New research published today from Oxford University claims that delays could be reduced in family courts by the earlier appointment of independent social work experts (ISWs).
The research was commissioned by the Confederation of Independent Social Work Agencies last July in response to mounting criticisms of the work of ISWs which led to the Legal Services Commission's decision to cap ISW fees at a rate lower than other professional experts. The Family Justice Review was also persuaded by these criticisms and the Government accepted its recommendations that the use of ISWs should be exceptional.
Typically, ISWs have been criticised for causing delay, duplicating or ‘checking' the work of local authority social workers and for producing poor reports.
However the Oxford study examined ISWs reports and found that they added value in cases of high complexity. The researchers found that the reports provided transparent, forensic, evidence-based assessments which gave clarity around complex issues, supporting better welfare decision-making for children and families within Family Courts.
John Simmonds, Director of Policy, Research and Development at the British Association for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF) commented: "The research from Oxford University provides real insight into this work and a positive perspective on the professionalism of the social workers. It is clear that there needs to be a re-evaluation of the negative picture that is currently driving reform. This must include a robust evaluation of what is at danger of being lost to court processes that make life changing decisions on the future of children."
The research was conducted by Dr Julia Brophy and her colleagues at the Department of Social Policy and Intervention at Oxford University and the findings from the first stage are published in their report: The Contribution Of Experts In Care Proceedings: Evaluation Of The Work Of Independent Social Work Assessments.