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Judges want role of independent social workers safeguarded

The important role played by independent social workers (ISWs) in care proceedings should be safeguarded, according to a new report which is based on the views of senior judges.

A senior Oxford University researcher and her team interviewed 23 senior judges sitting in 20 of 43 county courts across England and Wales and found that ISWs were highly valued – they are regarded as practitioners at the ‘top of their field’, able to provide high-quality assessments in care proceedings in tight timescales. Their ‘experience, expertise and wisdom’ in complex cases influences outcomes for children and helps courts move forward with speed and confidence, adds the report.

Report author Dr Julia Brophy said: “Contrary to the views expressed at the time of the Family Justice Review, there is evidence of much collegiate work between local authorities, other parties and the court to get the best evidence before the court as quickly as possible.

“Assessments by ISWs do not duplicate existing reports or routinely cause delay. Indeed, far from it, these experts were found to work within timeframes that local authorities often could not meet. Judges identified that ISWs also influence the outcome of cases. For example, judges said that children heading for adoption could sometimes be placed with another parent or extended family members.

“The judges interviewed stressed the need to be mindful of the complexity of cases, the need for robust assessments and of other alternatives to making orders placing children in care or leading to adoption outside of families. The research shows that ISWs are not used in a majority of cases, but they do provide important assessments in specific circumstances.”

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