The Ministry of Justice is putting the welfare of children caught up in complex family court proceedings at risk, organisations representing independent social work (ISW) expert witnesses have claimed.
The British Association of Social Workers and others have written to justice secretary Kenneth Clarke to say that paying ISW expert witnesses just £30-£33 per hour, compared with up to £150 per hour for other expert witnesses, was ‘flawed and irrational’, and could persuade ISWs to give up court work, leaving children at increased risk of harm.
The letter reminds Clarke that the decision was taken without ‘objective examination’ of the role of ISWs, the number and types of cases where ISWs are used, or any assessment of the impact on children if ISW expertise was lost.
Ann Haigh, chairwoman of NAGALRO, the professional association for children’s guardians, family court advisers and ISWs, said: ‘This undervalues social work expertise and demeans the whole social work profession. The government needs to act speedily to preserve the high quality social work advice that courts rely upon for making good and timely decisions for children.’
An MoJ spokesperson said: ‘We recognise the important work that independent social workers perform in relation to the family courts.
‘However, the Legal Services Commission guideline rates for independent social work are currently regularly exceeded. Independent social workers undertake a variety of work for different organisations, but their level of qualification and experience, and similarities in the work undertaken, mean that it is not an effective use of public money for the Legal Services Commission to pay higher rates than those set by other organisations such as Cafcass.’