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04 MAY 2010

Children will pay the price if social workers are excluded from being expert family court witnesses

Child playingIndependent social workers are concerned that planned cuts to their fees will result to a deepening of the recruitment crisis in the profession and will cause children and families to suffer due to a lack of expert advice.  

The independent social work bodies, BASW, Nagalro, ISWA and WillisPalmer, met senior civil servants last week from the Ministry of Justice, Legal Services Commission and the Department for Children, Schools and Families to set out their objections to plans to cut fees by 40-50%.

Judith Timms, Nagalro policy consultant said: "Our very real fear is that independent social work experience will be lost to the courts at a time when children and families desperately need it and courts themselves are under great pressure."

Civil servants agreed to the meeting in response to pressure from social workers who were dismayed at the lack of knowledge within the MoJ about what independent social workers do. At a forum held on 25 March social workers expressed bewilderment as to why they had been singled out when fees for other experts were still under review.

At last week's meeting the representative agencies told civil servants that the loss of independent social workers' expertise will increase costs elsewhere in the family justice system and leave children more vulnerable to poor assessments.

The agencies propose that any decision on fee-capping should await the outcome of the ongoing Family Justice Review to enable an evidence-based decision to be made. 

Nushra Mansuri from BASW said: "Devaluing social work flies in the face of the Social Work Task Force's aim of raising the status of the social work profession."

The group believes the government's consultation process was seriously flawed and did not meet the government's own criteria. The Legal Services Commission is unable to say how much money it currently spends on independent social workers in family court cases, nor how much money they expect to save.

Phil King from ISWA said: "Without independent social workers courts will turn to more expensive experts like psychologists to fill the gap so costs will rise. Civil servants do not seem to realise that social work expertise is in great demand. Independent social workers will go where their skills are better appreciated and rewarded."

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