Mary Baginsky, Senior Research Fellow at the NIHR Policy Research Unit in Health and Social Care Workforce, introduces the paper given by Martha Cover recently at the Unit. Dr Baginsky convenes the seminar series where the paper was presented.
We were delighted that Martha Cover led our latest seminar in the Contemporary Issues & Debates in Social Work Education, Research and Practice on 18 January 2022. Martha is a very experienced child law barrister who has considerable experience representing parents and children in cases of serious injury and death. Until recently she was joint head of Coram Chambers.
Martha writes on this subject, and regularly gives television and radio interviews and has given evidence to parliamentary select committees.
She was legal aid barrister of the year in 2019 and has recently been given an honorary doctorate in Law by Queen Mary University of London.—Mary Baginsky
Is the legal tail wagging the social work dog?
What I do not propose to do in this talk is to enter into the debate about whether the “right” number of children are in care, or whether there are too many or too few – or whether they are in fact the “right” children. To set the scene, as of March 2021, there were 80,850 children in care in England. The great majority were the subject of section 31 care orders rather than voluntarily accommodated under section 20 Children Act 1989.
I want to travel upstream from that and ask the question: with legal processes and court requirements becoming more dominant, is there an unintended consequence that social work is now focussed from the start on court requirements, and proving the section 31 threshold? If that is right, then is there any room in frontline social work for open and supportive relationships with children and their families?
The idea for this topic germinated when reading some government research following the institution of the 26-week time limit for care proceedings, introduced by the Children and Families Act 2014. In August 2015, the Department for Education published “Impact of the Family Justice Reforms on Front-Line Practice: The Public Law Outline”. The research examined the impact of the changes in the PLO on front line practice. It quotes a social worker:
“As soon as we have a case that we know may meet threshold, straight away we start doing pre-proceedings work- family group conference, viability assessments, more comprehensive chronology, exploring extended family members,…. doing any assessments that need to be done……” Continue reading