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Independent social workers attack Family Justice Review plans to oust them from courts

CISW Conference demonstrates depth of opposition by ISWs to proposals

Independent social workers (ISWs) have expressed their anger at proposals to reduce the reliance on expert witness testimonies in family courts. Speakers at a conference hosted by the Confederation of Independent Social Work Agencies (CISWA) described the reform plans, set out in an interim report from the Family Justice Review (FJR) published in March 2011, "as a victimization of ISWs".

Addressing the event, Dame Gillian Pugh, a member of the FJR panel, defended the proposals as "necessary in light of the shocking delays that damage children". But ISW critics said proposals such as ISWs only being employed to provide new information to the court that cannot be provided by the local authority social worker or guardian suggests a lack of understanding about the work independent social workers undertake. One ISW told Dame Pugh: "This reads as change for change's sake and shows a lack of awareness, understanding and evidence about the role of ISWs in court proceedings."

Other speakers at the CISWA event in Birmingham on 24 June lined up to add their criticisms of the reform agenda. BASW professional officer Nushra Mansuri told the event:

"ISWs have been singled out again in a discriminatory manner which is disappointing – a broad-brush approach has been taken that should not be applied across all cases in court."

Ms Mansuri suggested that the current fiscal climate was behind the FJR plans.

"Allowing budgetary issues to dictate what happens in cases involving vulnerable children is risky and unacceptable."

Dr Julia Brophy, senior research fellow at the Centre for Family Law and Policy at the University of Oxford questioned the basis for the reform proposals:

"There are issues with the evidence submitted for the Family Justice Review, with regard to claims of delay, duplication and lack of added value we would like to see a full evidence based evaluation as soon as possible."

Conference chair Philip King, director of ISWA, broadened the debate to encompass the separate decision to cap ISW court fees to £30 per hour, £33 in London, a move that came into force in May. He told ISWs:

"Now is the time to stand up for ourselves and refuse to offer our expert services in exchange for so little."