Related Sector: Health & Social Care

Following the recent decision by the Court of Appeal whereby they ordered a rehearing because the social workers had 'misunderstood' the case law in relation to the landmark decision in Re B - it begs the question why?

Is the front line social worker really to blame or should criticism more readily be levied towards mangers and the local authority legal advisors?

Despite the public law outline, which has many safeguards built into it enabling front line social workers to obtain advice, guidance and assistance from both managers and legal advisors at the legal planning meeting stage, pre proceedings stages and also throughout the proceedings themselves, it seems remarkable that such fundamental errors can still be made as per the recent findings of the Court of Appeal.

As the lead trainer for Bond Solon’s legal-skills training for Children's Services, I find it concerning when discussing the legal framework applicable to social workers with those involved in child protection, as they have little or no knowledge of their legal powers, legal responsibilities or legal accountability.

The most obvious examples, to list but a few, include:

  • The social worker's inability to recognise and provide to a court the evidence required to establish the threshold criteria pursuant to Section 31 to enable a judge to make a finding of fact;
  • Inappropriate use of Section 20 as a long term measure to care for a child rather than as a short sharp remedy to assist a family in crisis;
  • A social worker's belief that they can apply for Special Guardianship Orders &/or Child arrangement orders;
  • The social workers lack of knowledge re: Human Rights particularly regarding 'capacity' of parents &/or child & whether or not the child /parents/ families 'consent' to certain actions being taken by the social worker has been obtained fairly & lawfully.

In defence of front line social workers that I meet with regularly through Bond Solon training, and particularly those newly qualified, they are very keen to obtain legal training and apply the knowledge gained in to their everyday practice.

So this begs the questions of where the gap is? The gap maybe lies with managers and legal advisors who despite their responsibilities to monitor, supervise, guide, and advise are still falling to do so.

We encourage managers and legal advisors to attend our legal-skills training to avoid these fundamental mistakes reoccurring.

Francesca Burfield
Barrister and Bond Solon’s Principal Children’s Social Care Trainer

This article was published on Tuesday 16 August 2016.

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