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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15% of Social Work degree students drop out in 2009

Posted on July 26th, 2010

Nearly one in seven Social Work degree students failed to complete their course in 2008-9,
claims a recent General Social Care Council (GSCC) report. The GSCC asked universities
and colleges for the number of students enrolled on to Social Work degree courses. They
also asked for the numbers that did not pass or progress at the end of the academic year.

Community Care analysed the reports, and found that of the 14,550 students enrolled,
2,170 failed to progress on finishing the 2008-9 academic year. It has been suggested that
this figure was not entirely due to academic reasons, with a proportion of the blame being
passed onto other factors such as delayed placements.

Kingston University had the highest non-completion rate of all institutions offering degrees in
Social Work. Edge Hill University was the only institution to report a 100% completion rate,
which may be due to the small size of the course with only 25 students in 2008-9.

Other suggested factors are illness and maternity leave. Professor of Social Work Jill
Manthorpe, who is also the director of the Social Care Workforce Research Unit at King’s
College said “Our work has shown that the non-completion rate is a complex interaction
between institutional and student factors.”


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Chair of Education and Children’s Social Services Inspectorate resigns

Posted on June 28th, 2010

Zenna Atkins resigned as chair of Ofsted last week, amid speculation over the future of the inspectorate.

Zenna Atkins had been the chair of Ofsted since September 2006, and was the organisation’s first ‘chairperson’.  Atkins said in a statement that she had left the organisation to head a ‘global education provider’. She also said that, “Ofsted has achieved much of what I hoped it would achieve.”

Her departure comes in the same week that ministers hinted at their intention to replace Ofsted’s Chief Inspector Christine Gilbert. Gilbert has stated that she intends to stay until the end of her contract, which runs until October 2011.

Atkins chaired Ofsted through many changes, including the merger of the Schools Inspectorate with the Commission for Social Care Inspection in 2007. She was renowned for being outspoken, and often criticised the Civil Service culture.

Non Executive Board Member John Roberts said “Zenna has helped transform Ofsted in her role as its first Chairman. Working closely with HMCI, she has overseen the development of world-class inspection systems, including doubling the classroom observation time in school inspections and the introduction of unannounced inspections of front-line Children’s Services contact, referral and assessment arrangements, helping to ensure the most vulnerable are better protected.”

Ofsted has been criticised heavily in the last 18 months, most notably over the handling of children’s social care inspections during recrimination over the Baby P case.


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Independent Social Worker guidance should be trusted in the courts.

Posted on March 9th, 2010

The Local Government Association published findings from research this week regarding the treatment of Social Workers in Courts across the country.  The report, carried out in conjunction with Loughborough University, intended to investigate how best to implement findings from Lord Laming’s report into Child Protection.

The report found that members of the judiciary did not trust the evidence given by Social Workers, and would often ask for second opinions from psychiatrists and other professionals.  Avocet Independent Social Workers share the same concern as many Local Authorities that this lack of trust can put children at risk.

The report stated, “The low status afforded to Social Workers was… perceived to impact upon the court decision-making process.  A number of authorities felt courts were refusing applications that Children’s Social Care felt were necessary to protect children.”

The report focused on the treatment of Social Workers in comparison with other professionals.  It found that Social Workers are often required to wait in court an average of 20 hours before being able to give evidence, whilst other professionals, such as hospital consultants are rarely required to spend an entire day waiting in court.   This waiting time can only extend the backlog of work faced by frontline Social Workers.

The report quoted a ‘senior lawyer in child care proceedings’ as saying that lengthy delays could be avoided if the Social Worker’s assessment was taken at ‘face value’,
“If you have a case of neglect involving a mother of 5, who has been a crack cocaine addict for 10 years, do we really need to commission another psychiatric assessment to tell us that she needs to be free of drugs before she can care for her children, which costs thousands of pounds?”

The report could be construed to be removing the option of a fair hearing for parents, but that is not the intention.  In cases where the parents disagree with the application to remove their child, they can request further assessment, for instance by an Independent Social Worker.  The issue is specifically about the courts’ apparent need to validate a Social Workers statement with an assessment by another professional.


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Independent Social Work – Be the Difference

Posted on February 16th, 2010

The Children’s Workforce Development Council’s ‘Be the Difference’ Campaign has received mixed reviews from Independent Social Workers at Avocet.  The campaign highlights the need for more Social Workers, more funding, and more training – but is it sufficient?

The campaign has had a large amount of publicity, with Television and newspaper advertising alongside a well constructed website.  The public side of the campaign aims to recruit more Social Workers, and offers help and advice for those who want to ‘Be the Difference’.

The campaign takes testimonials from current Social Workers, and career advice to help prospective Social Workers in their decisions to start a career in Social Work.  It offers information for graduates, undergraduates and people looking to return to Social Work.

‘Be the Difference’ has also highlighted the need for a Social Work College, a view also carried by the British Association of Social Workers (BASW).  The aim is to build a UK College of Social Work around the BASW code of ethics.  The subsequent training provided by the National College is intended to raise the standards of Social Work across the UK.

But is a Social Work College enough?  Avocet Independent Social Workers recognise that there is also a pressing need for more support for Social Workers post qualification.  If the CWDC and BASW could advocate for an equal commitment to helping those who already work in Social Work then they could make a real difference.

The problems faced by Social Workers, such as unmanageable case loads and inadequate systems of work need to be addressed with as much importance as recruitment of new staff.  Improving the working conditions of Social Workers across the UK will prompt an increase in the effectiveness of Social Work staff.  This, in turn, can only lead to an increase in the standards of Social Work.

Avocet offer a variety of Independent Social Work assessments including section 7 reports and Kinship and Viability assessments.   Avocet can provide the most suitable Independent Social Worker for your needs.


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Independent Social Work Opportunities for a Social Work Team Manager

Posted on January 11th, 2010

Yesterday, SocietyGuardian posted an article in their ‘What Else Can I Do?’ section that caught my eye.  The article centred around Lucy, a 32 year old Social Work Team Manager.  Lucy is looking for a fresh challenge, and contacted SocietyGuardian for ideas on her next Social Work career move.

Lucy currently works for the Connexions service, and SocietyGuardian came up with 5 suggestions for Lucy to look into.  These ranged from becoming a parenting expert for the youth offending service, a project coordinator for Connexions or working with  a local council to develop their ‘Neets’ policies, to working for a not-for-profit organisation or local education service.

Interestingly the first suggestion (Youth Offending Service) picked up on Lucy’s ability with parenting assessments and court reports.  Skills in such assessments can open up opportunities as an Independent Social Worker with Avocet.

Lucy could join Avocet’s Independent Social Worker Directory, to search for the latest Independent Social Work Jobs that Avocet have to offer.

If you find yourself in a position similar to Lucy, and want to make a change for 2010, then contact Avocet Independent Social Workers to become a member of our Independent Social Worker Directory!


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Now it’s even easier to find an Avocet Independent Social Worker

Posted on December 15th, 2009

Avocet’s Independent Social Worker Directory has undergone some subtle changes over the past few weeks, making it easier and quicker for people to find Independent Social Workers and Social Work Jobs alike.

Now on registering, you will be offered the option of becoming a member or a client of Avocet.  Member registration will, subject to approval, give you the benefits of applying for Social Work Jobs across the UK.  Registering as a member of Avocet can open up new opportunities for experienced, child focused Independent Social Workers.  Our unique match maker approval system ensures that we offer you the jobs that best match your skills!

Registering as a client of Avocet can give you extra peace of mind when hiring an Independent Social Worker.  Avocet’s unique approval system ensures that our Independent Social Workers are appropriately qualified, have up to date CRB certificates and are experienced in the field of work you require.

Register today to ensure you benefit from Avocet’s experience!


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Independent Social Workers have a role to play in educating children about domestic violence

Posted on November 27th, 2009

The Guardian newspaper reports that in the next 18 months Government ministers are considering compulsory lessons for children from five to fifteen on preventing violence in relationships.  This follows research by the children’s charity NSPCC finding that a quarter of teenage girls suffer physical violence such as being slapped, punched or beaten by their boyfriend. This is a concerning fact for Avocet Independent Social Workers who work with teenage couples with young children, assessing their parenting capacity within the Court arena.

The Government plans to introduce compulsory lessons on preventing violence in relationships into the classroom due to learning that only half of young women and girls receive such lessons as part of their personal, social, health and economic studies. The question of who will teach these lessons and how they will be taught has not been clarified by the Government.  Would these lessons be taught by teachers or is it a role for Independent Social Workers?  A professionally trained Independent Social Worker with experience of working with children and families who have witnessed domestic violence could assist children to understand the impact of violence on their lives.  Independent Social Workers will be able to interact with a child or adult who discloses incidents of domestic violence in a sensitive manner with knowledge of safeguarding procedures.

Compulsory lessons on preventing domestic violence could lead to an increase in Child Protection referrals to Local Authorities similar to the increase in reported of incidents of child abuse following the death of Baby Peter.   Local Authorities may struggle to cope with the demands of completing more Initial Assessments and Core Assessments at a time when there is a recognised national shortage of Child Protection Social Workers. The solution to this problem could be Independent Social Workers supplied by agencies such as Avocet to complete one off pieces of Social Work.

The cross-Government strategy is to be underpinned by an advertising campaign early next year aimed at tackling the attitude among some teenagers that violence in relationships is justified. The campaign will be aimed at ensuring young girls (and boys) realise they do not have to tolerate any form of violence or controlling behaviour within their relationships.

Independent Social Workers have a role in the education programme by raising the awareness of domestic violence, allowing the children we assess the opportunity to talk about violence in their relationships and emphasising how young people should be treated with respect in their relationships.  By tackling these issues we may see a reduction in the amount of incidents of domestic violence within children’s lives.

Avocet would welcome working with other Independent Social Workers particularly in London, Kent, Sussex and other parts of the UK. Join our Agency and practice with professionals who are child focused and wish to improve the lives of children.


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