The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) reported* an increase in children and adult law applications during 2016. This is likely to be placing even more pressure on social workers because, in addition to more court attendances, you also have greater legal responsibilities in preparation of court documents with shorter timescales.
I have over 20 years as a local authority lawyer and legal trainer which means I understand the pressures facing social workers. I also know how much stress and worry can be alleviated by effective training and a solid grounding in the ways of the legal system and its expectations of you.
In this blog, I highlight the specific pinch points for social workers caused by both the changes in legislation and the social care system. In our training we help social workers to address such issues on a daily basis. You can get a taster of the kind of training I provide at Community Care Live where I am delivering a Legal Masterclass on Gaining Confidence in Court on 26th April. This event is free to attend for registered social workers and local authority staff, the session will cover Practical Skills for Coping with Cross Examination. I’ll also be available to discuss any specific training needs you may have.
Court pressures for social workers
First, I’d like to explore some of the pressures facing social workers currently:
Involvement in an increasing number of court cases
The MoJ published the Annual Court Statistics in March 2017 revealing the following:
- Children public law cases: a year-on-year increase by 18%. The most common type of order applied for during October to December 2016 was for care.
- Children private law proceedings: 11% increase
- Mental Capacity Act cases: rise of 11%, 54% of which related to applications for the appointment of a property and affairs deputy.
- Deprivation of Liberty (DoL) applications: risen by 50%.
That’s a lot of court appearances for social workers to make, together with a level of anxiety you could do without. Confidence, understanding of court procedures and, generally, gaining confidence in presenting at court are essential skills you need to acquire.
Pressure to conclude cases within tight timescales
The Children and Families Act 2014 introduced the 26 week time limit within the Revised Public Law Outline (PLO) on a statutory basis for completing care and supervision order proceedings. The figures show that only 61% were concluded within this time frame in 2016 – the average length of care and supervision order proceedings was 24.9 weeks.
Understanding the public law outline and learning how to meet the statutory timescales are not just necessary but essential so that your cases can be concluded within the obligatory 26 week timescale.
Spotlight on your court skills
The consequences of changes in the eligibility of legal aid reaches beyond the increase in parties appearing as ‘litigants in person’; social workers are also having more legal responsibility in children’s private law proceedings.
The implementation of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) in April 2013 resulted in legal aid now being available in private family law cases only if there is evidence of domestic violence or child abuse/abduction. If, therefore, you are required to do a S.7 welfare report, the Judge may well refer to you as ‘the only professional’ in court.
Understanding latest case law, preparing and presenting well-thought out evidence and assessments in a court report or statement, are all practical skills and knowledge you need as a social worker.
Kingsley Knight legal training for social workers
Typically, these are the kind of skills I can help you develop to enable you to cope with the increase in court and legal procedures facing you as a social worker in 2017:
- Recording and gathering evidence effectively and efficiently, particularly important when carrying out a great number of visits in quick succession.
- Undertaking assessments that put the welfare of the individual at the centre of your decision-making process.
- Writing concise court reports, with clear analysis and strong recommendations.
- Presenting robust and legally defensible assessments, for example under the Deprivation of Liberty Safeguarding (DoLS).
- Understanding the latest case law.
- Legislation and court management tools, including the PLO
- Presenting yourself with ease, confidence and surviving the witness box, particularly during cross examination.
We hope to see you at Community Care Masterclass. Alternatively, if you would like bespoke and practical skilled based legal training, please contact us: 01908 969 039 / firstname.lastname@example.org.