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Posts Tagged ‘social workers’

Community Care reports on the prospect of Independent Social Workers quitting over the fees cap to be introduced by the LSC in October. What the article fails to disentangle (in fact it rather adds to the confusion) is the distinction between ISWs contracted by CAFCASS on a self employed basis to carry out Guardian or report writing work it does not have the in house resource to manage (and for which CAFCASS pays its own rate) and ISWs instructed as an expert by the parties with the permission of the court, and whose costs will be met (usually) by the LSC at its own rate. I know that there have been complaints about both the CAFCASS rate and the proposed rate via the LSC, and the thrust of the article is right: ISWs are finding it a real squeeze. Many are  quitting working for CAFCASS, or have already done so, only to find that their other source of self employed income i.e. expert instructions will also be severely limited.

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It’s important to distinguish between a self employed CAFCASS Guardian and a social worker who is instructed as an independent expert in the case with the permission of the court. Their roles are quite different, and whilst each is independent in their own way it is not the role of a Guardian to conduct in depth assessments of a family or children. Where that work has not been completed by social services or has not been completed satisfactorily or with an independent and open mind the only means by which a parent can obtain a fair and thorough assessment is via ISW report. This type of report can turn a case around. If social workers flee not just CAFCASS, but refuse to undertake assessments at £30 an hour too, there will be injustices.

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I came across this article in the Telegraph which deals with the decision to place two young siblings for adoption in preference to leaving them with their grandparents in a kinship placement. Although I don’t know any more about this case than I have read in the article I want to offer a few thoughts on it because – as is so often the case with the accounts given in the media of individuals cases – between the lines those with experience of the system can read far more into what is probably going on than might be apparent to the majority of the readers of it. And I’m afraid that the published story seems highly unlikely to me to be the whole story. I’ve posted before about how the limitations on what information can be obtained and published in connection with family cases tends towards skewed or misleading accounts being presented through the media. And of course the primary reason that this story is deemed newsworthy is because it is an account of a case which appears to demonstrate injustice and which it is strongly insinuated is a demonstration of systematic unfairness and political correctness gone crazy. It is quite likely that if fuller information were made available or the law and process more clearly explained in the article it would be much less newsworthy, and may be deflated to no more than the dual elements of the anger / sadness of those who have lost a child of the family to adoption and an objection to the law that permits adoption by gay couples.

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I’ve often read s47 reports, core assessments and reg 38 assessments which find themselves in amongst my case papers and wondered what purpose they serve other than to obfuscate questions of risk.  Chatting the other week with a social worker confirms anecdotally at least that some social workers agree. These documents are ridiculously long and rather than being in a narrative form are a series of many standard questions in box format, many of which are simply not relevant to an individual case and the answers to which shed no light on anything in particular. My experience is that in reading a report one has to filter out the irrelevant data and often the key data is lost in ‘noise’. Not infrequently what should be an in depth assessment of risk is a series of reatedly cut and paste responses to unenlightening questions. 

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In writing a report it seems that similar problems apply – in attempting to complete the required forms (a core assessment form in one local authority is 47 pages long before the social worker has even entered any data and also has additional ‘age appropriate’ questions which change according to the d.o.b. you enter) the focus is on the questions which are required to be answered, many of which are irrelevant, and sometimes the specific key issues are buried. Different questions, risks and issues apply to different cases and the process of standardisation to me is likely to encourage a tick box mentality and to dissuade social workers from in depth analysis of the case in the round or to appreciate the subtleties of any given case in the way that an old fashioned narrative report would. The social worker I spoke to most recently was describing the drive towards the paperless system and self-populating forms so that a question answered in relation to a case in a different report would be automatically entered into the same box on the new form. A shudder runs down my spine – great idea superficially but ‘data’ changes over time and this doesn’t encourage or ensure intellectual rigour or currency of information. It doesn’t even seem to save social workers time – the complaint is that the forms take them away from actual social work.

These are the tools social workers are required to use in order to assess risk to children. For what its worth my view is that standardisation of format and dogmatic use of new technologies in this way does not encourage the independent thought and application of skill and judgment to each individual set of facts and circumstances that each individual child deserves. Thoughts anyone?

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A really interesting article in yesterday’s Times by barrister Martha Cover at Coram. It sets out why the introduction of procedures designed to protect at risk children may have had the opposite effect to that desired – by discouraging the issue of proceedings in favour of focus on the provision of low level support services. She explains very well the process of ‘threshold inflation’ which has put children at risk and the switch-on-switch-off mechanism which enables services to be withdrawn from families who bounce along the bottom, every time there is a minor improvement.

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