57 weeks for a Family Court decision

Posted on August 13th, 2010

It seems ironic that the recent comments about Independent Social Workers by Ms Marion Davis are followed by research highlighting the length of time it takes for Family Court proceedings.  The research by Barnardos shows that an average of 57 weeks pass before a decision is made.

It is over 20 years since the Children Act 1989 set out a system to try to enforce a child focused approach to care proceedings, in which it proposed an optimum case length of 12 weeks.  Whilst a lot has changed in Social Work over the last 20 years, the notion that prolonged court proceedings have a negative effect on the child is perhaps even more relevant today than it ever was.

Some courts are taking an average of 14 months to resolve proceedings, and there does also appear to be a postcode lottery as to how quickly a child’s future can be decided.  Three out of 18 regions completed proceedings in less than 12 months and Family Court Proceedings in London took on average 65 weeks.

A family justice review is being carried out by the Ministry of Justice and a spokesman said: “The government is committed to reducing unnecessary delay in care proceedings.  A family justice review is currently underway gathering evidence on problems in the current system and proposals for change.  The panel leading the review shares Barnardos’ concerns and has met their representatives to discuss suggestions for reform.”

The removal of Independent Social Workers and thereby reducing the amount of support to front line Social Workers would only increase the length of time taken to reach decisions in court.

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Are Independent Social Workers just an ‘expensive part of the landscape’?

Posted on August 13th, 2010

It is a little over a month since Ms Marion Davis, president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services released a statement regarding the use of Independent Social Workers during court proceedings.

Ms Davis was quoted in an article for Community Care as saying, “Independent Social Workers are just some of the enormous number of people checking on what Social Workers do”. Ms Davis was asked if the absence of Independent Social Workers in court proceedings would have an impact on court proceedings, to which she replied, “I can’t think of one”.

It seems a rather short-sighted statement for Ms Marion Davis to make that Independent Social Workers should cease to play a role in the court process and extremely unfair to suggest that they are just another group of people ‘checking on’ and having a ‘detrimental effect’ on Social Work practice.  Independent Social Workers are colleagues and partners of Local Authority front line Social Workers; working in collaboration in a society that currently vilifies the Social Work profession as a whole.

In other words a Social Worker is a Social Worker and the fact that a growing number of Social Workers wish to practice independently and not remain within the constraints of Local Authority bureaucratic managerialism is possibly a symptom of a profession that has lost faith in a government that really does not understand what it is all about.  The majority of Independent Social Workers have been Local Authority Social Workers themselves and are therefore well aware of the overwhelming and unmanageable case loads faced by many Social Workers, who consequently find themselves unable to meet deadlines and timescales.  Avocet understands only too well that it is more often than not the system that hinders Social Workers from carrying out their role to the best of their ability so you certainly would not find an Avocet Independent Social Worker setting out to ‘undermine Social Workers’ professional judgement’.

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