The British Association of Social Workers (BASW) has sharply criticised the Social Work Reform Board (SWRB) for contributing to the Family Justice Review without fully consulting the views of all Board representatives.
In a letter to SWRB chair Moira Gibb, BASW's chief executive Hilton Dawson said the contribution had prompted ‘dismay' among many of the Association's membership, in part because of its reference to ‘duplicate assessments' in describing the roles of the children's guardian and independent social workers who offer expert testimony in family court proceedings.
Mr Dawson asked Ms Gibb to make clear to the Family Justice Review that the submission was not representative of the whole Board. In a damning letter Mr Dawson said the decision to submit the response without full consultation did nothing for the ‘reputation of the SWRB as a body which can be relied upon to debate issues thoroughly and openly and to represent a broad consensual view of what social work needs'.
The BASW chief executive wrote: "BASW members have expressed dismay at the content of the SWRB contribution to the Family Justice Review and have asked me how, as a member of SWRB, I can have signed up to something which in many respects contradicts the position of rather more social workers than those who are ever consulted by SWRB. I have had to tell them that at no point did I have an opportunity to debate, amend or even see the SWRB paper before it was submitted to the Family Justice Review."
BASW's view is that the SWRB report undermines the legitimate independent roles of children's guardians and ISWs, which the Association feels have separate and useful functions.
The SWRB submission states: "When the experts appointed are independent social workers, the court has introduced into the process a third professional, alongside the children's guardian, with an identical qualification - and into a setting in which the other two social workers both have a statutory duty to pursue the child's best interests. It is our understanding that independent social workers often simply replicate the findings of the assessment already undertaken by the local authority social worker."
The submission also questions the role of Cafcass children's guardians, describing their role as "superfluous in all but the most complex cases".
BASW insisted, however, that the SWRB analysis highlighted a lack of understanding about the work guardians do and the distinction between a local authority social worker, an ISW and the guardian. The tripartite system, said Mr Dawson, ensures a child is independently represented and that the whole assessment process is properly scrutinised by an independent social worker, measures he insisted are vital to ensure the best possible outcomes for children and families.
BASW also criticised a "monolithic view of social work practice within the local authority context", exemplified by the SWRB's view that any commissioning of expert opinion from other disciplines should be the preserve of local authorities and not the courts.