The chair of Association of Directors of Children's Services (ADCS) Marion Davis has called for a review of the use of independent social workers (ISWs) in court.
Her comments come as a review by Professor Munro into child protection in England gets underway. Speaking to Family Law Newswatch Davis said "We urge Prof Munro and the Family Justice Review to give careful consideration to the role and function of ISWs.
"ADCS strongly supports a greater focus on the role of social workers in statutory settings acting as expert witnesses in family court proceedings," the ADCS chair said. She continued: "Judges making onerous decisions which will affect the rest of a vulnerable child's life must have access to reliable and responsible expert opinion to enable them to reach their decisions with confidence. Reliable and responsible expert opinion is not however the sole preserve of Independent Social Workers.
"There must also be a halt to the continuing increase in the costs of the process of family court proceedings in economically straitened times, as well as a recognition of the continuing delays in court proceedings, which are often linked to the commissioning of various arguable assessments and which compromise settling a child's future where we know that every month delay in making a decision in the best interest of a child equates to a proportion of childhood that can never be restored", Davis said.
Independent social workers have expressed astonishment at Davis' stance. In a joint press release issued following comments made by Davis in Community Care magazine last week, the ISW agencies said her remarks showed an apparent lack of understanding of their role in court proceedings.
Phil King, director of the Independent Social Workers Association said: "The comments of Marion Davis are completely out of touch with those professionals who work at the coalface. The majority of social workers, children's guardians, lawyers and judges do not share her views but rather welcome the assistance of expert social workers in trying to resolve some of the most complex cases. Her comments are most unfortunate at a time when we have a unique opportunity, by way of the Munro Review, to work together to improve the role and status of social work. These are testing times and we need inclusive rather than divisive comments to embrace all parts of the profession."