This example reflective log will focus on a court cross-examination.
All X students were required as part of our X module, to take part in a cross-examination, carried out by a barrister at the university campus courtroom.
Reflecting on my learning has helped me gain insight into court proceedings involving children.
This was also a requirement for the End of placement log.
Background of Task
The cross-examination involved requesting an Interim Care Order (ICO) for three children between the ages of one to three.
The examination was intended for us to show our skills and knowledge of the case through a verbal presentation in court. The task would test our understanding of the Children Act 1989 (CA1989) and our knowledge of what is in the best interests of a child based on our responses to the questions asked by the barrister.
Prior to the cross-examination, students were provided with a case study as a group to analyse and produce a report, justifying why we were making our decision to request for an ICO. The case study included circumstances leading to commencement of proceedings. All the three children suffered significant harm (neglect). They were accommodated under section 20 of the CA1989 and placed in a foster care.
Before the cross-examination, they informed students of the procedures. They included being crossed examined individually for eight minutes in the presence of other students. The barrister would then ask specific questions in relation to the reason for an ICO, and questions which challenge the evidence highlighted in the report. As part of the process, all students would be given a pass or fail grade and a written feedback to complete a reflective log.
Reflective Log on Court Cross Examination
Initially, I was overwhelmed with the information provided in the case study, particularly the number of children involved. I was assigned by my Action Learning Set (ALS) group to work on the chronology.
The lectures organised for this task helped in boosting my confidence to complete the chronology. My group report was comprehensive and heightened my anxiety, as I had not imagined the report containing that amount of information.
This is notwithstanding my awareness of the expectation of social workers to produce comprehensive assessments in care proceedings under the CA1989 (Brammer, 2007).
I was unsure of the questions they would ask me. As a result, I familiarised myself with the report and thought about the questions the barrister was likely to ask me. Through this exercise, I developed an in-depth understanding of the case.
I was determined to answer all questions accurately because showing a lack of understanding of the case could potentially result in no order being made, which could expose the children to further risk.
I tried to stay calm during the questioning. I answered the barrister clearly and confidently.
This was evidenced in the feedback given, which highlighted my ability to remain confident and professional.
The barrister asked me a range of questions, some of which I found challenging and answered some more confidently. Questions, including reasons for recommending Ms Ferguson to freedom programme were confidently answered. I was always looking at the judge whilst speaking. However, my nerves heightened when I missed the page number about the report from the child psychologist.
This led to an unclear response in a subsequent question regarding neglect, as I was still thinking of locating the page number. I note that it was crucial for me to be clear, as lack of clarity in a legitimate court setting could have potentially led to no order being made, which could further put the children at risk.
During the process, I was self-aware and nonjudgmental and represented the best interest of the children as required by the HCPC code of ethics and conducts. I avoided adding my own opinion and communicated all information factually, showing my ability to answer questions in a nonjudgmental manner.
Sometimes, the barrister would ask “yes” or “no” questions, which were answered honestly with either yes or no, regardless of whether it was in the Local Authority’s (LA) favour or not, as this would demonstrate my integrity. I recognised that being honest and transparent when working with service users is crucial in social work practice.
The feedback also evidenced my ability to demonstrate an excellent knowledge of the case. However, I felt I could have done better.
Not only has the feedback boosted my confidence but also highlighted some areas for improvement.
Theories, values and methods of intervention
The process was carried out in accordance with the CA1989, which places a statutory duty on Local Authority (LA) to safeguard children who are suffering or likely to suffer significant harm.
The welfare of the children was paramount in my assessment of risk and decisions about their safety. I also considered the best interests and developmental milestone of the children.
Social Workers have a statutory duty to assess risk under s.31 of the CA1989, to ascertain the risk of significant harm. Risk assessment will help identify the children’s situation and how it can be managed to determine an appropriate placement (Bostock, 2005).
All the children in this case were neglected and suffered significant harm, as evidenced in the case and supported by reports from other professionals. The children are making progress in their current foster placement and at a low risk of significant harm.
Power (2004) claims that, whilst various risk assessment models lower risk levels, these do not fully prevent any assessed risk. Fundamentally, it is the responsibility of social workers to adopt strategies and work in a holistic and person centred approach to manage risks more effectively (Titterton, 2005).
Effective communication is crucial in practice. Without effective communication skills, social workers cannot find out service users’ and other professionals’ needs and feelings (Wilson 2011).
Excellent communication skills are essential for establishing the quality of relationships that promote successful social work outcomes (Barker, 2013). To that regard, I communicated with Ms Ferguson about the impact her actions have on her children and her lack of engagement.
I gathered information from other professionals to help me make an informed decision about Ms Ferguson’s ability to parent the children, which has led to the decision to apply for an ICO. I weighed the decision against her rights and risks, and the rights of the children. It will be better to leave the children at their current placement if the ICO is granted and plan for permanency options.
Ms Ferguson was empowered and given choices and valuable options. I worked closely with Ms Ferguson to agree on specific tasks, including attending capacity building programme to enhance her parenting skills.
Ms Ferguson showed interest to attend the sessions, but she only attended a few.
I considered systems theory to broaden my view and understanding about Ms Ferguson’s family dynamics and how other family members can be involved to support her and the children (Parish, 2010).
It came to my attention that she lost most of her family members and was only in touch with her maternal grandfather, who was not in good health. This limited her options in getting support from her family members.
I considered attachment theory in analysing and considering an appropriate intervention for the children.
Bowlby (1988) believes that insecure attachment can affect children from form lasting relationships later in life. For that reason, it is important to place the children in a safe environment to form secure attachment, as missing the critical period could mean that the children could face several difficulties in later life; including mental health issues.
Comprehensive knowledge and understanding of values, ethics and legislation when completing court reports are fundamental to social work practice (Thompson, 2006).
To demonstrate professionalism, it is important for social workers to have clear boundaries between personal and professional values.
Combining personal values and professional values might lead to ethical dilemmas and destabilise outcome for the children.
It is important to be transparent, fair, and ensure all information is accurate.
It was essential that I remain factual in my answer throughout the court examination, referring specifically to the information documented (Banks, 2006).
The cross-examination enhanced my knowledge and understanding of the CA1989 and emphasised the difficulties social workers face in making decisions about the risk and needs of children.
Overall, this was an enjoyable experience and has improved my line of thinking around risks and the needs of children.