 10th September – yes – that’s tomorrow. So fill in your online form pronto if you want to contribute.
Disgruntled solicitors who lost out in the shambles of the Legal Services Commission process for awarding Family Law contracts are threatening to take the LSC to court in Judicial Review. Hat tip Pink Tape.
BASW’s Hilton Dawson has told the Home Affairs Select Committee that the proposed non-EU immigration cap should not be applied to social work. In many other occupations the workers protest at or even go on strike about employers filling vacancies with migrant workers instead of offering native workers higher pay. I may return to this topic because of Hilton Dawson’s very interesting, but debatable statement about social work being an “international profession”.
Independent social workers, via BASW and NAGALRO, have decided (unlike the lawyers) not to attempt Judicial Review of the LSC’s irrational decision to slash their fee rates by at least half. But they have seen the implementation of this swinging cut put off by a whole month (whoopee) from 15th Oct to 15th Nov. Insteed of going for a JR members of NAGALRO, BASW et al have decided to write pathetic pleading letters to their various MPs. Fat lot of good that will do.
No, not much good news around unless you enjoy the sight of social workers imitating door mats.
Leslie Barker, an experienced magistrate writing in the Guardian reminds us, quite correctly that deciding to remove a child from his/her parents on a care orders in too draconian, too complex and too sensitive a decision-making process as to be subject to an arbitrary deadline as was suggested by Barnardo’s.
However Mr Barker is much less convincing about why many such cases take 45 weeks or more to reach a conclusion. After all, a child is made in 38 weeks from conception to birth – why should it take longer, or even that long, to reach an important decision about a child’s future?. Decisions made in care proceedings although very serious can, if mistaken, be reversed on appeal or later if circumstances change by orders being varied or discharged. So why so long, why so ponderous?
As Sherlock said; let us consider the facts. An interim hearing has just ended at the Anywhere Family Court. The lawyers, social workers, guardian and court clerk sit around with their diary’s open trying to schedule the next hearing in the case. The Clerk offers “how about the 16th – you can have half a day then”. “Ah”, says a solicitor, “I’ve got a case in another court that day”. Well then says the Clerk what about 20th in the following month”. “I’m on holiday then” responds the social worker “me too” says the Guardian. “Why not try the month after”, says a barrister, “people will be back from their hols then”. Well, says the Clerk I can offer you the 30th then but that’s a 3 month delay. “Sorry”, says the other barrister “my expert is not available then”.
And so we go on, ever extending the periods between hearings and continually putting off the final decision. The question is why? And that question is I think susceptible to a who benefits analysis. The child does not benefit and is disadvantaged by delay. The parent(s) often want to put off the final decision, which they anticipate will be against them, in the hope that something will turn up. But, neither child nor parents are in control of the pace of the proceedings; the professionals are. Several of the professionals are likely self-employed (the barristers, some guardians, solicitor partners, experts) some are usually employed (the social workers and the solicitors employed by their firm or the local authority). It in the interests of the self-employed to keep a full or slightly over-full caseload to be sure of an adequate income flow. For the employed, their managers try to ensure they are fully loaded with work and sometimes grossly overloaded. Thus, everybody concerned has a full to overflowing diary and therefore you get the sad spectacle of the scenario I outlined above. Ah-ha, you will say; what about the court clerk? Well, there is the MoJ insisting that its physical assets, the court rooms, be fully utilised or closed – use it or lose it they say – so no spare space there either.
Now, don’t jump to just blaming the professionals; they too need to eat. There have been years of cutting back of professional fees earnable from legal aid, years of making social work either at the front line or as Guardians less and less rewarded either in money or satisfaction terms. The whole system has been incrementally, year by year, overloaded and starved of adequate resources in the name of meeting targets and being cost-effective and is now rapidly heading towards the ultimate goal of the cost effectiveness fanatic – nil cost and nil effect.
When somebody is interested enough in something I write as to comment on it, or even argue with it, I am pleased. When they briefly quote from one of my posting, with acknowledgement, I am happy. When they link to an item on my blog or add me to their blogroll I am flattered. But when, without so much as a by-your-leave, they copy a whole posting of mine and stick it up on their site I do feel as if my good nature has been slightly taken advantage of.
There has been a call to “Scrap Cafcass” from Andrew Povey, leader of Surrey Council. Not a bad idea in itself but he goes on to recommend that Cafcass’s responsibilities be transferred to local authorities. The Children’s Guardian service, previously Guardian ad Litem (GAL) service was, up to 2001, administered through local authorities. There was wide concern about that because of the potential conflict of interest. Local authorities in England and Wales apply to the courts for Care and related orders. The job of the Guardian is to scrutinise such applications from the point of view of the interests of the child and, if necessary, criticise or even oppose the local authority application. In the pre 2001 era GALs were mostly administered at “arm’s length” but there were examples of interference by local authorities. Family Law Weekly Blog comments on Andrew Povey’s letter and gives an instance of at least a perception of pressure:- “I remember one GAL telling me in the olden days that she had to be careful what she said in evidence because if she was too often critical of the LA she would be dropped from receiving work.”
I myself recall from those bygone days when I did some GAL work a case where my enquiries uncovered wrongdoing by a local authority. A parent was told he had no legal right of contact with his child when in fact he had full rights and the LA knew this but continued to knowingly misinform him. My court report would reveal this. A LA Team Manager asked me not to include this information in my report because it would damage the LA’s reputation in their local court. I refused, he said he would lodge a complaint and recommend I not be reappointed as a GAL when my term came up. That indeed did happen and I then had a great fight on my hands to get reinstated. Well, all that was a long time ago and before NAGALRO was created, but it would certainly be a retrograde step to return the Children’s Guardian service to local authority control.
What Mr Povey may also not be fully aware of is that the Guardian service is only one part of Cafcass. There is also the private law service which provided court reports in cases where there are disputes over residence and contact between separated or divorcing parents. That service previously sat (uncomfortably) within the Probation Service and was never administered by local authorities. Nor would there seem any logic in it being moved into local authority control.
The obvious administrative answer about where to locate its responsibilities when Cafcass is disbanded is within the Court Service (HMCS). Now, I suspect a lot of people will sigh loudly and suck their teeth at that conclusion but, do you have a better answer?
Sir Nicholas Wall is, I am glad to see, putting to positive use the power which the position of President of the Family Division enables him to deploy. He has decided not to renew the ‘interim guidance‘ which, having been extended by the previous President, is due to expire on 30th September. The innocently titled Interim Guidance basically excused Cafcass from carrying out their duties towards the most vulnerable and at risk children in England and Wales. Sir Nicholas is also considering ending the pointless ‘duty guardian system’. Excellent news.
In the UK we take a serious approach to improving the image of social work and social workers. The Social Work Task Force, the Monro Review and the plans for a College of Social Work and having a Chief Social worker all include ideas about improving the allegedly poor image of social work.
In the USA they seem to be taking a different approach with Celebrity counselling on TV which includes social worker Sherry Gaba providing counselling to some of the “troubled clients” on Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew”
Then there is Helena D Lewis‘ one-woman stage play, “Call Me Crazy: Diary of a Mad Social Worker.”
All these initiatives from the NASW .
Just a tad more exciting than our own dear BASW.